How to Expand your Capacity without Burning Out

How to Expand your Capacity without Burning Out

For many of us, reducing our current responsibilities just isn’t an option so the only way forward is for us to learn how to expand our capacity, so we can have more energy in our day to get more done. This is especially important in the times we live in. Solutions to the world’s problems are in abundant supply but for change to occur it requires the people of the world to add the important task of taking action and making change to our already overcrowded schedule.  So how do we keep pushing, and expanding our capacity to do more, without burning out?

Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. – Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

While I’m personally not big on sports, I am deeply interested in how we can accelerate human evolution though our everyday choices. When sports psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz were studying endless hours of tennis replays, they were in the exact opposite camp to me, with their mind totally on sports – not really thinking about a bigger picture. To their surprise (as they tried to discover the difference between the top ten in the world and the players who rose to number one), they uncovered a core principle that can be applied to every aspect of life from the elite business world to people training in yoga and meditation. They found the key to expanding capacity, without burning out.  Put simply, it breaks down like this:

Push as hard possible (in a safe way), but not for too long ; and rest as deeply as possible, but also not for too long. Then continue to oscillate between these two states.

Just as in high intensity interval sprint training (HIIT), which is proven by science to be the fastest way to expand capacity in terms of fitness, this principle is applicable to every aspect of our lives. As Loehr and Schwartz say in their book The Power Of Full Engagement, ‘We build emotional, mental and spiritual capacity in precisely the same way that we build physical capacity.’

The Importance of Deep Rest and Repelenishment

Their eureka moment came when they stopped looking at the players during training and play, but instead turned their focus to the moment between points when the player would switch into deep rest and recovery mode. They found that the players who kept themselves in a state of tension, in a mode of ‘I must stay focused’ both during the point and in the moment of time between the points, were the ones who’s resolve broke first. It was the players who were able to soak up as much recovery as possible in the small space of time between points who were the ones who rose to the top.

Soak up as much recovery in the small space of time between pointsSoak up as much recovery in the small space of time between points

Push Yourself, But Not Too Much

If we want to expand capacity, like a tennis player wanting to have more skill, focus and stamina than all of his competitors, we need to push ourselves until we want to give up, but then go a little further into where it feels uncomfortable. The key is to make sure you don’t push too far into this territory, otherwise it actually causes a reduction in capacity due to damage and/or burnout.

Go Into Deep Rest and Recovery Mode, But Not For Too Long

This means shrinking down your attention to just this one task. If you’re still thinking about the active stage, you’re not truly resting. Our culture has us going to work five days a week and focusing for long stints, then coming home and thinking about work while we lay in bed at night. This theory suggests that there needs to be a constant oscillation between these two states, and when in the deep rest and recovery mode to be fully in it. Stop everything, reduce stimulation as much as possible, breathe and soak up as much replenishment as possible. This is what the champion tennis players would do in those moments when they were doing during their ritual of wiping their face with a towel, then bouncing the ball exactly three times before serving again.

At the most practical level, our capacity to be fully engaged depends on our ability to periodically disengage.
– Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Perhaps most crucial of all is that when we rest too long, we also diminish capacity. In essence, this is the road to couch potato. The perfect balance is pushing forward, recognising when you’re past being comfortable, staying in that for a little while to expand capacity, then going into deep rest and recovery. Then to stay in that until you feel genuinely replenished and not a moment longer.

To maintain a powerful pulse in our lives, we must learn how to rhythmically spend and renew energy.
– Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Stop everything, reduce stimulation, breathe, and soak up as much replenishment as possibleStop everything, reduce stimulation, breathe, and soak up as much replenishment as possible

Becoming More Efficient… At Everything

From here, the next step is to get better at gaining replenishment from shorter periods of time by learning to do go into deeper and deeper states of replenishment, and this can be done by creating rituals.

Creating positive rituals is the most powerful means we have found to effectively manage energy in the service of full engagement.
– Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

By learning to constantly be in this movement between full engagement and deep replenishment, we find sustainability and equilibrium for our energy levels. As we expand capacity we are able to take on more and due to increased sensitivity around our limits and knowing what to do when we hit those limits, burnout becomes a thing of the past, as long as we continue to practice these principles.

Cultivating Energy Includes Spiritual Energy

According to Loehr and Schwartz, full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  When we go into deep rest and recovery mode we are replenishing these four types of energy. By resting the body we replenish the physical; by observing, accepting, feeling and releasing we replenish the emotional; by quieting the mind we replenish the mental and by remembering a common purpose above ourselves we replenish our spiritual energy.

Character — the courage and conviction to live by our deepest values — is the key muscle that serves spiritual energy.
– Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

If ‘those who love peace’  are going to turn the current state of things on this planet around it’s going to require us to become more efficient than ‘those who love war’ as MLK put it. We all know the feeling of wanting to do more to make the world a better place, though we may not have the energy. The Power Of Full Engagement gives us a practical approach to expanding our ability to not only to run our day to day life, but also contribute to our species transitioning to a sustainable future.

The way we’re working isn’t working: Tony Schwartz at TEDxMidwest

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