Thriving on purpose: managing energy, not just time

As an Ennegram Type 1, I’m preternaturally interested in doing everything the best, most correct way. I love processes and systems, and am always searching for how to refine and improve how I do anything/everything. Because of this, I’m an encyclopedia for time-management strategies and tactics (and obviously SO MUCH FUN at parties), but no matter how many best-practices I adopt, I’ve come to believe that there is no replacement for energy management.

You can Pomodoro and GTD all day long (both are extremely helpful!), but if you’re not managing your energy well, you’re not really optimizing your performance (vocationally, relationally, physically—none of it). Below, I lay out the three basic layers of energy management, and at the bottom I’ve included a few guiding questions and exercise to help set you on a path to thriving in your full energy.

So what do I mean by “managing energy?”

First, I mean energy awareness. Each of us fluctuates throughout the day between degrees/stages of energy. Consider your own body and mind. Do you tend to feel a little sleepy or lethargic after lunch? Is there a point in the afternoon where you mind says “enough!” and you find cognitive work to be more of a struggle? Do you find it easy to read long passages of text first thing in the morning? These are all different stages of energy, and when we’re aware of our natural energy patterns (and how different lifestyle choices and circumstances affect those patterns), we can begin to manage our energy.

Second, I mean energy alignment. Consider the various “work” you do throughout the day. It’s likely you have some combination of the following:

  • light housework and errands (laundry, running to the post office, doing the grocery shopping, etc.)
  • basic communication (texts, phone calls, emails, etc.)
  • heavier communication (writing detailed reports or analysis, etc.)
  • relational communication (in-person engagement with loved ones, friends, co-workers)
  • simple and complex problem solving (planning meals for the week, all the way up to determining how to fill a gap in anticipated revenue)
  • creative ideation and execution (from handcrafts and art, to development of revenue generating products and services)

Consider the many draws on your energy, and your awareness of your own typical energy patterns; can you rearrange your tasks to more closely align with your energy patterns? For example, if you tend to be most creative in the 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM hours, and have a real energy slump around 7:00 PM, it would make sense to do your creative “heavy-lifting” from 10-12, and save simple communication and light housework for the evening hours. When we begin to view our energy as a finite resource, and understand that all of our tasks draw from that finite resource, we can begin to better manage our energy.

And third, I mean energy maintenance, and creation. Again, consider your own body and mind. What (non-chemical stimulant) gives you an energy boost? What feels like it drains the life out of you? Here’s a quick list of some of the most common energy-boosters, and energy-drainers:

Common Energy Boosters:

  • Exercise (which includes brisk walking!)
  • Consistently getting a full night’s sleep (7-9 hours for most people)
  • Consistently staying hydrated (approximately half your body-weight in ounces of water—not coffee, or energy drinks, or soda)
  • Healthful nutrition (eating only when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, sticking mostly to veggies, lean proteins and some fruit)
  • Meaningful connection with a friend or loved one; feeling seen and understood (even 10 short minutes is beneficial for your body and mind)
  • 20 minute “power naps”
  • Acts of service and encouragement
  • Reading/listening to edifying books, podcasts, articles, lectures, sermons, music etc.

Common Energy Drainers:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Shortchanging yourself on sleep (getting fewer than 7 hours, for most people)
  • Chemical stimulants (excess coffee, energy drinks, soda, juice, etc.)
  • Lack of hydration (water!)
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Innutritious eating habits (heavy in refined carbohydrates, fatty proteins, processed and added sugars; eating for “entertainment,” overeating, skipping meals)
  • Unhealthy connection with others (lack of meaningful in-person connection, fruitless arguing/debating on the internet, not feeling seen or understood)
  • Reading/listening to divisive/ugly/generally unhelpful books, podcasts, articles, lectures, music etc.

