Tag Archives: activation energy

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 1 D. Putting It All Together — Midwest Winter

In this section, I am hoping to integrate people’s experiences and wisdom and/or offer examples of how we apply what we have learned. Please be sure to share your experiences and wisdom. This is how we can help each other and become healthier together.
*Disclaimer: Apps or links are listed as examples & do not necessarily represent the BEST ones or the only options. They are included to help you get started on your search for the right resources for you. So please share what you are using too.

Here is an example of putting it all together:

Scenario: Midwest. Winter. Cold. Darker earlier, longer. Work is busy. Traffic is terrible in bad weather- longer and more frustrating commutes. Not going outside much. Limited exposure to nature. See fewer people socially. Sleep is messed up. Craving and eating comfort foods that increase blood sugar and therefore insulin. Gaining weight. Getting more tired. Being less active. Feeling bad about not exercising, eating poorly and weight gain. Feeling progressively more down…sound familiar?

Thank goodness for Spring! However, what about all those months before Spring arrives?

Winter happens EVERY year. Plan for it. Let your healthy habits continue to help you. Many people schedule a break to warmer climates during winter or early spring (maybe too expensive for some of us), or they embrace it and find a physical activity that they can do in the midst of nature’s healing effects. Mental planning helps. Journal or keep a log of your observations. Here’s a plan:

1. Limit your new transitions that use up your activation energy and brain energy. You have lower reserves in the winter. Keep the things, people, activities that rejuvenate you and give you energy, maybe even increase the duration of exposure to them. Note: not adding more, just make it longer. It might mean eliminating some of the energy drains.

2. Maintain your healthy eating habits. In particular, keep the amount of white starchy carbs and sugars lower. This will keep your energy and mood up and also your weight stable! Stay hydrated- UNSWEETENED clear nonalcoholic beverages are best, like water or unsweetened tea.

3. Always continue your regular daily physical activity, especially in the winter. This is not the time to change it up or take a break. Start your day with a boost of activity- as little as 7 minutes will help you! It will save you from the winter blues and regulate your sleep and eating and your weight. When you are away from home or when there is a time crunch, try the 7 minute workout which you can find online. A sample iphone app: The 7 Minute Workout “Seven” with High Intensity Interval Training. There are MANY online videos that also show how to do the complete body workout.

4. Practice your self hypnosis to allow you to develop control of your mind so you can relax or sleep when you need to. When you are particularly stressed or if you have insomnia, it is nice to have your brain help you. Given the nights are longer, maybe you can use some of the extra darkness to practice relaxing the mind. 2 sample apps on the iphone: *Hypnopack. Has 5, 15, 20 & 27 minute programs and also can be used for other behavior change helpful for public speaking, anxiety release, studying & memory, etc. *Create Inner Peace & Calm with Glenn Harrold is another iphone app that many find helpful, has some free & some components you can choose but have to pay for.

5. Reach out and connect with nature and the people who energize you. This might mean taking a walk or snowshoeing in nature on a winter morning with a friend.

Bottom line: you can learn from previous experiences, what your patterns are and maximize the joy you get out of your life with a little planning. Taking care of yourself is a choice and it helps make the world a better place. And you deserve it!

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How Can I just “DO IT”? (Part 4)

Now, you understand about brain energy, resilience, transitions and activation energy. So, “How can I just DO IT?”

Feel free to read this a couple of times to think about it and consider what it means for you. This is putting it all together.

First, let’s review and go back to the car analogy: The first time you try to get to a new destination you are more likely to succeed if you have a large full tank of gas and plenty of time in case anything unexpected happens. This means: To incorporate a novel transition, you are more likely to succeed if you have lots of resilience & maximum brain energy. You set off on your drive (using your activation energy). You may not yet know the “best” route. In fact, you may get lost or end up in construction and traffic (using still more activation energy). In other words, you will need more energy to do something new, and you only have a set amount of energy to start with every day. Plan your day accordingly. More “new” or “unusual” events planned, the more energy you will drain.

You are better off if you have a large full tank of gas because you still have other places to go (more transitions or activities to do) after your first destination, and there may not be a gas station nearby. In the future however, each time you go to that destination, you will likely do it better and faster. The more frequently you drive there, the more efficient your drive will become. In other words, the more “routine” something becomes, the less activation energy required for it.

Concept #4. Hectic days can sabotage our good intentions.

A hectic day has more novel transitions & is often complicated by the requirement that there are specific times those transitions have to be completed.Remember that novel transitions are transitions that are not a regular occurrence. The more novel the transitions, & the more of them that you have in a period of time, the more activation energy is required for each event, the bigger the drain on your brain energy, and the more hectic your day will feel. A hectic day is really like a day with lots of novel transitions scheduled into it – rapidly draining your energy.

Going back to the car analogy when you are over-scheduled with lots of novel transitions over several days: Effectively, you are just DRAINING your gas tank and throwing rocks into the tank too effectively shrinking the size of the tank and decreasing the amount of gas you haave. You will be running on empty pretty quickly. Hectic days have the potential to sabotage your good intentions without warning.

Bottom line, hectic days are days when you just have lots more going on & they are not your usual routine. These are dangerous days. Mistakes happen and good intentions fall by the way side. Often, we end up in survival mode and not being our best selves. We may stop taking the time to take care of ourselves. We are in danger of burn out. These are times when you eat the foods you know aren’t good for you, when you are stressed out, when you consider skipping your workout.

Remember, if it is a novel transition and/or it needs to be done at a certain time (ie. getting to a new appointment), it will deplete more activation energy and may become part of a hectic day. Now you know this. You can prepare for this. It means you will need to plan for more frequent recharging times, more breaks, more times to decompress and slow down. You may choose not to add in too many novel events in a week if you have that option.

In my house with teenage boys, there are certain times of the year that are just full of predictable hectic days, and they revolve around the boys’ schedules. To prevent burn out and to make sure I continue to take care of myself, I create a plan ahead of those predictable times to boost my resilience and brain energy around those times so that I maximize my time and what I accomplish then. I also try NOT to plan “new activities” or “novel transitions” at those times if they are not necessary.

There is a good argument for regular exercise, healthy nutrition and for taking care of your brain energy and increasing your resiliency: If you are fit and you have been taking care of yourself (mentally, physically & spiritually), you will have more resilience, have more brain energy and therefore, more activation energy available to you & you can do so much more before you have exhausted your supply of activation energy and your total brain energy.

With knowledge, planning and preparation, you can achieve your goals and continue to move forward towards new ones. You will achieve much more in life. So, you can now say, “I will DO It!”

How Can I just “DO IT”? (Part 3)

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.