The Power of Story


Dr. Relly Nadler: This week we are very excited to have Dr. Jim Loehr with us. He is the co-founder of the Human Performance Institute. He has worked with hundreds of world-class performers from the arenas of business, sports, medicine, law enforcement, including Fortune 100 executives. He also worked with FBI hostage rescue teams and Army Special Forces.

He is the author of several books on mental and physical training for peak performance, including The Power of Full Engagement, I’m sure many of you listeners have read that, and then today we are going to focus on The Power of Story.

Dr. Loehr possesses a Master’s Degree and Doctorate in Psychology and serves on several scientific boards. He is a full member of the American Psychological Association, The American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the Association of Advancement of Applied Sports Psychology.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s an honor to be here today and to welcome Jim to the show. I’m a big fan of his and have been using The Power of Full Engagement for some time, and so I am very much looking forward to hearing about his new work on the power of story.

We all know that it is the story that we tell in life that helps people understand who we really are. It doesn’t really matter a lot where we came from, but who we envision ourselves to be. So, I’m delighted to be able to bring this to our listeners.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Jim, welcome to the call.

Dr. Jim Loehr: Thank you Relly and Cathy, it’s great to be with you.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Jim has been in many publications like Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, US News World Report, The Fast Company, NBC Today show, ABC’s Nightline with Ted Kopel, CBS Evening News – Dan Rather, CBS News and the Oprah Winfrey Show. So you are a pro at all of this.

You also work with key athletes from the sporting world. I know some folks who have been to the Human Performance Institute, which hopefully you’ll get a little bit more opportunity to tell us about. I know executives go there for a certain time period.

Let’s just start off Jim, with some of the influences that you have had, people in your life who have shaped your thinking around leadership.

Dr. Jim Loehr: Well, it’s an interesting question. When I think about who I am and how I got here, I have to say that I have so many memories of my father who had conversations with me over and over again around this notion that all we have in life is our character, our integrity, and our honesty. He embedded that in the core of my soul to such an extent, it’s literally the prism through which I see the world. I have three sons and I did everything that I could to try to communicate in the same way my father did for me, that particular stake in the ground and I think it served me perhaps better than anything.

I’ve always been impressed by people who are integrators. People who can really think and pull together just thoughts and concepts. I would say probably the book that I look to most frequently, it’s a very old book, but everyone has probably read it many, many times. I must have 50 copies of this book, and it is Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. I felt like he was trying to put a context on all the suffering and all the things that we have to deal with as human beings.

Joseph Campbell, what an enormously huge thinker and integrator of processes and differences in people’s from language to spirituality.

Then in psychology, I’ve been very much interested in the big thinkers in terms of particularly the positive psychology from Marty Seligman’s early work with Learned Optimism and his leadership with the whole positive psychology. Barbara Frederickson, Steven Covey has been a very big thinker with his 7 Habits, and even Daniel Goleman’s work with emotional intelligence and his integration of physiology with emotionality.

I feel like those are the things, the kind of direction that have really spoken to me and spoken to me frequently about the importance of integration and how we have to avoid silo thinking, we’ve got to really understand the body is multi-disciplinary, fully integrated system and we have to look at everything in an integrated form as opposed to lots of separate pieces.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s amazing to me that you and I have never met or spoken. We have so many of these great thinkers and influential people in common, because all of my books on the Science of Happiness have included every one of the wonderful people that you spoke about, so it’s an honor.

I really would love to know more about the Human Performance Institute. Who is the target audience and what are the main programs that you offer? How might somebody engage the Human Performance Institute?

Dr. Jim Loehr: Well we have four distinct populations. Probably the biggest population we have is dealing with executives and their families in helping them to really achieve what we refer to as full engagement in their lives. To really ignite this capacity that we have to really focus our energy and to do it in a way produces really very real measurable results. Helping people to perform under stress without compromising their health and their happiness. Push the envelope but not at the loss of their families or the loss of their health and their personal happiness. We’ve also had, and continue to do a fair amount of work in medicine. We are doing a lot of venues in medicine. When its mission critical, the ability to perform under pressure, time after time, without error, because lives are at stake.

We do a fair amount of work in the military, special forces training, helping people to make sure that they are engaged at critical moments of execution. We’ve done a whole variety of work there that is very intriguing from national defense to national security.

Then we deal with professional athletes from almost every conceivable sport to help them perform at the highest level under pressure.

So, people can become involved with us simply by going to our website,, or in the corporate world,, and you can pretty much navigate through all the different options and choices.