If we want to flourish in all of our facets (vocationally, relationally, physically, spiritually, etc.), then it’s not enough to be a good time manager, though that’s helpful. As a process-oriented person, it’s easy for me to forget the very human element of energy when I plan my days; I’m absolutely kidding myself if I think I’m going to get heavy cognitive work done after 7:00 PM! But when I remember to account for my energy, align my tasks to it, and live in a way that sustains and promotes energy growth, I can really flourish. And that’s what I hope for you, too.

Here are some beginning questions to ask yourself, and quick exercises to begin the habit of improved energy management:

  1. Energy Awareness. Considering both my body and mind, how does my energy tend to fluctuate throughout the day? When do I feel sleepy or lethargic? When does cognitive work become exponentially more difficult? When do I naturally “lose myself” in a creative project? Draw a little timeline on a slip of paper, starting from the time you wake up, to the time you should go to sleep, and mark your “low,” “medium” or “high” energy times.
  2. Energy Alignment. Considering the tasks of each day, and my awareness of my typical energy patterns, how can I rearrange my tasks to more closely align with my energy patterns? Make a list of your typical tasks, and mark them as “low,” “medium” or “high” energy, and then plot those tasks onto your timeline. Try following this improved workflow, making adjustments as needed.
  3. Energy maintenance, and creation. Make a two-column list: “things the boost my energy,” and “things that drain my energy.” Quickly jot down as many items as you can think of. Then, ask yourself “are my lifestyle choices supporting energy maintenance and creation, or are they draining my energy, and preventing me from flourishing?” Challenge: for the next 40 days, pick at least one item from the “boosting” column to add to your days, and one item from the “draining” column to drop from your days.

There’s so much more to this topic that I want to share, but before I do, I want to hear from any of you who try these three simple steps. What gives you energy? What drains your energy? Does anything about this process cause you concern, or fear? Please take a moment to let me know, either in the comments below, or email me privately at melissajenna (at) gmail (dot) com.

Peace (and improved energy) to you!
mj

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Hurt People Hurt People: Healing the Hurting While Protecting Yourself

Heart Ballons

Thought this image really represented the idea of releasing a situation out of love.

“Hurt people hurt people.” (As in, people who have been hurt generally end up hurting others.) I’ve heard this expression I don’t know how many times, and every time it comes to mind, I’m reminded of another pattern of behavior I see in people. Let’s say you’re walking though, I dunno, the food-court at the mall, and you notice a piece of trash on the ground, laying right in your path. The way I see it, there are two types of people: those that pick up the trash and toss it in the nearest garbage can, and those that pass the garbage by, leaving it for someone else to pick it up. (I promise I’m getting somewhere with this.)

So if we agree that, generally, hurt people hurt people, and that their behavior is rooted in their own emotional wounds, my question naturally becomes, how do we help hurt people? (Both to help them heal and to prevent the cycle from repeating itself.) Well, for starters, rather than stepping over other people’s garbage and letting someone else take responsibility for it, we should take the extra time and effort to pick it up and throw it away, thereby making the food-court a happier, cleaner place for everyone to enjoy. No questions asked, and no hard feelings one way or the other. Just doing your civic duty. More directly: when someone hurts you (verbally/emotionally) the best way to help the person that hurt you is not to just ignore the offense and silently hold a grudge, or to pretend the offense never happened. Neither of those options help heal the offender, and in fact, can be seen as a passive-agressive way of condoning hurtful behavior. Making the effort to aid in the healing of that person could enrich their life, and prepare them to be a healthier contributor for future relationships. They could be one less hurt-person going around hurting other people.

