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Jim Loehr: Train for Success Like a Pro Athlete

Productivity expert and author Jim Loehr

Even if the worst of the recession is over — and that's
a pretty big if — things still aren't great. You may be
looking for work, stuck in a job you'd dump if you could, or
shouldering extra duties after a department downsizing. Faced with such
hardships, it might be easy to go off the deep end. But by managing your energy
to focus on the matter at hand, you can overcome a negative situation and increase
your human capital in the process.

At least that’s the philosophy of Jim Loehr, a
productivity guru and performance psychologist with the Florida-based Human
Performance Institute who whipped struggling pro athletes such as href="">Pete Sampras,
, and href="">Monica Seles into peak mental shape before turning to corporate coaching and writing the
2003 business best seller, href="">The
Power of Full Engagement
, and its sequel, href="">The
Power of Story

According to Loehr, the path to maximizing human capital
isn’t better time management. It’s cultivating energy, then
maintaining a laserlike focus on how you spend it to get what you want out of

Why is managing your energy better than managing time?

Time only has value when it intersects with energy. We’ve
been deluded into believing that if we’re home for dinner or present
on a conference call, we’ve created value. But if you’re
present but disengaged, you’re doing the exact opposite of your
intention. If the first thing you do at a meeting is flip open your computer
and work on e-mail, all of your energy is somewhere else, and you’re
not giving it to the meeting.

How do you make the shift to managing your energy?

It’s not how many hours you put in with a client
or on a project. It’s the quantity and quality of your energy —
your focus and force — that determine whether that time is valuable.
We call that “full engagement.” It’s the acquired
ability to intentionally invest your full and best energy right here and now.

People today rely on cell phones, Twitter, and Facebook thinking it helps
them stay fully engaged. Is that the case?

In and of themselves, those devices and sites aren’t
positive or negative, it’s how you use them. There’s no
such thing as multitasking. If you have 15 balls in the air, 14 of them are in
free fall. That’s why there are so many accidents when someone is
texting while driving. It dumbs you down more than alcohol or marijuana. If
your life is literally going from e-mail to Twitter to the next signal from
cyberspace, you lose efficiency and sense of direction. But if you contain
them, those things can add to your productivity. You do that by building
barriers around them. Make calls at a certain time; check e-mail at a certain

So to be fully engaged, what do you do? What’s the training you

You start with getting enough sleep, exercise, hydration,
nutrition, and intermittent rest to transport oxygen and glucose through the
body, which determines whether you have energy to expend. Next is emotional
training, building capacity for resiliency — the ability to go into a
high-stress situation that could cause you to be angry or fearful and adopt a
positive approach in which you’re looking for ways to learn and grow.
We build these emotional muscles just like building biceps or triceps by doing
exercises every day.

What kind of exercises would those be?

Like a gratefulness exercise: You go over in your head every
day everything that you’re grateful for. By doing that you build up
empathy, compassion, and that “I can do it” mentality that
characterizes great performers. So when you go into a tough situation, you see
it as an opportunity, and your creativity doesn’t come to a screeching

What else is involved?

Mental training — learning to be fully present
right here and right now. In sports, the military, and business, you spend a
lot of time training so you can be the best you can be in the present moment.
The highest level is spiritual training; identifying what matters to you most
and where your energy should go if you want to have a successful life.

What impact has this training had on businesses?

We now train several thousand people a year at our
facility and thousands in off-site training sessions throughout the world.
Procter & Gamble has 200 trainers teaching this to 140,000 employees,
and their reports are that it’s improved people’s ability
to focus at work and at home.

GlaxoSmithKline implemented a similar program with their
sales team. After our training, they conducted an internal survey and found
that 72 percent had an increase in energy, 68 percent had an increased
tolerance for stress, and 58 percent were able to better manage their time.

What about business schools? Are any of them using this?

Most business schools say nothing about the physical body,
although that’s changing. Northwestern changed their curricula, and Jack
Groppel, my co-founder at the Human Performance Institute, is an adjunct
professor there and is teaching them our energy-management model. The
University of Michigan put their entire incoming MBA class through it, and they’re
tracking students over a two-year period to see what effect it will have.

How can someone use your methods to maximize his or her human capital?

Human capital has no value without energy. There’s
all this brilliant software between your ears, but it’s null and void
without energy. The most important asset you need to protect in order to manage
the demands of a job or an investment portfolio is your production of energy.
And, just like with money, if you do a great job managing your energy, you’ll
get a great return.

How can your methods help someone who’s been thrown off course by
the economy?

People throw their good habits overboard when there’s
a crisis. They rationalize: “I don’t have time to eat
breakfast or write a list. I’ll do that when things are good.”
We help them understand that you train so bad times don’t get you off
course. It’s like the pilot who safely put the plane down in the
Hudson River. He could have come apart, but he stayed with his rituals and it
saved everyone’s lives. We do that with antiterrorist military forces
and surgeons and executives going into troubled environments. They’re
ready because they’ve trained for it.

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