I recently heard about a fascinating documentary about rock-climbing. One climber in particular could anticipate exactly how much lactic acid–which causes the “burn” during extreme exertion–would be created in his muscles as he reached for each handhold. At one point during the film, the climber is eager to reach the summit before nightfall. But after a quick look at the rock face he must cross, he realizes that the lactic acid in his muscles would become too great at the very moment when he’d be required to pull himself over a sharp ledge hundreds of feet above the ground.
So instead of pushing himself and risk having his strength fail during a critical handhold, he decides to suspend a hammock from the side of the mountain, get a good night’s sleep, and tackle the challenge in the morning.
Reinvention requires a tremendous amount of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical energy. And like elite rock-climbers, you must know not only when to expend your energy, but also when and how to pull back and replenish it.
Here are five ways to refill your energy stores:
- Focus on one task at a time. A study from Stanford shows that your performance drops when you engage in two tasks at once. So when you think you’re multitasking and being super-productive — say, by answering emails while taking a conference call — you’re actually doing both tasks poorly and getting less bang from your energy buck. If you instead focus on one task at a time, you’ll maximize your performance and use your energy more efficiently.
- Work within your most productive times. One quick way to deplete your energy stores is to push yourself too hard. Instead of being satisfied with logging one or two hours of quality work, you believe that three, four or five hours will get you closer to your goals, faster. But don’t forget the law of diminishing returns–hard work is exhausting, and there’s no way you can be as productive in strung-out Hour #5 as you were when you were in first-cup-of-coffee Hour #1. Remember the rock climber above who opted to sleep rather than continue climbing. Do the same and stop when you feel yourself starting to flag.
- Avoid the urge to be “always on.” Research done by the Institute of Psychology at King’s College London found that being constantly “connected” to your smartphone, tablet or laptop actually decreases your IQ (maybe they should call it a “not-so-smartphone”). Even worse, being connected can become addictive. So stop the vicious cycle! Unplug after your most productive hours are spent–and save your energy for other, less demanding tasks.
- Welcome the stress. Stress in manageable amounts is not the enemy–in fact it can be one of the keys to growth. Like athletes who force their bodies to the limit to build endurance and strength, when reinventing yourself you must push beyond your comfort zone in order to build stamina and perseverance. Whether it’s staying up an hour later than usual to draft a cover letter, to overcoming a moment of panic in order to make a call to a networking contact, the tasks of reinvention help you build the physical and emotional fortitude to continue progressing towards your goals. It’s important to remember, however, that like the athlete on the rock, you must counterbalance the extreme exertion of stress with specific rituals of recovery (see tip #5 below).
- Create positive energy rituals. Rituals are highly specific, defined routines for managing emotional, spiritual, mental and physical energy, and are the key to high performance. We all know about rituals that can help us fall asleep and restore our physical energy, like drinking a glass of warm milk or re-reading a few chapters of a beloved book. But you can use rituals to rev up your mental energy, too. A walk through a museum can get your creative juices flowing, a bit of Sudoku helps us see patterns hidden in seeming chaos, and don’t forget those “shower thoughts” that surprise and delight us.
Reinvention is a long, hard climb, but the exhilaration you’ll feel when you reach the summit is worth it. With the right balance of energy expenditure and conservation, you can avoid the pitfalls on your journey toward making it safely and sanely to the top.