“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug,” wrote Mark Twain in The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain. So too with a life full of energy and a life where we simply go through the actions every day.
We’ve all experienced both—days when our energy knows no bounds and days where we would rather be left alone to do nothing. Although it’s natural, even beneficial, to have moments where we take a break from life in order to make sense of it, it’s often the failure to fuel ourselves with the right energy and manage it effectively throughout our day that leads to inertia and the wasting of moments.
Performance psychologist Jim Loehr differentiates energy by quality and quantity. Quantity does not always guarantee results. In fact it could even lead to burnout. Quality, on the other hand, is energy that draws from multiple sources and allows us to show up fully in life.
What are these sources of energy? How do we unknowingly drain them? And what can we do to keep them flowing steadily? Science has the answers.
If you consider energy as a pyramid, physical energy is the layer at the very bottom. It’s what we have in common with all other living organisms. Without it, no other source of energy can keep us functioning optimally. Are we managing it right?
Up until a mere 100 years ago, humans slept an average of 10 hours every night. Today, most of us are not even getting the 7-9 hours that are recommended to keep our bodies functioning well. By setting a daily bedtime routine, creating a calming evening ritual and shutting off technology an hour before bed, we can allow our body and brain to stay alert and active.
Our lives today are marked by inactivity. The latest research shows that a daily half hour at the gym cannot offset the harm caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Instead, we need to distribute small amounts of activity throughout the day. Taking the stairs instead of the escalator, parking the car a couple of blocks away from our destination, and simply getting up to stretch and take a little walk every 90 minutes are some of the best ways to get our energies flowing.
Human beings are emotional creatures—our emotions direct our thoughts and actions. Hence emotional energy is essential to optimism, motivation and engagement with life. And yet, we’re not always aware when we’re wasting it needlessly!
In his acclaimed book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky differentiates between episodic stress that allows animals to escape from predators, and chronic stress that humans cause themselves by worry and rumination. Expressing gratitude for what we have, holding a stop sign before our mind’s chatter, imagining plucking weeds of worry from our mental garden and all mindfulness practices of inner connection allow us to let go of the rumination that leads to downward spirals.
Most of us have people in our social circles who complain, blame, or otherwise see the world as an insecure and unhappy place. They drain us with their negativity and bring us emotionally down with them. Research shows that happiness extends up to 3 degrees of separation. No wonder we are affected by the emotions of others—which makes it that much more important for us to nurture positive relationships and choose our friends wisely. After all, we’re the average of the five people we spend most of our time with.
The human brain is a mere 4% of our weight but uses 20% of our energy supplies. Unfortunately, we waste a lot of it on things we would do well to avoid and leave little for times when we need it the most.
Alvin Toffler coined the term Information Overload at the dawn on the Internet age in his book Future Shock. As more and more of us become addicted to the web, we’re bombarded daily with enormous amounts of data that our brains have a hard time processing, leading to bad decisions, indecisiveness and stress. Setting limits to technology use, scheduling breaks to connect within or with nature, and keeping virtual and physical spaces clutter-free, are essential to keeping our mental space clear and energized.
Psychology professor and author Roy Baumeister has called willpower the greatest human strength. And yet, he has stressed that it relies on a limited energy source—we deplete it as we use it. Wasting willpower on needless decisions that aren’t up for debate leaves us precious little to spend on the times we need it to regulate our emotions and stick to long-term goals.
By setting powerful habits that take care of the minor decisions such as when to exercise, what to buy, eat, or wear, takes away much of the angst that depletes us.
Spiritual energy is what differentiates us from all other primates and takes humanity to a whole new level of consciousness. In our rushed lives, this is a source we often overlook, and too often we carry on in ways that fail to replenish it.
Routine keeps us within our comfort zones and limits the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves. As such, we fail to live to our full potential. To step out of predictability, we need to have the courage to explore and to be creative. Nurturing passions and interests is one of the best ways of doing so. It allows us to express our creative side and our dynamic spirit.
Living Someone Else’s Dreams
Society, marketing and media have tried to sell us on all kinds of ideas over the decades, but more often than not, they’re rarely connected to what we truly want in life. When we live other people’s dreams, we leave a part of us behind and fail to find happiness in our apparent successes.
By connecting to our values, strengths and passions, we can fuel ourselves with the intrinsic motivation that marks persistence, grit and eventual fulfillment.
Life is nothing but the moments we get. Being fully charged is the best way to maximize them and to ensure that at every stage, we live a life with no regrets.