When I started training in the martial arts again, after taking a break for some 3 years, my physical energy became a priority.
During that time, I tried various things to keep my energy up such as supplementary exercise, a powdered green supplement, eating lighter and more nutritious meals, and drinking the recommended amount of water daily.
But that was before two things:
- Before I had much of an idea as to how mental activity- thoughts and emotions- affected energy levels (which I learned once I began meditating).
- And before my first son was born.
After my first son was born, I realized that, before that point, I really had no idea what it meant to be exhausted. I started nearly falling asleep everywhere- sitting and playing with my son, training, working, and even almost while driving. I had to do something.
I've talked before about how shifting my schedule to waking up early had a tremendous effect on my energy levels, but that wasn't enough. I had to cover all my bases if I wanted to work, train, take care of my son, handle my other responsibilities, and keep up my daily (and quickly growing) meditation practice without falling off of any them.
It's been years since then, and while I stopped training, I now have even more on my plate than I did before with my second son and Buddhaimonia, so I have to make sure I keep my energy up not only to stay sharp and put out my best work but also to be present for everything I do- from spending time with loved ones to writing.
10 Daily Rituals That Will Increase Your Physical and Mental Energy
Before we start, I want to quickly go over two very important facts I've come to realize in the time I've worked to increase my daily energy. First...
There is no separation between the mind and the body. What the body feels, the mind feels. What the mind feels, the body feels.
Because of this, I'm not just going to cover points which help you get physical rest and energy, but also points which help you replenish and manage your mental energy. And secondly...
You won't have to do a bunch of crazy stuff to keep your energy up.
This post won't suggest supplements, crazy workouts, weird diets, or anything else like that. Not that they don't work, but that you don't need any of them. We're so used to just adding new things on to our life when we want a particular result- thinking that's the right way- but that further complicates our lives.
Nowadays, we're pushing ourselves harder than ever, especially in the U.S., where many people rather work themselves to death (figuratively) than go on a vacation. What's needed isn't something outside ourselves so much as it is us observing our life clearly and completely in order to identify not only how we can increase our energy naturally but also where we can save our energy.
We want energy so that we can live to the fullest so that we can get through our day without feeling like we've just finished 12 rounds of a boxing match. We want to feel alive and present, and I can say from experience that's pretty difficult when you've got so much responsibility in a given day.
But there is a way to do it without jumping through hoops while following a daily practice which nourishes your entire mind and body (as this is really just an extension of that).
These are my 10 best tips for increasing your physical and mental energy:
1. Develop self-awareness (live mindfully)
This might seem like an odd first point, but I've found it to be the foundation of my efforts to increase my daily physical and mental energy.
Self-awareness is all but necessary if you want to increase your daily energy levels, without which you're shooting in the dark. That is, guessing at what will help increase your energy when you have no idea what exactly is draining you.
You might say, "I know what's draining me, it's my kids!" But what exactly does that mean? Is it some form of drain on your emotions or are you running around all day? There's more to it than what first meets the eye.
With a daily mindfulness practice, you'll begin to notice when and what makes your energy dip and be able to take the proper action to counteract that- both in the moment and at large.
So first and foremost, you need to become very self-aware. We go about our day only sometimes noticing what's really draining us, and rarely noticing how our daily actions are fluctuating and potentially affecting that.
This is the centerpiece, the ability which allows you to monitor your energy levels with clarity and gather information to make accurate changes. Don't underestimate this point.
2. Hydrate properly
You may or may not be aware of how water affects your energy levels. I sure wasn't until I began drinking water consistently.
This was really one of the first things I ever tested to increase my energy levels, and it continues to be one of the most consistently helpful (aside from just being downright necessary for your health).
I've stuck pretty consistently to drinking 8 glasses of water a day for some 5 or so years now, so I can attest to its ability to increase a person's energy levels.
It might sound weird that water increases your energy, but it does. Water is a huge percentage of our body's composition, and that includes our brains.
When we're dehydrated, our brain can't work at its usual efficiency, and as a result, we can begin to feel fatigued and lose much of our energy (among other things).
This is one of those things that's always sitting right in front of our faces but which is easy to miss. But the reality is, it makes a big difference. Especially drinking a bottle of water every morning.
A bottle of water (typically 16.9 oz., just over 2 cups) every morning will help jump start your body, from your metabolism to your energy, and is one of the all-around best and easiest things you can do for your health.
I'd suggest picking up a canteen or reusable bottle that you can carry around with you (most will hold about 16 ounces or two cups). Without this, I've found it pretty difficult to keep up the habit of drinking 8 or more glasses of water each day (the actual recommended amount varies depending on your weight and activity level).
