In economic terms we call them opportunity cost. They involve sacrificing something to do something else. Every day, we trade our time, attention, and resources as we go through our day. As individuals and organizations, we are reservoirs of potential energy that can be recruited to do things. How we spend our days does end up creating our lives.
As Jim Loher and Tony Schwartz say in The Power of Full Engagement, a book I read a dozen years ago, managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. The book's central thesis is that to be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned.
To make smart trade-offs we should start by defining our purpose, then distilling our truth, so we can identify the gap between the two. For example:
Purpose — “How should I spend my energy in a way that is consistent with my deepest values?”
Truth — “How am I spending my energy now?”
Action — bridge the gap between the two
Loher and Schwartz explain how to increase your energy levels by tapping four primary sources:
1.physical — including strategies for balancing stress and recovery, fueling the fire with nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise
As a long time, long distance runner, many of the suggestions on building strength, endurance, flexibility, resilience, and recovery helped me improve my form, speed, and enjoyment. I also learned to work in 90-minute bursts and have been experimenting with naps for the last dozen years.
2. emotional — transforming threat into challenge and developing depth and resilience through active engagement with others and with our own feelings; habits and skills are patience, openness, trust, and enjoyment
3. mental — as in learning visualization and mental preparation with appropriate focus and realistic optimism, learning to manage time and harnessing creativity
4. spiritual — having a 'why' to live with honesty, integrity, courage, and persistence, developing capacity through passion, commitment, and service to others
Developing supportive habits and skills is a good first step toward building capacity for stronger and more established competencies in all four areas [see image above.] Relationships play a role in building capacity and activating potential:
“A relationship in which you do most of the giving and receive very little in return ultimately prompts a sense of deficit and emptiness.”
We may or not may not be aware of the trade-offs we make between immediate benefit, cost, and long-term consequences, including unintended consequences. A few examples in the book (adapted):
A pessimistic attitude creates less disappointment, is less risky, and involves less vulnerability now, yet it carries reduced positive energy, undermines interpersonal effectiveness, and thus happiness and reduces performance, health and happiness over the long haul.
Poor work/life balance characterized as long hours away from family and limited time with friends means accomplishing more at work, having less emotional risk, avoiding responsibilities outside work and comes with a cost to intimate connection, which leads to resentment of family and friends. Over the long run unfulfilled relationships affect a tendency to impatience, anger, and escalate into burnout, regret, guilt, and loss of passion.
Multitasking like answering emails while talking on the phone may give the temporary illusion of accomplishing more in short term, with a feeling that you are being productive, however it leads to divided attention, likely lower comprehension, and thus lower quality of work. Being less fully engaged with people creates shallow connections with others.
Poor diet like high fat and sugar, for example, creates immediate gratification, and is often the product of convenience. However, it may result in high cholesterol, increased weight, and less sustained positive energy. Long term, this may lead to an increase in risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and early death.
Some of the trade-offs above may seem obvious, yet bad habits are hard to break because they are automatic. Self-control and self-regulation, before we create better habits, require we make conscious choices. Change, like choices requires a higher investment of energy, and commitment.
“We can experience pleasure without any investment in psychic energy, whereas enjoyment happens only as a result of unusual investment of attention,” said Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
In his work, Csikszentmihalyi contrasts pleasure with enjoyment. He says pleasure feels good, but it's conservative, and leads to status quo. While enjoyment is like happiness in action, leading to greater skills. Enjoyment leads to a “triumph over the forces of entropy” and is like building psychological capital.
Learning to make smart trade-offs is important for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and it comes with a long-er term benefit of improving our performance.