January 1st 2011 – Parshat Va’era
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
- Viktor Frankl (1905-1997)
What do Google, Starbucks, The Ritz Carleton & The National Security Agency of America have in common with eachother? You guessed it, they’re all clients of Tony Schwartz.
Tony Schwartz is a former New York Times reporter, the former associate editor at Newsweek, a best-selling author and the CEO and founder of the Energy Project.
The Energy Project’s vision and slogan is to “energize people and companies”. This concept is based on decades of study led by Schwartz on how “the way we’re working isn’t working”.
There was a global work force study done by a leading consulting firm with 90,000 employees in 18 separate countries. What they found was that 40% are disengaged at work, another 40% feel “enrolled” with their work, while only 20% feel fully engaged. This means that out of every 5 people, only 1 is really excited, happy and engaged to be doing their daily work. Where have we gone wrong?
Schwartz says that the answer is grounded in an assumption that’s deeply rooted in most of us: that human beings operate most productively in the same one-dimensional way that machines do. Machines perform continuously, at high speeds, running multiple programs for long periods of time. Where the best way to have more done is by working longer and more continuously. The parallel of a human being to a machine is termed an assumption because it’s entirely untrue.
The truth is that “we perform our best and are most productive when we move between periods of high focus and intermittent rest. The real issue is not the number of hours a person spends at work, but rather the value they generate while they’re working.”
Schwartz strongly argues that “the more continuously we work, the less productive we become.” Where society holds onto a value of bigger, stronger, faster – society sees a product of narrow, shallow and short-term. This is all due to the misunderstanding that we operate like machines, when in truth we operate as who we really are: human beings with a human spirit.
The essential principle of The Energy Project is that in order to work productively, create things that matter and in general be happy and fulfilled in our lives, we need to focus not on what we do, but on how we do it. Not to manage our time so much as manage our energy.
In Schwartz’s book, “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” he outlines the “four forgotten needs that energize great performance.” Just as a car needs fuel and a computer needs electricity, we also need our own sources of fuel to perform. There are four:
Physical - Nutrition, intermittent rest, exercise and a good night’s sleep are not a luxury but a core need to live our best life.
Emotional – The emotions that we have tremendously influence how we perform and live. The higher our positive emotional state, the better our lives and work are.
Mental – We work and live better when we’re focued on what we’re doing. Interruptions, interferences and thinking something is urgent when it’s not destroy our work and life. When focused, everything we do has passion, value and meaning.
Spiritual – The highest level of energy is fueled when we have a deep value and sense of purpose in what we’re doing. If we feel that what we’re doing matters, we’re living less like a Ford and more like a Ferrari.
What has been profound for me is something that Schwartz found regarding rest. Many people’s concept of rest is only in regards to sleep. While sleep might be a form of rest, it is not the only kind.
More than 50 years ago Nathaniel Kleitman discovered the “basic rest-activity cycle”. Where every 90 minutes of our sleep we move progressively through five stages of sleep, from light to deep and then out again.
Kleitman however, discovered that this cycle is not only a pattern while we’re asleep, it’s also a pattern while we’re awake. When we’re awake, we move from higher to lower alertness every 90 minutes. What happens at the end of 90 minutes? Our body sends us a clear signal that we’re hungry, we’re losing focus, we’re anxious or fidgety – we need to take a break. By taking a break we give ourselves the necessary rest to re-enter a high-alert state. We live in this cycle of rest-activity and need to constantly renew ourselves throughout the day. By giving ourselves space and rest, we allow ourselves better focus and higher productivity.
This paradigm shift to focus on our energy, specifically in regards to giving ourselves space, is not only changing the way we live our lives, it is giving current language to core principles of the Torah.
The Torah narrative of this week is one of conflict, constriction and frustration. The ruler of Egypt, Pharoah, is fearful about the Jewish people and chooses to enslave them while killing the first-born Jewish males. The Jewish people’s spirits are embittered and they cry out to God for redemption. Moshe lets out his fury on an abusive Egyptian, tries to settle a fight between two Jews and flees for his life. God wants Moshe to be the leader and redeemer of the Jewish people – and Moshe refuses adamantly.
“God said, ‘…now go…bring my people out of Egypt.’ Moshe replied, ‘Who am I that I should go to to Pharoah? And how can I possibly get the Jewish people out of Egypt?’” (Shmot 3:10,11)
“But they will not believe me, they will not listen to me.” (Shmot 4:1)
“I beg you God, I am not a man of words…I find it difficult to speak & find the right language…I beg you God, please send someone more appropriate” (Shmot 4:10,13)
“Oh God, why did you send me? As soon as I came to Pharoah to speak in Your name, he only made things worse for these people. You have done nothing to help your people.” (Shmot 4:22)
“God spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Go speak to Pharoah…’ Moshe spoke, interrupting the revelation, ‘even the Jewish people won’t listen to me – how can I expect Pharoah to listen to me? I can hardly speak!’” (Shmot 6:10)
“God spoke to Moshe a second time. ‘I am God, relate to Pharoah all that I am saying to you.’ Interrupting the revelation Moshe said, ‘I am unable to speak! How will Pharoah ever listen to me?’” (Shmot 6:29)
This is an entirely different Moshe than we’re used to thinking of. How are these conversations characteristic of a leader? Low self-confidence, argumentative, negative, upset, interruptive and doesn’t listen. On top of all this, the conversation seems like it’s going nowhere: God asks, Moshe refuses. God asks, Moshe refuses. God asks, Moshe interrupts and refuses. This is like a bad therapy session with everyone saying the same thing over and over!
Suddenly though, almost mysteriously, everything changes:
“Moshe & Aaron did everything that God asked them, they did it exactly.” (Shmot 7:6)
Something changed. Something happened that shifted the energy of this story. Almost immediately and intriguingly Moshe shifts from someone who will absolutely not do what is asked of him to calmly accepting and performing. From here on begins the entire redemption of the Jewish people, the beginning of a wisdom that changed the world and all due to a sudden shift in energy of a single person. What happened?
What shifted was a change from “I” to “we”, from Moshe to Moshe and Aaron. In the previous chapters God suggests that Aaron accompany Moshe so they work together.
“God said to Moshe, ‘Take notice that I will make you a judge and Aaron as the spokesman. You will tell Aaron what I tell you and Aaron will relate it to Pharoah. He will then let the Jewish people leave.’” (Shmot 7:1,2)
The fundamental change from Moshe adamantly against to Moshe in high performance happened by giving Moshe space. When Moshe understands that this massive responsibility and leadership role are not his alone but rather his to share – Moshe changes. It seems then that giving space, allowing for rest, relaxation and calm are not a luxury in life, but a core need. Without fueling this core need, Moshe is negative, argumentative and short-sighted. Through fueling this need, through giving Moshe space, Moshe becomes his best self.
We are not cars, we are not computers, we are human beings with soul, spirit and purpose. When we treat ourselves like machines, we feel like machines: without soul, rusty and heavy.
The most succesful organizations in the world are realizing this. Google, Starbucks, Sony and tens of others hire The Energy Project to make that change; and they’re not alone.
There are many people today who are beginning to live their lives with purpose, passion and energy. If yesterday our lives were run on little sleep, unhealthy eating, negative emotions, interruptions, lack of focus and value – then today we need to start de-toxing. A first step in this process is giving ourselves space. Space to reflect, to think, to rest and renew. God willing we should decide to live with energy and purpose and like Moshe change the course of our lives and history.
To learn more on how to enjoy your life and relationships – and how to effect positive change in any environment – go to Rabbi Ari’s FREE video course at: http://www.ediin7.com.