“I wasted too much time getting angry”.
So said world-famous tennis champion, John McEnroe. McEnroe and arch-rival, Jimmy Connors had similar temperaments on the court. Both were easily provoked. Yet both of them managed to get to the No.1 ranking in the world for many years consecutively.
Yet McEnroe was gone from the tennis scene by the age of 34.
Connors, on the other hand, was still around at the highest level, even at the age of 40. So what happened?
Performance psychologist Jim Loehr was on a particularly difficult mission.
He wanted to understand what kept the world's top competitors head and shoulders above their competition. He watched hundreds of hours watching live games and followed up by poring through taped matches. Despite the rigour he put into this research, he ran right into a brick wall.
He noticed that during points, high calibre players appeared to be remarkably similar to each other. There seemed to be little or no difference in the way they went about their game.
Then Loehr looked closer and began to look at what players did in between points. That's when he had his Eureka moment.
The best players, it seems, had consciously or subconsciously built up a routine.
As they headed back, they had a type of walk; they held their heads and shoulders in a certain way. And most importantly, their breathing seemed to slow down. These players were playing their shot and then, amazingly, going through a recovery method while getting ready for the next shot.
To dig deeper, Loehr hooked up the top players to EKG telemetry and was able to monitor their heart rates. To his astonishment, he found their heart rates dropping by as much as twenty beats per minute, in between points. Lesser ranked players seemed to have no recovery routine at all.
As Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz write in their book: The Power of Full Engagement, the key to being super-productive is to have enormous amounts of energy.
To drive home this point, they give the example of two players of relatively equal talent and fitness.
The players have given it their all as the match has progressed, but as the game reaches the third hour, who's going to be less fatigued? Who's going to get more angry and frustrated? Who's going to push his heart rate even higher resulting in muscular tension and drop in concentration? The one who has been recovering in between points is clearly far ahead because he's got far more energy.
When you think of energy, nothing quite fits the analogy like an electric car.
A petrol-driven car is a car with no fear. You can put $5 worth of fuel in it, and sure enough, you will find a petrol station along the way when you need one. At least at this point in time, in most countries, you can't do expect the same level of topping up for an electric car.
To get to your destination, and back, an electric car requires the driver to move forward without sudden acceleration. Brakes are applied only in an absolute emergency and most slowing down involves a generous amount of anticipation. In short, the electric car has a fixed battery and few, if any, charges along the way. If you manage your drive well, the car even recharges even while moving ahead.
An electric car and Loehr's research align almost perfectly.
Energy needs to be used to propel us forward, but we have to make sure we not only recharge, but also avoid energy depletion. Which is why it's a good idea to look at three core elements of energy so that we too can ditch time management and work on energy management, instead.
Here's what we'll cover:
1- Work-Rest Ratios
2- What Depletes Energy
3- A Backup Battery
1) Work-Rest Ratios
1972 was a scary year for Southwest Airlines.
They had been battling it out on the ground for years, just to get the right to fly. But right alongside their legal battles, there loomed a threat that was promising to put them out of business. They were haemorrhaging on cash and in order to pay the bills, they had to sell one of their four planes.
However, Bill Franklin, former Vice President of Ground Operations and others in Southwest made a bold calculation
They came to the conclusion that three planes could to the work of four. There was just one tiny problem to overcome. The planes had to be in and out of the gates in 10 minutes. Getting a plane cleaned, restocked and refuelled is a precision-driven task that often requires a solid hour.
Southwest had little or no option. They were either going to keep the planes in the air, or they'd go out of business. Years later, author, Kevin Frieberg, author of the book, “Nuts!”, was quoted as saying, “Aeroplanes only make money in the air”.
This kind of go, go, go machine-driven attitude is what we seem to apply to humans as well.
Many of us see ourselves as the product of hard work; of having little or no turnaround time; of always being in the air. Internet marketers boast how they're spending time working at the beach, usually in their underwear. And all of this talk about being able to be always connected, always at work, always putting down rest as if it were a disease—this is what causes us to feel constantly tired. What we need are work-rest ratios.
This factor of work-rest ratios isn't news to you, is it?
It shouldn't be, and yet we ignore it as though we have fuel-driven engines. We fail to see every day has to have a prescribed amount of work, then real rest. Every week has five days of work, and then two days off. Every quarter needs a break; every year needs many breaks. And though not all of us can, at this point, do a three-month long vacation, almost all of us can work with just the day.
It's so blindingly obvious that even reading this information seems bizarre
Yet, look around you, and you find that almost no one but the kids are bouncing around like crazy. Well, those kids aren't watching TV until late at night, are they? They aren't scrolling through their devices endlessly either.
They're doing what performance coaches advise their clients. A good night's sleep—yes, the most obvious thing of all—is what we seem to ignore on a consistent basis just because we don't wind down before bed time. Is it any wonder that we seem to be tired all the time?
So what's the quickest thing you can do, and do today?
