E77: Unlocking Top Performance And Creating Extraordinary Outcomes Through The Power Of Full Engagement With Jim Loehr
We are all actors and the world is our stage. And we can’t expect to get our acts right without putting in the hard work. But how do we reach our full potential? What is the real key to top performance? In this episode of LeaderDialogue, sports psychologist Jim Loehr shares how he helps athletes achieve extraordinary performance beyond their expectations. He then shares insights on how investing your energy, not time, can help you deliver outstanding performance.
This episode is sponsored by: Malcolm Baldrige foundation
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Unlocking Top Performance And Creating Extraordinary Outcomes Through The Power Of Full Engagement With Jim Loehr
I’m going to introduce our guest but I want to say hello to Ben Sawyer, who is my co-conspirator in this venture. It’s good to be with you again, Ben.Likewise, Roger. This is a pleasure, and I’m excited to be able to talk to Jim in this episode.This will be great. Just to remind you, if you are new to our show, it is sponsored by or it’s brought to you by the Malcolm Baldrige Foundation. We are dedicated and committed to helping you be the best leader you can possibly be and helping your organization become better and better all the time. We are sponsored by ABOUT Healthcare, of which Ben is an Executive. We are grateful for the sponsorship that allows us to have conversations like this.We are delighted to have Dr. Jim Loehr with us as a guest. I feel like I have known Jim for years. Although we have not been friends for years but we’ve gotten to be friends over the last couple of months. I cold-called or cold-contacted Jim, and he was so gracious to give me an opportunity to have a long conversation with him. We have so many things in common.I first got to know Dr. Loehr through a book that he co-authored called The Power of Full Engagement. As a long-time executive and lately, I’ve become a coach. In the last decade or a few dozen years, I have been doing a lot of coaching. Ben, you and I have had that kind of relationship, and The Power of Full Engagement is one book that I recommended to you early.Yes, it was very useful.That’s how I got to know Jim, and then I checked out a number of his books. He is a prolific author. He has sixteen books so far. He’s still going strong in that regard. He has been a sports psychologist, and that’s what I want to partially get into. He has had a wonderful career as a sports psychologist, helping people achieve levels of performance that they didn’t think possible.He’s worked with number one athletes in so many different fields like golf, tennis, hockey, boxing, and speed skating. You name it. Jim has been at the epicenter of helping people achieve extraordinary performance. Without further ado, I want to welcome you, Jim. Thank you so much for carving out time for this discussion to speak with our healthcare leaders.
I’m very excited about this. Thank you, Roger and Ben, for setting this up and giving us a chance. I’m very hopeful that we can create some value for your audience. From what I’ve learned about you and what you have been doing, I’m very impressed as well. Hopefully, we can create some excitement.
Jim, on a side note. I’m a sports medicine physical therapist by training. I’m certified as an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. I’ve spent a lot of the first part of my career working with athletes, particularly collegiate level and high school level athletes. It’s interesting to be able to make that connection as well with you in terms of optimizing performance.
All the lessons we learned in this incredible arena of amateur and professional sport, the real fertile ground for application is in real life, and that’s what I spent the majority of my career applying to any arena of high performance, not just sports. We’ve seen this emergence of something referred to as now, performance psychology. We are all performers. Even as mothers, fathers, and business people, we are performing all the time, and so often, we are performing under stress with big consequences. All that we learned from this professional arena of athletics is the crucible of high stress has given us tremendous insights into how the human system was engineered.
Ben, you started out as a sports physical therapist, and that’s where you and I first got acquainted. I had, at that point, crossed over as a Hospital Administrator and Hospital CEO but prior to that, for about a minute, compared to the rest of my career, I was an exercise physiologist. I don’t think I shared that with you, Jim, but you very interestingly talk about characteristic humility. You talk about your career starting by accident, and I don’t buy that. I believe in providence. I think God has a plan for all of us. You were the Executive Director of a community health system.