So what do you do? I’m not saying this is perfect, but here’s what works for me:

  1. Grieve the offense. And by that I mean allowing yourself the grace to know that however the offense made you feel, that your reaction is perfectly okay, and totally normal. Feeling hurt is okay, and rather than trying to push it down and remain unaffected, give your emotions freedom to exist. Soon enough all of the really strong, volatile feelings will ebb, and you’ll be able to think a little more clearly about the situation. Don’t try and fix the situation while you’re still feeling passionately about it.
  2. Forgive. Often, this takes time. Giving yourself the time to grieve will go a long way in allowing your heart to be open to forgiveness. But here’s the thing about real forgiveness: Your forgiveness cannot be conditional on the offender’s willingness to make amends. Forgiveness is not a two-way street. It’s not a trade. You choose to forgive the offender, and they owe you nothing for it. I’ve often heard it put this way: “Forgiving someone doesn’t “let them off the hook,” but it lets them off of YOUR hook.”” I’ve always liked that.
  3. Define why the offense was wrong, and establish boundaries. This is where you look at the situation, and figure out why, specifically, the offense was so hurtful. This can only happen honestly, and without spite, if you’ve forgiven the person. Remember: when I began, my question was “If hurt people hurt people, how do we help hurt people?” It’s important that you can explain how the other person’s words/actions affected you. For example, “I’ve always trusted you as one of my closest friends, but when you lied and spread rumors about me, it completely broke my heart. I love you, but what you said about me isn’t true, and until this is repaired, I can’t trust you the way I used to.” It’s important that the offender knows that you will not allow them to continue hurting you. That their actions have real, measurable consequences.
  4. Release the situation. Once you’ve forgiven and addressed the offense and its effects, that’s the end of it. The offender doesn’t “owe it to you” to apologize, or repair the damage done (though that’s obviously the preferred outcome), and if you’ve truly forgiven, you won’t feel like you’re owed anything. But on the flip-side, you don’t owe it to the offender to allow yourself to continue being hurt by that person. If the offender chooses not to do their part in healing themselves, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself and remove yourself from the situation.

I probably felt motivated to write this out because while I’m happy to pick up litter even when it’s not my own, in relationships, for most of my life, I was the the type who allowed herself to be hurt over and over and over again, because I was too afraid to upset the offender to risk pushing for healing. I always felt like, since I’m strong-willed enough to take it, I should stick around because obviously this person needs me in their life. But along the way I’ve learned that I can’t sacrifice my emotional health so that someone else doesn’t have to bear the responsibility of their behavior. By bearing the brunt of this person’s hurtful behavior, all I was doing was enabling that person to continue hurting others without having the opportunity to realize that their actions have consequences.

And here’s the thing about all of that, and the consequences of aiding in another person’s healing process: usually it stings (like when you clean a scrape with an alcohol swab), and the hurting person will likely recoil. You might lose that relationship. But that’s okay, because the healing needs to happen, regardless of whether or not you’ll be around to see its eventuality. Another thing I’ve learned is how important it is for each of us to do our part, regardless of whether or not we get to see the healing through to its end. We must understand that, even with the relationships we value the most, we might just be one small brick in the path to that person’s restoration, and never actually see the person fully restored and emotionally healthy. And while that’s especially hard for me to reconcile, I realize that it’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the hurting person, and I’ve just got to acknowledge that no matter how badly I want to play a leading role in their healing, I might just be a teeny-tiny bit-part, and I need to be happy to do the very best I can with that.

Someday, when I feel up to it, I’ll talk more about this again. But until then: have you ever had to have a tough conversation in order to help heal a friend or family member? How’d it work out for them? Did you ever see them come around?

Natural Birth Control: Safe, Effective and Little Known

A couple of weeks ago I had my final postpartum visit with my OB, during which he mentioned that my husband and I should begin considering family planning options. (‘Family planning‘ being a polite euphemism for birth control, but I like the sound of ‘family planning’ much more.) I immediately felt anxious, as I’ve never met a method of birth control that has agreed with me. There are many methods of birth control for women, and yet none of them are entirely safe or healthy, and all of them have adverse side effects (weight gain, increased risk of stroke, more severe/painful menstrual cycles and general craziness, just to name a few).

The saddest fact is that conception is possible with every method, and many of the children that are conceived on birth control are miscarried as a result.