Be like a kid. Figure out a bedtime for yourself, then wind down. That alone, this obvious task, is what causes you to have a lot more energy the next day. If for instance, we sleep just half an hour later every night, we've deprived ourselves of a good 3 ½ hours every week, and this accumulates over time.
Weekends or even half the weekend is what we should mark out to rest and recover, but we're always busy doing stuff. If you speak to someone they say that “the stuff needs to be done”.
But there's a downside to being constantly like a plane in the air
You're compromising your performance. As you clock in more hours, you take more time to do the very same task, and there's a greater chance of errors. What's weird about sleep is that the more rested you are, the better you sleep. Think about the times when you're agitated, and it's clear that the sleep was just as disturbed. So without going round and round, we need to understand a simple philosophy.
Get the work-rest ratio consistent, most of the time
In the book, The Power of Full Engagement, the authors talk about how there are times when you have to break away from the work-rest ratios. Sometimes we have to build capacity, and we have to increase our stress level. But even when you increase that stress, it needs to be followed by adequate recovery. You need to do both: push beyond limits sometimes and then to have enough recovery.
But work-rest ratios are not enough. There's something more, something even deeper. And that is to explore what depletes energy in the first place. Let's take a hard look at energy depletion.
2) The Energy Depletion View
It's Wednesday morning here in New Zealand as I write this piece. But this Wednesday isn't like last Wednesday, or the Wednesday before last.
That's because on all those previous Wednesdays
I didn't have the pressure of having to write the script, and then record the podcast. However, this week I've fallen behind and the pressure is building up. The more I delay, the more my mind is focused on the task of writing and then recording the podcast.
Energy depletion isn't something that's immediately apparent
It's all around us. Let's say you have to cook a dish. What does the professional chef do? She makes sure there's a sequence in place. No professional chef does what we often tend to do.
In one morning, we are likely to get the recipe, buy the ingredients, chop and prepare the ingredients and then begin to cook the meal. What we've done is gone through Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and so on. By the time we're ready to cook, we're already tired. That's not how a professional chef works. Every stage is separate so that the chef is at their highest possible energy for each stage.
Here's how I used to write an article back in the year 2001 or so I'd start with the idea, do little or no outlining. Then I'd write, but what I was doing was editing. I'd go a line forward and two lines back.
Eventually, after a brutal two days or so, I'd be done with the article. However, even after all that struggle, I didn't know if I had a good article or not. What's more important is that I'd be exhausted and dread having to write another article in the following week.
When I look at the way I'd create sales pages, write articles, cook, paint—all my activities were amazingly well-designed to create energy-depletion. Today, my methods are radically different. Take for instance the dish I prepared this morning. I soaked it last night, chopped the ingredients early this morning and about 10:45 am, I darted back home and cooked the dish.
Writing an article—this article for instance—involves a similar method of using stages.
I've got a bunch of Post-It stickers on the wall that all have topics that I want to write about. When I'm ready to take on the topic, I go to the cafe or park bench and outline the article.
I'll then split the article into three parts and write the article over three days, taking a day to cover each section. If the task isn't broken up, the energy required to go from one end to the other is often too great. You can expend the energy, but then it takes enormous time to recover.
Completing tasks is only one form of energy depletion
People and situations also play an incredibly important role in depleting energy. Take for instance a workshop we had in California back in 2006. One of the clients was terribly demanding, and we were still new in the business. We bent over backwards to make this customer happy, and I guess she was, but we were so drained at the end of the day. It's a good thing they have giant Margaritas in California because I needed more than one to feel like a human again.
The same applies to situations
We go for a walk and sometimes a car will pull out of the driveway, leaving just a little gap behind for us to traverse back onto the footpath. I'll go behind the car, and then glare back at the driver. See what's happening? It's all a depletion of energy. That small incident can rattle me for the next 10-20 minutes. Put in a few of these seemingly small events in a day, and it's not hard to see why we can be super-drained by the end of the day.
Being constantly distracted is also an energy depletion factor
No one is allowed to be bored any more. If you're bored for about 3 seconds, you reach for your phone to surf the Internet or look at what's on Facebook. Yet this behaviour is remarkably different from the way my parents (and possibly your parents) use the Internet.
My father goes online to look for something, to check the weather, but it's always a specific task. His phone isn't a distraction device. Instead it's a tool, like a hammer. You reach for it when you need it. Always going online and endlessly searching for something to allieviate our boredom is another factor of constant energy depletion.
The key to understanding energy is to see what depletes our energy
It's easy to see where these negative energy fields exist in our daily lives. A job we hate; a person that drives us crazy; a course that's going nowhere; a friend or relative that puts us down; a lousy call to the bank, endless surfing—it's all draining. And there are some energy fields that are hard to avoid.
So how do you cope when you know you're bound to run into energy-depletion zones every single day? What you need is a reserve battery pack and here's how you get one.
3) The Backup Battery
Imagine writing a complete article and finding it's vanished into thin air.
Granted it takes me just about 45-60 minutes to write an article, but this one was longer. It would take me at least an hour and half, maybe two to get the job done. The first instinct is not to re-create, but to go on a hunt. And that's exactly what I did. I searched high and low using all the tools at my disposal, but 25 minutes later I had nothing.
