Here’s a thought: Maybe the real energy crisis isn’t at the gas pump. In fact, fuel shortages are probably hitting closer to your living room couch—where, too often, you wind down your day, feeling physically tired, mentally drained, emotionally spent and hard-pressed for ways to beat the slump. Well, snap out of it. Yes, boosting energy to excel your life forward can be challenging. But you have a lot more resources at your disposal than you think. Increasing your energy for the long-life haul starts with physical fitness; now add to that your mental, emotional and spiritual drive, and you’ve just quadrupled your capacity—and your abilities to achieve the goals ahead of you that much sooner.
Vanessa Ryden desperately needed exactly that kind of an adrenalin boost in her life when she joined the Westlake Village, California, chapter of Moms in Motion. “I was having a panic attack about turning 40,” she says. “I was out of shape, working full time and living for my children. And I had resentments building up about not having a life of my own at any time.” That was four years ago; now Ryden, an electronic graphics artist with CBS Television, has achieved a level of fitness that once seemed out of her reach. A product of “a long line of couch potatoes,” she now runs Half Ironman triathlons and regularly competes in local races. “I went from ‘I could never do that’ to ‘Of course I can do that!’ ” she says. “The mind is so much more powerful than the body.”
As much as Ryden’s physical fitness and stamina have skyrocketed, so have her levels of mental, emotional and spiritual energy. She credits the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute (HPI), based in Orlando and co-founded in 1991 by performance psychologist Jim Loehr and Dr. Jack Groppel, with helping her to further increase her energy—and achieve her life’s full potential. To remedy what Loehr and Groppel call “linearity”—America’s high-pressured penchant for full-steam ahead—HPI works with a range of professionals in stress-filled fields—corporate execs, athletes, nurses, even special military forces—on ways to better increase energy levels. At the heart of the institute’s curriculum is the Human Energy Pyramid, a four-tiered formula for galvanizing energy in all areas of your life—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. “In our culture we just go and go and go,” says Groppel, who also authored The Corporate Athlete. “We try to be the Energizer Bunny, but a human being is a biological organism—we run out of energy. It’s not conducive to health and happiness.”
Let's Get Physical
For most of us, recharging our physical energy is the launch pad that sets the rest in motion. “If you put good habits into place to manage your [physical] energy, you have the potential to address the things that matter most to you and have a fulfilled life,” says Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at HPI. With that in mind, Jordan designed the “7-Minute Workout,” a rigorous daily, calisthenic routine—pushups, crunches, squats, lunges—that, for all its brevity, quickly gets you exercising at near-maximum intensity. Jordan claims the workout delivers many of the benefits of endurance training, ultimately priming your body to overcome exhaustion. “I’m passionate about getting people physically active,” says Jordan, “because physical fatigue … can lead to an erosion not just of your physical, but your spiritual energy.”
An important feature of the 7-Minute Workout is the 10-second breaks that are programmed between the 30-second spurts of extreme activity. These rest periods have their roots in a study on pro tennis players that HPI’s Loehr conducted during the 1980s. Loehr observed that the way these elite players were able to leverage the interim minutes between points—65 percent of total game time—to control the pace of the match, steady their nerves, and focus on the task at hand, was every bit as crucial to their peak performance as the power in their strokes, their agile footwork and those killer serves during the 35 percent of the game when they’re actually hitting the ball.
Testing revealed that during those moments of composure, players’ heart rates would drop as much as 20 percent. That “down time” allowed them to conserve and increase energy, then power up again when it counted—the next time the ball came over the net. Other players, with physical skills equal to their competitors, but no between-points regimen, had more trouble focusing at peak moments. Consequently, they were more prone to frustration, anxiety—and losing.
Power up Mentally and Emotionally
Effectively managing how to get energy means creating a balance between mind and body, in part by incorporating periods of mental and emotional down time into your own daily routines, in much the same way elite athletes pace themselves during the high stakes of competition. “What’s happened in our lives is not that we have too much stress,” says Groppel, “but that we have no recovery.”
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Recharging your mental and emotional energy can be as simple (or perhaps as challenging) as just finding time for yourself. Schedule a few short, periodic breaks (five minutes does it) during your active day and devote that time to cleaning up your mental and emotional clutter: Stop procrastinating on the little things, make quick decisions and move on; let go of petty grudges and unresolved anger. Prioritize your needs, consider whether you’re overcommitted to others, and purposefully give yourself credit for the positive things in your life.
You can also put those recovery periods to good use when it comes to fighting fatigue and exhaustion at work. Sitting sedentary at your desk for eight hours (or more!) can be just as draining as a day of back-to-back meetings. Long periods of inertia reduce blood circulation and slow your metabolism. Dana Asher is a senior vice president for The Energy Project, an international organization that also works with corporate employees to find new ways to manage their energy resources. “Get more attuned to your rhythms at work,” she advises. “Maybe you notice that you can do concentrated work for 90 minutes in the morning, then you get distracted and fidgety. A lot of us try to override that and keep going. Take a break at the moment. Eat something healthy. Get up and walk around.” Introducing short (15- to 30-second) sessions of simple exercises and activity into your routine—breathing exercises, rolling your shoulders, yoga stretches at your desk—acts like a biological reset button, signaling your system to deliver the next hit of energy.
Fuel Your Spirit
As satisfying as it feels to be energized, focused and firing on all cylinders, it’s even more powerful and fulfilling when that vitality is charged with purpose. “The people who come into our classrooms all say they’re taking on more and more responsibility,” says Asher. “They expect [their energy capacity] to keep going up and up. But if you aren’t intentional about what you’re doing, it won’t happen.” Indeed, determining your purpose in life is what ultimately fuels your motivation, and helps provide the spiritual energy you need for the longer journey ahead. But visualizing your purpose can sometimes lead to some uncomfortable truths, according to HPI’s Jordan. “It can be this ton of bricks hitting you, showing you the tension between who you think you are and who you actually are,” he says. “Creating rituals that will bring your [purpose] to life” can help you to better align your goals with your current reality.
For Vanessa Ryden, every aspect of her life has been enriched since she’s learned to better focus on her personal motivation—in particular her relationships with the people who are most important to her: her husband and her two sons. “When I started working out and running, it was a real burden for my family,” she says. “But now, when I’m out of whack, they say ‘You need to go for a run!’ Then when I’m with them, I’m present; I’m focused.”
Ryden’s story also points to the spiritual value of effective energy use—and finding a purpose that helps you apply energy to the things in your life that are most important. “I didn’t get at first that my workout routine was a meditative practice,” says Ryden. “But I’ve found the importance of my connection to my higher self.”
Making that connection is the ultimate goal to effectively increase energy levels. You don’t have to run triathlons to appreciate its significance: It’s a cornerstone concept we can all apply to regenerating our vitality and purpose in life. “You have to understand what it is that reenergizes you,” says Groppel. “When you connect to something that truly matters to you, that becomes your North Star.”