You Can’t Run Hills Everyday

Think of a moment when you were full of energy. You were clear, focused and productive for a time – a day, a week, maybe longer. What had you done in the hours or days leading up to that moment?

It’s likely that your clear, focused burst of productivity was after a period of rest. Or it may have come while you were working on something associated with your higher purpose. You may have engaged in something that stretched you and then turned to an easier project.

If any of these ring true, it’s not on accident. You reaped the benefits of managing your energy.

According to Loehr and Schwartz, performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. They elucidate four principles for energy management:

  • PRINCIPLE 1:Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
  • PRINCIPLE 2Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and under-use, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
  • PRINCIPLE 3To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way elite athletes do.
  • PRINCIPLE 4Positive energy rituals — highly specific routines for managing energy — are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

One can understand that elite athletes must have a reservoir of energy, must be able to call on that energy in times of need, and must be disciplined to replenish that reservoir so it’s available when the time comes. Loehr and Schwartz lend this framing to a concept they call the “corporate athlete,” – busy executives who must also perform well, consistently and under pressure. Beyond the time and the know-how, energy is the key.

Being able to recruit energy when needed is essential to attaining the ideal performance state (IPS). This is where the management of energy comes in. Managing your energy means intentionally moving between states of stress and recovery.

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As a runner, I balance long or intense runs with days of rest. True story – as I write this, my legs are burning from today’s hill workout. If I try to repeat hills again tomorrow and the next day, I risk declining performance and injury from overtraining.

I need to allow my muscles time to recover via rest and/or cross training. Moreover, I need to provide my muscles the right nutrition, including water, to aid their recovery. If I do this, I’ll be in great shape when it’s time to tackle those hills again, and I’ll have better results on my easier, flatter runs.

The same is true at work. There are always proverbial hills to run, often without the attendant moments of purposeful recovery. In fact, many of us work until we quite literally can’t work any more, akin to an athlete passing out or suffering a serious injury due to overtraining.

Loehr and Schwartz recommend rituals that promote “oscillation,” which is the purposeful dance, or ebb and flow of stress and recovery.

The four sources of energy (Principle 1) are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. In the last article of this series, we’ll explore each of these in more detail. Until then, what are some rituals you’ve tried to help you intentionally flow between exertion and rest?

Optimal Performance Starts with Energy, Not Time

Time is a precious resource. If we took a poll on Twitter or Facebook, you would find few of your friends disagree with this premise. We get mad when others waste our time. We get disappointed in ourselves when we waste our own time. We do everything we can to rearrange our day to maximize our time. We use apps, we take classes, we label tasks as urgent or important or neither or both. We set alarms. We do everything to prioritize and manage our time.

But have you ever put the same amount of effort into managing your energy?

Even if you manage your time well, you must have the energy to do what needs to be done.

We’re busy all day, trying to create work/life balance even though we check work emails on our phones until late at night. We rush to have meaningful conversations that don’t go well. We over-schedule ourselves, overstuff our to do lists. And when it’s all said and done, another 24 hours has come and gone with little to show for it. How do they do it? We ask of our uber-productive faves. They launch projects while we drown in adminstrivia. We think if only we had more time, we could accomplish more and be more satisfied.

I offer you an alternative view.

Energy is the Key

What if the issue isn’t time—or time management. What if the issue is really energy? A focus on energy compels us to reconsider much of what we’ve believed about organizing our lives.  Even if you manage your time well, you must have the energy to do what needs to be done, to think in the complex ways you need to think.

Let’s ponder two new thoughts:

  1. Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance.
  2. Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.

According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in The Power of Full Engagement, the skillful management of energy—individually and organizationally—makes full engagement possible. To be fully engaged in our lives, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. This is a phenomenal insight many of us haven’t fully considered.

Everything we do requires energy. As obvious as this is, we fail to take into account the importance of energy at work and in our personal lives. Without the right quantity and quality of energy, we are compromised in any activity we undertake.

Energy management is different from energy boosts.

Dragging to the Finish

Think about it for a moment. If you have everything planned out in meticulous detail, but you’re dragging with 10 hours left before bedtime, how engaged will you really be in those activities? How productive or fulfilled? How likely are you to accomplish what you’ve planned, before you give up, shut down and try again tomorrow?

