The Corporate Athlete

The word "athlete" is not a term you would normally use to describe a desk-bound business executive or office worker. But performance psychologist Jim Loehr contends that the "performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environments dwarf those of any professional athlete".

In his book, "The Power of Full Engagement", Loehr writes, "As a performer, the corporate athlete is the ultimate athlete". He came to this conclusion after twenty-five years of working with athletes and business people. His Florida-based company, LGE Performance Training Systems, has taught many top sports athletes (Pete Sampras, Monica Seles, Mark O'Meara, Ernie Els, and Grant Hill among others), business corporations (Motorola, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, PepsiCo), and law enforcement agencies (FBI, SWAT teams, U.S. marshals) the secret to sustaining high performance - managing energy levels efficiently.

Loehr explains that professional athletes typically spend 90 percent of their time training in order to perform 10 percent of the time. They have precise routines built into their day to get the right kind and amount of food, sleep, rest, and recovery so that they can be at their peak come competition time. Athletes have an off-season when they can go on "vacation" for three to five months of the year. Their careers span an average of five to seven years after which, if they have managed their finances well, they retire in style.

In contrast, the corporate athlete (that's you, me, and everyone else who has to work for a living) is expected to perform at his best eight to twelve hours a day, usually only gets two weeks off for vacation (which you spend umbilically attached to your cell phone and email), and works for forty to fifty years after which he hopes to retire somewhat comfortably. Loehr asks, "Given these stark facts, what makes it possible to keep performing at your best without sacrificing your health, your happiness, and your passion for life?"

The answer, he says, is learning to manage your energy the way a sports athlete does. He believes that the key to high performance in work is to manage your energy, not your time. All of us have only 24 hours in a day. You can't create any more hours. So it's not about the time you have to do your job, it's about the energy you bring to the time you have. Loehr says, "The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have".

Loehr has developed "The Complete Corporate Athlete Training Program", which is fully explained in his book. It teaches you how to train like a professional athlete so you can be "fully engaged" or fully energized as you compete in the "rat race" called work.

In athletics, full engagement describes an athlete who is totally committed to winning and is totally focused whether during training or during the game. In business, full engagement is when you are passionate about your work, you view problems as challenges instead of threats, and you have enough energy for your work and personal life.

Loehr cites data collected by the Gallup Organization in early 2001 that found that 30 percent of Americans are fully engaged at work (they love their jobs and are highly productive), 55 percent are "not engaged" (these are the people who produce mediocre work), and 19 percent are "actively disengaged" (they are unhappy and "poison" the minds of their co-workers about the company). Gallup has found that European and Asian countries have similar if not even worse statistics.

In this week's column, let's take a quick look at the main principles to becoming a fully engaged corporate athlete. Next week, we'll discuss the practical ways to increase your physical energy at work.

Four sources of energy
Loehr defines energy as simply the capacity to do work (at the office, at home, in your significant relationships, and during recreational activities). He says it is the most precious resource of an individual and an organization because "energy is the fuel that ignites talent and skill".

Loehr explains that energy has four separate but related dimensions: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual (defined as the commitment to one's deepest values, regardless of circumstance).

Full engagement occurs when a person is "physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned". Loehr states that the most fundamental source of energy is physical but the most significant is spiritual.

You lose energy both with overuse and underuse.
When you do too much (demand exceeds capacity), you become burned out and overwhelmed. But if you don't do enough (not enough challenge in your life), you become bored and mediocre.

You need stress to grow.
Loehr says, "Stress is not the enemy in our lives. Paradoxically, it is the key to growth". He says that any form of stress that takes you out of your comfort zone has the potential to make you grow as a person and will be beneficial as long as it is followed by an adequate recovery period. Loehr says we should think of life as a series of sprints (bursts of speed followed by a rest period) rather than a marathon (continuous stress).

Companies that take pride in a culture of continuous work (all-day meetings, long days, working overtime at night and week-ends) may not realize that they are compromising the performance of their people and in the end, their own bottom line.

The energy rhythm.
Everything in nature is rhythmic and spaced in intervals - day and night, the ebb and flow of tides, inhaling and exhaling, contraction and relaxation of the heart, etc.

Scientists have found that not only do we sleep in cycles of 90 to 120 minutes but we also experience the same thing during the day. It is called the "ultradian rhythms". Loehr writes, "The ultradian rhythms help to account for the ebb and flow of our energy throughout the day. Somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes, the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery. Signals include a desire to yawn and stretch, hunger pangs, increased tension, difficulty concentrating, an inclination to procrastinate or fantasize, and a higher incidence of mistakes".

Loehr recommends renewing your energy with five to ten minute breaks of total disengagement from whatever it is you are doing. Sitting still and meditating on your breath, taking a stretch break, and going for a walk are all examples of purposely disengaging and recovering your energy so you can return to your work refreshed and fully engaged. More corporate athlete training techniques next week.

For more information on "The Complete Corporate Athlete Training Program", go to www.corporateathlete.com or www.PowerofFullEngagement.com

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