Usually my “My Bookshelf” posts focus on a single book that’s closely related to communications, but there’s something to be said for books about making the best use of our minds. An open, creative, relaxed mind is essential to developing effective communications and changing the world. Which brings me to Tony Schwartz, whose writing and teaching have been invaluable for me over the years. Here I’ll mention two of his books, (both written by Tony Schwartz with other people).

Be Excellent at Anything

Be_Excellent_At_Anything_coverFirst off, how could I not love that title? (He first published it as The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, and that’s the title I see more often associated with this book). This book has three authors: Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy, and the subtitle, “The four keys to transforming the way we work and live.” The four keys are:

Spirit: Finding meaning in your work (slightly easier for those of us in the world-changing business)

Mind: Cultivating the space for mental focus and chances for both big-picture and day-to-day thinking (communicators, rejoice!)

Emotions: Staying aware of our emotional state (and learning not to be reactively driven by our emotions)

Physical: Making sure that our physical bodies get the chance to renew regularly (finally, scientific validation of what my grandmother said about the importance of siestas!)

The book employs plenty of examples drawn from Tony’s experience with real people who shifted from unsustainable approaches to sustainable ones.

At the end of each chapter there are “action steps” so you can practice the principles examined in that chapter. For the ultimate cheat-sheet, he has a “Big Ideas” section at the end of the book with a one page bulleted summary of the key concepts each chapter. Brilliant, Tony! 

I find his guidance on working with your own emotions particularly useful, including his prescription on page 135:

Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t

This is echoed often in his workshops and other materials, and it’s a great thing to keep in mind for those of us who want to work for a less reactionary political view and a more just and peaceful world.

The Power of Full Engagement

The_Power_of_Full_Engagement-coverThis was the first book of his that I encountered (I think in 2009). The central premise is captured in the subtitle: “Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.”

As he puts it: time is a finite resource: no matter what you do, there will still only be 24 hours in a day. But your energy fluctuates. Your energy is easier to optimize and attempt to increase than the number of hours in the day.

This book is the precursor to Be Excellent at Anything (it was also written with a co-author, Jim Loehr) so I think you could probably start with his more recent writing. But I appreciated the examples he used here (including high-performing athletes and musicians) and the “how to get started with these ideas” nature of this book.

Follow his blog or follow Tony Schwartz on DealBook

Tony has a great blog at his website, the Energy Project. His blog posts also appear regularly on the DealBook on the New York Times website. Some of his popular posts have been on raising wages as well as a post on income inequality.

Don’t feel like reading? How about a webinar?

In case reading isn’t your cup of tea, Tony Schwartz leads fascinating and interactive low-cost webinars. I took one earlier this year and had several ah-ha moments. You can sign up to get his webinar announcements at the Energy Project website.

I also want to mention

Although I find his ideas overall enlightening, I find some of his reliance on the specter of “obesity” as an defining indicator of ill-health distracting and unhelpful. Most of what he describes about physical renewal still resonates with me — he doesn’t need to rely on that oppressive idea to make his points.

Also, Tony often comes close to acknowledging the existence of systemic oppression, but doesn’t quite go there. Which is too bad… if he would talk about racism or sexism, for example, and how it contributes to a long-term of state of frustration and dispiritedness for people, that would be powerful. But instead, I just apply the principles he talks about to my own experiences of racism and sexism, and I find his thinking useful.

Change is hard, and like many people, sometimes I resist changing my habits or routines because I wind up feeling bad along the lines of “but shouldn’t I have been doing this all along?” As Tony Schwartz might point out, that’s just a stressful  that I don’t have to act on. (He has a great bit about “the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves” as well.)

Before we change the world, we can practice changing ourselves. Tony Schwartz’s writing and thinking is a great resource for becoming better communicators.

Enjoy!