energy management

Part 2 - If You Don't Lean In to Effective Energy Management, You Won't Make It: The Second Way to Move From Slavery to Freedom

Last week's blog post described the hamster wheel kind of life that so many people find themselves caught up in.  It's the vicious cycle that can't seem to stop.  So we live in exhaustion, discouragement, lack of energy and inspiration, and a sense of being victims to our schedules and environments.  A terrible and unhealthy way to live! The good news is that there are two ways to strategically move beyond this painful cycle.  Last week's blog described the first strategy:  get clear on your identity and what your identity is based upon.  Click here to read that post!

I'm illustrating both strategies with the ancient story of the Jews' experience of slavery in Egypt under a cruel Pharaoh and his slave masters.  Here is the second significant strategy.

Strategy # 2:  Get Clear About the Difference Between Energy vs. Time

The Jews were giving most of their time to the Pharaoh via the slave masters.  They were forced to produce bricks, at the risk of death should they stop.  They were in a losing battle if time were the only resource available to them.

But every seventh day, they did something counter-intuitive.  They stopped.  They rested.  It was called Sabbath.  So what?

The way Sabbath was structured for them was that this was a very intentional time to remember their true identity.  they were not primarily slaves to a human taskmaster.  They were children of Yahweh, the God who had called them and claimed them--who had chosen them, not because of how "cool" they were, not because of how good they performed or how much they produced, but simply because God chose them to belong to the God of the universe.

Their identity was based upon a stable truth:

"We are chosen, valuable human beings simply for being.  We are called for a special purpose.  We are not slaves.  We are free.  And we're moving in our history toward the ultimate liberation of living in perfect congruence with our given freedom.  Our task masters can take away our time.  But they cannot take away our mindset, our identity, our humanness.  We control that.  And we choose freedom, even while we're having to work painfully for cruel masters!"

Develop Reinforcing Rituals & Practices

So every seven days, on the Sabbath, they remembered, they realigned their mental picture, they stepped into that reality.  How? By engaging in practices and celebrations and rituals that reinforced the truth about themselves, that re-energized their sagging souls and aching bodies.

The power of this kind of regular ritual and practice is that the emphasis is not on time as much as it is on energy.

Time is a finite resource.  We only have 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So if we based our experience on managing our time, no matter how important that is, we are in a losing battle.

But energy is renewable.  When we learn to manage it, steward it effectively, we can not only sustain our capacity we can increase our capacity.

Engaging in Energy Boosters

So my client and I began a conversation that he described as the most important thing he's done.  We identified rituals and practices he could engage in that would renew his energy.  He creatively conceived of "mini-sabbaths" into which he could step and feel a boost, remember his true self, pay attention to his soul, renew his energy.

Energy boosters.  Even if it was taking out his "dusty" harmonica and playing it for 10 minutes.  Even if it was catching up on his New Yorker magazine for 10 minutes, reading what he enjoyed.  Even if it meant going to the bar every week to enjoy Trivia night with his friends.  Energy boosters.

When we neglect positive energy boosters in our lives, when we disregard positive rituals and practices that remind ourselves of who we really are, we degenerate into nothing more than "slaves to a task master" of our never-ending work or the demanding expectations of others in our lives.  We give up control.  And then we slip into a victim mindset.  It's a losing battle, every single time!

Make Your List Now

So make a list right now.  What are activities you can schedule regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) that give you positive energy when you do them?  If you can actually schedule them into your calendar, then you won't have to waste brain energy by always having to think through when you want to do them.

If you don't do that, I guarantee you your busy schedule will trump your rituals & energy boosters every time.  Put them into your calendar so that they simply come regularly without serious planning and forethought so all your energy can be used in actually engaging and being present when that time comes.

You'll find yourself moving steadily from a "slave" mentality to a liberation mentality.  You'll be in control again; you'll reclaim sovereignty over your time and energy and life.  That's a far better way to live!

The Most Effective Way to Fight Giants Is In YOUR Armor

Remember the ancient story about David and Goliath?  A young shepherd David going to battle against the enemy giant Goliath?  He ends up killing Goliath with only a few smooth stones torpedoed by his leather slingshot. The part of the story that is particularly powerful is what happens before that final scene.  The King, whose people are battling Goliath's army, calls David before his throne and offers his own personal body armor to wear to go up against the giant.

