The Power of Story

An Interview with Jim Loehr, the author of The Power of Story
By Vern Burkhardt
The most precious resource we humans possess is our personal energy. The key to almost all our problems is faulty storytelling, because storytelling drives the way we gather and spend our energy. We need to constantly infuse our personal story with new thinking and new energy in order to bring about sustained shifts in happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, joy and inspiration.

Our stories must have three components: ultimate purpose; honesty (what would I want truthfully written on my epitaph as having been my legacy?); and action (what will I do to make things better, to eliminate habits that do not fit with my purpose, and to acquire the habits I need in order to accomplish my purpose?). We will only have successful stories when we take charge to make them so.

The most important story we will ever tell about ourselves is the story we tell to ourselves. This story will be about work, family, health, happiness and friendships.

I had the distinct pleasure of pursuing some of Dr. Jim Loehr’s ideas, which have been distilled from his formal training in psychology, his coaching of high performing athletes and his considerable experience as a trainer and seminar leader.

1. Question: You are a performance coach for some very high profile athletes involved in Olympic and professional level sports, as well as employees and leaders of businesses, including some Fortune 500 companies. Is your advice about performance improvement essentially the same for both types of groups, and indeed for everyone?

Jim LoehrJim Loehr:
We use the same energy management technology for executives that we first pioneered with Olympic and professional athletes. There are actually more demands on the energy of executives than those in the world of professional sport, which comes as quite a surprise when the comparison is made. To achieve great success in both their professional and personal lives, executives must learn to manage their energy with great precision and skill.

2. Question: Among the over 100,000 clients that the Human Performance Institute in Orlando Florida has dealt with, have you found that the vast majority can be described as experiencing what you call “slow death”? Related to that question, has it been your experience that the majority of your clients can and have changed to the point that this term no longer applies to them?

Jim Loehr:
According to our own statistics 33% of the executives that come here report that their current life story is stagnant, 26% report that their life story is confusing and disconnected, 15% report their life story is sad and depressing and only 28% report that their life story is exciting and hopeful. Our clients report significant changes in these areas as a result of the interventions that they go through in the training. The ‘slow death’ syndrome is indeed reversible when it is fully recognized and addressed within the concept of managing energy.

3. Question: Many of us are habitually prone to multi-task, such as talk on the telephone while we work on our emails, read a document or write something unrelated to the telephone conversation. Another example is while at a meeting working on our blackberry or consciously or unconsciously thinking about something unrelated to what is going on at the meeting. You strongly recommend that we end multi-tasking; could you explain why?

Jim Loehr:
We define multi-tasking as completing two or more parallel tasks simultaneously. The fact is human beings cannot split their focus. The human energy system is binary. You are either focusing on something or you’re not. It is a complete misnomer that human beings must multi-task to achieve extraordinary results in today’s business world. The reality is just the opposite. Multi-tasking is the enemy of extraordinary. One is much more likely to make mistakes when one is trying to focus on more than one thing at a time. If an individual has 10 balls in the air at one time, 9 of them are in complete free fall. Multi-tasking dumbs us down and sends a tragic message in human relations. That message is you are not important enough to get my full and best energy.

4. Question: You write that managing energy, not time, is the most important key to success. What are some of the lessons we need to learn about this?

Jim Loehr:
The time management industry has made a promise that it could not deliver on. Nearly all of us have been tragically influenced by this false promise. The contention has been that investing time in things and people you care about will spawn order, harmony and positive growth. The fact is time has no value in and of itself. Investing time simply takes us from absenteeism to "presenteeism". Being present however, guarantees nothing in the way of a positive outcome. Time is an opportunity that becomes valuable only in its intersection with energy and becomes priceless in its intersection with extraordinary energy, the energy of full engagement. It’s not how long we spend at work, how much time we spent with our family, how many dinners you were home for, but rather the energy you brought to the time you had. The most important thing we can do in the completion of any mission is to align our energy with the intended goal in whatever time we have.

5. Question: You also say that “if all you had to give was your total energy, you could accomplish historic things”. What do you mean by that?

