Educate February 2018

Book Review: “Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work Life” by Tom Rath


Written By: Sharon Brown

Have you ever noticed that the simple things are often the most difficult to accomplish? We all know that eating right, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep enhance our well-being, but do we consistently accomplish one of these, let alone all three?

The focus of the book, “Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life” by Tom Rath, is well-being, both personal and professional. Rath is the champion of keeping it simple. One of his previous books was titled “Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes” – you might think he gave it all away in the title. But it’s his meticulous research and analysis that take his writing to a higher level. The simplicity of his works belies their power.

Rath is the grandson of Donald O. Clifton, the author of the original “StrengthsFinder” book. Known as the father of strengths-based psychology and the grandfather of positive psychology, he was a strong influence on his grandson. The apple definitely didn’t fall far from the tree. Positivity and strengths-based psychology are Rath’s forte, and not just because he wrote “StrengthsFinder 2.0.”

Rath is overwhelmingly positive in the face of health problems that would crush others: he’s been living with different cancers for over 20 years. First diagnosed at age 16, he has to be checked and treated annually. And yet his attitude and actions are not what you would expect, given his circumstances.

It’s been said that ‘how you spend your days is how you spend your life.’ This is precisely what Rath endeavors to teach us in this 2015 book. Focusing on the present can improve your happiness and well-being, and the well-being of others. Small, meaningful daily actions add up.

Based on years of research, which is backed up in footnotes as well in online interviews with scientists, Rath proposes three conditions for living “fully charged” days:

  1. Meaning – stemming from actions that benefit others
  2. Interactions – creating more positive and less negative moments
  3. Energy – making choices that improve your health, both mental and physical

Rath supplies a multitude of ideas that are easy to implement if we just make the choice. One I had never heard of is the Pomodoro Method of work:  intense focus on a task for about 45 minutes followed by a 15-minute break, preferably outside for a walk. This isn’t his own idea, but that’s what Rath does; he uses his skills as a researcher to study a wide range of subjects and brings us the best and most useful concepts.

His professional focus isn’t just on strengths, but also engagement in the workplace. Interestingly, performance increases when we focus on deep, internal motivations vs. things like salaries or promotions. Instead of the pursuit of happiness, he suggests the pursuit of meaningfulness.

An easy way to stay engaged at work is to keep your mission front and center. For example, in my job as part of the fundraising team for the University of Florida, hearing student’s stories strengthens the mission and makes what I do more meaningful.

The chapter on ‘making every interaction count’ resonated. We influence people in ways we can’t predict. It’s a ripple effect. Have you ever made an offhand comment or compliment, and the person responds, “you made my day!” From there, the positive feelings can spread out to others. Like the catchy jingle for Cheerio’s goes: “good goes around and around and around…”

Here’s an interesting question: What makes you happier, things or experiences? Rath shares research that shows it’s the experiences we have in life that make us happier long after the event. Even the anticipation of a vacation months away can provide more happiness than the trip itself. This jives with something I read recently on a blog. The author was describing a normal week, and shared that she always builds in something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, like an expensive dinner at a new restaurant. If the anticipation makes you happy, it works.

Rath presents the concept of cumulative advantage where little bits of specific praise build us up. He believes that “the ultimate strength is finding and developing talent in others.” But, it must be more than a generic ‘good job’ or ‘thank you for all your good work.’ Be specific with your praise, giving it freely, and watch well-being grow before your eyes.

In “Are You Fully Charged?” Rath has written a simple yet powerful guide to well-rounded well-being. Even if you just pick up one tip, it’s bound to enhance your life in a meaningful way.

Tom Rath

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Sharon Brown is a Prospect Strategy Analyst with the University of Florida Office of Advancement. A graduate of UF’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, she is happy to have found a career that marries reading, writing and being curious. She and her husband, also a CLAS alum, live in Gainesville. 

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