The Power of Full Engagement

by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

I picked up this book on a recommendation from Ramit Sethi.

Overall the most useful concept for me was the one of energy being oscillatory.

Take a moment to consider how broad a range of emotional muscles you have in your own life. In all liklihood you will discover that you have considerably more strength on one side of the spectrum than the other. Notice, too, the judgment that you bring to the relative merits of opposing qualities. No emotional capacity better serves depth and richness more than the willingness to value feelings that seem contradictory and not to choose up sides between them. To be fully engaged emotionally requires celebrating what the Stoic philosophers called anacoluthia—the mutual entailment of the virtues. By this notion, no virtue is a virtue by itself. Rather, all virtues are entailed. Honesty without compassion, for example, becomes cruelty.

The creative process itself is oscillatory. The five stages of creative process are now widely recognized:

  1. first insight
  2. saturation
  3. incubation
  4. illumination
  5. verification

They go on to describe the process, including a quote from Betty Edwards (author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain):

Two of the stages of creativity clearly depend more on logical, analytical left-hemisphere skils. In saturation, information is gathered in a methodical, step-by-step way from multiple sources. The final stage, verification, relies on analyzing, codifying and translating the creative breakthrough into rational, accessible language. The other three stages—first insight (the initial inspiration), incubation (mulling over the ideas), and illumination (the breakthrough)—are all associated with the right hemisphere. All three tend to occur when we are doing something that Edwards calls “thinking aside”—not actively seeking answers or results. “In each of these stages,” she writes, “the creative work occurs largely at an unconscious level—and often after the left hemisphere’s conscious, rational search for a solution has been exhausted.” In short, the highest form of creativity depends on a rhythmic movement between engagement and disengagement, thinking and letting go, activity and rest. Both sides of the equation are necessary, but neither is sufficient by itself.

The ultimate focus of the book is on identifying and aligning yourself with a larger spiritual purpose. We create a stable center in our lives and navigate the challenges along the way with a commitment to living according to our deepest values. They quote Victor Frankl (author of Man’s Search for Meaning) multiple times:

Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. . . . What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Helpful things:

Clarifying purpose takes time–quiet, uninterrupted time–which is something that many of us feel we simply do not have. We are forever rushing from one obligation to the next without a larger sense of direction. It seems almost self-indulgent to spend time on questions of meaning and purpose. It may help to think of energy devoted to these issues as an investment with the potentional to deliver a high return over time—increased energy, fuller engagement, higher productivity and higher satisfaction.

Psychologist James Hillman has a nice quote:

Loving oneself is no easy matter . . . because it means loving all of oneself, including the shadow where one is ineferior and socially so unacceptable. The care on gives this humiliating part is the cure . . . [but] the moral dimension can never be abandoned. Thus is the cure a paradox requiring two incommensurables: the moral recognition that these parts of me are burdensome and intolerable and must change, and the loving laughing acceptance which takes them just as they are, joyfully, forever. One both tries hard and lets go, both judges harshly and joins gladly . . .

End paragraph.