Habits and energy…do they really have anything to do with each other? We can all identify certain habits as “bad”, such as smoking, chewing on our fingernails, or not changing an empty toilet paper roll. Would breaking these habits increase our energy level? To answer this I think we have to first look at what we mean by increasing energy.
When discussing energy I think we have to look at what “energy” means to us. Does an increase in energy mean that we are more productive, we feel physically energized, or we have a better overall sense of wellbeing, as in our cosmic energy is aligned?
Then we have to look at habits, especially the bad ones. What constitutes a bad habit? While some are annoying, i.e. the inability to change the toilet paper roll, do they really zap your energy? Other habits may not only be considered “bad”, they may actually be deadly, i.e. smoking.
So when defining bad habits, and the need to break them to increase energy, I think we have to look at the overall hit we take on a physical, mental, and emotional level. I have broken out some areas in our life I think we can all use some improvements on (meaning these are the bad habits we need to break) and how they are impacting our lives. Note: I don’t cover smoking in this, but yes, it’s a bad habit and you should break it to increase energy, not develop cancer, or possibly die.
The Essential Habits to Break to Increase Energy
Skimping on Sleep: I really believe nothing is more critical than adequate sleep, but I know there are many of us with the idea that we can get by on less than 8 hours sleep. However, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body won’t repair, your hormones cannot function properly, your immune system suffers, your cognition declines, and therefore your body is completely out of whack. This leads to a whole surplus of problems just from not getting your 8+ hours.
Lack of sleep can even lead to raised cortisol levels. When we have too much cortisol consistently coursing through our bodies we can become insulin resistance and experience an increase in body fat and a reduction in muscle mass and hormone levels, such as testosterone. All of these consequences steal our energy, drop our productivity, and make us feel awful all the way around.
Sabotaging Sleep: We just mentioned that not getting enough sleep can mean bad juju for your energy levels, among other things. So the next thing to think about is the fact that if you aren’t getting enough sleep, then why? Most often, unless you have just recently had a new baby or brought home a new puppy, the reason we don’t sleep is because we are the ones screwing it up. Sleeping for us humans isn’t as easy as flipping a switch because the clock says it’s bedtime. When we make the choice to subject ourselves to the things that ruin our sleep, just prior to bedtime, we are asking for a crappy night’s sleep.
Here are some of the top sleep saboteurs:
- Staring at our electronic devices (phones, laptops, TV, etc.) before bedtime. This wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythm. You can try using blue light blockers, but sometimes it’s best just not to use the electronic devices at all before bedtime.
- Stressing over the day’s events. Worrying and working ourselves up right before we lay down will do anything but give you a restful night’s sleep. Try to destress and meditate before going to bed.
- Trying to cram in more work right before bedtime. Physically or mentally focusing on work, housework, the kid’s homework assignment, or paying bills, can jack us up thinking we need to keep performing, not allowing us to peacefully ease into a good night’s sleep.
- Drinking alcohol before bedtime. Some say a drink or two can help relax them and allows them to sleep better. However, alcohol especially more than just a small glass, ruins our sleep. Because it interprets our deep sleeping patterns, we at best get intermittent sleep, which isn’t enough for our bodies and minds to repair.
We need our rest, so quit sabotaging it. Get your rest and make the energy level go up.
Procrastinating: Ah, we have all fell prey to the vicious predator of procrastination. It seems when we have undesirable or daunting tasks we try to push them off until a later time, as if we can really hide from them or something. But just as you only have so much gas in the tank when it comes to physical work, this too holds true for the mental work we have to take on. As we stress over, ruminate about, and mentally cringe each time we think about that looming task, we are burning up our mental fuel and dropping our ability to make clear and sound decisions and fully focus on important things.
Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
We all have “frogs to eat” or tasks we must complete, but would rather not. If we simply stop procrastinating, and get those intimidating tasks done first thing in our day, we won’t unnecessarily waste our precious mental energy on them any longer than we have too. Plus, we will have a feeling of accomplishment from that point on in our day, which will actually boost energy and make an overall more productive and happier day. Besides, frog legs can be pretty tasty.
Not Taking Breaks: Shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone! Unrelenting, no time for 10 am coffee, trips to the pool in the summer, or getaways with the family (at least not without checking your work email a couple hundred times). Must work, work, work! Mach schnell!
Wow, I am just tired from writing that, I am going to go take a break.
And you should too! But why? You so much work to do!
Often we think just keeping our focus drilled in for hours on end is the best way to get stuff done. Actually, though it isn’t. When we continuously physically, mentally, or even emotionally work on something, we drain ourselves. We simply can’t keep putting effort (and expect a good result) into something without stepping away from it for a moment. The break we allow ourselves to take from our workday, physically demanding efforts, or emotional turmoil we may be dealing with, allows us to rejuvenate and replenish.
Taking a break can mean stopping what we are doing for a few minutes, a day, or for a whole vacation. A simple 10-minute walk, breathing exercise, stretching session, or even a moment to close our eyes, can make all the difference in the world in our productivity. But if you are going to take that break or vacation, take it wholeheartedly. Don’t be checking emails, making phone calls, or writing proposals. Be unplugged and honestly give yourself a break.
When we truly refresh ourselves, our thinking is clearer, our health is better, and our output is of higher quantity and quality. So while you shouldn’t procrastinate, mini (or major) breaks will improve your energy stores and increase what you can accomplish.
