We’d all like to know how to get more energy when life throws curve balls at us.
These ideas from psychology research can help you keep going and overcome a terminal case of I-don’t-feel-like-it.
Let’s get started…
1) Do The “Obvious Trio”
Yeah, yeah, I said this would be “new” secrets but we have to get these three obvious ones out of the way now.
Everybody says you should get more sleep, exercise and eat better. And, of course, they’re right. But nobody actually follows through on those things. So let’s focus on implementation for the Obvious Trio:
How do you get more energy by exercising? Try to exercise during your lunch hour. (At least go for a walk.)
Office workers who exercised at lunch were more productive, less stressed and had more energy.
In 2004 researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University in England found that workers who used their company’s gym were more productive and felt better able to handle their workloads… Overall, they felt better about their work and less stressed when they exercised. And they felt less fatigued in the afternoon, despite expending energy at lunchtime.
How do you get more sleep? Don’t set your alarm for when you need to wake up. Set it to remind you when to go to bed.
A useful technique is setting an alarm clock—not to wake up, but to get ready for bed. Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, finish up any work on the computer, turn off the TV, turn off any unnecessary lights, and start to wind down for the day.
What’s an easy way to eat healthier? Ask yourself, “What would Batman eat?” Yes, I am serious. No, I did not make that up to be clever. This superheroic advice comes from Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell.
Studies showed when kids asked themselves this question before eating they were far more likely to reach for apple slices over french fries. “That will only work for kids,” you say? “You’re wrong,” I say. Here’s Brian:
The same thing works for adults. If you’re faced with a decision like, “Should I eat dessert?” think of an admired person in your life. Say to yourself, “What would my cool friend Steve do?” You’ll find that about a third of the time it will be easier for you to make healthier decisions.
(For more on how to eat right easily by using psychology, click here.)
Okay, obvious stuff is done. Having energy when you need it doesn’t mean manipulating your body as much as changing your schedule…
2) Know When You’re At Your Best
You know how powerful jet lag is? Just by betting on west coast teams in every Monday Night Football game where they played east coast teams you’d beat the point spread 70% of the time.
NFL teams that crossed three time zones for a game “were twice as likely to be beaten by a lower-ranked opponent in the tournament’s first round.”
But we’re not here to talk sports. If you’re a card-carrying night owl and need to be at your best, do not schedule important things for 8AM.
Paying attention to your circadian rhythm has huge energy benefits: athletes are much more likely to break world records when they align their competitions with their internal clock.
One study found that in sports as varied as running, weightlifting, and swimming, athletes competing when their bodies experienced the second boost of circadian energy were more likely to break a world record. Long jumpers, for instance, launched themselves nearly 4 percent farther when the body was at its circadian peak.
(To learn the schedule the most successful people follow every day, click here.)
Watches synchronized? Good. Energy is also about the choices you make and the things you don’t do…
3) Pick The Right Goals — And Shut Up
Maybe you have relative goals: I want to beat Larry. Or maybe you have objective goals: I want a perfect score.
But if you want to boost your energy levels the only goal you need to keep in mind is to “get better.”
Research shows that a focus on getting-better also enhances the experience of working; we naturally find what we do more interesting and enjoyable when we think about it in terms of progress, rather than perfection… In fact, a recent set of studies shows that interest doesn’t just keep you going despite fatigue; it actually replenishes your energy.
That’s not too hard. Just focus on improving at whatever it is you have to do. But then comes the second part: shut up.
Research shows telling people about your goals actually saps the energy you need to complete them:
Results indicate that one reason positive fantasies predict poor achievement is because they do not generate energy to pursue the desired future.
(To learn how to be happier and more successful, click here.)
You’re focused on “getting better” and you’ve taken a vow of silence. Awesome. So what attitude produces energy?
4) Be Optimistic
Soldiers are going on a 40 kilometer march in full gear. But researchers tell some of them the march is 30km, others it’s 40km and another group it’s 60km.
Now what happens when you test the level of stress hormones in their bodies as they hike? Their stress levels match their expectations, not the reality.
What did the researchers take away from these results? “Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.”
