Success Secrets: Gaining Easy Energy and Motivation
How many times have you tried to change a habit, behavior or implement something new and failed? A lot I'm sure. In fact, the biggest problems in life arise not because we don't know what to do but because we don't have clear motivation and energy to do them.
You know you are supposed to exercise, live a healthy lifestyle, not have destructive behaviors, yet somehow most people don't actually live by those principles. And even the majority who are above average still struggle to eek out improvements. So why is it so difficult for us to do what we know we should be doing?
A clear example is a prospective client who told me the solution to 'feeling tired, unmotivated, and out of shape' was to wake up an hour early and go to the gym. The question of how he would get the energy to go to the gym never crossed his mind.
So there's two things we'll be addressing today:
- Energy In: Nutrition, Rest, Recovery, Sleep, etc
- Energy Out: Responding to stress, Working, Focusing, etc
Just like a good budget, we have to look at both the income and expenses in order to balance things out.
We live in a world of finite energy. Whether it's the amount of calories that you are digesting, the glycogen in your brain, or oxygen and sugar in the bloodstream, all those are limited resources. These physical limitations play a real part on what and how much we can do, such as:
- How much you can lift and for how many reps
- How far you can run at 9mph
- How long you can hold your hand in ice water
- How many attempts do you make before giving up on a certain problem
- How many hours you can stay awake
So all these are different capacities that have very real limits to them. Before we move forward I want to make an important distinction:
The absolute maximum you are able to do something. Such as sprinting away from a bear.
What you usually do. How much you actually run on average when you push it in the gym.
So even though people have amazing potential capacities they are always limited by various factors, and so they perform at their actual capacity.
Where am I going with all this?
The key is to move from where you are now, stuck in the current Apparent Capacity to the amazing Potential Capacity zone. How do we achieve that? Simple. We increase the potential capacity while at the same time bringing the Apparent Capacity closer to the Potential one. Remember, you have the capacity to do a great workout right at this moment, but you aren't tapping into your abilities.
How to increase energy
We've already talked about getting awesome sleep. Sleep affects your willpower, energy levels, motivation and helps with the restoration of physical energy (glycogen and other stores).
- Install flux!
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep
- Most of your sleep should be when it's dark, i.e not sleeping till 11am
- Cut out stimulants after noon
- Avoid computer and electronics close to bedtime
- Look into melatonin supplementation
It's counter-intuitive but activity will increase your energy stores. The basic premise is that your body will store only as much ready-energy as it thinks it needs. If you are really sedentary, then your body concludes that ready-energy - glycogen/ATP - is not in demand, and funnels more nutrients into long term storage - fat. Activity increases you capacity for glycogen storage, even in the brain - resulting in better mental function.
Activity will also help mobilize stored energy - Fat, Glycogen. After all, energy stores are useless if your body isn't tapping into them. When you get activity and exercise, your central nervous system releases more hormones that make you feel energetic and focused - as part of the sympathetic nervous system response. This is one reason why you feel more focused and energetic throughout the day when you exercise in the morning.
- Walk at least once a day - minimum 20 mins.
- Do one form of exercise once a day. Emphasize variety - lifting, cardio, bodyweight workouts etc.
- Always take the more active route - stairs vs elevator, park far away, choose active hobbies …etc.
All our energy comes from the food that we eat, so we must optimize that for maximum energy. Food also affects our metabolism and hormonal system, so it will directly influence how we feel and how we process food in the future.
One way this happens is via insulin sensitivity/resistance. Overeating and/or eating a high sugar diet combined with sedentariness promotes insulin resistance. This means your cells have a harder time taking in sugar from the blood, and your body ends up having a hard time maintaining good blood sugar levels. The end result is energy spikes and dips that lead you nowhere.
- Avoid fast food, junk food, sugary foods and most foods that come from a package.
- Focus on eating high quality food that comes from nature with minimal ingredients. Hint: granola bars are not natural foods.
- Meals that are balanced between protein, carbs, and fat. Include veggies with most of your meals.
- Drink at least 2 liters of water a day. Ideally closer to half your bodyweight in pounds in oz. Read more in the hydration article.
- Avoid caffeine, if you already have low energy, caffeine will just make you more tired.
- Reduce sugar and carbs when you are sedentary. Have them around training times.
- Eat 1g protein/lean body mass. So 200lb person @ 30% bodyfat only needs 140g protein a day. Protein needs can be higher or lower based on training volume and goals.
- Eat a big breakfast, high in protein, fat and low/moderate carb to maximize satiety and energy levels for the day.
