The power of full engagement

We can only maintain focus and performance for so long, and then we need a break. Athletes know this, and so too do the best managers and employers. TIM SHARP

Timothy Sharp Happiness Institute

By Tom Sharp

How would you like to be fully engaged, more often, so that you have the energy to successfully implement all of your wonderful ideas and the laser-like focus to concentrate on what needs to be done, when it needs to be done? Further, how would you like your colleagues and employees to have the energy to perform at their best?

Several years ago, in 2003 to be precise, I read and was inspired by a book written by Jim Loehr (a performance psychologist) and Tony Schwartz titled “The Power of Full Engagement”. Based on a program that came to be known as “The Corporate Athlete”, Loehr and Schwartz took a number of key findings from sports psychology and applied them to the world of executives.

What if, they asked, we could all function like elite athletes? What if, their research investigated, we all had the power and energy of a top flight, high performing sportsman?

Well, the answers to these questions are; we can have more energy, we can have more power, and we can have more focus – as long as we’re prepared to do a few things differently.

For example, among the myriad of studies referred to, Loehr and Schwartz reported on an investigation in which they analysed a range of factors hypothesised to differentiate top tennis players (the top 10) from good tennis players (like numbers 11 to 100).

They selected and measured all sorts of variables including obvious physical ones (such as weight, strength, reflexes etc) and slightly less obvious psychological ones.

Interestingly, one of the key findings was that the top players differed from the others on a measure of resting pulse rate. Specifically, the top 10 players had a significantly lower resting pulse rate than the others in-between points.

Think about it. Their resting pulse rate was much lower between points.

What does this mean?

Well it could mean lots of things, but my interpretation is that those players were much better at switching off when they didn’t need to be on. They were effectively highly focused and appropriately highly aroused (physiologically) when they were playing a point but – and this is an important but – when that point was over they were very quickly able to relax and rest.

It’s unclear whether they did this consciously or not, but somehow these top players realised that if they stayed “on” during the breaks they’d simply be wasting energy.

So how can you use this research in your businesses and with your teams?

I suggest you consider using it every day and every week; and I suggest it can be used to combat the outdated and distinctly unhelpful belief that the harder and longer we work the more we achieve.

Now I’m not advocating laziness here, but what I am advocating is that we use our energy and resources as effectively as possible; and there’s no doubt that hard work leads to productive output only to a point… beyond that point our efficacy and accuracy and the quality of our work suffers.

We can only maintain focus and performance for so long, and then we need a break. Athletes know this, and so too do the best managers and employers.

What I’m suggesting, therefore, is to do less in order to achieve more.

Harking back to an earlier comment, however, I know full well from our coaching and consulting work that one of the greatest challenges we face is to get people to do things differently (even where and when we can provide a strong rationale for the very real benefits likely to be experienced as a result of making changes).

Maybe that will be the focus of my next column.


Dr. Sharp’s latest book (published August 2008) is “100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People” (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations, and coaching services at and You can also ask him questions using the Comments panel below.

For more Dr Happy blogs, click here.


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