Call it drive, vigor, enthusiasm, or get-up-and-go. Call it zest, gusto, razzmatazz, or just plain oomph. It's what gives you ambition, puts a sparkle in your eye, and fills your day with spirit and glow. It's what makes you jump out of bed in the morning, fill your lungs with air, and charge out the front door ready to take on the entire world.
We're talking about the greatest form of energy on earth. It doesn't come from oil, coal, or natural gas. It comes from your mind.
When the energy is flowing, really flowing, nothing, but nothing, can stop you. You feel powerful, brilliant, and tremendously alive. You feel like King Kong with a Ph.D. But, when the energy stops flowing-ugh. You feel like Dr. Kong after he fell from the Empire State Building.
If you're like most people, your energy flow can get a little erratic from time to time, and you'd like to do something about it. You'd like to boost the wattage and assure yourself of a steady, never-ending supply of power. Well? Don't just lie there like a big ape sprawled out on a Manhattan sidewalk! Read the sections below under the following headings:
A. The Brain in the Energetic Lane
B. Energy Is a State of Mind
C. A Deeper Sense of Self
D. The Will to Succeed
E. Of Body and Mind
A. The Brain in the Energetic Lane
If King Kong hadn't been shot down by buzzing planes, he likely would have wound up face down on the sidewalk anyway. After all, the only thing Kong did, day in and day out, was beat his hairy chest and furrow his massive brow. Just what kind of life is that? "Ritualization leads to boredom, and boredom leads to fatigue," says Ernest Dichter, Ph.D., a well-known expert on motivation.
A.1 Dig Out the Root of Your Rut
Greater energy comes from "having the courage to do things differently from the day before," says Dr. Dichter. "Make yourself aware that you're in a rut and don't blame anyone else -- you got yourself into it, you can get yourself out." That doesn't mean you should do something drastic like change your spouse, career, or address. Making much smaller changes in your life is generally all you need. Try dressing differently, redecorating your house, or making love in a different position, suggests the 83-year-old Dr. Dichter. Professing he has as much mental energy as ever, the senior psychologist attributes his vim to following his own advice. He's recently been studying Russian and Chinese and reading a book about baseball (Dr. Dichter was raised in Austria, where baseball wasn't played).
A.2 Play Hooky Once in a While
Sometimes the kind of change you need is a respite from the hustle-bustle. Whether it's from the office, the kids, or the coal mine, we're talking escape. "I sometimes prescribe a day off in the same way a doctor would prescribe an aspirin for a sore knee," says Allan J. Schwartz, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and chief of the University of Rochester's Mental Health Unit. Dr. Schwartz sees lots of cases of mental fizz-out. He counsels medical school interns who work endless demanding shifts.
What's the best thing to do with your "escape" time? "Go with what feels right for you," says Dr. Schwartz. Some people feel wonderful after a day or two lying on the beach, others thrill in taking hikes or going sailing. "Just because someone else says something was wonderful for them doesn't mean it's right for you. You have to allow for individual differences and pick what is most enlivening and refreshing to you," says Dr. Schwartz.
A.3 Oweeee! Get a Little Risky
Vacation time, of course, is a limited commodity. So what can you do the rest of the time to boost your mental reserves? Part of the answer is to take more risk in your life, says Margaret M. Clifford, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology at the University of Iowa. "Moderate risk is what seems to most interest and motivate an individual," she says.
In studies with children and teenagers, Dr. Clifford has found that those who take the most risk in choosing and solving academic problems tend to be better and more satisfied students. Those who stick with solving only easy problems tend to grow bored and fatigued.
In life beyond the classroom, the same applies, says Dr. Clifford. To add energy to your life, you can ask for more responsibility at work, get involved in athletics, try new recipes, sign up for evening classes, play chess, overhaul a car -- "anything you enjoy doing that involves an element of risk," she says. Once you've mastered an activity, and you feel boredom creeping in, it's time to seek a fresh challenge.
A.4 Journey to Points Unknown
Perhaps you're wondering if you can combine escape time with risk for a double jolt of mind recharging. Yes, you can! Follow the advice of Stanley Moss, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His idea: Arrange a week off from work, and don't make any plans in advance! "When I vacation, much of the thrill is doing it on the spur of the moment. That may sound strange and counterproductive -- and in many ways it is -- but it does add a lot to the excitement," says Dr. Moss, who recently jumped into his car and drove 3,000 miles to California.