The idea of miscarrying a child as a result of our choice in birth control, as opposed to an act of nature (both of which are devastating), has haunted me, and it’s that truth that has the greatest impact on our decision. Combine that looming consideration with my desire not to mess with my hormones or cervical integrity, and there didn’t appear to be any suitable methods of ‘family planning.’ Fortunately, it was during a discussion of family planning methods with my mom’s group that a new, natural method was revealed to me. I’m surprised that I had never heard of it before, and after reading about it, I’m shocked that I knew so very little about my body and my fertility. Unfortunately, I’m almost certain I’m not alone in my ignorance, which is why I’ve taken the time to discuss what I’ve learned.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility

The natural method that my mom’s group shared with me is called the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), and the book I would recommend reading is called “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” Before I go any further, I want to make the distinction between the Fertility Awareness Method and the “Rhythm Method.” FAM is not the Rhythm Method, and there’s a whole section of the book that talks about how they are different, how FAM is reliable and how, as we all know, the Rhythm Method is not. (“What do they call people who practice the Rhythm Method?” “Parents.” Yuk yuk.) My goal here is not to talk about the Rhythm Method, nor explain FAM in detail; I would highly recommend reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” if you want more specific information.

Something I didn’t know about women: we’re only fertile for a few days a month,

unlike men who are fertile 365 days a year (with exceptions, of course). The Fertility Awareness Method allows women to determine when they are fertile, that way they can choose to use a barrier method of contraceptive during that time, or abstain from intercourse entirely. Conversely, a couple trying to conceive can use FAM to determine their window of fertility, eliminating the frustration and disappointment of making countless attempts that are doomed from the start.

Finally, family planning aside, every woman should read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” as it does a better job of explaining female anatomy and the amazing details of the menstrual cycle than any sex-ed class I was given in elementary school, junior high, high school or Cosmopolitan magazine. As a method of tracking one’s cycle, I’ve found FAM to be empowering and surprisingly fascinating. Without going into clinical detail, I feel comforted in knowing the wide range of variation from woman to woman in how we experience our cycles. For example, because my cycle is typically much longer than the “normal” 28 days (which is a total myth, by the way), I’ve always been told there is something wrong with me, but no doctor could ever go into detail about what exactly was wrong, or how to fix it. Long story short, after reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” I’ve realized I’m just fine, “normal” in fact, and so are countless other women who have walked around carrying similar anxieties for so long. Bonus: practicing FAM can help you discover gynecological problems before their “normal” symptoms are ever felt, saving you valuable time in diagnosis and treatment.

As a method of birth control, FAM is simple and effective; when used consistently and correctly,

FAM is found to be 99% effective, the same as oral contraceptives.

When used by a couple who are trying to conceive, FAM is effective on the first attempt between 67% and 81% of the time. Practicing the Fertility Awareness Method is certainly more enjoyable than ingesting hormones every day and living with the side effects, and it can save couples that are looking to conceive the stress and cost of fertility treatments. And like I said, though it’s possible to conceive while using any method of birth control, there’s no way that FAM will be the cause of a miscarriage, which is my main source of anxiety.

It’s my hope that if you read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility,” one of three things will happen: some of you will become more educated about your bodies, some of you will finally conceive a child, and maybe some of you can stop ingesting unnecessary hormones, any of which will greatly enhance your life. That all being said, you’re free to do what you want with the information. It’s just healthier and more empowering to make an informed decision, you know?

Are you or someone you know using the Fertility Awareness Method? Do you absolutely swear by a different method of family planning? I didn’t learn anything until I had the “awkward” conversation with a bunch of other moms, which turned out not to be awkward at all. In the spirit of helping each other learn and grow, feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Also, I’m giving away one copy of “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” to a random commenter. If you would not like to receive a copy of the book, please say so in your comment, that way I can draw someone else. (I’m using random.org to choose the winner, just so you know.) The drawing will take place Friday, October 1st 2010. Good luck!

(Also, here’s a good article from Slate about another woman’s research and experience with the Fertility Awareness Method.)

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