No, I don’t want you to increase your caffeine as a way to “boost” your energy. But in my next post, I will offer some guidance to help you become more effective at managing your time by starting with your energy.

Until then, I’d love to hear about your strategies for managing your energy. Is this something you’ve considered in the past? What works for you?

On Mission

You will not find your mission by standing still. The only way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide, new horizons open up before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should really be doing right now, at this very moment.

It is likewise important to set your sights high. The greater the tasks you chose to take on – one step at a time – the more rewarding and joyful your life will be. A person with a strong sense of mission is a source of light. For such a person, there is no darkness in the world.

– A Sense of Purpose in A Piece of Mirror by Daisaku Ikeda

Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.
Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.

Two days after my 41st birthday, I ventured to Aspen, Colorado. I had never visited the state, nor participated in a Socratic seminar. Most of the texts we digested in preparation for the week-long session were “classics,” yet foreign to me for one reason or another. In more ways than one, the experience was an education.

Although I wrote primarily of the texts and our conversations around them, I also made heartfelt connections. Several of the women stand out, and two of them left me with words of encouragement related to mission. I spoke with them separately and about very different things, yet their guidance was quite similar. Although I “know” what they shared, it was a warm nudge and a great reminder to take action. Do the work, don’t just think about it, or wonder about it. Don’t just dream it. Live it.

If you discover an idea in a moment of inspiration, that’s your story to tell. Tell it! ~Stevie Kallos

Hermana, we are in this world together to create the opportunities that matter. ~Lisette Nieves

In short we all have something to contribute – something to do. Not only that, we don’t have to walk that road alone. Allies are nearby if we are open to them.

So it’s Monday, which is a great day for beginnings. It’s time to get moving. What is your work? How will you be productive this month, this week, this day?


Here’s the round up from the series:

  • The Aspen Seminar. Things get underway this evening and I plan to document my experiences while I’m here.
  • Opening. We just concluded the opening session of the seminar. We’ll be here another six days so there’s a lot in store.
  • First Full Day. Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin.
  • Toklat. Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty.
  • Three Poisons. In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness.
  • Over the Hump. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women.
  • Antigone. Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.
  • Leading from Within. Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar.

On puzzling

crowd pleasersSo we puzzle. The kids are gifted puzzles for birthdays and what have you, and the four of us sit around at various intervals and piece them together.

Our latest enterprise? Tour de la Tour, a 1000-piece Crowd Pleasers that features countless bikers who are dressed alike and are engaged in sometimes similar, oftentimes strange activities. This puzzle is sort of challenging, yet also sort of easy because many of the pieces have tell-tale images:

  • A small red bell on a bike that’s otherwise the same as all the other bikes.
  • A black shark fin in a stretch of sandy pathways.
  • A dark sheep in the middle of all the ivory ones, and so on.

I’ll have to admit, this puzzle has drawn me in more than the others we’ve done so far. Perhaps more than the others, all at once, the eyes no longer cooperate. Suddenly you simply can’t find the edge of that yellow brim on that rounded edge even though you’re sure it’s somewhere “over there.”

The smart ones walk away, and do something else for a while. Perhaps housework or homework or work work. And as you return to consider the puzzle once again, the edge of the yellow brim practically leaps into your hand, as do those other three pieces you saw but didn’t recognize during your last round at the table.

Creation is like that. Or doing anything that requires serious engagement. Sustained focus is helpful and even necessary for some projects or tasks (or conversations), but there comes a time when too long on task leads to diminishing returns. It’s helpful to take a break in the action, put some distance between you and the activity and returned refreshed, ready for a new perspective. And in fact, when I’m working, I’ll often turn to puzzles to clear my head, shift my thinking, or change my energy levels.

What about you? Do you enjoy puzzling? Are there any strategies you use with puzzles that you apply to daily life?

Great beginnings

It’s a marvelous Monday. Did you start off strong? If not, maybe it’s time to revamp your opening rituals. Successful people spend the first hour of their day in preparation and edification.

