"I run a business, I have kids, a social life, a ton of responsibility... and I'm struggling with energy. How do you get the energy you need to power-up a busy life?"
It's great to have a busy, productive-feeling life, isn't it?
Personally, I want it all...
- My businesses running well, and accomplishing important things
- Personal growth throughout every area my life
- Physical health and fitness at highly-athletic levels
- Fantastic, amazing, epic relationships
- A great social life with friends and colleagues
- A happy and healthy family
- Personal time, to reflect, journal, and enjoy my life
- Creative time to make amazing things
- Learning time to explore things that interest me- psychology, philosophy, nutrition, dance styles, futurism.
I love these things, and pursue them aggressively. Every one of them feels essential to my life.
Living on the Edge of Burnout
But to be honest-
Most of my life has felt like a grind. I've usually felt like I was doing far too much at once, and burning out - but doing not nearly enough to achieve my goals, at the same time.
Life was good, but it was also draining.
Some days, I'd wake up feeling like my gas tank was already empty... and I hadn't even gotten out of bed yet.
Does this sound familiar?
At some point, you'll notice that even though you're doing all of the fun things, and winning plenty of victories - life just doesn't feel fun anymore.
Overwhelmed v. Under-fueled
I've felt this exactly this way for most of my life,
And then about 6 months ago, I made a simple but radical shift in my life that I didn't even know was a possibility.
I realized that...
Often, we don't feel overwhelm because of the number of things we have to do... we feel overwhelm when we don't have enough energy to do them.
The problem isn't "I'm doing too much - how do I cut back?"
The problem is "I need more energy to do the things I want."
And everything about your design, mentally, physically, & emotionally is based on this.
Let's do an experiment
Drop right now and do 20 press-ups- or however many it takes to feel fatigued.
Now, while you're catching your breath...
- How hard was that first press-up? Pretty easy, eh?
- How hard was that last press-up? Probably more difficult.
Did your body weight increase between press-up #1 and press-up #20?
The challenge did not increase. Your available energy diminished as you used it.
When you have the energy you need, the journey is easy and fun. When you're running on empty, things feel far more difficult.
You can see this in every facet of life.
Anyone who was poor as a student remembers the emotional angst of simply buying a cup of coffee- and how quickly that angst disappeared once they had a good job.
When we have plenty of energy for the things we need, these things feel trivial. But when we have low energy, these things are Herculean tasks, and often feel impossible.
Our stress level and our perception of effort is closely tied to our perception of the amount of energy we have available.
This article isn't about how to manage or reduce your workload. It's all about increasing your energy so that your workload feels trivial.
But first we need to understand what energy is.
What is "energy," exactly?
I relate to my energy in many different ways...
- Physical energy- the vigor, strength and intensity I can bring at the gym
- Mental energy- wakefulness, focus, and clarity
- Creative energy, moments of "genius" and problem-solving ability
- Learning energy- the ability to learn, memorize or adapt to new situations
- Emotional energy- the capacity to feel deeply, and to be empathetic to the emotions of others.
- Sexual energy- libido. The desire to connect sexually, and the level of vigor behind sexual connection with someone.
- Resilience energy- the willingness for discomfort. The ability to tolerate stress, take on challenge, a hard gym session, an important confrontation, or a cold shower... and recover quickly.
All of these are energy, and you can probably think of other forms I've missed.
And although these different forms of energy are clearly distinguishable, they're all interconnected as well. We can feel low-energy overall, or we can feel high-energy overall, or we can feel mixed- where one particular form of energy really stands out in this moment.
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Where does energy come from?
I'd always assumed that we have a certain amount of "daily energy" that comes from rest & sleep. It varies a bit each day, depending on how well we slept, and recent life stress levels.
I'd imagined that our starting energy each day is what it is, and when it's gone, we need to rest & sleep to recover more.
But mostly, I felt as though I'm not really in control of it.
I get what I get.
But what if you can make energy?
My perception of my energy changed drastically for me this year, as a key perspective shifted for me.
I decided to start looking at my energy as a core resource - just like money, or time. I began measuring it, budgeting it, and investing it. I began identifying where it was being wasted. And I began learning how to create more.
Building Your Energy Stack
After the changes I've made this year, I think that it's absolutely possible to create more energy in your life.
Since applying these principles, I have more energy than I can ever remember having in my life. I've doubled my gym investment, built this blog, made new friends, and recently added 4 new weekly dance classes into my life.
And I am feeling zero stress. I never go to bed feeling like I'm exhausted, or like I've done too little. I feel happy, complete, and victorious - every day.
It's rather like winning the energy lotto.
I'm learning more about this every day, but let's dive in straightaway so that you can see the approach I'm applying so far.