Now this is no small offer.  The King has been a hugely successful warrior and leader of his people, achieving epic victories through the years.  And he's always worn this special armor to protect himself and he's used the sacred sword to defeat his enemies.  Now he offers them to David.

So David tries on the armor and the sword.  But they don't fit him ... at all!  He staggers and stumbles around under the weight of someone else's armory.

And now David makes the most strategic decision possible.  The King and others see it as foolish.  But David knows it's smart and courageous.

"Thanks for your generous offer, O King, but I have to go into battle in my own armor, using what I've always relied on and what I'm best at!"

So David goes to face the giant, dressed in his shepherd's clothing, and holding in his hand the weapon that has brought him success in protecting his sheep against the wild animals in the wilderness--a leather slingshot and some smooth stones.

And the rest is history.

Here's the point.  When it comes to facing your life well, the most effective, strategic decision you can make is to stand in your own armor, not someone else's.

Why?  Because standing in your armor is when you're at your strongest, most powerful, and fulfilled place.  It's all about strategic energy management.

I'm talking about your brain function and its natural preferences.

Brain Function and Natural Preferences

Your brain is wired with neuronal synapses--connections between cells (neurons) that produce certain behaviors.  By the time you're sixteen years old, you've lost half of these networks (billions and billions)--thankfully--otherwise, you would as an adult be like a small child frozen in sensory overload.  So in this case, less is more.

By your teenage years, the synapses that have remained are the ones from which are created your talents, your natural preferences.

Your smartness and your effectiveness depend on how well you capitalize on your strongest connections.

As Marcus Buckingham puts it,

"Nature forces you to shut down billions of connections precisely so that you can be freed up to exploit the ones remaining."

So you begin to notice that when you engage in certain behaviors and reactions, they just "feel right" to you, while others, no matter how hard you practice, always seem stilted and forced.  This is good and as it should be.

Strategic energy management is all about utilizing and building on your natural preferences.  That's the most energy efficient.

Brain experts remind us that when we are operating outside of our natural brain preferences, our brains are expending 100 times the level of resistance; as contrasted  to when we are leading with our natural preferences which expends 1 times the level of resistance.  So which way is more energy efficient?

T1 vs. Dial-up Connections

It's like connecting our computers with a hyper-fast T1 line versus an old dial-up connection.  Which works better?  Which is more efficient?  Which has the greatest speed and productivity?

Living our lives from a place of personal natural preference is the T1 connection.  Living life trying to be something we're not is the ancient dial-up connection.

And the consequences of "dial-up" is devastating:  fatigue, hyper-vigilance, immune system suppression, reduced function of the frontal lobe (the thinking, processing, evaluating, and creativity brain center), memory problems, discouragement and depression, self-esteem problems, high levels of ongoing stress.  We are literally killing ourselves prematurely.

Dr. Phil puts it this way,

"Ignoring who you truly, authentically are can literally be killing you.  Forcing yourself to be someone you are not or stuffing down who you really are will tax you so much that it will shorten your life by years and years."

Why Strengths Work Is So Vital

This is why I value strengths work so much.  It's about identifying our natural preferences and then discovering specific ways we can utilize those strengths more intentionally.  It's about validating and affirming each other's strengths (which really is a way of validating the true person in front of you and setting them free, via their T1 line, to be at their best and strongest place).  It's about exploring together how each person's strengths can be brought together with the other person's strengths and strategically managed and leveraged in ways that help the couple to be at their strongest, most effective relational place--discovering the relationship's T1 line.

Imagine what happens when couples approach their relationship from this vantage point--the affirmation and honoring of each other's most authentic self, and then building a relationship on this strongest of strong foundations.  It's allowing each other to wear the right armor as opposed to forcing them to wear something else.  It's identifying the couple's unique armor and then together going into battle to face the giants of life.  That's the way giants are battled successfully.

Here's the way one couple I did this strengths work with described their experience:

"My husband and I have been married for 14 years and have worked through our share of challenges during that time.  Working with Greg helped us re-kindle the spark that we had lost track of during those challenges.  We now have a renewed vision of why we're together and how to honor and leverage each of our strengths in exciting ways.  Thank-you, Greg!"