I became Chief Psychologist and Executive Director of a very large community mental health center system that serves the whole Central and Southern part of Colorado. We had an 8,600 square mile catchment area and nine offices. It’s a very big operation. I had that as a very young psychologist, and I got associated with an exercise physiologist by the name of Dr. Joe Vigil, who was a legend in track and field.
He and I became good friends. He got me running and was always pushing me saying, “Jim, what can you tell me as a psychologist that will help me get more out of my athletes.” I looked like a deer in headlights because I had no idea. I said, “I know people are not that well. Maybe help them to get a little healthier,” but I have no understanding or idea of how to take someone’s normal and make them extraordinary.
It’s going to be a big business in the ‘70s. He said, “You got to look into this. It’s going to be a huge thing. You love to do new things and pioneer stuff. Why don’t you look into it?” I started looking at it. I eventually resigned to a 23-member board of directors. I will never forget it. They were just huge. I thought it was a point for more money, so they almost doubled my salary and I said, “No. I’m going to go apply psychology to human performance.” They thought, “Loehr has lost his mind. He can’t handle the stress,” but I did. I moved to Denver and set up the Center for Athletic Excellence and the application of Psychology to Performance.
I realized that I didn’t know anything, so I spent the next multiple years trying to dive into the literature. I spent two years at the Jimmy Connors United States Tennis Center in Santa Ville. Six years as Director of Sports Science and Sports Psychology at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. I then joined forces with Dr. Jack Groppel in 1992, and we built the Human Performance Institute, which was the launching pad for what I felt was something we could contribute, making it a unique contribution and completely science-based. He had his PhD in Bioengineering, and we are both committed to science, so we launched The Human Performance Institute.
What a great story, and that isn’t the end of it. That’s the amazing part about it. Like all three of us starting in sport or human performance but then continuing that loop and crossing over to leadership. Ben and I and our colleagues are committed to leadership, particularly in the healthcare space but leadership in general. The thing that drew me to you, Jim, and your work, and I love it even now, the book was 2005, it was published.It really isn't the time that you invest that creates extraordinary outcomes. It's the energy you bring to whatever time you have aligned with the mission. Click To Tweet
Is that The Powerful Engagement?
It was 2008.
It’s still so relevant. When I coach leaders, when I talk to them about things that they are going through, I say, “I’m familiar with a sports psychologist who made this brilliant observation while working with golfers, tennis players, and with elite athletes. Please tell a story. What amount of time do they spend practicing versus performing?
The first thing, the first major insight, and there were many but this was a big one. I would watch all these athletes on our campus. We had a 9-acre campus, and they would come from all different sports. We had seventeen number ones in the world, and I would watch, and they were all obsessed with time. We pushed them to show up on time but then we would have people who put in the same amount of time and got a very different return. They just didn’t get the same result.
We began to look more deeply into what it was that these athletes were doing that created a very rich return for the time invested. We began to realize that it isn’t the time that you invest that creates extraordinary outcomes. It’s the energy you bring to whatever time you have aligned with the mission. That changed the whole paradigm. We have a whole industry around time management, and it’s a flawed premise.
We had Stephen MR Covey on our board, and I’ve talked before in past to Stephen Covey about this. They all realize that, in a sense, the promise of time management was that if you want to have a successful life, you simply have to decide what matters to you. You have to carve out time and courageously devote time, invest time in whatever it is you want to have to happen in your life. Your values, your beliefs, and out of that will come to this extraordinary successful life. My response is false. That’s not true. It’s not the time you invest. Time has no valence and no power. It has nothing.
Time is an opportunity to invest. The one thing that makes the world happen is everything happens with your energy. We developed a whole system around energy but we have all been duped by thinking that if we show up on time and as parents, we come home or as leaders, we were there, we were present but being present doesn’t guarantee anything.
In fact, you can get a reverse return for the investment of time if your energy is going in a different direction. We built the entire system around managing your energy in whatever time you have. It’s not how long you live. It’s the energy you bring to whatever time you have aligned with what the mission is. That, for me, is a critical paradigm shift that so many people still don’t get there. We are obsessed with time, and it’s not about time.