Jim Loehr:
The most powerful gift we have to give to the world in the completion of any mission is our full and best energy. When we give energy we give life. Not only is energy our greatest gift, it represents our greatest challenge. Once we discover that we give life to whatever we give our energy to, we recognize the great responsibility we carry every moment in ensuring our energy is aligned with what we want.

6. Question: I understand that the purpose of writing and learning to understand our “Old Stories” is so we can consciously decide what we want to change. Is that correct?

Jim Loehr:
An important step in personal change is becoming aware of how one’s current story is dysfunctional. Some stories work for us and some simply do not. The master storyteller is our inner voice, not our public voice. To change how we operate in the world, we have to get the inner voice to craft a different story. It is invariably our inner voice that enables us to justify the dysfunctional story that we are now perpetuating. This process is called “Facing the Truth” and is indispensable in crafting a new story that is founded on truth, takes us where we want to go and inspires hope-filled action.

7. Question: You point out that our pre-existing values and beliefs are powerful forces in our story making �" they help us to form, modify, alter and distort our sensory experience. What do you mean when you say, in relation to our values and beliefs, “It’s our story and we’re sticking to it”?

Jim Loehr:
The comment “it’s my story and I’m sticking to it” simply acknowledges how resistant we often are to change. We become defensive when our logic and thinking is challenged. We often hold onto a story that is dysfunctional simply because it’s familiar and it’s easier to stay with our existing story than to work hard to create a new one.

8. Question: Could you explain the lessons inherent in the statement “You can’t unteach an old dog old tricks”?

Jim Loehr:
We’ve learned at the Institute that it is much easier to learn something new than to stop something that is dysfunctional. Trying not to do something can be devilishly challenging. Human beings are much more likely to find success in trying to do something positive than to resist doing something negative.

9. Question: You provide detailed guidelines on how to write our “New Story”. Why is it so important to be clear on what the purpose of our life is, what you also describe as what we would like the words to be on our tombstone?

Jim Loehr:
The most important part of everyone’s story is purpose. It is truly the epicenter of everyone’s life. Without a clear understanding of what the destination is, it’s next to impossible to determine whether or not the story you are working on will work. The objective is to align the many stories that we have with our ultimate mission, and when that occurs it truly is liberating.

10. Question: You also advise that when we are writing our story, we should start sentences with “The truth is…”. Why?

Jim Loehr:
One of the most important ingredients in a functional story is that it is grounded in reality. For our new story to work, it must be a documentary, not a work of fiction. Every new story should start with “the truth is” to honestly detail what is a real consequence of continuing to invest in your old story. The consequence could be the loss of one’s health, one’s marriage, a shallow relationship with one’s children and so forth. Every great story is grounded in truth, reflects one’s deepest principles and values (one’s purpose) and inspires one to make changes.

11. Question: You say that one’s inner voice is the master storyteller, and that we need to consciously work to ensure our public and private voices are aligned with each other. Could you explain this?

Jim Loehr:
Aligning one’s private voice with one’s public voice is the basis for authenticity. The end result is sincerity and genuineness. All too often our public voice crafts a message that is socially acceptable and appears to be consistent with whatever mission we are on but the private voice can completely undermine any progress that might be made. When one’s public voice and private voice are completely aligned with the mission at hand a powerful sense of alignment and congruence are inevitably experienced. That is what’s meant by one’s power being breathtaking and nuclear.

12. Question: In your book you provide a lot of advice about how to ensure we take action to implement the changes we would like to make in our “New Story”. One of the most interesting was your advice to “indoctrinate” ourselves, to embed our new story into our subconscious. Why is that so important in making changes that will last in the long-term?

Jim Loehr:
As much as 95% of our behavior is under the control of habit and routine and is below the level of awareness. Only a small fraction of our lives can we manage by willpower and discipline. If our lives are to be successful it will be essentially as a consequence of what is in the 95% and not what we are able to force by will and discipline. Will and discipline are important and critical to making changes and imbedding positive habits into the 95% that will eventually take on a life of their own. The long-term success of our lives requires that the 95% be constructive and aligned with what we truly want.