I'm teaching a strengths workshop for couples about these very issues (March 23, 1-5 pm, San Francisco, CA).  Registration deadline is March 17.  And it's limited to 10 couples.  If you're interested, go to this link for more information:  Strengths-based Couples.

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Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

Three Lessons From Geese About Spiritual Sustainability and Endurance

INTRODUCTION Bar-headed geese are some of the most remarkable birds in nature.  It’s estimated that at least 50,000 of them winter in India.  And when summer nears, they undertake the two month 5000 mile migration back to their home in Central Asia.  What makes this trip remarkable is that the route they choose to take every year is the world’s steepest migratory flight—they fly over the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

Amazingly, this route is where the air is thinnest and oxygen level lowest.  What’s more, the thinner air means that less lift is generated when the birds flap their wings, thereby increasing the energy costs of flying by around 30 per cent.  And yet they still fly the same route over the highest place on earth.

Scientists now find that these geese do not make use of tailwinds or updrafts that could give them a boost up the mountain.  They choose instead to rely on several other remarkable resources:

(1) Muscle power—these geese have a denser network of capillaries that reach oxygen-carrying blood to the cells.  So their blood is capable of binding and transporting more oxygen to where it’s needed most, their wing muscles.

(2) Large lungs—they also have larger lungs for their size and breathe more heavily than other waterfowl. Unlike humans, bar-headed geese can breathe in and out very rapidly without getting dizzy or passing out.  By hyperventilating, they increase the net quantity of oxygen that they get into their blood and therefore into their muscles.

(3) Team work—geese are famous for utilizing in flight the V-formation which helps reduce individual energy consumption by up to 30%.  The whole flock gets over 70% better mileage than if each bird flew solo.  When the lead bird gets weary, it drops back and a new one takes the lead.  As the birds vigorously flap their wings, it creates lift for the bird behind.  These geese actually choose to fly over Mt. Everest at one time rather than breaking up the trip, typically a grueling eight hour marathon.  And in addition, if one of the geese gets too tired or gets injured or sick, two of the other geese shepherd the weaker one back down to the ground and stay with it until it either gets stronger or dies.  Then they rejoin the group or find another group to fly with to complete their migration.

(4) External conditions—many scientists had thought the geese were taking advantage of daytime winds that blow up and over mountaintops. But recent research showed the birds forgo the winds and choose to fly at night, when conditions tend to be relatively calmer.  They're potentially avoiding higher winds in the afternoon, which might make flights more uncomfortable or more risky.  The birds could potentially head east or west and fly around, rather than over, the mountain range, but this would add several days to their trip and would actually use up more energy.  So they go straight over the highest point on earth in an attempt to manage their energy as efficiently as possible.  It’s counter-intuitive.

So what can we learn from these geese about how to develop a strong, sustainable, enduring spirituality—the kind that can face great risks and obstacles and complete the journey well?  What does it take to enjoy spiritual sustainability?

THREE LESSONS FROM GEESE ABOUT DEVELOPING SPIRITUAL SUSTAINABILITY

Lesson One, Maximize your spiritual oxygen—breathe deeply.  Like the geese, we all have the inner capacities to develop spiritual sustainability—we have good muscles and good lungs.  But for those to be maximized, we have to breathe deeply to get the most amount of oxygen possible to our spiritual muscles.

These geese have the lung capacity to be able to hyperventilate when they need it for Mt. Everest.  When they’re at home, they certainly don’t spend all of their time hyperventilating.  But when they need it the most, facing their arduous migration, they’ve developed the capacity for it.

So how can you and I increase our lung capacity to breathe deeply and get life-giving oxygen to our spiritual muscles?  This is what spiritual practices are all about—engaging regularly in activities that involve spiritual breathing, breathing deeply of the divine Spirit, accessing the power that is greater than ourselves—Prayer, meditation, scripture/inspirational reading, journaling [for example, the direct method of communication with your Trusted Source—based upon Carl Jung’s model of active imagination], spiritual conversations, sacred rituals, sacred objects, building altars of remembrances, nature immersion.  This is about engaging in ways to “wake up” to God’s presence in you and all around you, ways to “pay attention” to That which is greater than your self, ways to “breathe in” the divine spirit.