Going to Meetings: Sometimes it seems life revolves around meetings. Hell, I’ve even been to meetings about meetings; we liked to call them pre-meetings. These are bullshit. We put so much time into meeting with others when a simple email or phone call could have gotten the same result in a fraction of the time. Meetings are today’s suckers of time. We live in a world now where we have the ability to communicate constantly (although be sure to take breaks) and don’t have to have grandiose, everybody get together meetings anymore. I see more time and energy wasted on planning for, going to, sitting at, and enduring pointless meetings. So maybe I just personally find meetings are my nemesis and eat my soul, but much is to be said about making bigger deals out of things than they really are. Most people just like to have or go to meetings because they have free cookies and they love to hear themselves talk, rarely is work ever accomplished there. Save your energy and stay away from meetings whenever possible!
Not Saying No: The art of saying “No” is a lost one. We seem to not want to tell others, or even ourselves, no, and that we cannot do this or that, or take on one more task, or whatever. We love being yes people. Just saying yes feels positive, but saying yes too often leads to unhappiness.
We are only human and we can only do so much.
When we never say no, continuously taking on more and more to do, or think we have to make something perfect and that it’s never good enough, we burn ourselves out and become resentful. We wind up having zero energy, and the things we do manage to get done aren’t of the highest quality anyway. So learning to say no will save your energy and allow you to focus that energy on what really matters. Plus, we no longer resent others, or ourselves, for our inability to say no. More energy comes from having fewer things to do, less time spent on being resentful, and from just being less stressed and happier. Say yes to saying no.
Obsessing Over Toxic People: We all do this. Letting certain people insert themselves into our lives that suck the life right out of us, then lamenting over and over again about what they have done. This is a fruitless and negative practice. All this does is drain your energy, waste your time, and make you unhappy. It’s best to either avoid these people all together, but if that isn’t possible, then try to limit your exposure to them. Treat them like a toxin and know your health depends on not being exposed to them. And when you are not around them, don’t worry over them. When they come to your mind, just acknowledge the thought and then put it away. They aren’t worth your energy, but you are. Focus on your health and happiness and leave them be.
Not Exercising: It may seem counterintuitive that if you want increase energy you should exercise. Doesn’t that require energy? Well yes it does, but it also boosts your energy levels. Moderate, regular exercise throughout the week keeps your heart, lungs, and muscles in good working order, keeps your hormones at the levels they are supposed to be at, helps you sleep, and makes you feel good all over, even mentally. Simply walking (especially outdoors), strength training, or practicing yoga for 20 minutes a day can improve health and boost energy levels. So next time you feel a bit sluggish, get up and get moving.
Not staying hydrated: Dehydration can run a body down. We need adequate amounts of water to keep our bodies at optimal health and from becoming fatigued. When we become dehydrated, our mood and decision making capability suffer and we can even become constipated. All of these drain our energy and drop our productivity. So get enough H2O and keep the energy train moving.
Eating Like Crap: When you choose to eat highly processed foods, you are basically handing over the reins to your health and energy to the manufacturers. “Here General Mills and McDonalds, take my energy and health, I didn’t want them anyway.”
There is no way you can eat food devoid of nutrients and full of toxic sugars, rancid oils, and who knows what else, and think you are going to be the brimming with energy.
You want energy? Then eat for it!
You need to eat real, whole foods that provide you with iron (trust me anemics have zero energy), bioavailable vitamins and minerals (processed food is highly bioUNavailable), good fats, protein, useful carbs, fiber, polyphenols, etc.
Food, that is actually food will get you farther in life than anything I can think of, except maybe sleep. We gotta rest that’s for sure, but we also have to eat, but only the right foods. You can lie to yourself and say your sugary cereal, Taco Bell, Pop-Tart, Monster energy drink diet gives you lots of go-go juice and helps you get things done. In reality though, it’s depriving you of energy, health, and most likely slowly killing you. Real food equals energy, the other junk doesn’t.
Living in a perpetual chaos: Living in a world with no routine or organization may sound freeing, but it’s also very tiring. When our mind perceives constant disarray it wears it out. We become mentally fatigued.
When we have no routine, we may run around frantically trying to get things done or possibly overbook ourselves. This uses up valuable free time that we may need to allow ourselves some much needed rest.
Lack of organization can waste time as we spend it searching for misplaced items. We may also have to spend extra time and energy (and not to mention money) to replace items that become damaged due to a disorganized system or place.
Simple things like making your bed each morning, or creating other morning routines, can have a world of benefits. They allow us to accomplish something each day, plus we can return home from a tough day and see a little bit of organization that is calming and peaceful to us. All this saves us a lot on wasted mental and physical energy.
Putting it all together:
I think most of the bad habits I covered really could be categorized into one bad habit: Doing things that cause undue stress.
When we deal with stress our bodies and minds get tired. So the more stress we invite in, or don’t work to avoid, zaps our mental, emotional, and physical energy and therefore our productivity drops, as does our sense of overall wellbeing.
So to answer the earlier question, yes, breaking bad habits (that stress us) will increase our energy, no matter what form of it we want to address.
Stress is the thief of energy, don’t invite it in! Work to simplify your life, do things to improve your health, and never be afraid of saying “NO!”, even to yourself.