We’ve been around for about 12 years. We build the facility here in Orlando, and it’s an extraordinary campus. It’s a nine-acre campus that we built specifically to help people understand how to train to expand their capacity to work in high stress arenas and to expand their capacity to make changes whenever they need to, to equip themselves for the future.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Jim, I wanted to ask you before we get into some of the other questions that we have. How do you get into all of the performance issues? You and I mentioned that we have a similar background, both getting doctorates in counseling psychology, and I know I made my switch to the corporate world. I would like to hear how you made your switch and then we can get into some of the differences you may see between world-class athletes and corporate athletes.

Dr. Jim Loehr: Well it was a very unusual kind of transition. I was chief psychologist and executive director of a large community health center system that served the whole central and southern part of Colorado. I started, in that role, to get referrals from some professional Denver franchises to work with athletes who had gotten stuck in their careers and they didn’t want to go to a traditional psychologist or psychiatrist because they were afraid of the effect it might have on their marketability or whatever.

I had played a lot of sports and I knew a lot of sport people, so I started working with some of these folks, not knowing exactly what I was doing. Over a period of time I absolutely became intoxicated with this application of psychology to human performance. It literally opened up. I saw there were very few people in that space and I said, you know, this is a career opportunity that is just unprecedented, and I began to pursue it and it actually evolved over several years into what I feel has been my dream job.

I worked almost exclusively in the world of professional sports. We developed a very significant business in that for many years, and then started to apply that; really the lessons that we learned, to what we call corporate athletes.

It’s such an interesting area. When we started looking at the demand characteristics that corporate athletes face. Just like professional athletes, they have to perform under intense pressure. Numbers drive everything in sports as they do in business. There’s this brutal accountability in both worlds. If you don’t perform you don’t play, both in sport and in business. Next year’s kind of goals are really; whatever you did to kill yourself last year is really what they are going to establish as baseline for next year, and that is the way sport is for sure.

Laser to laser, I mean really unbelievable focus of one’s energy and attention is required in both venues. We began to realize that the way athletes do this however, is that they train for it. But executives often just kind of wing it, and we began to realize there are lots and lots of people struggling in that world and we could apply a lot of the lessons that we learned in preparing professional athletes for the brutality of competition, we could actually prepare executives, and even their families to help them deal with these extraordinary demands that they have and to really not fumble the ball at critical points of execution.

So, there’s a huge connection there that most people really don’t see. In sports, there is a reverence for the importance of taking care of your body. In the corporate world the body is irrelevant, and unfortunately it leads to some real problems because one of the biggest issues that we face is the sedentary lifestyle and that shuts down all the brilliance, innovation and creativity, if we are not moving. The body was designed to move and when we don’t understand that connection, it can have really unfortunate, sometimes fatal, consequences.

Dr. Relly Nadler: This is fascinating, that connection and I love hearing how you had the dream job and the passion in your voice and then the connection just between the body and the mind, and everything else.

As we talk about The Power of the Story, maybe make that link because right off it doesn’t follow like a lot of books follow along. I imagine for you, it’s all the next chapter. So talk a little bit about The Power of Story, and what do you mean by Story, and how did you come about wanting to write this book.

Dr. Jim Loehr: Well, this is really part 2 of the whole notion of engagement; understanding how to mobilize one’s energy so that you are fully there at the moment of importance and you are not somehow multi-tasking. That your energy is right there.

I spent thousands of hours listening to people’s stories. Everybody has a story about their job, their boss, about their family, about money, about food, about exercise, health, trust, friendships, fame; all kinds of things. What I began to realize, and we started collecting data on these stories and tracking people for very long periods of time. We began to realize the power that these stories had in people’s lives. They have tremendous power.

It was their own kind of interpretation – a story is simply my interpretation. It’s the meaning I give to something. It’s the way I organize my experience. That story may or may not conform to reality, and it may or may not really help me navigate in life. All we know for sure is whatever version you have got, is going to be your reality and may in fact dictate whether you are successful or not in that venue.

The only reality I ever know, fundamentally, is the reality I create in my own story making. Our stories ultimately become our destiny. What I tried to do in this book was to demonstrate the power of story and the ability people have to change their stories. You change the story and you have a chance of making a powerful course correction in your life. It’s under your own self-direction.

Stories are very powerful and people don’t even know. It’s like a fish in water, the fish is the last one to discover water. Sometime we are in the middle of a story and we don’t realize it is the story that we created that is actually the problem.

Listen to this fascinating discussion above.


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