PERSONAL APPLICATION:  What do you currently do spiritually to breathe deeply?  What sacred rituals do you intentionally engage in?  What kind of plan do you have for regular spiritual breathing?

Lesson Two, Exercise your spiritual muscles—act on faith.  I love this definition of faith:  “Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see.”  William Newton Clark

Spiritual teachers remind us that faith is the language of the soul.  And the soul is what both holds our life purpose and catapults us towards it.  Our egos care most about happiness, security, safety, success, status.  The soul cares about aliveness, courage, purpose, effectiveness, faith.  And faith is the language of the soul.

So, when you act on faith, when you intentionally choose to take a step forward in your spiritual quest, when you say “yes” to faith, your spiritual muscles strengthen, and new resources become available.

That’s why, in the story of the Hebrews needing to cross the flooded Jordan River in order to get over to the Promised Land, God gave instructions for the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to lead the way into the river.  And it wasn’t until they stepped into the river that the waters parted all the way across.  Those first steps were steps of faith—choices to follow God’s instructions even when their eyes couldn’t see the way.

Indiana Jones, in the movie “Temple of Doom,” had to step out in faith, putting his foot out into the nothingness, the chasm of the abyss, in order for the bridge to appear so they could cross it to the other side where the coveted Holy Grail was hidden.

The way many people live is by playing it safe, or shrinking from difficulty, or refusing to act unless all the ducks are lined up in a row or the future can be clearly seen.  It’s true, we need to be smart when we’re faced with choices.  But sometimes, the counter-intuitive smart choice is to act even when you can’t see the end.  Our paralysis of fear atrophies our spiritual muscles.  What you don’t use gets lost.  Muscles get flabby and lose their resilience and strength.

We can breathe deeply all we want, we can learn to hyperventilate and get rich oxygen to our muscles effectively all we want.  But if we never use those oxygenated muscles, none of that makes a difference.

When you act in faith, taking a step forward, new resources become available.  And that courageous act strengthens the spiritual muscles, empowering you to take the next step.  Faith is acting on the belief that you have what you need, like the geese, the necessary equipment and inner capacity, to fly over the Mt. Everests of life.  So use it!

I can honestly tell you that when I look back on the crises I’ve gone through and see where I am today, I am in awe of the inner resources I was able to call out of myself that I didn’t even know I had.  That awareness has helped me to learn not to be afraid of or to avoid the Mt. Everests because it’s only in flying over them that we can see what our spiritual muscles are truly capable of.

PERSONAL APPLICATION:  So what steps of faith are you being called to take these days?  How is your soul being dared to go beyond what your eyes can see?  What is one step forward you can take right now to exercise your spiritual muscles?

Lesson Three, Leverage the support of others—ask for help.  The genius of the geese’s V-formation flying style is the way it leverages the power of team effort.  Getting over Mt. Everest is almost impossible solo.  Drafting with others maximizes energy and productivity.

Richard Bolles is the author of history’s best-selling book about job hunting and career change, What Color Is Your Parachute.  He was interviewed once about the subject of being self-employed.  He said that self employed people can hire out just about any skill, even, to some degree, discipline; you can get someone to call you every week to help keep you on track.  But, he said, the only trait you cannot hire out and without which you’ll “die on the vine” is the willingness to ask for help.

Trying to go it alone in life is, as one author described it, like “stringing beads without tying a knot at the end.”  Without having the help of other people to secure the end, we simply keep slipping away.

Spiritual sustainability, the power to endure in the long run, requires asking for the support of others—inviting trusted people into our lives for accountability, vision, wisdom, encouragement, strength.  We have to be willing to ask for what we need and want.

I remember when I first moved here to San Francisco all by myself—after having gone through a huge personal crisis that shattered my self confidence and sent me into what I was tempted to see as a fatal tailspin—I called up three guys who had been my friends for years—they all lived in different parts of the country—and I asked each of them if they would “fly the V-formation” with me for a long while—“Would you be willing to call me every week and talk with me, encourage me, support me, and let me draft you.”  That was one of the most spiritually strategic steps of faith I could have taken during that Mt. Everest time for me.  I had to summon enough courage and initiative to ask for help.

