Many years ago, I experienced what I would call an ‘emotional valley’ that lasted for over 6 months. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me but it took everything within me just to make it through the next meeting, the next appointment, or the next project. My mood was higher when something was done, rather than when I was leading up to it or during the event or experience. I felt overwhelmed a lot of the time and didn’t have the energy to think much beyond what I was doing at any given moment. It was subtle but very debilitating.
Everything in my life on the outside was going well – my family, my friendships and my job – but something was clearly wrong.
With the help of a personal coach, I came to realize that I had been living at an unsustainable pace. I would go on a work trip to India for two weeks, come back on a Friday then speak at my church five times on the weekend, then head to the USA on the Monday.
As a result, my emotions were simply shutting down, refusing to live at this breakneck speed. They only seemed to provide me with enough energy for what was directly in front of me .. and only just. I had nothing left over in reserve nor could I get excited about anything much beyond each day. I was suffering from a form of adrenaline exhaustion.
It took time to come out of this valley. There was no instant fix or snapping out of it. I had to slow down, take more time off, rest more, and lower the high expectations I had on myself when it came to productivity. I shared openly with my family, my friends and a few close team members at work about what was going on. They were a helpful support to me during this time.
What I’ve learned since then is that managing our energy is even more important than managing our time. After all, energy is one of our greatest resources – but it is a limited commodity.
Have you noticed that nature operates on a very clear rhythm or cycle.
- The sun rises and then the sun sets.
- The tide goes out then the tide comes back in.
- We breath out and then we breath in. It wouldn’t be a good day if all we did was breathe OUT!
- If you connect your heart to an ECG machine, your heart beat goes in waves like this … If the line is flat, you are in big trouble! Yet that is how we often live our life – we go and we go and we go!
Self care teaches us the importance of balancing activity with rest, engagement with disengagement. In fact, to be fully engaged with any activity you need commensurate times of disengagement – for recovery and renewal.
I prefer to see life as a series of sprints rather than a marathon. Marathon runners are amazing people but have you noticed how thin and gaunt they often look – kind of like greyhounds! That’s because they run and they run and they run and they run … seemingly never stopping. In contrast, sprinters often look pretty muscular. That’s because as intense as the race is, in a 100 or 200 metres they will be resting again.
One of the ways to improve your productivity is to work in 90-minute increments. Focus fully on one thing for 90 minutes then have a break. Take a walk, eat a piece of fruit, grab a drink. Then do another 90 minutes. You can probably do 4 or 5 blocks of work in a day. If you do this, you will be far more productive than if you work continually – which will subject you to what is called “the law of diminishing returns.”
Let’s recap our main points:
- Adrenaline exhaustion is a subtle form of burnout.
- Managing our energy is even more important than managing our time.
- Create a life rhythm that balances activity with rest, engagement with disengagement.
- View life as a series of sprints rather than a marathon.
- Try working in focused blocks of time for 90 minutes, a few times a day.
That brings us to the end of our series on ‘Self Care’. I hope you have enjoyed it and found the conversations helpful in looking after yourself. Self-care is not selfish! The best gift you can give others is YOU being a healthy person – in every area of your life.
You can find written transcripts of each episode on the Soul Food BLOG page. Details are on the resources page at the end of this video.
This has been Episode 13 of Soul Food with Mark Conner.
See you next week!
Many of the concepts on managing energy in this episode were gleaned from the book The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr.
For more in-depth insights about avoiding burnout, see my book How to Avoid Burnout: Five Habits for Healthy Living.