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Four Types of Energy You Can Manage to Live Life Better
My hobbit parents knew what they were doing
When I woke up this morning (it’s Saturday as I’m writing this), I realized that both of my parents were people who woke up each day excited to be alive.
And I spent a minute in bed, staring at the dusty ceiling fan and the Maine light streaming in through the skylight and wondered why they were like that.
They worked hard. My mom had a lot of financial problems. They didn’t hustle to get ahead though. They weren’t ambitious about their employment and were always reaching for status or influence or trying to get ahead. They were like hobbits. Not just because they were short! But because they had a childlike innocence and joy in things like good company, good food, the big world around them and the magic of things like trees blooming and a child’s laughter.
And they weren’t compelled to leave a legacy.
“My legacy is you kids,” Dad would say when I asked. Mom? Same thing.
I’d always joke, “Yeah. Okay, right, thanks for the pressure.”
“No pressure! No pressure!” Dad would always say. “People put too much pressure on themselves.”
My mom would just hug me and say, “You are perfect just as you are, my brilliant, beautiful girl.”
She was a very good mom and a very good hugger. And I was very lucky because though we didn’t have much, she absolutely spoiled me with love.
Anyway, it got me thinking about legacy and happiness, but mostly about energy. Until my mom became overwhelmed with diabetes complications and until my dad’s lung cancer diagnosis (he died two weeks after it), they were peppy people. Always socializing. Always learning for the sake of learning. Always talking and listening and gardening. Nobody ever thought they were their age. Both their own moms lived to be over 100.
So I laid there with Pogie the puppy enthusiastically wagging her tail as she pinned me down for dog kisses and this quote popped into my head.
“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” ― Aristotle
The energy of the mind is the essence of life.
Aristotle getting it down. Despite our circumstances, so much of how we live our life depends on how we approach it, how we manage our energy, and how we interact with ourselves and our days and the other beings within those days.
We can choose to take a second to admire a crocus. Or not.
We can choose to be offended. Or not.
We can choose to take action. Or not.
FOUR ASPECTS OF ENERGY MANAGEMENT
There’s a pretty old EdX class called, “Crafting Realities: Work, Happiness, and Meaning,” and in it Prof. Ramya Ranganatha talks about two researchers who talk a lot about work places and energy.
“So, Schwartz and McCarthy have actually researched several working executives in different kinds of corporate works places and identified tools and techniques that people can use to manage their energy while at work.
“They divide their findings they put it into four buckets;
Managing physical energy,
Managing emotional energy,
Managing mental energy and
Managing spiritual energy.”
For each of us, he says, it’s important to manage each type of energy. There are reasons for each.
With physical energy, you have to manage it because your body supports your brain. If your body’s not doing very well, it’s harder for your brain to focus on tasks because it’s busy worrying about other things (being tired, being in pain, being sick). So, it just makes sense. None of us do great work (or feel great) when we have the flu.
“So, some of the key steps involved in managing your physical energy, and again, you can refer to work by Schwartz and McCarthy, but they are very simple tips; like eating well, sleeping well, exercising well,” he writes. “And the most brilliant finding that I like in their research is the analogy that they use; about most people tending to approach their work day like a marathon, instead of a series of sprints.
“Now physically our body has evolved to spend energy more as a series of sprints and less like that of a marathon.”
He uses children as an example. They approach their day “full blast” and take a break and then go-go-go again.
Our puppy is also like this. She’ll have zoomies, race everywhere, love us up, play wildly and insistently and then crash under the desk before she gets up and does it again.
And the kitten? The same thing.
“Research shows that it works for most people, I found that it works for me. So, approach your workday as a series of sprints interspersed with breaks. Physical breaks for your body and see how that shows up in how much energy you have to bring to your work,” he suggests.
A lot of bloggers talk about the physical body when they talk about how to live your best life. But I have to say that both my parents (and me) had pretty broken bodies. My dad had intense arthritis in his knees and hips. My mom had diabetes and diverticulitis and carpal tunnel syndrome and was always getting hurt.
But they still went after life full blast. That means that I can, too.
“So, the second source of energy is emotional energy. Now if physical energy was about the quantity of energy that you could bring into your work. Emotional energy is about the quality of energy,” he writes.