Just about every morning I make tea. I carry it in a canteen with a screw off top that doubles as a small cup, which helps keep the tea warm and reminds me to drink periodically throughout the day (switching mostly to tea has been a way to further increase the all-around health benefits of my daily drink, although I still drink a water bottle or two each day).
3. Sit in meditation
Meditation introduced me to the "other side" of the energy equation. As I mentioned earlier, it's not just about physical energy. Our mental activity has just as much, if not more, of an effect on our energy as our physical activity does.
Many of the thoughts and emotions we experience day and night generate stress within us, making our minds toss and turn constantly in a very real way, and this stress has very real physical and mental effects on us. And one of the effects those feelings of stress has on us is to deplete our energy.
Meditation is what allows you to bring the mind to rest, like a pebble slowly falling to the bottom of a pond. It won't silence the mind, that's not what you want and neither is that possible anyway, it will simply quiet your mind to a manageable (and observable) level. And this sense of clarity, or in this case more importantly: relief, can have a significant effect on your energy.
In order to feel the full effects of this, I'd suggest meditating once in the evening and once in the morning. I'd also suggest it be for longer periods, 30-45 minutes or longer each session.
In no way do you have to meditate for this long, but you'll notice a more significant effect if you do vs. meditating for just 10-15 minutes once or twice a day.
4. Master your nightly routine
The amount of attention you give to what you do right before and right after you sleep is a key factor in deciding your daily energy levels, and that's exactly what the next two points are about.
By dominating your nightly routine, I'm referring to a number of different things. These are the 4 points that have worked for me:
- (Blue) lights off. Turn off all smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers 2-3 hours before bed. At night, light- particularly blue light from electronics- messes with our biological clock and affects the quality of your sleep.
- Have a bedtime and stick to it. This might sound obvious, but you need to make sure to get enough sleep each day, and you'll do that by having a set bedtime which you stick to (almost) each day. I used to have a bad habit of pushing my bedtime off, even though I knew technically I needed to get to sleep eventually. We have an uncanny ability to ignore reason at times (when it's convenient), and sometimes need to remind ourselves that our actions have various side effects on the rest of our life.
- Adopt a nightly relaxation ritual. This could be one of a number of things, from a nightly tea meditation or reading to sitting meditation or light stretching. Whatever you choose to use, this is one of the most important aspects of a strong nightly routine which will help improve the quality of your sleep and ultimately increase your energy.
- Leave your baggage outside. Before we go to bed, we tend to cycle through everything that happened that day. This is particularly dangerous on tough days, where all you end up doing is further stressing yourself out. To help avoid that, before you go to bed imagine yourself taking all of your issues and concerns and stuffing them into a bag. Give yourself permission to forget about them until you wake up in the morning. We tend to keep things in our heads because we're afraid of losing control, so if you tell yourself you can come back to them (or even better, physically write them down) you'll be able to mentally separate yourself from them for the time being. Also, this might sound like a temporary fix, but the more you do this the more you'll begin to see that these worries and stresses aren't a part of you, and rather are something which you can choose to let go of permanently.
Ultimately, with a strong nightly routine, you're trying to improve the quality of your sleep and set yourself up properly for the next day. By sticking to these 4 points you'll be able to do exactly that.
5. Master your morning routine
On the other end of things, there exists when, and what you do when, you wake up.
I've written about my morning routine in the past, and this is a major contributing factor in keeping my energy up throughout the day. This really has to do with two things:
- Wake up early.Waking up early, as the sun rises long before your day really "begins", will instantly make a considerable difference in your energy levels each day (provided you went to bed at a reasonable hour). You don't even need to do anything once you wake up to notice it either. Just walk outside, breathe the fresh air, and take it all in. That's enough to energize you.
- Adopt a set of energizing morning rituals to start you off for the day. Like the nightly relaxation ritual, this could be a number of things. I'd suggest checking out my post here for ideas, but if you want a few quick suggestions I'd say start off by meditating every morning, going for a short walk, and then doing something creative like keeping a journal, writing, drawing, painting, or creating something. This won't just energize you, it will jump-start your entire mind and body.
As I mentioned in the last point, waking up early and adopting a set of morning rituals won't just increase your energy, it will positively supercharge you for the day ahead.
6. Be active (even if for only 7 minutes)
Physical exercise, or activity, is one of those staples that you need to always be mindful of. My philosophy on physical exercise has changed a lot over the past 5 or so years, but being active is still important to me.
When I was training in the martial arts, I worked out almost daily. After some time, I put more focus on my training and worked out just a few times each week. After I stopped training, I continued to clarify my understanding and increase my knowledge of physical activity and its effect on the human body, so I continued to exercise for some time.
What I eventually settled on was this: physical activity is important for both the body and mind, but it's really just important to be continuously active. Or in other words, you don't have to do much strenuous working out at all.
