Human Energy

As I was researching energy management and optimization (for humans) I was surprised at how little organized and detailed information was available that addresses such an important subject that directly impacts every human on the planet. There is a lot of information relating to energy management for athletes, however, this is only partly relevant to the average person because different types of athletes have a different energy management requirements. For example, the energy management requirements for a marathon runner are a dramatically different from those of a weightlifter so we cannot simply adopt the energy management routines of either of these athletes. 

We intuitively know that our energy is influenced by the amount of sleep that we get and our diet but this is where knowledge of energy management tends to end for most people. Maximizing your impact requires, almost by definition, maximum personal energy management. We need to understand how to get the most out of ourselves and feel as good as possible while doing it. Beyond productivity, we also need to manage our energy in a way that allows us to be creative, innovative, imaginative, loving, attentive, capable of thinking clearly, etc. The consequences of how we manage our personal energy go far beyond simple productivity. Although energy management for productivity is obviously important it is a very one-dimensional view of something that has such an enormous impact on your life.

High energy state of mind

In summary, good things happen when you have a high-energy state of mind and bad things tend to happen when you have a low energy state of mind. A high-energy state of mind is normally associated with a high level of engagement and interest in what you are doing along with high levels of willpower and intent. Low energy states of mind are associated with more haphazard or even lazy levels of engagement and low levels of willpower.

For example, when an athlete is about to perform (or even just train) you know that they care enough about the result to everything possible to get the best result possible. They will not be approaching it with a low energy state of mind. High energy doesn’t necessarily mean “bouncing off the walls” but it does mean being calm, alert, and focused.

Like the athlete, it’s critical to be in a high-energy state of mind when you’re about to do something that’s important to you. This means managing everything leading up to that point in time in a way that results in a high-energy state of mind and not just leaving it to chance or, worse, repeating previous behavior that you already know results in a low energy state of mind. When you achieve a high-energy state of mind you can enter or maintain a high-performance level and reduce or eliminate negative emotional reactions such as anxiety, self-criticism, and also eliminate mental blocks. 

When athletes are preparing for a performance they will usually manage the 24 to 48 hours prior to the performance date in a way that maximizes their energy for the performance. Managing our energy has an enormous impact on how we feel in the moment, how interested we are in life, not to mention our efficiency and productivity. You cannot increase the amount of time that you have but you can increase your energy and thereby increase your productivity.

Improving energy

What can we do that will make us feel more energetic? Eat smart and exercise regularly. This formula is a logical starting point, but millions of people who subscribe to it still find their energy drained at the end of the day. 

It turns out, researchers at the Institute of HeartMath and elsewhere have shown that our thoughts and feelings are as important (or possibly more important) than the food and drink we consume. Your mental and emotional diet plays a significant role in your energy levels.

“As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery… we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.”

– Dalai Lama

The body’s systems are maintained, repaired, and regenerated through a biological complex that can be explained this way. When we have negative emotions like as anger, anxiety and dislike or hate, or think negative thoughts such as “I hate my job,” “I don’t like so and so” or “who does he think he is,” we experience stress and our energy reserves are redirected. Processes that break down the body’s energy stores for immediate use are activated to confront our stressors at the expense of those that maintain, repair, and regenerate our systems. When our energy reserves are constantly redirected into the stress pathway, we often don’t have enough left for the normal regenerative processes that replenish the resources we’ve lost, repair damage to our bodies, and defend us against disease. Therefore, over the long term, stress depletes our bodies’ systems and can severely damage our health and age us faster, mentally, and physically. 

By contrast, when we alter our attitudes and deliberately trigger feelings such as appreciation, care, and love, we allow our hearts’ electrical energy to work for us. Consciously choosing a core heart feeling over a negative one avoids the drain and damage stress causes to our bodies’ systems and, instead, results in a renewed mentally, physically, and emotionally. The more we do this the better we’re able to avoid stress and energy drain in the future. 

“We live in deeds, not years: In thoughts not breaths; In feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heartthrobs. He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”

– Aristotle

The HeartMath organization suggests creating a simple Asset/Deficit Balance Sheet to track your emotions and thoughts to understand where you’re spending your energy. As you make your lists, consider the effects on family, work, and anything else important to you and the negative consequences of each event. Under Assets, list the positive events, conversations, and interactions of the past few days, things that made you happy and gave you energy. Write how each asset, including ongoing ones – the quality of interactions with your friends, family, working environment, etc. – made you feel. Under Deficits, list issues, conflicts, and events in the period that were negative or draining, including conversations and events that turned from good to bad, for whatever reason, and how they made you feel.

When you are finished take note of which deficits could have been neutralized or turned into assets at the time and still could be turned into assets, look for repeating patterns, and write your insights and conclusions.

Our mental and emotional diets have a bigger impact on our energy levels, health, and well-being much more than most people realize. 

You have a fixed amount of energy that can be utilized each day. Ask yourself if your energy expenditures – actions, reactions, thoughts, and feelings are productive or nonproductive? 

According to HeartMath, the Benefits of Intentional emotions and thoughts include”

  • Energy used for positive purposes and constantly replenished.
  • Look and feel mentally, physically, emotionally healthier.
  • Mental, physical aging reversed.
  • Outlook transformed into a positive one.
  • Stress levels reduced.
  • Conversations, other interactions with people more relaxed, not draining

What is your ripple effect?

You all know what I mean when I say that it is important to surround yourself with “good energy”. We have all experienced walking into a room and getting a bad feeling or a bad vibe and, in most cases, our perception of this bad energy was totally justified. On the other hand, there are people that we like to be around, even if we can’t exactly explain why. They vibrate at a frequency that’s in sync with our own.

Negative people drain all our energy. We will often enter into interactions feeling upbeat then, after a few minutes with the wrong person, we feel down, weak, even tired. On the other hand, when we don’t feel good and are angry, fearful, or anxious, we’re the people vibrating at the wrong frequency. It turns out that this energy is contagious and often causes others to begin to feel that way. 

Of course, it also works in reverse. Referring to emotions as contagious may suggest a negative experience. However, this is not necessarily the case. Being “infected” by another person’s happiness or enthusiasm can be a very good thing. Research by Sigal Barsade indicates that when subjects “catch” positive emotions from others, they’re more likely to be viewed by others and view themselves as more cooperative and competent. To put it another way, if you spend time with happy people, you tend to be happier, have more energy, and feel less stressed.

Research by Peter Totterdell has revealed similar results in team sports. When a team is upbeat and positive, this attitude is transferred to individual players. Results also show that when teams are happier, the athletes on the team tend to play better. 

Some research even suggests that indirect relationships, such as those created by social media, can affect your happiness. Research by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler indicates that happiness spreads through social networks (like a virus), so it is possible that you could be infected with the happiness of someone you’ve never even met, or vice versa. Christakis and Fowler explain: “A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends and their friends’ friends’ friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon.” They also found that happy people tend to be in the center of their social networks and that happiness branches out as they join together with other happy people. 

In the meantime, spending time around negative people can cause significant stress and strain in your life. Research has found that depression in a spouse frequently leads to depression in the partner, and the same is true for roommates. Children raised by depressed parents are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with depression. In fact, research suggests that one family member’s depression can bring down an entire family system. Other emotions, such as anxiety and fear, can have the same effect.

Next article in this series: “Imagination And Change”

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