What Energizes You?
Right now, grab a piece of paper and list the things in your life that make you feel the most energized.
I'm not talking about gulping energy drinks here. I'm talking about things that create intense, nourishing, sustainable levels of energy for you.
These things are far more important than you may realize... they don't just "feel good," they are actually central to you creating your best life possible.
I call this list my Energy Stack.
These are the points of focus that I choose to invest my energy in, consciously, every day. I invest as much as I can in these things, because they generate far more energy for me than they cost.
As I'm writing this, my current personal energy stack focuses on three key things, and I have a clear order of priority for them.
- NoFAP, complete abstinence from porn & masturbation
- Exercise, every morning
- Nutrition, fueling my body with the right nutrients in the right amount, to maximize physical energy and recovery
I will go into more details on these below, in case they are relevant to you too.
However, your stack may very well be different, and you will need to learn yours the same way I learned mine - reflect deeply on how different aspects of your world impact you, experiment to see how you can organize and prioritize them to your advantage, and test them thoroughly.
For my Energy Stack, here's why and how these things impact me.
#1 - NoFAP
If you've never heard of NoFAP before, it's internet slang for the decision to abstain from porn & masturbation.
No matter whether you're male or female, some of you will think "meh, that's eeeasy," and others will think "OMG there's just no way that's possible." I was in that second category, which may be partly why this item is so significant for me in my energy stack.
For many men, the attraction to "free virtual sex anytime" is so intense, it's probably addictive- and will beckon your attention constantly. It can run your life, and absolutely drain your energy- as well as majorly disrupting your dopamine, serotonin, and prolactin levels which hugely impact your quality of life.
I became curious about this after reading the famous book Think and Grow Rich, and then later encountering posts in the famous Reddit NoFAP group.
I began experimenting... 7 days of NoFAP. Then 30 days. Then 100 days.
Quickly I had very clear evidence that I couldn't ignore. Conclusions were obvious. "Fapping," the Internet slang for watching porn and masturbating, was one of the most energy draining things in my life.
I decided that it was far, far more draining than difficult relationships, or the hardest and most stressful work project.
When finally I chose to commit to NoFAP, the impact was astronomical.
I'd estimate that in a very direct way, I have 10 times the energy, motivation, confidence, awareness, creativity than I've experienced in living memory.
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#2 - Exercise
For me this primarily means gym & weight training.
I've always valued the idea of being fit, but really I never felt like I had the energy or motivation necessary to commit heavily to a serious fitness regimen.
But once I decided that I wanted to be more fit, I was amazed to discover the benefits to my energy level, clarity, and motivation for the rest of the day.
Every day, first thing in the morning - I hit the gym.
It's fabulous. I get a who range of serious benefits out of my exercise regimen.
- Short term, it appears to have significant benefits to my physical feelings of happiness and focus. Serotonin, testosterone, endorphins, they're all tweaked to the best possible levels right at the start of every day. When you start the day with a challenge, everything else that day seems easy by comparison.
- Medium term, I notice I'm simply motivated to eat better, and I'm processing food-energy more efficiently which means no more spikes-and-crashes- my typical lunch experience. I'm also less achy and stiff, because my body is becoming a well-oiled machine.
- And longer term, I'm now seeing the huge positive mood from simply liking how I look in the mirror, how people react and how my body feels.
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#3 - Nutrition
Today, my meals are currently about 95% plant-based.
I never imagined myself as an mostly-vegan- but it's one of the best discoveries for me personally in terms of creating energy.
I have a few theories on this-
- I suspect that my heavy meat diet was difficult to digest. Digestion of protein is already difficult- 30% of the calories in protein is burned in just digesting that protein. Meat protein, to me, feels much harder to digest than e.g. beans, tofu, lentils, and seitan.
- I suspect that meat and dairy cause muscular inflammation for me, which impedes circulation. Difficult circulation? Your heart needs to work much harder to get blood, oxygen, and nutrition to your cells. It also explains why my exercise recovery was slow. If your circulation isn't working well, neither is your recovery system.
- My carbs were probably low, and the carbs I did eat were often "fast" carbs like potato chips or ice cream. That meant my energy would spike and the crash, than providing a nice clean, consistent energy source to power my day.
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To me, these three things on my energy stack are just as important as sleep, or food - and I prioritize them just as seriously.
In fact, I make certain to prioritize these things before everything else, because they power the rest of my day.
But wait, there's a second part...
What Drains You?
On that same piece of paper, make a second list of all of the things that drain you, without giving back.
To some extent, all of your daily life will consume some energy, Work, relationships, parenting, your gym routine, even sleep. But all of these things are worth that energy investment.