13. Question: You advise that if we just let “nature take its course”, we will loose the ability to produce extraordinary energy by age forty. Therefore, we must eat “strategically”, get regular exercise, move at regular intervals if we have sedentary jobs, and get adequate amounts of rest and sleep. Do you think increased obesity in North America is a sign of lowering levels of energy and productivity, and what do you think has to be done to change this worrisome trend?

Jim Loehr:
The obesity crisis is a consequence of a number of dysfunctional lifestyle habits. The most serious problem related to obesity is the lack of physical activity, beginning with children and extending through adulthood. Health requires movement and intense movement helps the body adapt to a number of stressful environmental influences. Lack of movement combined with poor nutrition, particularly not having breakfast and consuming large meals high in fat and simple sugars creates what might be referred to as the perfect storm in the human body.

14. Question: IdeaConnection communicates with people who are interested in solving problems, seeking solutions, creating ideas and products, and working collaboratively. Will The Power of Story help our subscribers be more creative and productive?

Jim Loehr:
The Power of Story summarizes nearly 30 years of experience and research in helping people get their story straight. This approach has proven effective in arenas as diverse as professional sports, law enforcement, business and medicine. The ideas and suggestions contained in the book are very accessible, practical and should speak to most anyone interested in performing better and achieving a higher level of personal well being and happiness.

The need for a new story is clearly typified by the person who said to Jim Loehr “My life is a known quantity, so why mess with it even if it’s killing me?” Sounds like “slow death”. Of course, our IdeaConnection readers know they must be positive if they want to be creative, innovative and successfully collaborative. Still it is good to understand that we need to get “our story” correct first. As Jim Loehr advises, it must have a purpose (my legacy), be truthful, and move me to take the action(s) required to accomplish my purpose.

We should know our story and ensure we are living that story. He also gives what I thought are some useful suggestions on how to change our behavior so we become consistent with our story. It is through the use of brainwashing techniques similar to those used by cults, higher education, military training, religious training, corporate training, and Alcoholics Anonymous. About 95% of our cognitive (brain) function is non-conscious, automatic, and instinctive whereas only about 5% is controlled by will. Based on extensive work with clients Loehr concludes that a human’s greatest asset is self-awareness. It is self-awareness that allows us to have conscious, deliberate thought, and to therefore create new stories.

This story about story also applies in the business world, probably in all organizations. Loyalty and hard work are motivated by employees’ belief in the story their company tells about itself. A company’s story must move people, including management, employees, customers, and investors. It cannot be merely a company slogan (though I suspect slogans are too often considered an easy fix). Entire organizations have been undermined by storytelling that excludes the aspirations of a significant portion of their workforce. Organizations thrive when their employees are energized, engaged, nimble, and responsive. Long-term productivity and profitability is attained through the energy provided by employees so its organizations need to get the right story.

Loehr describes what he calls “the power of full engagement” as listening, seeing, and feeling with “full force”-- experiencing with “full force”. Reminds me of the “deep listening” I seem to keep referring to in my articles.

I will end with Performance Coach Loehr’s tips for maintaining energy:

  • Eating: eat within an hour of waking up; eat a meal or snack rich in carbohydrates within two hours before exercising and after exercising; eat small portions every four hours except when sleeping; drink water every thirty to sixty minutes.

  • Exercise: move at regular intervals; lack of movement equates to lack of energy; when exercising if you feel comfortable you are not exerting yourself enough; but exercising to the point of pain is bad.

  • Rest and sleep: take short naps or periods of disengagement every ninety minutes during the busy workday; the fitter one is physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually the shorter the required breaks during the day; adults should go to bed at the same time every night and sleep for seven and a half to eight hours. Oh oh, I need to take note of this one about sleep!

Ernest Hemingway stated that to be a great writer you must have a “built in shock-proof crap detector”. My detector did not sound off while I was reading The Power of Story.

The Power of Story and some of Jim Loehr’s other books can be purchased from Amazon and those wonderful walk-in bookstores that stock books on business management. His website includes, among other things, exercise guidelines for those who wish to improve their stories.

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