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.

No alt text provided for this image

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?

Setbacks and setups

A wise person once said,

A setback is just a setup for a comeback.

Now, I didn’t really have a setback, and I’m not looking to come back from (or to) anything. But I heard this phrase in my head as I got myself in gear late this evening.

Today was sort of a bust as far as productivity goes. Because of my work schedule, my Mondays are usually pretty streamlined and predictable. But because I didn’t set myself up for success last night, I paid for it in lost opportunities.

I’m up later than I’d like to be, but I am syncing my Garmin to be ready for my run tomorrow. After that, I’ll mix my endurance formula and lay out my running gear. There are a couple more things I need to do to get my projects ready to hit full stride first thing, and then it’s off to sleep for early rising (4:45am).

In progress

Ajee’ Wilson

Today I ran another 4 miler. I don’t generally run two days in a row, but rain is forecast for tomorrow, so I had to get it in.

I had modest goals – namely maintaining yesterday’s performance with the addition of a slightly faster warm up mile.

To my surprise and delight, I crushed it.

I pushed the warm up mile and was progressively faster on all miles thereafter. I even dropped my average pace by 30 seconds.  That’s pretty shocking, and in truth, I hit my target. As in, what I expected to be doing after a couple of weeks of effort.

Next steps? Keeping this up long term, and not just as a quick trick a couple of days here and there. I’m still taking breathers on mile four, so I’ll also plan to build endurance for speedier runs.

I’m excited to see my mind and body work together to create an outcome. This is one of the things I most appreciate about running. It shows me I can visualize and enact things in the real world.

Now to apply this to projects in progress…

—-

Read about Ajee’ at the 2014 Penn Relays here.

Keep on keepin’ on

Today I woke up on time, then promptly fell asleep.

I strive to wiggle out of bed around 4:45, but this morning’s rain gave me permission to push that back. Since I couldn’t run as I intended, I slept instead.

Despite the extra sleep and snuggling with my boo, I was still sleepy throughout the day. I blame the rain and subsequent clouds. I perked up later on when the sun won out.

Allyson Felix

Reminding myself of yesterday’s victories, I scheduled and scored some today by eating a frog early and then making my way through some easier, yet still dreaded, tasks.

I also planned my approach to an ongoing project so I can stop making excuses and gain momentum. There are still a couple of things left to do before calling it a day, but I can claim today’s W already.

What are you doing today to ensure tomorrow’s success?

Difficult, possible

Today I had plans and stuck with them. This isn’t always the case.

Some days I jump right to work with no plan, and other days I have a plan but never commit to it.

These are bad ideas, and  yet human nature, decision fatigue, and/or any other number of life events sometimes make it difficult for me to use the tools that work best.

Difficult, but by no means impossible. It’s time to stop letting difficult win.

Every now and again I remind myself of some of the most productive years of my life, the early 2000s when I taught elementary school. I was relentless with my planning and execution, my organization and classroom management. Things ran like clockwork, and the momentum was enough to keep me going to the next round. Working this way was not a chore. It was fun. In 2013, I wrote about this noting:

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.

Here I am again, writing this as a reminder to myself… Take a few minutes, plan ahead, and commit to one small victory each day.

Get ‘er done!

Dig deep. Get ‘er done!

Sometimes the day just slips away. Or the hours of the day more specifically. Today was one of those days.

I can’t exactly say I was productive – at least if we’re only considering deliverables or output. Simply put, I don’t have products to show for my time.  But I do have mental space cleared and three project plans in the works.

Moreover, I updated my goal list, transforming it to include bigger, yet more concrete goals. I even changed the name, now calling it a Victory List.

We’re nearly halfway done with 2016. It’s time to get it cracking! How are you doing on your 2016 goals? What will you do to make them reality?

Getting Free

It’s such an amazing feeling – freedom. Freedom from my own thoughts of limitation. Freedom from an old path. Freedom from what no longer serves me.

I’ve felt this freedom in recent days, swelling in a joyful crescendo this evening. To celebrate and reaffirm my recent decisions, I started tossing and recycling items long outdated. Tomorrow I get to cart them away.

There’s new space in my garage where anchors used to be. There’s new energy and mental clarity where there was once clutter and dread. It’s wonderful.

Embracing my true self.
Embracing my true self.

Even an individual at cross purposes with himself is certain to end in failure. Yet a hundred or even a thousand people can definitely attain their goal, if they are of one mind. ~Nichiren

Although many quote this passage from Many in Body, One in Mind to highlight the second half, I reference it most often for the first. More than once, I’ve found myself wavering about a decision. I have clear thoughts about where I want to go, but take steps at cross purposes with my own desires. It’s like stepping on the gas and the brake the at same time. You don’t go anywhere, and if you do, it’s a jerky, unpleasant experience.

It’s liberating to choose life over fear. Now it’s time to be who I’ve always said I wanted to be… 

Next steps

sesimbra sidewalk
Nic taking steps in Portugal.

I long held on to something that was once a good stepping stone and source of support but it turned into something… much less productive. After a couple of years it became a crutch. And over the past few months, and most clearly the past couple of days, I realized it was more like an anchor.

In Nichiren Buddhism, once you realize you’re in a less than ideal situation, you seek to understand your role in it. You take responsibility and try to transform it. Hendoku iyaku, or changing poison into medicine, is a powerful approach. But it doesn’t work if you try to transform the wrong thing. You can’t change other people. You can only change you.

I’ve felt stagnant and frustrated for quite some time, but ultimately, I was allowing an external situation to weigh me down. I was the one holding on, and in effect, creating my own stagnation. My outlook and resulting actions were the poison I needed to change.

And so, Thursday, I resolved to let go. And Friday, I started the wheels in motion. Today I am overjoyed, looking forward to next steps.

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.