My daughter flew over the handlebars a dozen times and got banged up pretty good. I had taken her to a gentle grassy hill just like it said in the magazine article about teaching your kid to ride a bike. But, it only works if your kid can reach the ground while sitting on the seat. Oops! Lucky for me, she’s focused and ignores pain. She was still eager to try something new and learned in a heartbeat on a basketball court. That’s how success is.
Success demands pain and suffering. Consider Steve Jobs. Easy to forget his failures now, but he was devastated when he was fired from his position as CEO in 1985. He also had many product failures which you can be sure he took personally.
Success causes mental and physical pain for your boss. Building a business is not a 9-to-5 job – it’s 10 to 12 hours a day and there are times you don’t sleep when you want to or need to. It’s the nature of managing people and getting things done in competition. It’s a little like war (or raising kids) – there is always a crisis. There is always noise, there is always pain and there is always fear. You don’t want to add to your boss’s pain.
How you handle crisis matters. It matters to your boss and your career. If your boss looks calm and collected to you, it’s for a reason. Negative emotions are costly – they drain energy needed for thinking clearly and performing at a high level. Negative emotions undermine performance and are contagious too. Chronic negative emotions cause illness. So choose – you can be the one your boss wants to take into battle, or the negative, panicky, hysterical one.
If you want to be combat-ready for your boss, your family or your friends, learn to manage your energy. Below, I show how. I’m not speculating about these things. These are things I’ve actually done to recover from a chronic illness that brought me to my knees (that’s code for “I wanted to die”). Actually, I didn’t really want my life to be over, I just wanted the pain to go away badly enough that I thought through every option for stopping it.
These are the things that eventually restored me and will charge you up, too. I know they work:
Exercise – There are a billion studies showing that exercise improves your emotional, mental and physical health. You could spend years reading them or just start exercising 20 minutes or more a day. Make sure you’re breathing hard for at least 10 minutes. If you’re outside in a beautiful setting, it works even better.
Recovery – You need a proportional recovery for every effort. You won’t notice this if you are young and healthy enough, and that’s why we send 18-year-olds off to war. Eventually, with enough age and stress in your life, you’ll find this like the law of gravity.
To keep your balance, you need to plan and formalize your recoveries. Do whatever it takes to bring yourself back to a full charge. When your battery gets drained, that might mean walking around the block, a 10 minute nap, a half hour massage, 5 minutes of meditation, a day off, or going to bed early for three days in a row. Whatever it takes for you.
Enjoyment – You’ve got to have fun and joy in your life to balance the crap. Joy is powerful. Being silly with my kids does the trick for me. I also garden and fly radio controlled gliders. Watching TV doesn’t count unless it’s something short that can make you cry with laughter like a good episode of the Three Stooges (try Men in Black).
Positive rituals – your ability to focus on new things and exercise discipline consciously is more limited than you think. Every bit of self-control you exercise in a day draws on a limited reserve of energy. When you feel overwhelmed, it’s because your tank is nearing empty. One way to stretch your energy farther is to build rituals into your day. A ritual or routine allows you to run on autopilot for a while, conserving energy for other uses.
Even better, routines can replenish energy if they are recovery rituals. A few examples on the personal side: I wake up in the morning and say a prayer. Not so religious, just a reminder of how I want to live my life and what I’m grateful for. I try to walk or hike every afternoon for 20-30 minutes. My walk starts with another “gratitude prayer” and then I stretch for 15 minutes. This is dynamite for me.
Sleep – Sleep is sacred. Get seven or eight hours of sleep. Go to bed at 10 o’clock. If you have a sleep debt, take a nap during the day (if it doesn’t interfere with your sleep at night). If you are a light sleeper, make sure you sleep in total darkness (use blackout shades), no telephones or TVs in the bedroom, and use ear plugs if necessary.
Go to bed at the same time every night after reading a book for 10 or 15 minutes (no electronic devices). If you have insomnia, use Sleep Restriction Therapy – nothing else works as well. If your sleep quality is poor, find out if you have sleep apnea.
Anxiety and fear – Embrace them. Your fear has the power to paralyze you and it will win if you fight it. Don’t. Often, there is some important message behind your anxiety you need to hear. Talk to yourself. Say, “I feel anxious and that’s alright. I’m basically okay. I have what I need and I can handle this. What am I afraid of specifically?” Write your fears down on paper and consider them carefully.
Look at the worst-case scenario. Can you survive that? Then write down some possible solutions. I don’t know exactly why this works. Maybe spelling out your fears puts a clear border around them. With no border, they ooze around and can grow like weeds. Get them out of your head and into words and they’ll shrink down and sometimes blow away altogether.
Energy drains – Find work you enjoy with a team that energizes you. Don’t enjoy the work? Ask for different responsibilities. Crappy boss? Leave (read What Should I Do with My Life?). I had a crappy boss once and also developed a strong stomach pain that lasted until I got away from that crappy person.
A coworker said “just do what I do – every morning I get in the shower and pour a gallon of Vaseline on myself so her crap will just slide off me.” I couldn’t do it. If you can’t get away from the crappy people around you, the next best thing is to refuse to engage with them, and refuse completely.
Food – What you eat has a big impact on your energy level and mood. Anything you eat that causes your sugar level to spike also causes it to crater afterwards. This causes your adrenal glands to pump out cortisol which makes you hungry and now you are on a roller coaster leaving you drained at the end of the day. To get off the roller coaster, you need to make dramatic changes and unlearn most of what the media says about nutrition.
I’ve left this for last, because it’s too difficult if you haven’t experienced a health crisis. But it works and will be here when you’re ready for it: No caffeine, no alcohol, no sugar or sugar equivalents and no processed food. Sugar equivalents are things like fruit, juice, bread, rice, pasta. Those are all foods that cause your sugar to spike.
On the plus side, healthy fats found in whole foods like eggs, cheese, butter, beef, pork, shrimp, fish, olive and coconut oil etc. are delicious and will keep you feeling satisfied. Everything else you eat should be a vegetable. All you need to know is here.
One last thing – if you follow this diet, there are only two critical vitamins you need to learn about: vitamin C & vitamin D. I take a little over a gram of vitamin C every day and get 50 g by IV a couple times a year. When I was very ill, I would get vitamin C by IV up to twice a week. Next to a good night of sleep, nothing (that’s healthy) has the power to energize like vitamin C.
Nobody can do everything on this list all the time. I can’t. But do whatever you can manage and people around you will notice your increasing calm and strength. Energy is the final frontier. Go boldly.