This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 14: Hacking Brain & Body
Back around the 2nd century B.C., pneuma was the thing to have. No, not that numa.
Pneuma was widely considered to be what housed the psyche, or mind. Depending on who you asked, it was either an air current, energy, or ether. It kind of floated around, connecting, and filling all living things, at least to some degree.
Then Galen, a Greek physician-at-large, said, Hey, um, guys, I think you might not quite have it right.
He theorized that the human soul had three parts: mind, spirit, and appetite. Each of those parts, he said, has a physical “spot” or home within the body: the rational soul (mind/ psyche) in the brain, the spiritual soul in the heart, and the appetitive soul in the liver.
Though Galen certainly didn’t figure everything out (we’ve kind of let go of that whole “four humors” idea now), he did hit on something that is currently being proven over and over again: the mind and body are connected in ways we should not ignore.
Improving physical energy isn’t just about making physical improvements, but mental ones as well.
Improving mental energy (which we often refer to as focus or concentration) is achieved by making changes to your mind as well as to your body.
Hacking your body is hacking your mind is hacking your body is hacking your mind.
So here are nine changes you can make, in three different areas, to hack your body/mind for more energy.
Level 1: Up your magnesium intake.
Magnesium is a mineral that the body requires to convert glucose into usable energy. Without enough, your body will be slower at breaking glucose down, and you’ll have less energy. Get what you need by adding a supplement to your diet and adding more magnesium-rich foods – leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fish – to your diet.
Level 2: Drink water all day long.
Water is magical. Water is essential. Water is [your friend. Drink more of it. Drink it all day long. You can even buy a special bottle if you want. Adults should drink about two liters of water a day. When exercising? Yes. When you wake up? Absolutely. When you’re tired? Of course.
Find your water mojo. Tap? Filtered? Sparkling? Still? Iced? Room temp? Chilled without ice? Lemon? Lime? So many options. Whatever you choose, Fill, drink, repeat all day long. Take it with you wherever you go.
Level 3: Find your super-snack.
The ideal snack is a nifty little combination of protein, fat, and fiber. There are so many ways you can get this combination, but if you don’t think about it ahead of time…. Well, you may end up with your hand in that stale bag of chips. Come up with an ideal snack combination that fits any special dietary needs and your taste preferences. Then make sure you always have that snack on hand.
For days on the go, pack up several portions and take with you. The right snack can keep you fueled and focused. It will not only up your energy because it’s an ideal combination of nutrients, but because you’re not wasting brainpower on figuring out what to eat. Win-win.
Level 1: Force yourself to move more.
Regular breaks for physical activity can help you to pay attention and concentrate better. Regular exercise will improve your overall energy. Oh, and also? Physical activity is useful for preventing diseases like diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and depression.
The problem? We’ve developed a mostly sedentary lifestyle for ourselves, and we’re killing our energy by sitting in front of a desk all day.
The solution? Force yourself to move more with a few simple hacks to your daily routine. (These don’t take the place of regular exercise, by the way. Get to the gym.)
– Park at the far end of the parking lot, everywhere you go.
– Walk or bike on short errands (less than a mile).
– Arrive early to all events, meetings, etc., and make a lap around the building, parking lot, or hallways.
– Take the chair away from your desk. Stand up, stretch, walk around in your office.
– Put a treadmill, stationary bike, or small set of weights by your desk. Do a few minutes or a few reps every hour.
Level 2: Be social every day.
For some of you, this is a non-issue; you’re the extroverts, the people who love the energy you get from other people, and being social is something you do. For some of us, however, getting in real social time can be the last thing we want to do at the end of a long day.
But we need to. “All forms of social connectedness have strong positive effects on physical health,” according to this study. Conversations with trusted people help us overcome grief or hardship and handle stress. You could create an end-of-workday ritual of calling a friend or family member for a 10-minute chat, take a quick walk around the neighborhood/block, and stop to chat with people who are out or invite friends to join you for projects and activities instead of going it alone. If that’s a little too ambitious, start with a coffee break or after-work appetizer: take a friend or strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Level 3: Create an anytime energy ritual.
There are certain times of day when your energy slumps. There are also certain situations that create stress, causing a physical response to fatigue. Anyone who has ever felt the overwhelming need to nap as soon as they glanced at that intimidating project waiting for them knows that experience.
To combat those times, put together your own personalized “anytime energy” ritual. Here are things you could include:
– Drink water.
– Do 10 – 15 minutes of active physical movement.
– Call a friend.
– Journal about what you’re feeling/planning/avoiding.
– Listen to music.
– Visualize yourself going through the process/task ahead.
You don’t need to include all of these items; find two or three help you the most, order them in a series of repeatable steps, add a cue (when you want to take a nap, when you’re procrastinating, after lunch when you get sleepy), and end with a reward that motivates you.
Level 1: Find the right type of music.
Listening to classical music before bed can help improve sleep quality. (Have you tried it?) Music can help you do repetitive tasks more quickly and help you stay focused on an assignment in distracting environments.
The key is finding music you like; it seems to set up a comfortable zone-out spot that helps you to relax, feel happier and more energetic, and concentrate. Use a service like Spotify or build from your music collection: set up a couple of custom playlists with your favorite songs. Make it your starting ritual at work-time to cue up your music (after you get your water, of course).
Level 2: Add red and green to your work environment.
The color red can enhance our physical responses, like a quick burst of energy. It’s also suitable for attention to detail. Switch out your tired beige curtains for red. Put a red splash behind your kanban board. Get a red cover for your iPad.
Balance the red with green, brought in by living plants that improve concentration and productivity.
Level 3: Get yourself more natural light.
Research has shown that students have improved energy, ability to focus, and concentration just by moving to a desk situated by a window. There’s something to that writerly habit of staring out the nearest window into the outside world. To achieve this, move your desk, so it’s facing the window or sitting right by the window, keep the (red) curtains open. And get some full-spectrum light bulbs. If you’re unable to get near a window, follow the Pomodoro Technique and get near some natural light on your breaks.
The lesson to learn in all of this? Your energy is yours to control.
There will always be outside factors that affect your energy levels. But applying these simple changes can get your productivity higher. Your diet is about what goes into you; your environment is about what surrounds you, and your routines are all about how you respond to life.
With smart upgrades like the ones suggested here, you can prime your mind and body for a consistently higher energy flow – your own personal, powerful pneuma – in your life.