As a practical question, I’m thinking probably audience members are thinking as they are reading this. Essentially, how do you amass and focus your energy on something that is critical?
Energy investment is simply understanding that you are a reservoir of potential energy and can take energy out of your life. In the 30 trillion cells of your body, each one of those cells has an energy production facility. It’s called the mitochondria. As an exercise physiologist and physical therapist, you know all about this but the body produces energy. It’s basically in the union of oxygen and glucose. It is the Krebs cycle.
As a reservoir of energy, you could decide what to give to invest your energy in that comes out of your body from the cells of your body. What we learned is that you give life to whatever you give your energy to. You can give your energy to sarcasm or cynicism. You can give it to patience, kindness or whatever it is but you are like a gardener. You spawn growth wherever your energy goes, for better or for worse. If you intentionally want to have something, it’s an add-on. It’s not genetically given. You can have that but it’s probably going to involve a big investment, a focused investment of your energy.
The sweet spot of that investment is something I call full engagement. You give your best and full energy at this moment right here and now, which is very hard to gift give. That’s how you show you care. People don’t want your time. They want your energy because you take your life out of your body and give it to them, which means you truly care. You can give hours of time to someone and not even be connected and give them nothing in the way of any kind of constructive energy. That is the fallacy we have all been hoodwinked into believing.
That if we show up on time and we are there for the meeting or in this effort to do something big that we should be given kudos for that, and that is simply opening the door. If you can deliver what matters, now you can feel pretty good about the investment that you’ve made but the investment of time delivers nothing.
The nugget that I took from that was the corollary between athletes who spend the bulk of their timepracticing versus a very small percentage of their time performing. I love that because I would encourage other leaders to say, “As the CEO, the CFO or COO of this large hospital or healthcare organization, how much time do you spend practicing versus performing?”
We did all these comparisons of the world athletes in the world and even the consequence. If a golfer hits the ball into the water, he may not win the tournament. It happens all the time. The consequences are not life and death. When you are in the healthcare industry, if you haven’t prepared properly, if you are doing surgery or critical health or making big things happen in people’s lives, health-wise, the consequences can be unbelievable. How do athletes prepare for those? For an hour, maybe 2 or 3 times a week, they are performing. Even if they don’t do that, it’s not the end of the world but they are practicing and preparing for that special moment.
That’s all they do. They put everything into it, and then you say, “As corporate athletes, surgeons, physicians or whatever, how much time are we performing and how much time do we train every day to make sure that happens, whether it’s diet, nutrition, fitness, all that stuff?” We are performing all the time and virtually never training. The outcome is so much greater in terms of failure. We turned it on its head. That’s why I say that corporate athletes are the ultimate athletes because the consequences are so great.
We have so little time to put energy into our training. We have to get it right and even with our families. We are performing with our families. We have to get it right because our system has finite limits on how much energy we have. You have to decide who and what deserves your full engagement. If you don’t do that, you are not going to have a life that represents what you felt was possible or supposed to happen for you to have been a success.
People don't want your time. They want your energy because you take your life out of your body and give it to them, which means you truly care. Click To TweetJim, another logical question, if you don’t mind, Roger, me asking is where does visualization come into this application of energy? Is that just a subset of practice?
Let’s just look at the human brain. The human brain is a remarkable supercomputer. Maybe that analogy doesn’t work in all areas but the brain operates. It’s a word-sensitive and image-sensitive system. The brain is always waiting for instructions in terms of what you want to accomplish. Your brain exists to help you survive, to get you what you want and need in life. It’s always waiting for instructions.
The more images you put in, and the more words you repeat over and over, you myelinate. Myelinating is simply developing a more efficient neural pathway so that it doesn’t get diffused and the signal strength is not lessened to the point where it doesn’t have an impact. The more you create certain words and images, the brain takes this as, “This is what we need to create. This is what we must have to fulfill whatever it is you want to have in your life.”
