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The Emotional Energy Factor: The Secrets High-Energy People Use to Beat Emotional Fatigue
So--How's Your Emotional Energy?
by Mira Kirshenbaum
If you've been looking for more energy, you're not alone. Millions of people every day confess things like "I wish I had more energy." "I just can't get started in the morning." "Thinking about the long busy day ahead makes me feel overwhelmed." "There are things I want to do, and I know I'll enjoy doing them, but I find myself saying no to them instead of yes." "I'm just feeling so drained, tense, glum these days." "What I hate about not having energy is the way it makes me feel older than I am." "Where's the fun I was looking forward to in my life?"
You don't need a reason for wanting more energy--you just know you need more. But many of us can point to special reasons why we need more.
Sometimes our energy is under attack because we're going through a major life transition. Change is exhausting. And it's not just negative changes such as going through a divorce or dealing with a loved one's illness that deplete our energy. Positive changes too--getting married, starting a new job, or having a baby--take a lot out of us.
Sometimes our energy gets depleted because of a medical condition. Any illness from a bad cold on up can make a person feel drained. And some illnesses specifically attack a person's natural energy level. If there's something wrong with your body, you need more energy now.
Sometimes we want more energy even though we're young: "I'm only twenty-four, and it just feels nuts for me to be so tired." Or we want more energy because we're getting older: "As I'm getting up in years, energy is the one thing I need more than anything else, now more than ever."
And sometimes we want more energy because our plates are just so damned full, and after a while it starts to get to us. "It's not just that there's so much for me to do every day, and so much to think about. That takes enough pushing. But then I have to do a really bang-up job too."
But we all understand how important energy is. We understand that the biggest difference between people who get what they want out of life and people who don't is energy. You could be the smartest, most attractive, most talented person in the world, but without energy you'd go nowhere, like a meatball that's fallen on the floor.
With energy everything is possible. It's energy that gives life its sweetness and tang. It's energy that makes you feel like you. It's energy that makes your dreams come true.
So--how's your energy? If you're like most of us, you want and need more. Well, you've come to the right place. This book will show you why you've been losing energy and what to do to get all the energy you want.
Where to Find Your Missing Energy
I know you've already tried to get more energy from many sources. But I'll bet they've mostly been sources of physical energy, like PowerBars and coffee, exercise and vitamins. And these haven't been enough.
Gail, 29: "Where's my get up and go? I was on the soccer team in high school and college. Track too. I always take care of myself. I eat right, I live right. Eight hours' sleep and I'd wake up fully refreshed, ready to go out and have fun. Now I'm still doing all the same things. The doctor said I'm fine physically. So why am I tired all the time? But it's not my body that's tired. It's like it's me that's tired inside my body."
Millions of us feel the way Gail feels.* The problem is that if you're like most Americans, you're close to being maxed out on the amount of additional energy you can get from physical sources. Physical energy sources are anything you go to for your body's energy needs, everything from food and rest to a carefully thought out exercise program and a full complement of vitamins. And sure, maybe you could get more sleep or eat a little more healthfully, but the truth is that people living in the developed world today are healthier and more vital than ever before. If you're feeling you need more energy, the problem is most likely not with your body.
No wonder so many of us are caught in an energy rat race. The more we need energy, the more we try to boost our physical energy, but we don't get the pop we're looking for because there's not much more to get from physical sources. We search for still newer sources of physical energy anyway, and they don't help much either.
Now you see why it's been so hard to find more energy. You're looking in the wrong place.
Emotional Energy Is the Answer
You're not just a body, are you? So it's not just your body that needs more energy. It's you, a whole person. You know that the emotional side of you is as important as your body. So it makes sense that there's another energy source. It's emotional energy.
Emotional energy is the kind of energy you're looking for anyway. It's not an adrenaline-filled, run-around-like-a-nut kind of energy where you burn too brightly. It's a special energy that's all about feeling young and deeply connected to the fun and hope in life. Everyone's experienced a moment when the chips were down and all you saw ahead was a tough, uphill climb, and yet you felt full of vitality. That's emotional energy--an aliveness of the mind, a happiness of the heart, and a spirit filled with hope. How could you possibly feel energetic unless you had that kind of energy?
Isn't this what we all want: an energetic mind and heart and soul in an energetic body? I call it complete energy:
Complete energy = physical energy + emotional energy
We now know that the physical side is actually the less important part. I asked energy experts such as endocrinologists, nutritionists, and specialists in sports medicine, "How much energy does the typical American get from physical sources and how much from emotional ones?" When I averaged out their answers, I was stunned. Physical energy can supply at most 30 percent of your total energy. Even if you had perfect physical health and ate the perfect diet and got the perfect amount of exercise, all that would give you only 30 percent of the complete energy you need.* The remaining 70 percent of the energy you need must come from your emotional energy. And you need a lot.
Where I First Saw That Emotional
Let's face it, life is designed to exhaust our emotional energy. Most of us work damned hard. We have obligations to our family and friends. We join organizations. We have dreams and ambitions we push ourselves to achieve. Sometimes just when we think we're stretched to the limit, some disaster or emergency stretches us even further. A family member gets sick. We get laid off. Someone we love dumps us. A pet project fails. One step forward, two steps back.
And yet we all know people filled with verve and joy in spite of all this. That's the difference emotional energy makes.
I think you have to see people thriving in spite of difficult circumstances to really appreciate it. I started seeing this when I was a kid, and it's always stayed with me.
