Tag Archives: energy

Healthier Together Series: 7D. Putting it all together – 3 Steps to Optimizing Function & Recovery

When there is uncertainty, mixed messaging and highly reactive emotions swirling around, it is easy for extreme feelings to be overpowering and hijack your mind.

In these times, to be effective, it is helpful to develop a way to get back in control of what we can control: our mind.

The good news is that there are simple concepts and tools that can help you understand your mind and re-establish your focus to where you can function at your best and that can help you do what you need to do next.

The concept I will use today was first introduced to me by Dr. Leonard Marcus, one of the authors of the book, You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When it Matters Most. He is also one of the Founding Co-Directors at the Harvard National Preparedness Initiative. It has been adapted for use now.

First, think of your mind as a building with three levels. The Top Floor is the penthouse where there are rooms all around and you have a great view! When your mind operates here, you have a 360 degree view of everything, you have good perspective, you are in full control of thinking, and you can see all the options.

The level below that is the Ground Level. This is the workroom of the brain and mind. It’s where we are when we solve problems and get things done. This is where our training, experience, and skills are automatically and easily accessible. Most of our time is spent on the ground level, and most other people will be here.

When your mind operates in one of these top two levels, things typically run smoothly and effectively. This is what most of us would consider a “Good Day.”

Stella Tzertseveli/Unsplash
Source: Stella Tzertseveli/Unsplash

But below these two levels is the Basement, the place where your mind goes when you are very upset, scared, anxious or angry. A crisis can throw someone into the Basement instantaneously from any of the top two floors.

When someone is in the Basement, it is dark and scary. There is limited visibility and it is hard to see options. The heart rate may increase, and that person may feel sweaty or have an upset stomach.

While people try to avoid falling into the Basement, we all end up there sometimes. However, going to the Basement is not the problem. Our body has normal reactions that help us survive when we are there. The problem is the getting stuck in the Basement. When you do, the mind has been hijacked and it has difficulties thinking and operating clearly. It reacts in natural, yet primitive ways.

Fortunately, there are three things you can do to walk yourself up from the Basement and get back on a path that puts your mind in control so you can do what you need to do next. With regular practice of these three skills, you can get out of the Basement faster.

3 Steps to Get Out of the Basement:

1. Recognize when you or someone else is in the Basement.

This is perhaps the most important step. When you realize you are there, then you can also know that you need to get out of the Basement so that your mind can function better and see more options.

At times, you will recognize someone else is in the Basement. They may be furious or panicking or somehow seeming irrational. They can drag others into the Basement with them.  We’ve all been there, no need to judge.

When you recognize someone else is in the Basement, you know that you can avoid getting dragged into it and even help to bring them up with you.

Remember that falling into the Basement is natural. It is not the problem. The problem is getting stuck in there. But, you have the ability to walk yourself out of the Basement.

2. Follow a protocol that includes a script.

  • Pause and take a slow, deep belly breath.
  • Repeat to yourself:
    • “I can do this.”
    • “I have successfully managed challenges in the past.” (Visualize a time when you were wildly successful with something that felt almost impossible and you felt very proud and impressed with yourself.)
    • “Big picture: [State a fact that is true, i.e., “This is temporary. I am strong and capable. I have the skills to handle unexpected events.”]
    • “We are all in this together.” [Statement that links you to others]
    • “We can do this.”
  • Now you have walked yourself up from the Basement and can re-engage.

3. Do what you need to do next.

To clarify, many people try to avoid going to the Basement. Sometimes, this is unavoidable. Unexpected things happen that can throw us down there. However, the key is to limit the time spent there and avoid getting dragged in by others. When you recognize you or someone else is in the Basement, you will now have the tools to allow you to get yourself and others out. With practice, your ability to get out of the Basement will get faster and faster until it becomes a reflex.

By using this simple concept and tool to get out of the Basement quickly, you can get back into the Ground Level workroom where you will be able to manage your mind and function at your best.

First Published on Psychology Today Emerging Wisdom Blog.

 

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 1 A. Nutrition — Make one change…

hisu-lee-bQLCyj-9-tk-unsplashThis week’s nutrition notes:

In an earlier a post, I mentioned how our body starts out in our personal best metabolic state…basically after >6 hours of sleep, not eating or drinking anything, our body is burning fat for energy (which is possible because our insulin levels are lower). We like that. Most of us have enough fat on our body that we can spare to burn some for fuel. Our body’s insulin levels dropped down while we were sleeping & we wake up in a fat burning mode. Use this to your advantage.

This week, make sure your first meal of the day has protein. You can add leafy veggies too. You can add fat too. So breakfast might include organic free range eggs, nitrite free bacon, left over meats/chicken/fish from night before, avocado, butter, spinach, hard cheese, etc. ***The key is to avoid the starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, pancakes, waffles, crepes, anything made with wheat flour, etc.) and sugars.

If you eat protein & fat for breakfast, your blood sugars stay stable, you DON’T have an insulin surge, so your body can continue in a fat burning mode from overnight & you continue to nourish your body with nutrients. Also, you may notice that your hunger levels are better later in the day and you have more energy the rest of the day.

So, look for low carbohydrate breakfasts with natural proteins, fat with or without leafy veggies and water, tea, or coffee (with cream if you like, but hold the sweetener). Make your breakfast work for you.

Photo by Hisu lee on Unsplash

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.

How Can I just “DO IT”? (Part 2)

Earlier, we reviewed BRAIN ENERGY. Today, we move onto the next concept.

Concept #2. Resilience.

Brain energy is directly linked to resilience. Resilience is your defense against things that derail you. It protects your supply of brain energy, it’s your reserve. It can be more specific to events and can include behavioral patterns you develop in response to negative influences. Resilience protects you from giving up your plans, your goals. It helps keep you moving forward.

If brain energy is the gas in your car, resilience is the size of the gas tank. The larger the tank, the more gas it holds, or the more driving possible between fill ups. Even if you end up getting lost, you will have enough gas until you reach your destination. The more resilience you have, the more you can accomplish in a period of time even when you have detours.

Good news! You can learn to increase your resilience so that you are more resilient to change and transitions…which will be topic of the next blog.

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.