Athletes learn very quickly the visualization. The creation of vivid images sends signals to the brain that not only this is what I want but the brain has difficulty when it’s vividly imagined telling the difference between something that happened in reality and something that was just in your mind. The chemistry and the imprint on the brain are very similar.
This is a very important training tool, particularly for athletes in precision sports. The brain is quite a miraculous creation, and the most incredible part of it is this frontal cortex and this executive function that evolved much later but it gives us the capacity to do things. This reflective consciousness decides what we want and what we do with our life. It gives us the opportunity for self-directed change and so forth. A big part of that is through imagery and the use of words in a very precise way.
Physiologically that ties to motor engrams, which is what we used to work with all the time so that as you practice and apply that visual imagery over and over again, it becomes a rapid cycle of performance that the brain and the physiology can pull off.Is that a muscle memory?A motor engram is a learned pattern. That’s why people who practice over and over again become very skilled at certain tasks. They are almost automatic because the neurophysiological system has translated that visualization into repeatable action.
One hundred percent, and it’s called the automaticity of being. In fact, we are creatures of habit. Everything we do all day long is a habit. The secret is, how do we get the habits established that is going to take us where we want to go? We can’t use conscious intention on everything or we would be exhausted very quickly. It frees us to do a lot of things that we have to have intentionality or we are going to miss.
The more we can habituate something and get the right app but if we have a lot of bad habits, the things that take us away from being the best human beings we can be and the kind of leaders we would like to be, it’s very hard to dig that out. You don’t go in and take it out. You can’t carve it out of the brain. You allow it to atrophy from disuse. You simply don’t go there with your energy, and those neural pathways begin to decay, and you replace them with something much more dynamic and effective in your life. That takes time but that’s a big part of behavioral change.
That’s a great concept, the rewiring of your brain.
I call it a designer brand. You have the option of having the brain you want but you better understand how it was designed because it is quite a unique evolutionary masterpiece. It’s an upgrade, and we will be looking at this for years and years to come and hopefully continue to upgrade the system. One day I watched Top Gun and I thought, “It’s a marvel that we are able to control this iron in such a way to create ten speeds.” You can control that but the one thing we’ve not learned complete control over is the human system.
The human system goes rogue, and how long will it be before we can control whether it’s mental illness, anger, wars or fury, all the things that get us into trouble. We’ve learned how to control machines, remarkably almost in ways that supersede our comprehension but we still can’t control the way we would like the human brain.
That’s where I would like to go, Jim, and it’s amazing. I knew that this was going to happen. Our time goes so quickly. When we talk about this full circle and come around to how we deal with the corporate athlete and leaders that Ben and I interact with all the time, how do you create these positive energy rituals? COVID in the last few years has been extraordinarily difficult, if not physically but certainly on the mental and emotional parts of our leadership. What are some things that you could tell our audience on how we create these positive energy rituals?
Let me do another layer of explanation here. For me, it was the evolution of this book, Leading with Character. Every time we make a decision as a leader, we are referencing something. There is some space in our brain that is making this ability to consciously decide and make a decision on something. Decisions are everything in life. One bad decision can cascade our lives into tragedy and great leaders, most importantly, are great decision-makers.
The decision-making process has to be brought into the light of day. We need to disinfect a lot of the things that get us, what I would call our brain’s hijacked into something maybe with envy, anger, frustration or whatever it is. We need to make sure that whatever we are referencing is not something that just happened by accident but it actually happened because you would embed this in this neural processing system that is what you want to use to help guide you to become the best leader possible.
The more you can build six-lane highways, the more you can habituate this process of going in and reflecting on your deepest values are, your beliefs, and what do you care most about? How about your treatment? Your moral and ethical character, the standards you want to set, and you build highways, and you habituate. Any tough decision that you are making is vetted through that lens. We make much better choices. The eighteenth book that I’m just submitting and finishing with Dr. Sheila Ohlsson Walker, who has her PhD in Behavioral Genetics. It’s called Wise Decisions.