I grew up poor in New York City. My mother and I were refugees from Europe. She started out working in a garment factory twelve hours a day. Everyone in our neighborhood was an immigrant. Everyone had it tough. Life could really get to people. But if our world was a constant struggle to find work, pay the rent, educate the children, and afford clothes you weren't ashamed to wear, people reacted to it very differently. Some were so exhausted they gave up trying. Some kept on pushing, but that's all it was--pushing. They were running on empty. You saw it in their self-pity, their rage, their constant anxiety, their utter discouragement. You saw it in their burned-out eyes, like soldiers who've spent too many days in combat.
So are we fools to wish we had more energy? Should we all just declare the human condition permanently pooped?
No! Growing up I also saw people who in spite of everything were filled with a special kind of inner energy. They led the same lives as everyone else. But still they had hopes and dreams. Still they made good things happen. Still they found ways to make themselves happy and stay upbeat.
My Uncle Morris was like this. He worked long hours managing a laundry. His wife was a crazy troublemaker--everyone said so. His kids were no bargains. Everything in his life was a struggle. But he was always emotionally vibrant. He kept working on plans for owning his own business. He was always taking us on trips to the country. He was always singing and teaching us new songs. And whenever he visited, he took the trouble to bring a box of candy or cookies especially for me.
High-Energy People Have High Emotional Energy
I'm sure you too know people who have plenty of energy no matter what, as if they'd found a secret stash. I'm talking about people who do a lot, are upbeat, and get a lot of enjoyment from what they do even though so many forces in life seem to be against them. But we don't think of them as living in an unattainable stratosphere. There's something about being filled with energy that makes us feel, "Yeah, I can see myself like that." We know intuitively that emotional energy is our birthright.
We wish we knew these people's secrets because of the enormous difference we know emotional energy makes in their lives. And that difference is the emotional energy factor.
*A man spends his life hanging in there, working at a job he doesn't like, struggling to support his family, and all the while he remains cheerful, never complaining. Without emotional energy, this man would've become just another miserable, angry guy.
*A young woman spends years trying to find herself, to figure out what work she wants to do and how she wants to live. It's confusing and it should be discouraging, but she hangs in there, full of hope, knowing that every person can find a life that fits. Without emotional energy, this young woman would have given up.
*A man spends years dealing with a chronic, debilitating physical condition and yet radiates warmth and hope: Instead of spreading gloom, he spreads joy. Without emotional energy, he might've collapsed physically and become bitter, cold, and lonely.
*It's Wimbledon. The deciding match of the men's finals. Two world-class tennis players have been going full out for hours. Both are in superb physical shape. But at this stage in a grueling competition that stretches the human soul to its limit, one player will keep on finding the fun in the game, will keep on wanting to win the most. Without emotional energy, the winner would've been the loser.
*Look at some of the greatest artists, producing beauty out of darkness, joy out of misery. There are many, like the painter Renoir, who was racked with pain from arthritis, almost unable to hold a brush in his hands, or Rembrandt, who struggled with loneliness and poverty. Yet both worked for years producing one radiant masterpiece after another. Then there were Beethoven and Mozart. Both of them produced some of their most shining, happy music during times when the circumstances of their lives were most desperate and filled with loss. Many great artists have had difficult lives. Without emotional energy, think of all the great art that never would have been born.
*A scientist or inventor faces years of heart- and spirit-breaking frustration and yet keeps on trying until he finally reaches the brass ring he's been struggling toward. Without emotional energy, almost no difficult scientific or technological problem would have been solved.
*An inner-city woman works at low-paying jobs and brings up six children, sending them all to college. And that's the easy part. The hard part is that all the while she inculcates in them a loving, hopeful spirit. Without emotional energy, life would crush many of us.
*Think about a person so passionate for a cause that he or she fights for it in spite of everything. Gandhi is an example--he spent long periods of time fasting, depriving his body of energy, yet finding an energy source that enabled him to fight the British Empire. Without emotional energy, we'd all be stuck with every form of injustice.
*Why has Anne Frank touched so many of us? It's not just because of what happened to her--similar stories happened to millions. But in spite of the most oppressive conditions, we can read from her own pen how she radiates a kind of hope and spunk. Without emotional energy, the human spirit could not survive for long.
The more pressures you have to deal with, the more important it is to take care of your emotional energy. As you can see, it's the most precious form of energy you have. It's the kind you need the most of. It's the kind that makes your life feel satisfying and enables you to do something with it.
Having Emotional Energy Changes Everything
Every dimension of who you are feels better the more emotional energy you have. Let's start with your body. Suppose you've been working unusually hard. Long hours, not enough sleep, not enough healthy food.
Well, this is where emotional energy comes to the rescue. If there's a group at the office working this hard, those with the most emotional energy will feel the best and be able to keep on going the longest. This makes sense. Why do people poop out? It's not just physical exhaustion. The first ones to drop out are the ones who get discouraged and feel most emotionally drained.
Emotional energy comes to the rescue when the body has reached its limits. In fact, I've seen people damaged by disease whose physical energy has been beaten into the ground but who are able to fight on because their emotional energy gives them the hum and spark they need.
Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-selling book while in the midst of suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. It was so bad that in interviews she talked about "my broken body." On her best days she had only enough physical energy to drag herself out of bed to write at her computer for an hour or two.
But ah! the miracle of emotional energy. She had a story she cared about. The joy of sharing it filled her with energy. The fun of playing with words and anecdotes gave her fuel. And so she wrote Seabiscuit, about an unlikely horse who became a champion. No one who reads this book could imagine it had been written by someone crippled by an extreme deprivation of physical energy. But that's the power of emotional energy.
Excerpted from The Emotional Energy Factor by Mira Kirshenbaum.
Copyright © 2004 by Mira Kirshenbaum. All rights reserved.
Posted with permission of the publisher.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without
permission in writing from the publisher.