B. Energy Is a State of Mind
Getting out of your rut and injecting risk into your life may free you from fatigue. But you want more than that. You want super-high energy. Your next step in this pursuit is to examine your state of mind. "Clearly, positive thoughts create positive energy," says Richard N. Podell, M.D., clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. Certainly the main character of the children's classic The Little Engine That Could knew the importance of positive thoughts: "I think I can-I think I can-I think I can-I think I can," the Little Blue Engine repeated over and over as she puffed her way up the mountain.
B.1 Belief in Yourself Is the Spark plug of Your Mind
"I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could," the smiling Blue Engine seemed to say as she puffed her way down the hill. Perhaps it was because she believed in herself that she had the energy to succeed.
Belief in your ability is to mental energy what sparkplugs are to an engine. "Many people are too critical of themselves, and that is what saps their energy," says Richard Ryan, Ph.D., director of clinical training and associate professor at the University of Rochester.
Dr. Ryan espouses the theory that all of us come into this world teeming with energy. It's only when we start dealing with other people, and start feeling controlled and coerced by other people, that our "sparkplugs" start to miss and our natural energy drains from our "engine" like oil into a gutter.
The remedy? "Recognize who the taskmaster is. You control your own life. Seek autonomy and challenge. And take a less critical stance," says Dr. Ryan.
B.2 Have a Chat with Yourself
Just like the Little Blue Engine did, there's nothing wrong with giving yourself a good pep talk now and then. In fact, there's nothing wrong with looking into a mirror, clasping your hands together and screaming, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" So advocates Stan Kellner, frequent speaker on motivation, founder and owner of Yes I Can Sports Camps in East Setauket, New York, and a former Long Island high school basketball coach whose teams racked up 166 wins and only 30 losses.
To attain higher levels of energy and confidence "you need to change your personal dialogue," says Kellner. Looking into a mirror and clasping your hands is a great way to "anchor a feeling," he says. That's why it helps to perform this little ritual when trying to sink positive feelings into your head. Do it as often as you need to, says Kellner, until you feel energized and brimming with confidence.
B.3 Visualize Achieving What You Want
There's no way to know whether the Little Blue Engine visualized herself reaching the top of the mountain, but it's a technique that might work for you. "Realize that you have a success mechanism. It works by pictures. And you control those pictures," says Kellner.
In other words, seeing what it is you want will help you attain the energy to get it. Chugging your way up to the top of a mountain? Visualize yourself at the top of the mountain. Trying to land a basketball in a hoop? See yourself sinking the shot. Want to write the Great American Novel? "You have to see yourself as a writer, think you are a writer, before you are one," says Kellner.
B. 4 Put Your Hopes and Dreams Where You Can See Them
Paul Basist, president of Target Plastics, Inc., visualizes his goals -- he also pins them up on his bulletin board! The 29-year-old Long Islander went into business for himself right out of high school and today runs a company that serves thousands of clients around the world. Friends and acquaintances describe Basist's energy level as "atomic."
What's his secret? "I make a vision out of my goals and I look at them all the time," he says. Surrounding his office desk, Basist has four bulletin boards. On them, he posts magazine clippings portraying his dreams. "Right now on the wall I have a picture of a house, very stately, up on the north shore of Long Island, and I have a picture of a new BMW M-3. My goal is to have these things," he says. If he can't get them right away, he'll keep the pictures up. "If at first I don't make good – I don’t rip the pictures down. I leave them up to constantly remind me what I'm working for," says Basist.
C. A Deeper Sense of Self
Perhaps all high-energy people, such as Basist and Kellner, use techniques like visualizations to shift their mind into high gear, but their energy reserves also appear to come from a place deep within. They seem to have a high-energy attitude, a high-energy personality, and a high-energy way of looking at the world.
C.1 You Can Find Joy in Any Task
Peggy Jo Kienast became a celebrity when, in 1970, she found herself the surprised mother of quintuplets. To most of us, even thinking of raising one child is enough to make us feel exhausted. Kienast, who already had two infants, gave birth to five all at once. And, she never used a disposable diaper! How did she manage to keep up her energy level?