There's been a lot of studies done on what's called High-Intensity Interval training, and it's shown that all you really need is a very short period of high-intensity exercise (say 7-20 minutes) to get the same benefits you usually would from hours of running and working out.
While I stay really active because of my kids, this is one area I haven't done such a great job on in the past year. My daily practice, writing, building Buddhaimonia, and raising my kids has taken essentially all of my time, so naturally, some things got pushed aside.
For those looking to add physical exercise into their daily routine, I'd suggest starting with the 7-minute workout. It literally takes 7 minutes and will not only jump-start your body for the day if you do it in the morning but provide you with all of the usual energy-increasing benefits of physical exercise.
7. Learn to manage strong emotions
Strong emotions are one of the single most powerful energy draining forces that exist. Whether it's fear, anger, sadness, hatred, or something else, these strong emotions can embed themselves in us and quite literally take control of us. For the sake of the point, I'll use anger as the example.
Both my wife and I are strong-willed, so we tend to butt heads. And naturally, being married with two children (with a third on the way), we're placed into the most difficult situations together and are forced to think of solutions. Note: Anger really enjoys when two people are stuck in a high-stress situation.
Most of the time it's little things- a stressful day that puts your nerves on edge, so you lash out at the person closest to you, only to realize what you've done an hour later and apologize- but nonetheless, it has a real effect on both people's physical and mental energy in that moment (and for a number of hours afterward).
After a while, I noticed that on a morning after a fight like that I'd be absolutely incapable of waking up. It just wouldn't happen no matter how hard I tried. I was so exhausted that I had to sleep for an extra 2-3 hours. I was spent.
Ultimately, there's no avoiding this one, but you can beat it. It's natural to argue with those we love from time to time. And while it may at times be unavoidable, we can become mindful of the negative effects these arguments have on us and as a result put a stop to them when they start.
No matter what the emotion is, by practicing mindfulness we can notice these feelings building in us and put a stop to them before they take hold of us. There's no getting around feeling the emotion itself, but neither is that the problem. The problem is when the emotion takes the wheel- and mindfulness keeps those strong emotions from every taking control.
But we shouldn't just do this to increase our energy, we should do this for our health and well-being and the health and well-being of our loved ones as well. Remember, it's all connected.
8. Cultivate compassion for strangers
This one might seem wacky, but it's anything but that. Something that we rarely if ever notice, but which has an amazing ability to whittle away our energy, are the "little annoyances" of daily life.
That is, when someone cuts you off on the freeway, when your boss asks you to work an extra shift when the guy that took your order at the drive-thru forgot your order of cheesy fries and you didn't realize it until you got home. There's a limitless number of events in daily life which can be deemed "little annoyances" and it's these little annoyances that help whittle away at our energy all day long.
Things like this happen every day and they have a real effect on our energy, for the same reason as I mentioned above with regards to handling strong emotions. And it might not seem like a big deal, but these occasions add up.
When we live our lives making no attempt to understand those around us, we're constantly annoyed because we never consider why someone would do something to inconvenience our day. But when we live with compassion, which is based on understanding, our world opens up.
When we live with compassion and understanding, that driver that cuts us off on the freeway goes from being an a-hole to being a guy or girl who's either just having a bad day, or is late to an appointment, or is rushing a loved one to the hospital, or is just being tugged along by their habitual energy to rush around all day without understanding that it's hurting them.
Whatever it is that you think, the point is you begin to realize there are myriad reasons why someone might have cut you off on the freeway, and most importantly that it's not their fault.
You stop looking at people who "wrong" or annoy you as super villains deterring your efforts and begin looking at them as regular people just like you, with their own set of challenges and capable of mistakes as much as you.
But this isn't limited to just strangers, though, is it? This includes everyone in your life, whether you encounter them at a distance for just a moment or spend intimate time with them each day.
And by cultivating understanding and compassion for all those you encounter, you release yourself from the hold of the many strong emotions we often cultivate as a result of interacting with others.
I use a simple exercise pretty often for helping me cultivate compassion. It's proved incredibly useful as I go about my everyday life and encounter people in various situations, and is often just a really fun type of meditation you can do anywhere:
Think of someone you don’t like. This could be someone you hate, someone you generally dislike, or someone whom you’ve only recently had an argument with. Whoever they are, sit and meditate on this person. To do this, hold the person in your mind. This, of course, isn’t possible, but you’re holding as much of the person you know, your perception of the person, within your mind.
Once you have this picture, do these three things:
- Realize that it's the picture in your head, your perception of the person, which is what you’re judging the person based off of. Not off of the real person, but of your interpretation of that person based on limited data.
