Monthly Archives: September 2013

How can I just “DO IT”? (Part 1)

Do you find your good intentions to exercise daily, plan & prepare healthy foods, incorporate new healthy habits into your life, start out well, but fizzle out too soon, before they become ingrained into your routine? Do you find that you know what you need to do to be healthy (ie. Exercise), that you realize you CAN probably fit it into your day but you somehow are having difficulty actually DOING it? What is getting in the way of your good intentions? WHY can’t you just do it? It’s usually not for lack of motivation, lack of knowledge, lack of time or lack of ability. If you are like most people, you are probably disappointed in your lack of discipline or you may wonder if there is something wrong with you. Over the next several blogs, I will discuss a different way to consider what’s happening. Then maybe you will be saying, “Let me do it!”

#1 Concept: Brain Energy.

First, we all have a finite store of brain energy. “Brain energy” is the total amount of energy your brain carries with it at any time and determines what you can accomplish in a given period of time. Your total capacity for daily function is a reflection of your current quantity of brain energy. If you have more brain energy, you can do more and you can challenge yourself more before you need a recharge. So, you can accomplish more when you have more brain energy.

So, your daily ability to function is based on how much brain energy you have. An easy way to see the link between brain energy and function is to look at toddlers. Think about when toddlers deteriorate after missing their nap. They have exhausted their brain energy and essentially don’t “function” as well. They need some quiet time to recover their brain energy & “get it together.”

The good (& sometimes bad) news is that you and your environment can change the amount of brain energy you have. Choices you make to take care of yourself can increase your brain energy. This will be further reviewed later.

For now, understand that we have brain energy that determines how much we can do every day and that the amount of brain energy can be changed. We all want more brain energy.

Change and Activation Energy

Recently, I had a nice discussion with my mom about the challenges of NOT having a regular schedule.

Why was it so hard to sustain that new exercise routine and healthy eating plan? Was it that the work & home life had so many changes recently? The new school year, the different work hours? Was it the changing weather? The recent 10 day “vacation?” Was it that in this upcoming semester, there would be no 2 days or 2 weeks that were similar – NO routines?

It made me think about what trauma surgeon once told me. “It’s the transitions that are hard in our work. That’s what makes being “on call” so draining. Once we are at the hospital, we are fine and we love what we do. And once we are home, we love being home and don’t want to leave. It’s the transitions that are awful.”

Transitions are hard for children, and adults too, it turns out. A transition is when you have to change what you are doing now, to do the next thing: shift from sleeping to waking to exercising to showering to getting ready for work to being a parent to driving to work to working, etc. A transition may be that you have to change locations: go from one store to the other, go from home to work, go from one appointment to another. The more transitions in your day, the more your brain has to do, the more vigilant it has to be. This can exhaust your energy stores. When those energy stores are depleted, things may start to feel overwhelming. When we feel overwhelmed or when our brain has been vigilant for too long without a chance to recharge, that is when it becomes easier to let your good intentions & health efforts fall to the side.

Transitions require activation energy & there is only a finite amount there. Activation energy is the amount of “effort” and “discipline” you need IN ADDITION to the physical & mental energy you need, to do the next activity. If you are fit and you have been taking care of yourself, you will have more activation energy available to you & can do so much more before you have exhausted your supply of activation energy. You are more resilient to change and transitions.

But if you have not been taking care of your whole self, or have let stress build up in your life…changes and transitions may quickly deplete your activation energy stores and prevent replenishing them. This may cause you to cut out some of the newer activities in your life, such as your fairly new exercise program or your healthier eating plan. The longer you have been doing something or the longer something is a part of your routine, the less activation energy it requires. The newer the activity, the more activation you need to transition to doing that activity. Habits hardly require ANY activation energy. A habit is practically a reflex.

So, in order to live our lives to our fullest potential and joy, we need to find ways to replenish & increase our activation energy stores on a regular basis. Our activation energy stores are directly proportional to our resilience. Our stores of activation energy and our resilience increases with certain healthy behaviors.

The goal is to find those unique things that you have control over that energize and replenish you, that nurture you and give you that boost. Then create a routine that incorporates some or all of those activities into your life regularly. Taking a walk after dinner on those days you eat dinner. Sitting with yourself and thinking about your day before you brush your teeth. Listening to classical music on the ride home from work. Sitting amongst greenery during lunch break. Jogging on the treadmill on waking in the morning. Hanging out with family. You find what works for you.

The longer you make that effort, the easier it will be to maintain that activity and the more activation energy you will develop and maintain and the more resilient you will be to change and transitions. Then, incorporating new changes or transitions into your life or managing your life when you are hit with a new stressor will not be as disruptive. You will be resilient and have sufficient activation energy to meet the demands of your daily transitions. In addition, you will have a reflexive response to replenish your activation stores. You will be able to continue to take care of yourself and you don’t have to let your good habits or good intentions fall to the side. This allows you the freedom to live your life to your fullest potential and full of joy.