"You don't overplan. There's no point wasting vital energy worrying about things that may or may not happen. Worry creates stress and fatigue," says Kienast. Her most important advice, however, is to try to handle responsibilities with a sense of joy. It was the joy of raising quints, more than anything, that kept her going through the early years -- and the later ones, which she says were far more stressful.(Can you imagine five teenagers getting their drivers' licenses all at once?) "I think my energy came from getting such a kick out of it all," says Kienast.
C.2 Get Yourself into a Flow
Regardless of whether you're trying to raise quintuplets, write a book, win a talent show, or build a better mousetrap, whenever you're in need of more energy, totally absorb yourself in what you're doing. So advises Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., professor of psychology and education at the University of Chicago, and author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi says he came to his conclusion while studying artists. "I became curious as to how a sculptor could spend so many hours absorbed in his work, and then when the sculpture was complete, just shove it aside and start another. I came to see that it was the process itself that was so rewarding," he says. Similarly, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi says he found the same kind of intensity and high-energy involvement among athletes, chess players, composers, and mountain climbers.
How can you instill the same kind of energetic passion into your life? "Transform all your activities into goal-directed, achievement-oriented activities," says Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. Even if you're doing something as mundane as ironing a shirt, try to absorb yourself in the process. Ask yourself, "Can I do it better by doing the arms first? . . . Or by folding it this way?" Such engulfment in what you are doing, such a flow state, will keep your energy levels high.
C.3 Sh-h-h-h-h. Mind at Work
What might hinder you from getting into a flow state? "The unenergetic mind is characterized by distraction, an inability to focus and concentrate," says John Harvey, Ph.D., director of psychological services at Allied Services Rehabilitation Institute in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and teacher at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Distraction, says Dr. Harvey, comes in two forms: external (radios, televisions, shouting neighbors) and internal (concerns, worries, objections, duties).
The mind is like a muscle, says Dr. Harvey. Just as a muscle needs both activation and relaxation in order to perform, so too does the mind. But the kind of relaxation Dr. Harvey advocates doesn't involve pillows and blankets. "The key is to consciously rest your mind," he says.
C.4 Take Ten to Meditate
Some people think of this kind of relaxation as meditation, and that's fine, says Dr. Himey. But he emphasizes that you don't have to sit cross-legged like an Indian guru unless you want to. As an alternative, you can sit in a chair with your hands on your knees, close your eyes, breathe evenly and slowly (from the belly), and relax your entire body from toes to head. Then (the essential part), "give the mind only one thing to focus on" says Dr. Harvey. Try focusing in on your breath, but you can also use a saying, a prayer, or a favorite place, he suggests. "Do that for 10 minutes, a couple of times a day, and the mind will restore itself naturally and build up its energy reserves."
C.5 Show Others the Sign: Do Not Disturb
What about all those physical distractions? Ironically, one of the toughest places to get any work done is in the workplace. Phones ring, papers whiz by, and people with coffee mugs in hand mill about looking for a chat. The best way to keep from getting mentally sapped is to get yourself into the kind of flow state described earlier. But how, with all these interruptions?
If you have your own office, the key may be in its design, says Michael Brill, professor of architecture at the State University of New York and president of the Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation. "You need a work station where everybody knows you're not to be disturbed," he says. Creating that work station may mean facing away from the door, lighting a particular light, putting a red square on your door, or closing the door. However you decide to indicate that you are in "flow," make sure your colleagues understand that all but urgent business should wait, says Brill.
C.6 Take Time to Reflect
By the way, what kind of work do you do? Do you work? How's your love life? Have you written any poems lately? Excuse the personal questions, but these concern your energy level.
"Every human being has something that really makes him tick. When he finds that, things open up, life opens up," says Charles Ingrasci, director of corporate affairs for Lifespring, a company offering courses nationwide in personal development.
"The next question then becomes not how to get more energy, but how to use what you have. Zest comes from an inner sense of direction," says Ingrasci. To get more zest, "sit down and take the time to reflect on what your highest ideals and aspirations are in life. Ask yourself what you would like to someday be remembered for. Consider family, career, love life, and community. Then do something each day to accomplish your vision," he says.
C.7 Locate Your "Heart-path"
Tom Pinkson, Ph.D., therapist and business consultant, helps people find their vision by taking groups into the California mountains for several days of fasting, meditation, and communing with nature. "You're here not by accident - there's purpose in your life," he says. A solitary retreat into the wilderness follows the tradition of Native American Indian culture, in which adolescents were encouraged to do the same in order to find their purpose in life.