Right before that moment of seeming despair I loaded my backup battery
For 30 minutes every morning I meditate, simply because of the returns I get from meditation. At first, meditation was just something to try out. However, when you go through a day from 4 am and you're still energised at 9 pm, eyebrows need to be raised. Meditation is my backup battery. I don't know how it works, all I know is it just does. If you could stop your day for 30 minutes and get several hours of renewed energy later in the day, would you do it?
Think about time management vs. energy management for a few seconds
We are all focused on time, but at 5 pm you're pooped. You have time, but you have no energy. Now imagine having energy as you go through the day, then through the evening, and even late at night. It sounds so bizarre that I didn't believe it. I once heard the comedian, Jerry Seinfeld saying approximately the same in an interview, but I thought it was not possible. Maybe he doesn't spend long hours like me, I thought. Well, I was wrong, not once but twice over.
The second and possibly better reason for meditation is the capacity to deal with energy-draining situations.
Feel like screaming at the traffic? Angry at some new law the council has passed? Clients driving you crazy? Suddenly you're able to see all these people, events and situations as a bystander. It almost feels like it's not something that affects you, but is happening to someone else, instead. Instead of grumbling, getting mad and clearly draining your energy, you have a feeling of going with the flow.
Remember that article I lost?
I did my best to search for it, but instead of getting upset, I went about it in a calm and composed manner. Even though my problem wasn't solved, I simply went about some other activity. Then, today, while searching for something else, I found my article (about the same time as I was about to re-write it from the ground up). If all of this sounds like gobbledegook, then believe me, I thought it was too.
However, I believe in results too
And if the supposed-gobbledegook is going to help recharge my batteries and more importantly, keep me from draining them, then that's exactly what I need. Hence the meditation every day for 30 minutes. And if you're wondering where you're going to get 30 minutes from, remember the concept of the electric car (because it's remarkably similar to your phone). When you charge a device for 30 minutes, it lasts longer, but even a short 10-15 minute charge is still a charge.
But charge it for zero minutes and you get zero.
The backup battery should be some sort of cola
It really should be some sort of tequila shot or mixed in a cup of coffee. And yet it's just boring ol' meditation. The kind of stuff they've done for thousands of years. So, are you going to charge your battery with a longer, or even shorter charge?
This takes us to the summary where we'll look at the three aspects of energy.
“I wasted too much time getting angry”.
So said world-famous tennis champion, John McEnroe. McEnroe and arch-rival, Jimmy Connors had similar temperaments on the court. Both were easily provoked. Yet both of them managed to get to the No.1 ranking in the world for many years consecutively. Both of them also won Grand Slams.
What's interesting about this story is that Connors was considered to be the lesser player. It was more than apparent that McEnroe had a flair that helped him win even when he was fuming and screaming.
Yet McEnroe was gone from the tennis scene by the age of 34. Connors, on the other hand, was still around at the highest level, even at the age of 40. It's not hard to see what's happening, is it? Energy starts to escape at the very moment you rant and rave. It might seem like you're disrupting your opponent, but by McEnroe's admission, he did better when his temper was in control.
From an energy perspective, we need to look at three core elements.
1) Work-Rest Ratios
Without the rest, we simply drain our batteries until our system can't handle it any more The more we work, the more we have to rest. When you rest, you come back fresher and more eager to do far better work. At Psychotactics, we take breaks whenever we possibly can. Through the day, on weekends, and then after 12 weeks of work, a month off. You may not be able to take a chunky three months off at this stage but rest and work beckon you. If you want to do better work, you have to have more rest. It's that simple.
2) The second—and more important point—is monitoring what depletes our energy
Losing our cool takes up a huge tonne of energy right through the day. Things invariably go wrong; chaos is almost hovering around us all the time. In the face of constant and overbearing trouble, how do we avoid depletion of energy? There's also a depletion that comes from the lack of stages. Without stages, we take on too much, and we're invariably tired as we move through the sequence. A little spacing out of stages, whether you're writing a book, an article or just cooking dinner, is what's needed to keep your energy at high levels.
3) Finally, we need a backup battery, and that battery is meditation
If you have 12 minutes, that's 12 minutes of backup in place. If you have 30 minutes, so much the better. But maybe 12 minutes will counter 12 minutes of chaos—and the net effect is that you're not losing energy. You're stable, calm and happy. Life takes you on a diversion, and instead of getting mad and upset, you go along like a child, glad to be part of the adventure.
We live in a world hostile to rest. We trust coffee more than meditation as a pick me up. We lose energy all the time and aren't sure how to get it back.
Well, now you know.
Next up:Can we get smart and stay smart?
Many of us believe that smartness comes from learning the skills in our own field. And yet, that's only partially true. We can never be as smart as we want to be, if we only have tunnel vision. So how do we move beyond? And how do we find the time to do all of this learning?
Find out more here—How To Get Smart (And Stay Smart)
Oh and before I go
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