By Eric Barker
January 12, 2016
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

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.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

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.

Via The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health:

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:

(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…

Eric Barker: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

 

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.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

(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.”

Via Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

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:

(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.”

Via Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom:

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?

Eric Barker: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

 

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.

Plenty of research shows that using your “signature strengths” makes you happier. But studies also show that engaging those abilities boosts your energy, too:

A dictionary update is just a list of words. It's also a testament to who English-speakers are and how we see ourselves

(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.

Dan Pink, author of the bestseller Drive and a leading expert on motivation, explains the secret is “small wins.” Those seemingly minor accomplishments can pay huge dividends in terms of energy.

And the science is with Dan. Teresa Amabile‘s research at Harvard backs him up.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

(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:

(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.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

(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.

Eric Barker: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

 

Sum Up

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?

Help someone.

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.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

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.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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