Physical energy is the foundational energy source. Without it, we have difficulty maintaining focus, positive emotional energy, creativity or even a sense of mission. It literally fuels everything we do. Because we work primarily in sedentary jobs that require mental capacity, we forget that our capacity to think and act is rooted in our bodies—in our brains and circulatory systems, our muscles and our respiratory systems. How we care for our physical selves either creates or depletes the energy we depend on.
We don’t have to be marathoners to work at our best, but we do have to bear in mind the principles of full engagement discussed in last week’s post (and based on Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr’s book, The Power of Full Engagement): oscillation, overuse and underuse, change in one energy source produces change in all, and small changes produce the best results. The point of paying attention to our energy sources (of which physical energy is one) is that we ultimately can do more in less time—much more so than if we focus solely on managing our time.
The first challenge in developing our physical energy is to pay attention to our bodies’ physical needs:
· A steady source of high quality energy
· Sufficient balance between work and rest
· A sufficient level of cardiovascular fitness
· A sufficient level of strength
A steady energy supply comes from eating several small meals a day (i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner with a small, 100-150 calorie snack between each meal) and from eating foods low in simple sugars and with high nutritional value like proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
The idea is to keep your blood sugar at a steady level and to avoid the spike and drop pattern that comes from eating sugary foods and skipping meals. Another important factor is eating the right amount—to little and we are starving ourselves, too much and we are sluggish.
We all take oxygen for granted. Who goes about their day thinking about breathing? Yet controlling our breath helps us calm ourselves in tense situations and brings us energy when we exert ourselves. A yoga practice first begins with a focus on the breath-- learning to pay attention to this life force and use different breathing to serve different purposes.
The balance between work and recovery encompasses two key dimensions. We are rhythmic beings—that is our bodies have several rhythms we must support if we are to perform at our best. The first is our circadian rhythm—the balance between the time we sleep and the time we are awake. Research shows that most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, although many of us don’t get anywhere near that much. Over time, sleep deprivation affects our moods, our ability to concentrate, etc. The best habit is to go to bed early and wake up early. However, we can increase our performance with a short nap (10-20 minutes) or two when a full night’s sleep is impossible.
A second rhythm is the ultradian rhythm, where our energy level oscillates every 1 ½ to 2 hours from high to low. If we try to work longer than 2 hours without some form of recovery, our energy level suffers. That’s why those 3 and 4 hour meetings are such a challenge. It’s impossible for people to retain a high level of concentration over such a long period of time. However, a short break, even if it’s only 5-10 minutes, will produce sufficient recovery to restore energy if one truly disengages from the work at hand. It doesn’t do any good to take a walk around the block if you’re still thinking about the problem you need to solve!
Put these dimensions together and you see the need to balance work with recovery—working long hours with no time for rest ultimately reduces productivity and effectiveness. In addition, our fitness level impacts our ability to manage stress. Our bodies need exercise to handle daily and long term pressures—both cardiovascular and strength training. Again, at least 20-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 days a week and 2 days of strength training are optimal, but research has shown that any exercise improves our capacity to handle stress, even if it is a short amounts of exercise spread throughout the day.
The second challenge is to increase our physical energy if this is one area we tend to under use. Fortunately, small, incremental changes work best and if we develop new habits that enhance our physical energy, we will see enhanced capacity in the other energy sources (emotional, mental and spiritual) as well. The important thing is to make a small change that you enjoy. For example, if you normally skip lunch or eat at your desk, think of something simple you’d enjoy doing that would get you out of the office for a few minutes. You might bring your lunch and eat it at a nearby park, you might bring a protein smoothie and sip it while you window shop for half an hour, you might take a half hour at lunch to read a favorite book. The idea is to do something enjoyable that allows you to completely disengage from work for a little while. Instead of reducing the amount of work you get done, you’ll actually increase it because you can be more focused.
For more ideas on small changes you can make to increase your physical energy, read The Power of Full Engagement, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+power+of+full+engagement+
Contact me for a free brainstorming session: firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-261-6483.
For a free or an inexpensive Full Engagement Profile, see: http://www.lgeperformance.com/assessment_diagnostic.html
For more information about the authors of The Power of Full Engagement and their work, see:
Jim Loehr is the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of the Human Performance Institute, http://www.lgeperformance.com/index.html .
Tony Schwartz is Founder and President of The Energy Project, http://www.theenergyproject.com/home.html .