Postpone email and other non urgent tasks. There are more productive ways to begin your day than to see what other people need or want from you. Give yourself some time to gear up before launching into administrivia. The truly urgent messages will make their way to you, but the others can wait.

Practice mindfulness and gratitude. No matter where you are in time and space, there’s something you can be grateful for. What is it? Bear it in mind as you begin your day.

Eat that frog. Determine the most important task for the day and devise a clear plan for getting it done first. Although one strategy is to get all the small things done first, Mark Twain’s advice: ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.’

Check in with yourself. Are you on the path to professional fulfillment? If not, think about what you need to do differently. It’s possible to be grateful about things in your life while being honest with yourself about your circumstances. Think about changes you need to make to orient yourself toward your dreams.

Check in with your colleagues. Connect with co-workers, mentors, and other contacts. Work is not simply about the tasks, but about people, too.

Read more about it at Fast Company.

What are you creating?

I’ve come across a lot of things worth sharing as of late. Long ago I used this space, not only for musing, but also for sharing news articles or other things of interest. Sometimes a video catches my eye. Other times, it could be a picture. Today, it’s a word. Something to ponder:

There is no one lonelier or more unhappy than a person who does not know the pure joy of creating a life for himself or herself. To be human is not merely to stand erect and manifest intelligence or knowledge. To be human in the full sense of the word is to lead a creative life. ~Daisaku Ikeda

…but how do you want to feel?

I’m home, after a day of inspiration. And like I’ve been for the past few months, I’m tired. I’m not bone tired or weary, but I’ve just noticed that I’m not as energized as I used to be. There are many very specific reasons for that, but they all boil down to one: change.

One day after work, I did handstands and cartwheels in this grass.
One day after work, I did handstands and cartwheels in this grass.

Over the past several months, I’ve changed a lot and so has my environment. From my zip code to my job responsibilities, to aspects of romantic and platonic relationships.

Personal goals and professional goals have shifted. Exercise habits have changed. Food. The amount of time I spend in the sun or the ways I engage nature. The amount and type of sleep I get. It’s all been one massive ball of change.

Some changes have been on purpose, and others were the result of circumstances. But it still amounts to the same thing: a whole lot is different right now.

It reminds me of the time I was a classroom teacher. At the beginning of every year, I started routines and rituals. I got to know my students, and in some cases new curriculum, new materials, new administrators, and/or new colleagues. All I could do was work my heart out each day and come home and sleep. And sleep.

Sometimes, at the start of school, I’d be asleep well before sunset (not kidding) and I wouldn’t move until daybreak. And that would go on maybe two or three weeks.  Suddenly, I’d get in the swing of things. I’d be on it. Everything would run smoothly at work, and I’d have plenty of energy to plan ahead, or dance, or date, or take classes, or whatever.

But it always took time. And even though it happened every year like clockwork, I had to be gentle with myself, and do what I needed to do to reach a state of equilibrium with my surroundings.

Except for exercise choices, which are primarily seasonal, my recent changes have not been cyclical. They’ve been positive, yet progressive and persistent. One month after another, there’s been a new spin on things. And I haven’t been very good at stopping to reflect. To do the inner work to harmonize fully with all aspects of my life.

Today’s keynote speaker, Akilah Richards, asked us to consider,

…but how do you want to feel?

And I took the time to sit with that this morning. I journaled about it. I sat in the sunshine. I mulled. I want to feel energized and accomplished. Cheerful. Not superficially, or for a few hours in the morning, but I want these feelings to pervade my day and influence my environment.

At the core I want to BE energy and BE productivity and BE good cheer. I’ve felt that way before. I’ve been those things before. I know how to be that person.  I’ll learn how to be those things again, in my new place and under my new conditions.

Clarity is a critical first step.

Mindful action will be the second.

Stay tuned.

Marvelous Mondays

As an elementary school teacher, Mondays were my favorite day of the week. I usually stayed late on Fridays – sometimes until 7 p.m. – to close out the previous week and prepare for the one to follow. I finished grading, wrote lesson plans, previewed passages from texts we were to read, rearranged desks and supplies, made copies and teaching aids, and filed everything in hanging folders organized by day of the week.