- Think of something which that person does or has done which you disapproved of and think of what logical reasons they might have had for doing that thing. If the person said something hurtful to you, start throwing possibilities out there: maybe something is stressing them and they don’t know how to deal with it, maybe they had a tragedy recently or were hurt and don’t know how to deal with the anger and sadness that's inside of them, or something else. Whatever it is, start thinking of specific possibilities that could be making them act this way. Think of as many as you can.
- Take a step back and review those possibilities which you’ve thought up. Realize that the reason for their hurtful behavior is two things: 1) not originating from or because of you, and 2) simply from something which they’re experiencing which they don’t know how to deal with. Once you’ve done this, you’ll see that there’s more to the person than meets the eye. Conflict usually involves one or more people using anger to cause hurt, if you can realize that the reason this person acted out with anger and aggression wasn’t because of you, but because of something deep within themselves that they’re hurting from, you can learn to cultivate a great amount of compassion for that person.
By using this exercise these little annoyances are no longer a drain on your mental and therefore physical energy. They no longer stress you out and rather become almost pleasant opportunities to connect with others in an odd way.
When someone cuts you off, you're unaffected. When someone steps on your toe trying to rush into the area when you're going to a concert, you're not bothered. These situations now become opportunities to connect with the common humanity in the strangers you meet as you go about your day.
And with that, your stress level will be down, and your energy up.
If I don't make a plan for myself, I have the tendency to bounce around, particularly when I'm working. This has a couple of bad side effects, including shortness of breath and mental exhaustion.
Technology does a lovely job of enhancing this as well- when I have 20 tabs open on Chrome, as well as Evernote, Microsoft Word, and Outlook open all at the same time it becomes really easy to lose myself and not only not get a whole lot done but really stress myself out. And working yourself into a panic like that really wastes energy.
I've mostly eliminated this tendency, partly just due to my daily practice (and the next point), but also by pre-planning my days.
I'm not talking about anything complicated either. I've tried having a sheet for each day with each hour pre-planned and that was just an unrealistic amount of work. For me, it's simply keeping a short list (3-8 things) of major tasks I'm planning on accomplishing that day.
I used Clear on my iPhone for a while, but was always missing the key functionality of being able to pull tasks away from my major list to work on just for that particular day (and then move them back to the original list if I wanted later).
I found that functionality with Trello, and am now completely sold on it, especially because it not only works on iPhone/iPad/Mac but because I can also use it on my PC too (Clear apparently can do something like this on Mac, but for now I work mostly on my Windows PC, so Trello takes the crown).
10. STOP (and use your energy skillfully)
Despite all the talk of taking action to increase your energy, you need to remember that if you're a living being- breathing, eating, and sleeping like the rest of us- you have limits and sometimes just need to stop.
How that takes shape will depend on your situation and habitual patterns, though. That might mean:
- Slowing down
- Stopping from time to time
- Giving yourself more of a break
- Not necessarily stopping but doing your work while keeping your breathing more in control
- Or multiple strategies
I've tried out each strategy above, but the last one has worked best for me (although I use more than one consistently). Using your breath as an anchor, you're less prone to start flailing around both mentally and physically and more likely to stay present.
Sometimes when I work I get overwhelmed trying to do so much at once that I notice I'm practically holding my breath while working, so this has worked especially well for me.
Why do I mention this in a blog post about increasing physical and emotional energy? Because the way many of us work- running around like we've lost our brains- isn't an intelligent use of our energy.
When we work in a constant semi-panic we're not just draining ourselves mentally, spinning our heads in circles and literally giving ourselves headaches, but because our breathing is short and shallow throughout the better part of the day we're draining our physical energy as well.
The result is we end up both mentally and physically exhausted by the time we're off to work.
In middle school, I was on the track team. All the long-distance runners were advised to breathe through their nostrils while running, even though at first it seemed uncomfortable and unnatural, because once you get used to breathing that way it's much more efficient and doesn't expend as much energy as breathing through the mouth does.
Think of yourself in the same way. You have a finite amount of energy, and while you can recharge at certain points in the day, efficient use of your energy makes all the difference in your day-to-day life.
You can live in much the same way as a runner breathes through their mouth and expends their energy quickly, making them tired and affecting their performance, or you can live in the same way that a good runner runs, breathing through their nostrils in a slower and more controlled manner and allowing themselves to stay in control of what they're doing.
Each day, you get a certain amount of energy (through what you put into your body) and you spend a certain amount of energy (through your thoughts and actions). How much energy you get and how you spend the energy you have is up to you, but if you're not mindful of how you're spending your energy and of what and how much energy you're taking in, you're going to be less effective at everything you do.
And I don't just mean efficiency with regards to doing your work, I also mean with regards to maintaining peace within yourself and enjoying your life.
This is something everyone needs to take into consideration.
Especially with the way we're working nowadays and especially if you have kids or a lot of responsibilities, skillful use of your daily energy can create a huge change in the quality of your life.