“So as an example, excitement and anger, they are both high energy states. Anger is high energy, high intensity. But the quality of anger as an energy is very different from that of excitement,” he writes “But the point I want you to keep in mind is that it's not just the quantity of energy but the quality of energy that you bring to your work which is going to make a difference.”
It makes sense, right? I’ve been personally working on realizing that sometimes my anxiety (it’s a sort of performance anxiety/stage fright for social settings) is actually kind of an excitement. And that’s helped me a lot. Though I’m still not doing karaoke or auditioning for community theater projects.
My parents got excited about everything. A new nail color? A friend coming over? A dance? A new tv show. A new book. The first crocuses bursting through the dirt in spring. Every. Single. Thing. And this is something I didn’t appreciate as a kid as much as I probably should have. I was too busy imagining dystopian novel plots.
The next aspect he mentions is mental energy.
Mental energy is all about focus and concentration.
“So, if you look at children they have a lot of physical energy, but it not always focused or concentrated,” he says. “Sometimes you have children working in flow completely immersed, but other times it's just scattered, they are jumping all over the place.
“So, when it comes to channelling your energy after you manage your physical energy and you have enough energy, you manage the emotional aspect of your energy and you've looked for managing that quality of that energy, now you need to be able to focus and concentrate all of that to bring it into your work.”
That focus, that concentration, that prioritization isn’t always easy. It’s all on our prefrontal cortex. That’s our brain’s manager. It’s not good at doing two tasks at a time. It’s all about calculations and logic. And if we hop around in our tasks, it hitches.
“So, you don't want a multi-task, you want to reduce the switching time and energy and costs that's involved when you move from one task to another,” he says. “And you also want to work in what we called 90-minutes cycles, which seems to work ideally for the brain.
“The other great tip when it comes to managing mental energy, which I follow as a rule is to remember that our brain loves diversity. A simple application of this is actually to leverage the two hemispheres of our brain; the right brain and the left brain, which are stimulated and applied in different kinds of tasks?
“For example, if you are working on something that's very logical, number-crunching, analytical, you're primarily using your left hemisphere. And if you want a break you can either take a nap or you can just switch to doing a right brain task.
“If you have some creative thinking or something else to do.
A trick that I use is on my work desk, I actually keep crayons and sketch pens and all of that.
And when I want a break, even if I don't have any right brain creative task to apply to. I just start colouring and painting for some time and I know my right brain is taking over and the left brain is subsidising, still keeping me stimulated and alert, but it's a great way to actually manage your brain.”
I do this, too. I actually have a basket of supplies at my desk for these moments. And I schedule in ART in my to-do list. I switch from more logical editing tasks for clients to writing tasks (news blog, posts like these, my own books) for me and even instinctively group them into right brain or left brain tasks. And hop from one type of task to another in my blocks of work time.
You might do that too without even knowing it. I’m always stunned by how our brain adapts without us consciously realizing it or making it do so.
It’s all about diversity.
“So, remember your brain loves diversity, which means you want to not keep doing the same task preferably for more than 90 minutes at a time, but work with whatever works for your brain,” he writes.
And that’s key, right? You have to figure out what works for your brain style. My parents had radically different brains. My mom was linear, logical, mathematical. She’d do huge equations in her head, read a book a day. My dad was a man who loved to talk and listen, who could create mechanical parts with no blue prints, who could barely read, and had a hard time with phone numbers (back before they were contacts on cell phones).
There’s such beauty in how all our brains work in different ways, how we approach life or writing stories or loading a dishwasher uniquely.
That final bit of energy for us to manage is spiritual energy.
This one is a big one.
“So, McCarthy and Schwartz, define spiritual energy really as the energy of meaning and purpose, we can all define it in whichever way we want to use it.
But I'll just speak about looking at spiritual energy as the energy of alignment with whatever you hold to be important or sacred in your own lives.
“So really if you want to manage your own spiritual energy, what do you want to look at is if your work and the extent to which the work that you're doing is aligned with whatever you hold important in your life. And the more you're doing that, the more you're managing this aspect of energy very well.”
LINKS TO LEARN MORE
Prof. Ramya Ranganathan's TEDx talks:
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