Do your habits support good energy?
I was talking with a colleague recently who was sharing how busy she is and how she just doesn’t seem to have enough energy to get everything done. Having recently started studying she asked me how I do it. I shared some of my secrets with her and thought I’d take the time to share them with you too.
I’ve always been a person that burns the candle at both ends. When I was in my 20’s I thought nothing of spending a full day at uni, going to my part time job in hospitality in the evening, then going out for a bit of dancing and socialising after work, only to do it all again the next day. Even when I wasn’t studying, I would often hold down a full-time office job during the day and work 4 – 5 shifts a week as a bar tender and waitress. I had boundless energy and there was not a hint of what would become a major turning point in my life.
In my 30’s I was working hard, climbing the corporate ladder and raising a family. I don’t think that my usual days looked any different from other parents who hold down managerial positions. I made breakfasts and lunches for the kids, headed to work to do a “normal 9 or 10-hour day”, then would head home to sort out dinner, homework and maybe jump back on the computer to finish off some work before pouring myself a glass of wine to “reward” myself for a day well spent. Ok, sometimes I would come home from work and pour the wine first but let's not get hung up on the semantics.
Then something happened; it happened in slow motion so I didn’t really know it was happening until I hit the wall and couldn’t work anymore. I burnt out. Over time I had started to feel low in energy and found it hard to concentrate. My memory had always been pretty sharp – but now it was starting to fail me. I found my patience starting to wear thin and I seemed to be getting less enjoyment out of the things that I loved to do. And after a couple of years of living with this fog and a feeling of walking through wet concrete, my body shut down.
I thought my diet was pretty good but as I got busier and more tired, I started to drink more coffee to keep me going through the day and found myself craving and eating high carb foods. Sure I was getting little energy bursts throughout the day but at a cellular level, I had not been getting essential nutrients. You know, the type of nutrients a body needs when it’s under chronic stress and the demands that come with modern living. Eventually, the ole’ body did the only thing it could to preserve life when it’s burnout; it shut down.
Fast-forward 9 years, I’m in my 40’s, and how do I answer that question from my colleague? It goes a little like this. I fuel my body according to the demands I make of it by eating nutrient dense foods in proportions and ratios that meet my bio-individuality. (More on bio-individuality in future articles). I’m not fanatical about it (anymore) but I use something like the 80:20 rule that means most of the time I’m eating whole foods, mostly plants and not too much, which allows me the flexibility to have the odd indulgence here and there (and anyone who knows me will attest to my love of a good indulgence).
I get plenty of good quality sleep and make sure I have some down time throughout the day where my brain is given some space to contemplate and reflect. Some might call it meditation or mindfulness; whatever floats your boat. Pick a name that resonates with you if you must but for me, it's just uncontrolled thinking time. I also make sure I take mini-breaks throughout the year to give my energy levels a bit of a boost. I’ve never been one for taking long holidays on a regular basis, but I’ve learned to do nothing for short periods of time on long weekends.
Lastly, I prioritise. I’ve learned that I can’t do everything and that sometimes things have got to give. So I plan my day/week/month by looking at all the things that I need or would like to get done and then I nominate the “big rocks”, schedule them in, and then fit the lesser priority things around them. The net result of this is that sometimes there are things that never make it onto my to-do list. I either find someone else to do them e.g. hiring a cleaner or virtual PA, put them on the backburner for later consideration, or decide they aren’t that important after all and just let them go. Don't underestimate the power of letting go of things on that to-do list either, it's a powerfully liberating feeling. I also think the trick to the prioritising is to balance out the “energy in activities” with the “energy out activities”, whatever they may be for you.
I had to learn the hard way that some of my habits, which had served me well at one stage of my life, were not necessarily going to serve me going forward. I had to get really sick to be motivated to learn new habits - but it doesn’t have to be that way. It also doesn’t require a massive change all at once, certainly it's taken years for me to create new healthy habits and there is still some work to do, but like everyone, I am a work in progress. As a change and transformation coach, I always advocate for small incremental changes; they are easier to achieve and much more likely to stick.
So here is my challenge to you. Choose one thing that you can do differently to start to build healthier habits. Write it down or better still, ask a friend or loved one to support you and be an accountability partner. Try to get others on board to join you in setting new habits. We are more likely to achieve positive change when we work with others so think about finding a couple of friends that also want to build healthier habits and help to keep each other motivated. Once you’ve assimilated that new habit into your life, pick a new one and build on the success you’ve already had.