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 & 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 & 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 & 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.

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