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How Energy Rituals Can Help You Write: Going Beyond the Standard Butt-in-Chair Advice

imagesWriters have long been told to create rituals around writing. Sit your butt in the chair at 9am daily and the muse will eventually show up. Commit to a specific wordcount per day, no more, no less. Before you begin to write, visualize your book on the bookstore shelf.

There’s nothing wrong with that advice. Writing takes dedication and commitment.

It also takes a helluva lot of energy. The Power of Full Engagement explores the management of personal energy to perform at your highest potential—and not feel wasted doing it.

This book was published in 2003 (as evidenced by now-quaint references to Palm Pilots and America Online), so if you read businessy self-help books, some of its concepts probably have permeated your consciousness regardless of whether or not you’ve read it.

Power of Full Engagement Summary

To summarize the book’s summary:

  • Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance. Everything we do, think, feel has an energy consequence.
  • There are four dimensions in which we manage energy:
    • Physical – This determines our quantity of energy. Optimally we are energized.
    • Emotional – This determines our quality of energy. Optimally we are connected.
    • Mental – This determines our focus of energy. Optimally we are focused.
    • Spiritual – This determines our force of energy. Optimally we are aligned.
  • The four dimensions are interrelated. Problems in one area will influence the others; likewise, growth in one area will benefit the others. The trick is finding the right balance to achieve full engagement.
  • Barriers to full engagement include negative habits that block, distort, waste, diminish, deplete, and contaminate stored energy.
  • We can remove barriers by creating positive energy rituals, behaviors that become automatic over time, fueled by some deeply held value.
  • We can grow our energy capacity in all four dimensions by learning to work in cycles of energy expenditure and recovery or “strategic disengagement” (think interval training for athletes).
  • Sustained high performance is best served by a “sprinter” mentality rather than “marathoner” mentality. For example, rather than working for 8 hours straight, work for 90 to 120 minutes, then take a short break before beginning the next work cycle.
  • We need to manage both overuse and underuse of energy. Most of us tend to undertrain physically and spiritually (e.g., we don’t work out, we eat poorly, we don’t connect to our personal values and mission). We tend to overtrain (i.e., underrecover) mentally and emotionally (e.g., we work too hard all the time without a break, we don’t actively cultivate patience and empathy).

Common Sense? Yes, but…

A lot of this information will sound like common sense, albeit maybe in a somewhat new framework, so I’ll send you to the book for examples of ways to shore up the four areas (things like exercise, get enough sleep, eat right, spend time with your family, learn self-control, have fun, etc.—nothing terribly surprising).

Despite the common sense nature of much of the advice, I will say that contextualizing performance and related behavior change around energy management resonated with me. Many years ago, after getting very angry about a parking ticket or something similarly trivial, I found my mood ruined all day; by the time I got home, I felt drained. Somehow I figured out the energy drain was linked to the anger. Why did I spend so much energy on something so meaningless? Once I experienced that Aha, I learned to let go of little negative things consciously and quickly (well, as quickly as I could manage).

So energy, yes. I like the concept of managing energy.

Applying Energy Management to Writing

Let’s take this energy idea into the writing world. Of course, do recognize that paying attention to all four dimensions is important. Having strong social and familial relationships will help sustain energy for writing. Having a fit body will help sustain energy for writing. Doing things that “fill your well” will help sustain energy for writing. But I’d like to home in on ritual, because that’s where I found the biggest insight from this book.

Writing Rituals

Again, positive energy rituals are behaviors, fueled by some deeply held value, that become automatic over time (sounds suspiciously like a “good habit”). Perhaps you believe it is imperative to get your message into the world or to achieve your full potential, which for you means that you MUST write. If you don’t write, you will be out of integrity with your core value, so you decide your positive energy ritual is to write at 9am every day. Connecting your value to that action makes it easier to execute.

Once you practice your ritual long enough, you stop questioning yourself every day (Do I want to write today? Yes, but I’m tired/uninspired/lazy, so I’ll wait for tomorrow. But oh I really should write. Sigh. Maybe after I check Facebook…); you just sit in that chair at 9am and start writing.

Here’s the key point: When an action becomes automatic, you no longer have to decide to do it, which frees up that decision-to-write energy to go into your actual writing.

Oh! THAT’s why we keep getting advice about creating a ritual (a good habit) around our writing. It’s not about sheer willpower and dedication—it’s about using our energy to its best and highest purpose. I’d never really considered it in those terms though.

When an action becomes automatic, you no longer have to decide to do it, which frees up that decision energy to go into your writing.

But wait, can we take that further? Why yes! Yes we can!

Non-Writing Energy Rituals that Support Writing

We can create positive energy rituals around non-writing activities so that we can free up energy expended unnecessarily and redeploy it to our writing.

Personal example: My husband and I for many years have created our menu for the week on Sunday afternoons so we can shop for groceries once a week. By planning ahead we become more efficient in our shopping and meal preparation. We avoid this conversation: “What should we do for dinner tonight?” “I don’t know. What do we have?” “I don’t know. Not much.” “Pasta?” And, by having a week’s worth of groceries on hand, we can easily swap meal nights if our mood or time available to cook changes. Even when we get lazy and slack off in our planning, we know that Wednesdays and Sundays are salad nights, so two nights a week are automatically planned. I’m amazed how much less mental energy we expend and how much more smoothly the evenings go when we follow this ritual.

If a weekly menu can save that much energy to redeploy, what other activities can we ritualize to free up energy for writing? Other household chores? Email responses? Social media time?

When we ritualize those activities, are there benefits other than efficiency? There can be, sure. By planning our menu weekly, my husband and I not only become more efficient and use less mental energy on a nightly basis, but we spend time together creating our menu (emotional dimension). As we search through stacks of cookbooks for new, inspiring recipes, we intentionally balance the types of meals and expand the variety of food we eat (physical dimension).

How else can you create rituals that provide energy benefits in multiple dimensions?

To Summarize Energy Management Once More

When you think about the sustained, engaged writing needed to write a book, consider the energy required for it. Learn to:

  • Eliminate negative thoughts/feelings/actions that drain your energy.
  • Create positive writing rituals—butt-in-chair practices—that align to your values.
  • Create positive non-writing rituals to free up and/or expand the energy available for writing.

And of course, none of this is really about writing, is it? It’s about what is most important to you–your priorities. Are you managing your energy toward your priorities?


The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.

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