As the founder of The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz is a man on a mission. His quest to elevate society’s work-life balance and energize company cultures is defined by intention, rest, and authentic living. Here, Schwartz reveals tips to increased professional success and happiness.
You’ve been taking a month off for the past five years. How is vacation critical to any busy CEO’s success?
It’s not just that vacation is important, but the length of vacation. Vacations are a time to truly renew and refuel, and equally, to step back and take a longer-term, more reflective perspective on the challenges you’re facing. I use August to simply hang out with my wife, two children, and four grandchildren. I work out and play tennis, and sit with an old-fashioned pen and a notebook, which I fill for a month with all my thoughts about the year ahead.
What do you consider the biggest roadblock to professional success?
In truth, lack of privilege. The advantage to those who grow up with easy access to higher education, the cultural capital that comes from being exposed to successful people, and the confidence that privilege affords have an enormous impact on the likelihood of future success. For those who don’t have such advantage—which is most of us—the biggest roadblock is the inability to delay gratification. Success in a fair world goes to those with the greatest persistence more than it does to those with the greatest talent.
How would you compare an athlete’s training to the work-balance ratio?
Any serious athlete understands the concept of periodization—the managing of work-rest ratios. In simple terms that means making rest and recovery as important as training. The highest sustainable performance comes not from working the most hours, but from finding the best balance between work and rest. That’s what allows us to be at our best and most efficient when we’re working, so we get more done, in less time, at a higher level of quality, and over a longer period of time.
When you’re traveling, and specifically while in flight, how do you like to spend your time?
There may be nothing I enjoy more than time to deeply focus. Over 40 years of business travel, I have never watched a movie on a plane. I find it much more satisfying to use that time to reflect, write, and read books—all the stuff that’s so hard to get to in everyday life. If I’m on a long flight, and I know I’m not going to get enough sleep when I land, then sleep becomes the highest priority for me. None of this makes me sound like a fun guy, but that’s what I become on vacation!
How can PeopleFuel radically change one’s mindset?
PeopleFuel is a core training we offer to help employees at all levels in companies—right up to the C-suite—better manage their own energy across four dimensions: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Helping people see the ways they’re falling short in each of those dimensions—through what we call our “Energy Audit”—has a powerful impact by itself. It’s a true wake-up call. A second powerful “ah-ha” for most participants is seeing in a clear, persuasive way that we each operate with two primary selves which work at cross-purposes. One is the self we think of as who we are—our logical, rational self, run by our pre-frontal cortex. The other one is run by our amygdala and it’s designed to insure our survival at any cost. This self operates instinctively, reactively, and automatically and is incapable of logic or reflection. The sad truth is that our second self dominates our decisions far more often than we imagine, while our pre-frontal cortex—our thinking self—ends up rationalizing the choices we make when our second self renders us incapable of thinking. The hopeful part of this story is that the more aware we become of our two selves, the more opportunity we have to choose between them. After all, you can’t change what you don’t notice.
Interested in learning more from Tony? Visit his recent post on the Harvard Business Review.
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