It’s the next iteration from Leading with Character. It helps us understand this living credo that we are trying to get to as that reference point but we’ve gone on a much deeper level and the neurochemistry of that decision-making and the neuroscience of that. For me, the most important thing is equipping leaders with a reference point for how you make great decisions that you can look back in five years and say, “Under the same conditions, I would make that same choice because it was vetted properly. I didn’t just shoot from the hip. My emotions didn’t rule. It was a combination of emotional insight, mental insight, and spiritual acknowledgment of what matters, and the energy that I can bring is the best energy I have.” That produces extraordinary wisdom in decision-making.
People that practice over and over again become very skilled at certain tasks and are almost automatic because the neurophysiological system has translated that visualization into repeatable action. Click To TweetI can’t wait to read the book. I journal. I know you encourage leaders to journal and wrestle with these questions. That has been a daily habit of mine for several decades. One of the things I do is pray for my grandchildren every day. One of the things that I actually write in my journal is that they would make the wisest decisions.
That’s the whole thing of life. It is making the right choices.
We have a couple of minutes left. Ben, I don’t know if you have anything you want to jump in.There are a ton of things but I’m going to leave it to you.Say something, Jim, about this whole notion of a personal credo and as an encouragement to our leaders in the midst of all the chaos that has been going around, the importance of taking time to take an inward look and say, “How can I show up the very best way I can for the people that follow me at work?” The personal credo is a big part of that.
Neuroscience tells us that learning actually occurs in a pause when we are pausing in what is called a default mode. You have to reflect on what you are learning and how it applies to you in an integrated and allow this end of this command center I called the brain. If you don’t have time for personal reflection, you lose the opportunity for self-direction and for understanding how magnificently the system was designed.
I call it this evolutionary masterpiece. This ability for reflective consciousness. The brain can observe itself working. You can see how you are thinking and working and what your private voice is saying to you. You can rise above it all. What’s so interesting is that we often feel like that’s wasted time. That may be the most valuable time we have. In Leading with Character, it’s accompanied by a journal, and that journal is ten minutes a day. You simply reflect on these very specific questions that get you thinking about things that most people never think about but it opens up all the channels in your brain that need to be opened up around what I would call this moral and ethical space.
That will ultimately lead you to this intentional construction of the most important document you will have for what I call getting home in life. Getting home is ending up where you want to end up, and the credo is the best articulation of that. That is what you reference when you are making important decisions about anything that truly matters. Without that credo, we don’t know what we are using to vet what we should or shouldn’t do. We need something that’s intentionally created and reflects the best part of who we are.
This is worthy of an entire additional conversation. What you just talked about, Jim, I know very few people. I know a lot of high performers in the administrative executive leadership category. I know so few people who have the discipline to do this by themselves. We talked about the buddy system and accountability. This is perfectly designed to do this with a buddy or an accountability group.
I cannot agree with you more. It is very true. If you do this, if you have a spouse or a partner and you want to do this, hold each other accountable and compare notes. Now, you have two people trying to understand how this interior space has been brought forward in your life, whether the stuff, some of it you don’t want to continue, and others, you want to create all-new architecture. We need to change this furniture between our ears, so it’s designed the way we want it. We can do that with our energy but it has to be done intentionally and it’s hard, very challenging work. It’s not for the faint of heart.
No, not at all. I have a brilliant scientist that I work with and another part of my life. He famously says, “Very few people know the difference between something that’s impossible and something that’s just really hard.” You’ve shared with us some stuff that’s so important but it’s not impossible. It’s hard.
That’s why when you see someone get to number one in the world, you realize that this is exciting, and it is demonstrative evidence that they’ve gone from here to here but they never believe they can do it. It isn’t the application that matters. It’s a lesson for all of us. We can become extraordinary mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. We can do amazing things with our lives if we understand how the system is engineered and work with it properly.
We just saw that evidence with Rafael Nadal winning for the fourteenth time the French Open. It was amazing to watch him talk about showing repeatable patterns, which he does.