Because of all that preparation, I was clear, focused and ready for Monday. My objectives were unambiguous, and I had done all I could to ensure I’d achieve them. Sure, unexpected things came up sometimes, but with few exceptions, Monday was a high-energy, fast-paced day. This momentum lasted a couple of days before it was time to revisit and revise the plans for the remainder of the week.

I’ve long since left the classroom, but I’ve found that, to the degree I prepare the night before (cleaning, planning, organizing materials, etc.), I can expect a high-energy, productive day. One wonders why I don’t do this all the time. I’m writing this post as a reminder to do just that. On social media I often say to my fellow early risers, “Rise and shine. Marvelous Monday on tap.” And indeed, it is.

What do you plan to accomplish this week? And what will you do to make sure it happens?

Emerging Superachiever?

I received an electronic newsletter earlier this week.  In it, Dr. Sally summarized the common traits of academic superachievers. She was referring to their level of scholarly productivity – in other words, how much some researchers contribute to a given knowledge base in comparison to others. Those who are extremely productive are superachievers, and they have five things in common: passion, planning, persistence, perspective and partnerships.

Academic superachievers are excited about their work. They have long-range plans and short-range objectives. They never give up, they maintain a youthful spirit, and they collaborate.

Although I feel good about who I am and what I’ve done, I’m not an academic superachiever. I’m at the emerging end of the achievement scale, and quite frankly, I’ve spent more time debating my interest in being on the scale than engaging in the work. There are lots of reasons for this, including my attitudes about academia as a culture, as well as my ever-changing, sometimes wildly divergent interests.  But the newsletter arrived at a time when I’m reevaluating where I am professionally and where I’d like to go from here.

Self reflecting, I find two items on Dr. Sally’s list worthy of deeper investigation, and one in particular, planning, seems it will be the key to my moving forward.

As a teenager I planned everything. I made lists, I had long-range calendars. I planned out my entire high school course of study the summer before my freshman year. I planned most of my college career promptly upon arrival. But soon after graduation, I started living and working more spontaneously, with less interest in long-term outcomes.

Both approaches served me well for a time, but now I’ve arrived in a season for strategy. Goal-setting works well for me. It circumvents my tendency to waver or succumb to momentary bouts of overwhelm. It keeps me moving steadily when I would just as easily be ruled by waxing and waning passions and scattered thinking. I say all of this in honest reflection of my personality traits. I’ve never been one to think negatively of myself, yet there’s always room for growth.

I have some exciting things underway. I’m going to spend some time channeling Focused Buddha, and develop/update my 5-year, annual, and weekly plans. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence. ~Frederick Douglass

Good credit. #NaBloPoMo #amwriting.

When good things happen, people tend to underestimate how much credit is due to their own efforts, and overestimate the influence of outside forces.

  • That was just luck.
  • It’s only because someone else did thus and such.
  • I was in the right place at the right time.

Meanwhile, when something negative happens, the opposite is suddenly true. They get plenty of credit for the poor outcome, while the external forces are let off the proverbial hook.

  • It’s all my fault.
  • I always do thus and such wrong.
  • If only I had done this, that or the other thing.

In either case, the scales are always tipped to favor luck for good things, and self for bad.

Why is that?

We are co-creators in this world. That means just as there are some things outside of our control, there are other things that we have the ability to influence. We owe it to ourselves to get clear on our power in either case. We deserve credit for the victories in our lives. Perhaps we were in the right place at the right time, but we were also prepared and ready for the opportunity when it came along.

History is created by people. Each individual is a key protagonist in that endeavor. Instead of relying on others, we must enact our own great drama of creativity. Then we can break through the shell of our limited self, advancing and improving ourselves day after day. ~Daisaku Ikeda

We have agency. Don’t relinquish your power, content to subject yourself to the whims of the universe.  Sure, good and bad things “happen.” But be just as sure that you contribute to the good things. The more you recognize your power to co-create the wins in your life, the more victories you can accumulate.

Yes, Lady Luck deserves some of the credit, and so do you. Give credit where credit is due.