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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Books Worth Your Time VI

How do we, given the enormous number of things we do in our jobs as conductors, keep sane and healthy? How can we deal better with stress?
Are there ways for us to do what we do with joy, full energy, and full engagement?
This week's title is The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The subtitle tells the story: "Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal."
Jim Loehr has been a coach to hundreds of athletes, working with, among others tennis players Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, and Monica Seles; golfers Mark O'Meara and Ernie Els; basketball players Nick Anderson and Grant Hill; and speed skater Dan Jansen. Loehr's coaching was not about their athletic skills or technique, but in helping them manage their energy more effectively. After those successes, Loehr's company expanded to corporate clients and entrepreneurs.
In his language, you have to become a "corporate athlete"—we might say "conductor athlete" or "teaching athlete."
In order to achieve great performance he outlines several principles:
  1. Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual
  2. Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal
  3. To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do
  4. Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy—are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance
This has to do with all the elements that go into those areas of energy: what you eat, how you exercise, how you rest and sleep, etc. He says, "The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal. Instead, many of us live our lives as if we are running in and endless marathon, pushing ourselves far beyond healthy levels of exertion. We become flat liners mentally and emotionally by relentlessly spending energy without sufficient recovery. Either way, we slowly but inexorably wear down."
The space (and time to write!) I have for this blog is far too short to fully describe the book. He uses a hypothetical example of a stressed out manager who's falling apart that they work with in order to go through the steps of building capacity (in all the areas: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual). It's a good way to illustrate the process they take clients through in their work (and to imagine your own challenges).
I've found this immensely valuable, although I'm not equally successful in all areas! However, this year is a good test for me: last year, in addition to my teaching and administrative job at UNT, I became Interim Chancel Choir Director at the largest Methodist Church in the world: Highland Park UMC. This year, however, I've added the title (and most of the job) of Interim Director of Music & Arts in a program with a big concert series and many other things to administer. I have help, of course, and the staff at HPUMC is wonderful. But I still have to find the time to get all the work done at both jobs and not short either place.
I'd already learned one of the biggest lessons from the book, which is that humans work best naturally in a rhythmic, pulsing way—i.e., we need to regularly exert effort, but then disengage, even if briefly. Over the last decade or so I've gotten much better at being able to work intensely with lots of focus and energy, but then disengage for a short time with an activity (which can be surprisingly short) that allows me to recharge my batteries. Much like the waves in the ocean, the energy we exert needs to be used in pulses of both energy and rest and renewal.
I'm much better at giving myself time for mental, emotional, and spiritual renewal. And I find ways, when I have a day off to truly disengage, renew and recreate (and I usually schedule a massage!). All of that is invaluable.
I'm not nearly as good keeping up with the physical side: making time for regular exercise, eating better, and getting enough sleep . . . but I'm working on it!
I think you'll find this book and its ideas a valuable addition to your library. All of us need to find ways to renew ourselves to be able to give our choirs the best we have to offer! And we need it to truly live life and not just survive it.

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