…the brain does not want the body to expend its resources unless we have a reasonable chance of success. Our physical strength is not accessible to us if the brain does not believe in the outcome, because the worst possible thing for humans to do is to expend all of our resources and fail. If we do not believe we can make it, we will not get the resources we need to make it. The moment we believe, the gates are opened, and a flood of energy is unleashed. Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.
If you’re optimistic, you’ll have more energy. If you’re pessimistic, you’ll be more stressed. It’s all about how you interpret what is going on, not what is actually happening.
(To learn the science of how you can be more optimistic, click here.)
Feeling positive now? Good. But you probably have a lot of stuff you need to get done. What should you tackle if you want to keep your energy levels high?
5) Do Stuff You’re Good At
Have any say in which projects you get assigned at work? Got any control over what tasks you need to do around the house? Doing things that you have a talent for makes a big difference.
The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.
(To learn how to stop being lazy and get more done, click here.)
You know what to do. But what’s an error we all make that tanks your motivation unnecessarily?
6) Actually Finish Something
Often we’re all bouncing around between 5 different things. But focusing on one thing and finishing it can boost your motivation considerably.
And the science is with Dan. Teresa Amabile‘s research at Harvard backs him up.
People’s inner work lives seemed to lift or drag depending on whether or not their projects moved forward, even by small increments. Small wins often had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly strong negative one.
(To learn how to be more motivated, click here.)
Maybe you’re doing all this stuff but you still reach a point where you’re just out of gas. How can you make better decisions when you’re exhausted and in a brain fog?
7) Tired? Go With Your Gut
The research is clear on this one. When you’re full of pep, trust that logical brain. When you’re wiped, go with your gut:
Executive functioning depends on energy provided by glucose, and we know from previous research that the performance of various conscious processes deteriorates when energy is low… when making decisions, the unconscious can best be trusted when blood glucose levels are low, whereas conscious deliberation yields the best results when blood glucose levels are elevated.
(To learn the 4 rituals neuroscience says will make you happy, click here.)
Alright, you got everything on that to-do list done today. Congrats. But what’s the best way to spend your downtime so you have high energy levels tomorrow?
8) Recharge By Being Active, Not Passive
Counterintuitive, I know. But when you’re tired tonight but want to not be tired tomorrow, do active things like exercise or spend time with friends.
Don’t do a marathon session in front of the TV or mindlessly surf the web.
According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)
(To learn the best way to manage your time, click here.)
I’m glad you had the pep to get this far. (See? It’s working already.) Let’s round everything up and learn the most loving way to get more energy.
Here’s how to get more energy:
- Do The “Obvious Trio”: Exercise at lunch, set your alarm for bedtime, and ask, “What would Batman eat?”
- Know When You’re At Your Best: Night owls, schedule that job interview for later in the day.
- Pick The Right Goals And Shut Up. Focus on getting better and don’t talk about goals. (And I’ll shut up soon, I promise.)
- Be Optimistic. Remember: “Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.”
- Do Stuff You’re Good At. Using your “signature strengths” makes you happier and more energetic.
- Actually Finish Something. “Small Wins” for the win.
- Tired? Go With Your Gut. When you’re pooped, trust your instincts.
- Recharge By Being Active, Not Passive. Out with friends, good. Netflix binge, bad.
So what’s that final thing that will give you more energy — and warm your heart?
Again, counterintuitive. Doing more here doesn’t drain you, it’s a pick-me-up. In fact, it can save your life.
Laurence Gonzales studied who survives the most dangerous situations, where life is on the line and lack of energy means death. Those who helped others were more likely to survive themselves.
Helping someone else is the best way to ensure your own survival. It takes you out of yourself. It helps you to rise above your fears. Now you’re a rescuer, not a victim. And seeing how your leadership and skill buoy others up gives you more focus and energy to persevere. The cycle reinforces itself: You buoy them up, and their response buoys you up. Many people who survive alone report that they were doing it for someone else (a wife, boyfriend, mother, son) back home.
Okay, you’re done reading. I hope you’re not exhausted. If you are, there’s a simple solution:
Offer to help someone you love right now.
It’s not a selfish path to energy; it’s a thoughtful way to make both of you much happier.
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.