Physical effectiveness - in theory image

Physical effectiveness - in theory

One of the best books I have read in years is The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz1, The book claims to have the power “to profoundly transform the way we work and live”, and it does an magnificent job.

The four main sections of the book are full of case studies, stories and examples and correspond to the four types of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual2. The centre-piece of the action in each section is a filled-in grid, one for each of the first three types of energy. Each grid is made up of four quadrants, showing the following:
1. What it is to be effective?
2. What do we do when we are not effective?
3. What awful places do this behaviour lead us to?
4. What better way might there be to revitalise and improve our effectiveness?
For example:
1. Physical effectiveness is about being active, such as playing or laughing.
2. When we feel tired we often try to spike our system, such as with caffeine or amphetamines.
3. This frequently leads to numbness, made worse with alcohol, sleeping pills and television.
4. Rather, we should renew deeply by chilling, meditating3, and taking regular breaks.
In his chapter on exercise (“Use it or lose it”), Schwartz says this:
“Aesop had it wrong in his classic fable about the tortoise and the hare. It isn’t the tortoise, slow and steady, that wins the race. Rather, it’s the hare, who balances intense bursts of energy with intermittent periods of recovery.”4 
I love this! Such high-value comments are everywhere throughout the physical, emotional and mental sections in The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.
So far so good. But why was I “inspired and frustrated” when I read it? Because of the connection with the spiritual. Introducing his spiritual grid, Schwartz explains that our behaviour is rooted in the values we hold (so far so good) and that the worse our behaviour, the more likely that we get into a rut of bad values, getting used to operating out of poor value systems (so far still so good). So where’s the problem? Here goes - three problems actually:
1. His spiritual grid was empty. Completely empty. Aware of this, Schwartz explains, “the qualities that fuel spiritual energy are more subjective.”5
2. Schwartz’s stated spiritual foundation is “values”.
3. His book does not go very far in connecting the spiritual with the other types of energy.
Many have highlighted the problems with the first two points. (Health warning: this paragraph is heavier going than the rest of this post - stick with it if you like a bit of stodge in your blog.) Schwartz himself has a worldview that underlies the values he recommends. So is he really telling us that (objectively) there are no objectively good spiritual qualities? This question may seem cheeky or even irrelevant but in fact it is vital. Over recent centuries the influence of Descartes, Kant and others has paved the way for religious and spiritual claims to be relegated to the privatised, subjective arena called ‘values’. These claims are not allowed access to the public square, which is seen (according to this thinking) as the sole realm of objective fact. Scan today’s newspapers and you will probably find evidence of this, such as faith not being relevant to education or science. Translation? Advocates of personal effectiveness are often silent when it comes to spiritual advice. In books such as Schwartz’s, there are tips aplenty in relation to physical, emotional and mental effectiveness, but little objective in relation to spirituality. This is important because by not engaging with the spiritual we forfeit much of the benefit of physical, emotional and mental effectiveness. They are all linked. The foregone opportunity is huge when we evacuate spirituality of objective content6.
As for the third problem (above), the Personal Effectiveness Project is showing that physical sustainability nuggets from Schwartz’s book and elsewhere are playing their part in Martin’s spiritual development, as well as that of others. This is what Christians would expect. After all, the Maker of heaven and earth has given the earth to mankind (Psalm 115:15-16). Vigorous work is good for us (Proverbs 14:23 and 31:17), as is time in the desert or wilderness (as Moses, Paul and Jesus demonstrated). Artificial separation of the physical and spiritual, whether in work, renewal or play, makes no sense.
Where does that leave us? There is much else to love about the spiritual part of Schwartz’s work. I love the phrase “Our spiritual self transcends our physical, emotional and mental self but also includes them”. I am inspired by Schwartz’s physical insight and his desire to include the spiritual and I recommend his book. But I am also frustrated that Schwartz and his team did not apply their undoubted abilities to make their spiritual grid deeper and more consistent.
Now it’s your turn. Get involved. Post some comments. What might a Biblical case for physical sustainability look like?


  • 1 Subtitle: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energise Great Performance. London: Simon and Schuster, 2010.
  • 2 “Energy” is a widely used word among practitioners of astral voyaging and other practices associated with the New Age. However, the word also has a wider meaning than this. Important questions for Christians to consider are: What is energy? What is good physical energy? How does this relate to spirituality? I do not develop these questions further here, but don’t let that stop you posting comments on them!
  • 3 “Christian meditation” is not an oxymoron. Certainly Christians do not aim to unite with cosmic nothingness, as some approaches to meditation suggest. But it is possible (and biblically mandated) to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) as well as to meditate upon God’s wonderful works, his love, his law, his promises, his mighty deeds and so on (Psalm 1:2, 48:9, 77:12, 119:148, 145:5).
  • 4 The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, page 89.
  • 5 Many works on spirituality do not have an empty spiritual grid. See Danah Zohar’s Spiritual Intelligence (London: Bloomsbury, 2000), which draws on Judaeo-Christian, Taoist, Buddhist and other sources.
  • 6 The go to book on this is Nancy Pearcey’s brilliant book, Total Truth. Re-reading it recently I was struck by the relevance of her discussion of secular dualism and the two story problem. ‘upper story’ which is the realm of meaning (not fact); the ‘lower story’, which is the realm of fact (not meaning).

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