What we're looking for is the things that aren't worth the energy cost. Write those in order too, with the most significant players at the top of your list.
At different points in my life, these are some of my top items.
- Long and stressful driving commute to work.
- Too much coffee
- Late nights, and late-starting mornings
- Excessive stress, taking on too much
- Lack of exercise
- Stressful people or relationships
- Not setting boundaries
Applying Your Energy Stack
Once you've identified the things that energize you, and the things that drain you, you're ready to begin.
Don't get Caught Up in the Technicalities
If you look at my lists, it's easy to question whether NoFAP should be under my Energy Stack list, or whether "fapping" should be #1 on my Energy Drain list.
Don't get caught up in that. It really doesn't matter, as long as you've identified and prioritized the things that affect you the most, energetically.
For me, the things on my Energy Stack list are the things I consciously focus on each day.
The things on my Energy Drain list are the things I check for, if I'm ever feeling a bit low. What's sapping me? Where am I out of balance? Where have I allowed stress to creep into my life?
Pareto & the 80/20 Rule
A short list is fine. Don't get caught up trying to find three things when you begin, even a single item can change your world.
Chances are that the #1 items in your Energy Stack and Energy Drain lists will make 80% of the difference in your energy anyway.
Every day, give these top priority, and they will fuel the rest of your day.
Make these things non-negotiable. You don't have to decide which days you do what- because these are part of every single day, no matter what.
Build a Morning Routine around these things.
Because these fuel your day, it's important to put them as close to the start of your day as possible.
When I reflect on my long years of burnout-style living, I am struck by this fact-
I believed that living "on the edge" of burnout was the most efficient way to live. I felt like I was being maximally effective, pushing my life to its absolutely limits.
In reality, I wasn't giving myself the recovery & rest that are necessary to sustain a healthy life - much less to grow and develop strengths beyond my current abilities.
In the fitness world, it's the equivalent of over-training, to a maximum degree. Constant exhaustion, frequent injury, and zero real growth.
Living in burnout mode meant that I was limiting my potential in life severely, and not even enjoying it.
Now my recovery and recharging are integral, and intentional parts of my life. It makes such a huge difference.
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The Importance of Exercise
For some of my clients, this is morning run, or swim, or biking to work. Yours will depend on you.
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People think I'm nuts not to own a car, but I've spent enough time behind the wheel
I walk everywhere
I get way more clean air
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I'm happier and healthier than I've every been, ever, and to me that's the best measure of winning at life.
Take coffee as an example. I love my coffee, and when I drink it first thing in the morning, I'll feel a burst of YES... but it's soon followed by distraction, lack of focus, and a tired-feeling brain.
By the 3rd cup, thinking becomes an effort.
But when I drink water, I feel 10/10 energy, clarity and focus through my whole morning.
On some level I'm fascinated by this survival-state homeostatis. Many people live there, and because they feel like they're almost-drowning, they don't have the energy to even see the ladder and simply climb out of the swimming pool.
At lease once a year, something big & unexpected would get tossed on my pile, and send me careening over the edge, spinning out of control. I'd feel like my life just came crashing down. Before I was juggling 10 balls, and someone threw me just 1 more. They all came crashing down.
had to pause and ask myself, why am I investing in all of these things? Are they actually benefiting me? What's the cost of that to my happiness, my health, my relationships, and the other areas of my life that I care deeply about?
And I'd re-balance, but it never felt quite right. Sometimes it felt like I was doing too much. Other times too little. There was always something that I was setting aside, that was important to me, or something that I wasn't setting aside, but I was unable to give it the attention it deserved.
Every time I'd think... I'm way too stressed out, this can't be good for me.
But I'd also feel like there wasn't anything I could give up. Everything I was doing had to be done, by me.
There are a lot of important questions that need to be asked about that mindset, but this is not that article.
It helpstounderstand this when you look at the simplest level possible.
Our reptile brain has a well-tuned threat-response system. When we're confronted with any difficult situation, we are presented with a choice - fight, flight, or freeze.
We can go towards the problem, embrace the challenge, and seek to solve or conquer it.
The amount of energy we have available at that moment of decision has a huge impact on our choice.
If a reptile is tired, wounded, how likely is it to choose fight?
These evolved in a specific order for me
NoFAP created a massive amount of energy, which I actually needed to burn. This was my first reason for investing time in the gym daily. If I didn't use that energy, I felt like I would spontaneously combust.
But I gymmed hard, and found that exercise requires recovery
As I started investing in the exercise, I realized I had to figure out my nutrition so thatmyexercise had benefit (muscle growth, fat trimming) and so that I could recover quickly from my daily workouts.