Those who are able to get a feeling of zest are those who have found their "heartpath," which Dr. Pinson says is "a sense of a larger mission in life." To start on the road toward finding your heartpath, "you must look at who you are, and what is not being honored by how you are living. You must look at what you are doing every day," he says. If you're not sure that you can do that on your own, look up Dr. Pinkson in Mill Valley, near San Francisco, and take one of his trips into the mountains!
D. The Will to Succeed
Life, as you well know, is full of challenges, big and small. To deal with these challenges, sometimes you need a particular kind of mental energy, a kind we generally refer to as willpower or motivation. Anyone who's ever had to lose weight, break a nasty habit like smoking, or force themselves to do something tough, like sell door-to-door, knows the effort it takes. Here's what it takes to power your mind.
D.1 Motivation Must Come from Within
For many dieters, the ultimate test of willpower comes when some thick, dark chunk of chocolate cake or a creamy; sweet, vanilla ice-cream sundae beckons in their direction: "Eat me-e-e-e. . . . Eat me-e-e-e!" As many of us know, gritting our teeth and saying "no!" doesn't always work. That's because successful weight control isn't just gung-ho willpower that we turn on when needed. Successful weight control-and success at anything-relies on long- term motivation.
"Motivation is less harsh than willpower," says Ronna Kabatznick, Ph.D., psychological consultant to Weight Watchers International.
Motivation is the capacity to judge how to handle a situation and stay inspired. Motivation is not an in-the-moment condition."
There are two kinds of motivation: effective and not-so-effective. The kind of motivation that leads many to diet is the extrinsic kind-" I need to lose 20 pounds for my daughter's wedding." This kind of motivation has one serious flaw: once the wedding is over, so is the diet. The more lasting kind of motivation is the intrinsic variety. "Intrinsic motivation is doing something for yourself, not for anything or anybody else," says Dr. Kabatznick.
D.2 Willpower Requires Thinking Ahead
Garland DeNelsky, Ph.D., head of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation's Smoking Cessation Program, agrees with Dr. Kabatznick. "People who use only willpower, as in 'gutsing' it out, are less successful than people who have several active coping strategies," he says.
Part of coping means getting yourself into the kind of environment where gutsing it out be necessary. "One overlooked aspect of willpower is that people who succumb usually do so in situations where it's hard not to succumb," says Dr. DeNelsky. For example, if you're trying to quit smoking, at least in the initial stages of breaking the addiction, "you need to get away from cigarettes, get rid of all your cigarettes, and stay away from smokers," he says.
"Arranging the situation" is very much a part of effective willpower.
D.3 Confidence Is the Key Motivator
Pete Pfitzinger, one of the top marathon runners in America, will tell you that running is as much mental conditioning as it is physical conditioning. "The Great American Sports Myth tells us to give 110 percent. There's no such thing. All you can give is 100 percent," he says.
In other words, reasonable goals are part of the recipe for success. When training for the 1988 Olympics, Pfitzinger set up small, intermittent challenges for himself throughout his 15 weeks of intensive training. By the time the big day rolled around, he felt confident and relaxed. And it showed. Pfitzinger ran the 26.2 miles faster than any other American in the race, just as he had in the 1984 Olympics.
"You need to stay calm in order to achieve your best," says Pfitzinger. He recounts that the only time he really blew a race (the Boston Marathon of 1986) was because he "just got carried away and too excited." Confidence, he says, is the key to staying calm. "But you can't lie to yourself. You know if you can do it," says Pfitzinger.
D.4 Keep Your Mind on That Pot of Gold
Shedding pounds, quitting smoking, and running races are not the only situations in life that require getting mentally keyed up. Imagine starting your own business and having to drum up a customer base by knocking on strange office doors. For years, entrepreneur Paul Basist did just that, slowly building up his plastics business by soliciting busy New Yorkers who didn't always treat him with courtesy. How did he deal with the rejection and keep coming back?
"It's a numbers game," says Basist. "If someone wants to scorn me, that's fine, because I know that here in the New York metropolitan area I can walk to an endless number of doors. Yeah, 80 percent will say no, but another 20 percent will say yes. Knowing this, I like rejection! Because I know that out of every 100 people, 80 will say no-but 20 will say yes!
"It's like having a pot of gold in the deep Amazon forest with poisonous snakes all around. You walk through gallantly, and you pet that snake on the head and say 'nice boy'- because you got your eyes on that pot of gold!"
