I used to have no energy.
Weekends were a grey blur of indolence as I recovered from the week. I didn’t move any more than I could help, and I made excuses not to go out, because it was all too hard.
Now I get up at 5:15 to exercise most days, I work at a challenging full-time day job and run two websites and a part-time therapy practice, I go kayaking, and regularly meet with friends in an evening group. Up until recently I was taking a night class as well. I still spend a lot of time relaxing at the weekends, but that’s no longer the only thing I do.
How did I do that? How did I go from having almost no energy in my 20s to, by my standards, enormous energy in my early 40s?
Three main things helped me to turn it around: Eating well, moving regularly and managing my stress. But it wasn’t just a change in what I did. It was a change in how I thought.
Part of the Missing Curriculum, the things school didn’t teach us – besides how to get more energy – is taking charge of your own health, wellbeing and resilience. As a former teacher of mine used to say, any dead dog can drift with the current.
In the terms of the TV series Heroes, it’s the difference between being a robot (programmed by the people around you to unthinkingly follow a pattern that’s been laid out for you) and an alien (unpredictable, self-directed and in control of your own life).
Thing is, if you’re not an alien you’re probably feeling alienated. How do you change that? And how do you get more energy?
How to manage your stress
Over 20 years ago now, I spent 5 months feeling ill and lacking in energy, with doctors puzzled over what was wrong with me. I was tired all the time, but couldn’t sleep. I was doing nothing, eating like a horse, but losing weight. I finally figured it out for myself: I was horribly stressed.
I got myself out of the stressful situation and slowly recovered. But I was still vulnerable to falling back into stress mode.
What I eventually learned about managing stress is in my extensive free course, Simple Stress Management Techniques. Even though it’s free, the content is just as extensive and just as good as the courses that I charge money for. Check it out.
How to move in the right direction
When you’re exhausted (or depressed, which sometimes feels much the same), the idea of doing exercise looms like a mountain of impossibility. You might as well try to climb Mt Everest as try to go to the gym – you’ve got as much chance of succeeding. if anyone suggests exercise, your response is, “I asked how can I get more energy, not how can I use more energy!”
But almost all of us can move a little more. And once we start, and build on that start, we begin to have more energy and our mood improves – slowly but surely.
I read somewhere about a man who was seriously overweight and started by spending one minute on an exercise machine. One minute. Now, from a purely exercise-science point of view you’d look at that and say, “One minute isn’t going to do anything. It’s effectively the same as doing nothing.”
But it isn’t. There’s a vast difference between doing one minute and doing nothing. Doing one minute is a beginning. Doing nothing is a dead end.
He went on to become fit and healthy.
Pick something you can’t fail at. Can you go up the stairs instead of taking the elevator? Can you walk to the mailbox? Can you spend one minute stretching? One. Single. Minute.
Funny thing. Your mental attitude has an effect on whether you improve your fitness or not. Crum and Langer (in Psychological Science, 2007) did a study on hotel maids, who put out a lot of vigorous effort in their daily jobs. They told half of their group of 84 maids that their work was good exercise.
Four weeks later, they compared the two groups and found that the “informed” group had improved on measures of weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index compared to the “uninformed” group. So even just thinking about what they were doing as exercise helped them change.
How can you change your mindset about moving your body to start on a path to improved health, fitness – and energy?
Even a small start makes a difference.
How to eat well
I could (and someday soon I will) go on for thousands of words about our complicated and mostly screwed-up relationship to food. I could also (and someday soon will also) go on for more thousands of words about the built-in issues of commercial food production and distribution, which inherently favours exactly the kind of highly-processed, high-energy-density foods that are worst for our health. For now I’ll just say this.
If you aren’t eating tasty, nutritious food that leaves you feeling energetic and alive, in a good mood, and pleased with your choices…
Well, firstly, you’re in the majority.
Secondly, you don’t have to stay in that majority. You can change your conflicted relationship to food into one that’s more sustaining and sustainable, that’s marked by joy, and that you don’t want to change back.
And thirdly, you will be amazed at the transformation to your health and energy (and mood) once you do.
This week, I’m creating the first of what will be a series of free resources for subscribers to How to Be Amazing. It’s a list of hints and tips on how to hack your eating by understanding your mind’s blind spots. Food marketers have been using those blind spots of yours for their advantage for years. It’s about time you turned the tables (so to speak).
That resource is publicly available (share it with your friends!). But some of my other resources will be available only to members. There’s a big subscription box under every post and page of this site – subscribe now (it’s free) if you want to make sure to hear about all the resources I put up.
Do you want to be amazing? Become an Amazing Member and get immediate access to member-only resources like the How to be Happy ebook.
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