Almost to the point of obsessive-compulsive. That’s how you have to habituate all that and freeze the mind to actually go into this very special space. We call it a flow state or ideal performance state. It’s because of years of training that his brain is not normal. He has an abnormal brain which normal is to get upset, angry, frustrated or nervous. He’s trained his brain, and the rest of all of his motor skills are all coordinated in this magnificent example of what Tom Cruise is able to do with Top Gun, but his, was real. He could go into a space that almost is unimaginable from a normal perspective.
He can be agile when other people are just trying to react to a stimulus.Our hope is that we can help encourage some healthcare leaders to move into their own space and help define that. You’ve done a great job of helping us with that, Jim.Jim, could I ask a quick question on the part of the readers?
We can become extraordinary mothers, extraordinary fathers, extraordinary sons, and daughters. We can do amazing things with our life if we understand how the system is engineered and work with it properly. Click To TweetThe way the show works is these episodes become an appetizer for subsequent like a webinar or an executive round table or so forth that are typically an hour in length. What we are always doing is looking at top trending topics, which I can already tell you, are going to be. We have about 40,000 downloads a month of the show. If there is a mutual benefit of being able to have you come on as the primary guest of a webinar and talk about both Leading with Character, as well as your new book, we would welcome that opportunity as I’m sure the readers would. If there is anything like Roger and me, you just set the table, and now we want to eat the meal. Is that a potential opportunity?
I would be privileged to do that. If your audience would like to see more or hear more about this, I’m more than happy to join in and try to contribute in whatever way I can.
That would be fantastic.Thank you, Jim. You are so gracious, and you have been kind. We look forward to doing this again. Thanks for opening the door for that.
I appreciate it, Roger and Ben. I’ve enjoyed this a lot and all the best to you. You are making a real contribution, and I really appreciate your professionalism. It’s terrific.
Thank you so much.To our audience, do yourself a favor and do the hard thing. It’s not impossible. It’s important, and we are here to help you do that. Thanks to Jim. Ben, thanks to you and thanks to our audience. We will see you again next time.Thank you, Roger.
Dr. Jim Loehr is a world-renowned performance psychologist, whose ground-breaking, science-based energy management training system has achieved world-wide recognition and has been chronicled in leading national publications, including the Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, US News and World Report, Success, Fast Company and Omni. He has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel, the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and CBS Morning News, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.
From his more than 30 years of experience and applied research, Dr. Loehr believes the single most important factor in successful achievement, personal fulfillment and life satisfaction is the strength of one’s character. He strongly contends that character strength can be built in the same way that muscle strength is built through energy investment, and has brought this topic to life in his latest book, Leading with Character: 10 Minutes a Day to a Brilliant Legacy.
Every Leading with Character book comes with a companion journal designed to help readers strengthen key character muscles for leadership by refining their personal credo. Dr. Loehr has authored 16 other books and co-authored the New York Times national bestseller The Power of Full Engagement.
Dr. Loehr has worked with hundreds of world-class performers from the arenas of sport, business, medicine and law enforcement, including Fortune 100 executives, FBI Hostage Rescue Teams, and military Special Forces. Corporate clients of the Institute represent hundreds of Fortune 500 companies, including Procter & Gamble, The Estée Lauder Companies, FBI, GlaxoSmithKline, PepsiCo, and Citigroup Smith Barney. A sampling of his elite clients from the world of sport include golfers Mark O’Meara and Justin Rose; tennis players Jim Courier, Monica Seles, and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario; boxer Ray Mancini; hockey players Eric Lindros and Mike Richter; and Olympic gold medal speed skater Dan Jansen.
Dr. Loehr is also the retired chairman, CEO, and co-founder of the Human Performance Institute (HPI), prior to its acquisition by Johnson & Johnson. HPI is the pioneer in training programs designed to successfully leverage the science of energy management to improve the productivity and engagement levels of elite performers from the world of business, sport, medicine, and law enforcement, for sustained high performance.