Percy Ross authors a column called “Thanks A Million” that is syndicated in more than seven hundred newspapers around the country.  This Minneapolis millionaire is trying to dispose of the fortune it took him nearly 60 years to accumulate by working to redistribute his wealth among people who write to him with their stories of need and sometimes greed.  He gets 2000 letters a day.  Those that touch him he responds to with a check.

In an interview, he talked about the importance of asking.  He said, “Asking is in my opinion the world’s most powerful—and neglected—secret to success.  I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t convinced many, many people to help me along the way.  The world is full of genies waiting to grant our wishes.  There are plenty of people who will gladly give you a hand.”

Knowing what you want is one thing—a very important thing, to be sure.  But that doesn’t really matter in the end unless you learn to ask for it.  As Richard Bolles said, the willingness to ask for help is a nonnegotiable component of successful living.  Spiritual sustainability and strength require us involving others in our lives in crucial, significant ways.  There’s no such thing as a spiritual lone ranger.  The mighty Lone Ranger had Tonto.  Even Jesus the Son of God had Peter, James & John (and nine others to follow him around).

PERSONAL APPLICATION:  Whom do you have in your life to draft with, to fly in V-formation with?  Who do you need to ask?  What do you want for your life and are you asking clearly and confidently for it, asking for help?

SUMMARY

So what does it take to develop spiritual sustainability, a spirituality that endures the long run with strength and vitality?  What lessons can we learn from the barheaded geese?  First, Maximize your spiritual oxygen—breathe deeply.  Second, Exercise your spiritual muscles—act on faith.  And third, Leverage the support of others—ask for help.

CONCLUSION

One of the Old Testament stories that provides a sort of comic relief to the serious messages of the prophets and yet offers a deeply encouraging view of the divine reality swirling around in the midst of our stories—one of the ultimate resources for spiritual endurance--is the legend of Jonah.

God calls him to go to the fierce people of Ninevah—the most feared enemies of his Jewish people—and preach a message of impending divine judgment.  Now preaching judgment to anyone is uncomfortable.  But to the Ninevahites?  Considering that these fierce warriors skinned their enemies alive, I can understand Jonah’s immediate hesitancy to accept this calling.  He doesn’t just say No to God, he jumps on a ship that is sailing in the opposite direction from Ninevah to try to outrun both God and his mission.

No one ever promised there would be no risk in following our spiritual destiny.  In fact, truth is, there is always fear involved in flying over Mt. Everest.  Our temptation is to capitulate and cave in to the paralysis of status quo.

On the way to far away, Jonah falls asleep in the bowels of the boat.  A fierce storm comes up.  The captain finds Jonah and wakes him up.  “Better come on deck with the rest of us—we’re trying to decide our fate.”  The sailors cast lots to see who among them is bringing on this wrath of the gods.  That’s when Jonah speaks up with his story of fear and failure, saying, “I’m the one at fault here.  Throw me over board and that’ll solve your storm problem.”

He’s thinking that he’s not even safe from God and his calling on a ship going in the opposite direction from Ninevah.  If he’s thrown overboard, at least he’ll drown and never have to worry again about facing God or the Ninevahites.

But when he’s sinking to the depths of sea, God sends a huge fish to swallow him to keep him alive and save him for his mission.  “Thanks, God!”  In the belly of the fish, though, Jonah recognizes what God is calling him to do, accepts God’s promise to empower him with courage and strength, and repents of his cowardice and fear.  “If this cup cannot pass from me, Your will not mine be done,” he utters.

After three days and three nights, the fish spits him out onto the beach nearest Ninevah, wouldn’t you know it.  And he marches into the city and ends up causing a massive revival among those enemy people who end up treating him like a hero who has saved their lives from judgment.

Spiritual sustainability, spiritual strength and endurance, take place not just from us breathing deeply, acting in faith or even in fear, and asking for help from others—but also from a Divine Presence that swirls and blows and moves in the midst of our stories, a Divine Presence that believes in our destiny even more than we do, who believes in us even when we’ve given up.  That Sacred Spirit breathes into our lives hope and courage, engaging other players on our behalf, turning failure into fertilizer, redeeming our cowardice for courage, staying with us until we fulfill our holy destiny.  It’s the Wind beneath our wings, the Oxygen streaming into our muscles, that empowers us over Mt. Everest safely to our promised land.

Now that’s a Resource to keep holding on to!