E. Of Body and of Mind
"Energy is not merely mental or merely physical. The mind and the body are closely interrelated," says Richard N. Podell, M.D., author of Doctor, Why Am I So Tired? If you're not getting proper sleep, if your diet consists of mainly pork rinds and licorice sticks, and the only exercise you get is manipulating twist ties, then your body-and your mind-are likely to prance off together into the sunset and flop over the horizon. These last several pointers are therefore dedicated to the happy and energetic marriage of body and mind.
E.1 It's 11 O' Clock - Do You Know Where Your Pillow Is?
"The optimum amount of sleep differs for every individual, ranging anywhere from 4 to 9 1/2 hours," says Ralph LaForge, program coordinator for the Health Promotion Certificate Program at the University of California in San Diego. There are three main determinants of how much sleep an individual needs, says LaForge. First is your genetic disposition, or "how your central nervous system is wired." Second is the degree of stress in your life. And third is the amount of physical exertion you put out during the day.
How do you know if you're getting enough sleep? Dr. Podell suggests that excessive grogginess in the morning, sleeping long hours on weekends to "catch up," and nodding off during afternoon meetings or social events are all signs that you may not be getting enough. He suggests adding 45 minutes to your nightly sleep time for two weeks to see if you feel better. Or try afternoon siestas.
E.2 Eat Right, Feel Right
If your energy seems to fade in the late afternoon, especially on days you've had a big lunch, know that what you're experiencing is normal. But you can reduce fatigue by eating right. Make sure you get all the nutrients you need by eating a wide variety of foods. One simple yet effective way of ensuring a good variety of vitamins is to make your plate as colorful as possible, says LaForge. Shop for fruits and vegetables from all parts of the color spectrum -- include reds, greens, and yellows.
Fatty foods drain energy and should be kept to a minimum: no more than 30 percent of your caloric intake should come from fat, says LaForge.
E.3 Expend Energy to Get Energy
There's no question that exercise builds mental as well as physical muscle. Exercise can help relieve stress, dispel depression, and improve self-image. Aerobic exercise also pumps oxygen into the body, helping to metabolize food energy more efficiently.
Dr. Podell says that half an hour of brisk walking daily has made a great difference in the energy levels of many of his patients. For maximum zip, LaForge recommends an exercise program that not only gets the heart pumping but also strengthens muscles and stretches them out. He recommends that in addition to your regular aerobic exercise, you perform strengthening exercises like bent-knee sit-ups. And at least three days a week, you should spend 15 to 20 minutes doing yoga-type stretching exercises.
"Find a quiet place, relax the mind, and gradually stretch those muscles that are tightest," says LaForge. This gentle form of fitness is particularly energizing to those who work in high-stress environments.
E.4 Live a Rhythmic Life
While you're reconsidering your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, consider for a moment how they fit into your daily schedule. Speaking of which, do you have a schedule? Your body and mind like regularity, says La-Forge. You have an internal clock that regulates such things as hormone levels, body temperature, blood pressure - and energy levels. You help that clock to work its best when you eat, sleep, and exercise in natural and regular cycles, says LaForge.
You don't have to run your life with the regularity of a military parade, but do try not to skip meals, and get up at roughly the same hour every morning, says LaForge. Your body cycle also benefits if you give the mind a break from work every 90 minutes or so. LaForge recommends that you get up from your office desk for at least 5 minutes every hour and a half. A brief brisk walk outside in the sunlight is about the most energizing way to spend your break.
E.5 Pause before That Next Sip
The caffeine in coffee likewise can give you a boost. But over the long run, too much caffeine can make you nervous and jittery and may interfere with your sleep, which can wreak havoc on your energy level. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. If you're a heavy coffee drinker, and you've been tired lately, the two may be connected, particularly if you've been having frequent headaches and the thought of a day without coffee makes you shudder with fear, says Dr. Podell.
If you suspect caffeine is draining your energy, try slowly tapering off until you can go without caffeine for at least three weeks. If caffeine withdrawal causes headaches, your doctor can probably help. It's possible that once you break the coffee habit, you'll find your mind percolating with newfound energy.
(Boost Your Brain Power – a total program of sharpening your thinking and age-proof your mind, by Ellen Michaud Russell Wild and the editors of Prevention Magazine)