So far, we have covered BRAIN ENERGY & RESILIENCE. Here is the next concept, which is key:
Concept #3: Transitions & Activation Energy.
It is important to understand transitions and activation energy. Every day is made up of several transitions. Getting out of bed & getting ready for work. Getting the kids ready for school. Making lunches & breakfast. Feeding & walking the dog. Sending the kids to school. Driving to work. Countless transitions throughout the work day such as meetings, checking email, answering phone calls, etc. And the transitions continue even after work. Add in exercise, snacks, lunch, dinner, etc. LOTS of daily transitions.
Transitions include anything where you have to remember to do something or be somewhere different that now. It takes effort on your part. That effort comes in the form of mental energy I call “activation energy.” Every transition requires activation energy. 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. There is a finite amount of activation energy for each individual. It sets a limit on the number of transitions that can be managed in a given period of time.
Let’s go back to our car analogy. Remember that brain energy is the total amount of gas in the car, resilience is the size of the gas tank. The destination is the transition. The activation energy is the amount of gas needed in the tank to get to its destination. Obviously, you require different amounts gas depending on where you are going and the number of other stops you plan to make along the way.
This car analogy is similar to the different amounts of activation energy required depending on the transition. Regular transitions are routine and require a very small amount of activation energy. It’s like you found the shortest, fastest way to your destination. We assume this means you used the least amount of gas.
Often the morning transitions are pretty regular during the week and they are “routine.” As long as they stay the same daily, these transitions require less activation energy the longer you continue the same routine. This is an important concept. You can decrease the activation energy you expend the more you do it and the more routine it becomes.
However, if you add something new into the routine or change it, you will need extra activation energy to complete all of your transitions. What you have done is that you have introduced an unusual transition or a “novel transition.” These are new or different-than-the-usual transitions and don’t occur regularly (like eating lunch). Until this novel transition become routine, it will expend more activation energy than your routine transitions.
For example, a common morning routine: wake up, brush teeth, shower, get dressed & ready for work, eat breakfast, etc. (We will keep the kids and others out of this for now). Same thing every weekday, but now, you want to add a workout into your morning. The only differences (the 3 novel transitions) will be 1) waking up 30 minutes earlier (& after brushing teeth), adding in 2) changing into workout clothes & 3) the workout before the shower. Everything else will continue to be the same.
Seems pretty simple and it may be. However, it takes more activation energy to incorporate those 3 novel transitions into our morning routine. If we are also using up more activation energy incorporating additional novel transitions into our days, such as packing a healthy lunch and snacks, anticipating our annual physical this week and a concert to attend, we may have depleted our available activation energy and something is going to fall off…Often, the novel transitions that don’t directly affect others are the first to be eliminated. Guess what gets eliminated? Usually it is something that you were going to do for yourself like exercise or prepare healthy foods to eat.
Again, note that with novel transitions, your brain has to be vigilant. It has to be constantly “on” to remember the next transition: what you need to do or where you need to be. So, novel transitions will use up more activation energy than “routine transitions.” Additional activation energy will also be required if the transition is complicated further by a scheduled time of completion (ie. An annual meeting at a scheduled time that you must attend).
Another example: you go to work, but you have to remember the scheduled phone meeting at 10:30 am with the school teacher. You have to remember to call the teacher at the right time during your otherwise usual work day at the office. You mind has to continue to remind itself, not start anything that will run into the 10:30 time slot & it much continually check the clock & remember to call at the right time. It would be much less energy consuming if you could call anytime in the next month when you thought of it.
This scheduled meeting, a novel transition, continues to drain energy until the transition is completed (you have the phone meeting). It may be decreased somewhat by setting an alarm to remind you to call & putting a post it on your computer screen. However, the activation energy needed for this transition is MUCH higher than what was needed to go to work as usual. Now, if the meeting becomes regular, such as a weekly phone call, then there is less activation energy required each subsequent time you have the meeting. The longer it is a routine, the less activation energy you will expend for that particular transition.
The good news is that the longer you are able to continue including your desired novel transitions in your life (like exercise and healthy eating), the less likely they will be eliminated when you introduce yet more novel transitions into your life because they don’t require as much activation energy. In fact, you may find that they help provide you with some stability which can increase your resiliency.