A Quick Story
While teaching High School English, each lunch period I found myself lying on the floor behind my bookshelf for a nap. And I was there for my planning period as well. These naps weren’t rejuvenating, but they boosted my energy just enough to make the day bearable.
I’d get home from work at 5 p.m., exercise Zeke while Carlie cooked dinner, and then zombie out on the couch until bedtime. Carlie would want to play a game – “nope, no energy for that.” Carlie would want to go on a walk – “sorry, no energy”. Carlie would want to make weekend plans – “Ugg! I don’t want to! I don’t have energy for ANY of that! How about we just lay on this couch forever?!”
Being required to do ANYTHING in life brought an intense feeling of dread.
Lack of Energy a Major Problem
Low energy makes the most fun and wondrous activities sound like pure drudgery. It can cause anxious thoughts about being out in the world without a place to nap, causing you to stay home. It limits self-expression and the ability to create.
Life is movement: movement is energy. Death is stillness: death is lack of energy.
Energy exists on a spectrum. Grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil and then draw a line and label “death – lack of energy” on the far left and “life – overflowing with energy” on the right. Now mark where your energy level is in this moment. Make another mark for where you think your normal energy is. Are you more alive or more dead?
Without energy, what do you have? What good is a million dollars if you don’t feel like spending it on anything fun? What good are friends or family if you don’t feel like interacting with them? What good is success and prestige if all you can do is lie on your couch?
Rewards of Cultivating Energy
I want you to think of your favorite toddler, maybe a son/daughter, niece/nephew, grandchild, or even a random kid in a store. How much energy do they have? And how do they interact with life?
If they’re anything like my nieces, they’re bursting with energy and are full of curiosity, creativity, and pure joy (except when they don’t get what they want…). They are enthusiastic to explore the world and to try new things. Of course, they eventually crash into a nap: play hard, sleep hard. It might not be realistic to achieve the energy levels of kids, but it is possible to cultivate more and more energy. What could you do with this level of energy? How would your perspective on life change?
I’d like to tell a quick story.
I have experienced some serious fatigue in my life. I have a deep understanding of how life looks with limited energy. Five years ago I did a 10 day water faster: no food, only water for 10 days. On night 6 I couldn’t sleep; I was bursting with energy! I’m conditioned to be fearful of not getting enough sleep, so I laid in bed fighting it. Go to sleep Richie, relax, go to sleep! But I couldn’t. Eventually I got out of bed and got on my computer to do some writing. I felt so…different, so…good! I felt like I could take on the world, and I was more than a little surprised that I hadn’t yet.
For the remainder of this water fast this abundant energy would come in waves. Whenever this wave hit me my entire outlook on the world changed: I wanted to do things, to go places, to interact with the world, to take on the world! Contrast these feelings with my normal state of wanting to curl into a ball and hide from the world. I cannot overstate this, how I viewed the world fundamentally changed during these bouts of abundant energy.
How do you Cultivate Energy?
The good news is that no matter where you made your marks on that line, there are predictable ways to increase your energy which will increase your sense of aliveness. Energy can be cultivated in many different ways. Likely, you’ll find improvement possible in most if not all of these areas. We’re looking for progress, not perfection.
Diet: What are you putting into your body?
This is going to have the largest affect on energy (barring an untreated medical condition).
Are you consuming any substances that affect your sleep? Too much caffeine too late in the day will decrease the quality of your sleep. Consuming alcohol will harm your sleep and same for THC. Even ‘sleeping aids’ such as melatonin and prescription drugs can adversely affect sleep.
When are you eating and what are you eating?
For the ‘when’, the general rule of thumb is to have AT LEAST a 12 hour period where you ‘fast’ (don’t eat anything): maybe from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.? Also, it seems best to have your last food at least 3 hours before sleep. Sleeping while still digesting food can create poor quality sleep.
The ‘what’ is fairly simple, eat REAL food. That means eat meat and vegetables (you don’t have to eat meat) and avoid processed foods. Grains might be ok depending on your individual circumstances.
How much sleep are you getting and what’s the quality? If you like tech, feel free to pick up an Oura ring to measure quantity and quality. Some basic tips: get some natural lighting as soon as you can each morning, consume as little substances as possible (caffeine, alcohol, THC, etc.), go to bed and wake-up at the same time each day, keep your room cold during sleep, avoid screens later in the evening (blue light blocking glasses might also help), and create an evening routine that winds you down for sleep. Also, breathwork is fantastic for increasing sleep quality.
Build an exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy: get a 20 minute walk in each day and try to move around more during the day. If you like something more intense go for it. Exercise has a massive impact on energy. This is a great starting place for an ‘energy cultivation’ program.
Think about the difference between being home alone versus a rock concert: is there much of a difference in how you feel?
Your external environment plays a large role in how you feel. Typically, being around people you like is going to be stimulating, meaning it gives you energy. How interesting and engaging is your environment? Imagine yourself surfing a wave in the ocean, flying down single track on your mountain bike, reading in a coffee shop, teaching your dog new tricks, or working on a sudoku. These are examples of your environment creating energy.
The general idea is that for environmental energy cultivation is to surround yourself with people and things that you find interesting and can engage with.
There are many stimulating breath work techniques: bellow’s breathe, boxed breathing, Wim Hof, etc. You can practice these techniques throughout the day, or just when you need a pick-me-up. I will be posting more on these techniques, but for now a Google search should supply you with the information you need.
I read in a book something like, “You’re tired not because you’ve worked too hard or slept too little; you’re tired because you think too much.”
Meditation that brings attention to sensations, in this case specifically those sensations associated with tiredness, can help defuse their power.
To find these ‘I’m tired’ sensations, close your eyes and ask yourself, “Where is this tired feeling located.” Odds are you’ll quickly identify some areas. Then, focus your awareness on these areas. The key is you must simply observe. See them, acknowledge that they’re there, BUT DON’T REACT TO THEM. Don’t wish that they were gone. See them, and accept them.
Cultivating energy takes a lot of self-knowledge along with experimentation. If you are seriously fatigued, seeing your doctor is a good first step. They can help identify any hormonal issues you might have (Thyroid issues come to mind).
After that, I would focus on diet, sleep, and exercise. Ask yourself which you think is your biggest weakness. Once you identify the broad category, determine what you need to change or experiment with. This might take some research: Google it, talk to people you trust, talk to a professional, etc.
Now that you know what you want to experiment with, it’s best to do two things.
1. Record notes in a journal. This will help identify what works and what doesn’t. It’ll also remind you of progress made.
2. Every morning write down EXACTLY what you’re going to do that day to make progress.
I suggest making small changes and committing to them for at least a month. Then you evaluate and make adjustments.
This is how the process has worked for me:
My energy is a work in progress, but I will share my most recent breakthrough. A friend bought me an Oura ring a couple of months ago to help me track my sleep. What I’ve noticed is that my total sleep time and REM are great. However, most nights I only get between 15-30 minutes of Deep Sleep when I should be getting over an hour.
About a week ago, I started doing a variation of boxed breathing throughout the day. I knew that it made me feel more relaxed and energetic. What I didn’t realize is that it seems to increase my Deep Sleep. Since I started the breathwork, my average nightly Deep Sleep has jumped from around 25 min average to 80 min average: over 3x as much!
As it’s only been a week, more experimentation is obviously necessary. The point is, keep trying new things until you find what works: then stick with it!