Granola Bars, Healthy? ...No
GRANOLA (WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS, BROWNSUGAR, CRISP RICE [RICE FLOUR, SUGAR, SALT, MALTED BARLEY EXTRACT],WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED WHEAT, SOYBEAN OIL, DRIED COCONUT, WHOLE WHEATFLOUR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SOY LECITHIN, CARAMEL COLOR, NONFAT DRYMILK), SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, COCOABUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA EXTRACT), CORN SYRUP, BROWN RICE CRISP(WHOLE GRAIN BROWN RICE, SUGAR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, SALT), INVERTSUGAR, SUGAR, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, GLYCERIN, SOYBEAN OIL. CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF SORBITOL,CALCIUM CARBONATE, SALT, WATER, SOY LECITHIN, MOLASSES, NATURAL ANDARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BHT (PRESERVATIVE), CITRIC ACID.
Save your energy
You waste a lot of energy on useless crap. Like worrying, being anxious and fantasizing. Focus on being present in the moment and doing things that get you what you want. Worrying never helps solve anything, it just takes away energy that you can use to actually do productive things.
It's not only the negative internal dialog and neurosis that drains your energy, but also time-wasting activities. Any activity, even a hobby, requires energy. All the hours and energy you put into video games or browsing forums is time you can be putting in to being leaner, smarter, more successful, and happier.
Finally, avoid toxic people. There are those who cope with their awful situation by dragging others down to them, so it doesn't get lonely at the bottom. Those individuals will intentionally sabotage you due to their insecurities. Also avoid those who take advantage of you and treat you unfairly. Seek out people who share your goals and values, and surround yourself with positive and productive energy.
- Spend less time doing mindless things. Computer games and internet browsing seem innocent enough but they are actually stressful activities that deplete your energy stores. They also take away valuable time - remember how you keep complaining about not having time? Why are you spending 5 hours on mindless activities then?
- Learn to say "Sorry, but no". Coming from the starting point that you have a limited capacity you can't just keep piling stuff on and expect to function at an optimal level. When your plate is full, just say no. I know you want to be nice or you're afraid of confrontation but you're just causing stress, anxiety, and hardship for everyone involved. Take care of yourself first, that's how you become an invaluable asset to your friends and boss.
- Budget your time and energy. Yeah, you want to do a million things at once, but lets be real. Did you succeed at them? Start with one small, doable thing, succeed with that and build from there. Your capacity and ability will improve with practice and time.
- Do relaxing and restorative activities. These activities won't just save your energy but will actively restore it. This is usually quiet, low stimulus, relaxing stuff. NOT video games, television, browsing the internet, etc… Stick to things like walking, reading, napping, taking a bath, meditating, listening to relaxing music, spending time with people you love, etc….
Unleashing the beast
So your energy stores are exploding. You did all the above but still your energy hasn't improved much. As we said initially, it's not just about increasing the stores but getting your body to use it.
Get active! Activity will release stimulating hormones like adrenaline that will mobilize your energy stores and get you into Go mode.
Booting Up ProtocolThis is what I do to get my central nervous system turned on and ready to go when I'm feeling sluggish:
- 5 minute ascending walk -- finish around ~4mph
- 2 minute light jog -- ~5.5-6mph
- 2 minute moderate jog -- ~6-6.5mph
- 1 minute fast jog/run -- 7-7.5mph
- Keep adding .5mph every 30 seconds until I reach around 90% intensity
- 3-4 minute cool-down walk
- Now you're ready for your workout! Make sure to adjust the speeds to what's challenging for you - those are just average examples.
Listen to music before/during training or times when you want to get pumped. Your central nervous system will turn on from the excitement, just make sure not to over-do it and get an adrenaline dump and end up exhausted.
(optional) Take caffeine before training. A low dose of like 100-200mg will do. This is only effective if you don't take caffeine at any other times. See how you react to it, and watch for any side effects like nausea/upset stomach, or feeling drained at other times.
Do Blitz Sets. This is something I've introduced recently: it involves doing 3-5 ramping warm-up sets with very minimal rest times. For example if you're doing dumbbell bench and planning to finish at 70s x 5 you would do something like:
Blitz Sets Warm-up
- 20s x 10 -- no rest
- 30s x 10 -- no rest
- 35s x 8 -- 10-15 second rest
- 45s x 8 -- 10-15 second rest
- 50s x 5 -- 2-3 minutes rest
- 60s x 5 -- 1-1.5 minute rest
- 65s x 5 -- 1.5-2 minute rest
- 70s x 5
We barely scratched the surface of how to have more energy for your personal, professional, and gym pursuits. Energy is something of a mystery to most, it seems to ebb and flow with no rhyme or reason. Now you know the basics, start following the action steps and start succeeding!