Your Vitality

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By the time summer vacation roles around most of us are overdue for a rest.

If that is you even part of the time, chances are you're exhausted. Such self-sacrifice may be a noble value but it is seldom a recipe for sustainability.

With so much going on, and so many demands, many of us are putting in longer workweeks. Then, after nine or ten hours at work, we rush home to the kids, laundry and shopping.

If we have five minutes to ourselves our heads are so full that all we are able to do is watch the swirl of yesterday, today and tomorrow's to-do lists.

 Then try and sleep! Eventually, many of us just give up, get up, and go back to the computer to work.

If that is you even part of the time, chances are you're exhausted. Such self-sacrifice may be a noble value but it is seldom a recipe for sustainability.

KEEP THE FIRE ALIVE

The good news is vitality, the personal energy that allows us to be active and engaged, is a renewable resource. Maintaining vitality levels– especially with so much on our plate– is a commitment as well as a skill.

Here are seven practices that support keeping the fire alive:

Passion

Passion is ignited when we have the sense that we are pursuing something bigger than ourselves, something that makes a difference.

When that pursuit is clearly defined and supported by meaningful goals and objectives, passion happens. Heart and mind, united behind the pursuit of something important, generate vitality.

When we stop paying attention to what is meaningful we disconnect from passion.

Many people live life in half-measures. The crushing weight of routine, boring work and abandoned dreams tears the fabric of the human spirit, allowing vitality to leak away in a steady drip.

While it's happening, we convince ourselves that everything is normal. We're tired and have too much to do. We have to conserve our energy. Our jobs are so demanding, the kids are exhausting, the times frenetic. Aren't we just trying to get through the day?

In such a mood, we are easily defeated and our passion for life is diminished or extinguished.

In order to restore passion, we must focus on what is most meaningful in our lives — and make it a priority! That focus is a source of energy that overcomes malaise.

 

Pacing

Most of us live our lives on an adrenaline drip. We are "go-go-go" all the time. But pursuing everything at top speed doesn't make a lot of sense when it comes to maintaining our vitality.

You certainly wouldn't drive your car that way. Imagine your foot down, pedal to the metal, in icy conditions, a rainstorm or around a hairpin curve? Bad driving strategies lead to fatal accidents.

That's true as well in how we navigate our family, business and community engagements. Expediency and lack of discernment about pacing can lead to fatigue. That, in turn, causes mental mistakes, conflicts, and eventual burnout.

That's exacerbated when you're the boss and everyone in the organization is forced to work that way. Eventually, the organization runs out of gas.

Great athletes like Sidney Crosby, Kobe Bryant, and Payton Manning are masters of pace. They speed up or slow down the pace of a game at will.

Managing pace supports sustainability and wellbeing. It allows us to stay connected to meaning, integrate our experiences, and think strategically, not just tactically.

It also assists us in understanding the impact of our actions in advance rather than being forced to clean up the mess we make when we fail to reflect before we act.

When we pace ourselves, and we truly need to accelerate, there is an energy reserve to call on rather than an empty tank.

Generosity

Generosity begins with gratitude. When we are grateful for the opportunity to do what we love, there is a natural desire to give back.

Generosity comes from the same root word as ‘generate.' It is a source of vitality because it fuels passion and engagement in what matters most to us at home, work and in the community.

It is also ennobling. It supports our own character development through acts of support of others.

That's why volunteerism is such an important part of community involvement and executive development. It provides a way of contributing to the collective good, which in turn, benefits the individual.

There are two aspects of generosity: giving and receiving. Both are necessary to support vitality.

Giving is the dynamic expression of generosity. It is the capacity to use abundance for the common good. When we give of our goods or services we support the wellbeing of the community to which we belong and on which we depend for our own wellbeing.

Receiving is the second aspect of generosity. Receptivity is the openness and grace to receive the generosity that comes to us from others. Those of us that may be givers may not be willing to accept the support that comes our way. This is a cause of depletion and can lead to resentment.

Or, maybe we are going so fast that we don't notice the generosity that is right under our nose?

Creativity

Exercising the brain is also a source of vitality. There is an excitement that comes with the creative process that fires enthusiasm in individuals and groups.

Creativity demands our full engagement in solving problems or inventing new things that are meaningful and useful. Original thinking stimulates us to look at our lives and work from different points of view. It takes us out of our routines and demands that we think for ourselves, and think originally.

The stimulation that comes from new, fun problems to solve, and from new challenges, keeps us vital and involved in life. Without such stimulation, we can easily become mired in boredom and the status quo.

Edward de Bono, the creativity guru, wrote:

"Creativity is a great motivator because it makes people interested in what they are doing. Creativity gives hope that there can be a worthwhile idea. Creativity gives the possibility of some sort of achievement to everyone. Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting."

De Bono is right. When life is fun and interesting, the creative fires fuel vitality.

Fun

Another important source of vitality is fun. Monotony and routine can suck the life from us. Injecting some fun and play into our lives — at work, in our important relationships, and in social and recreational settings — is also restorative.

Fun is a by-product of deep engagement in activities that we love. It also arises from spontaneity and humor. The word humor means, "to moisten."

Laughter, the expression of fun, prevents us from getting dried up and brittle. A good laugh, shared between friends, is refreshing and restores a sense of proportion and balance in our lives. It also relaxes physical stress and tension in the body, boosts the immune system, releases endorphins and improves circulation and the functioning of the heart.

Fun is also presents itself when we try new things. Involvement in unfamiliar pass-times, where we allow ourselves to experiment, learn and make mistakes, can lead to a renewed experience of being alive. That sense of fun revitalizes us.

Rest

Taking time out to rest is a source of vitality that seems so obvious, why mention it?

Because a lot of us are failing to do it!

We have become so fearful of being away from the workplace, or so addicted to its intensity that we often refuse to take the time we need to recharge our own batteries.

Taking a day off here and there provides some rest but fails to provide the concentrated time that the body needs to fuel its own vitality.

When you add to that the sleep deprivation that many of us experience, there are some serious health risks that are posed by chronic fatigue.

Recent research from the Harvard Women's Health Watch identify six risks from lack of proper rest:

  • Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who'd slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  • Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  • Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
  • Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  • Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body's killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

Asking For Help

The last support to vitality is asking for help. Many of us struggle with the load at home or work without reaching for assistance. It seems that we would rather swallow our own tongue than ask for help.

Often we have constructed very sophisticated rationalizations for this pattern of self-abuse, including the belief that it will take longer to instruct others than it will to do the work ourselves.

Of course, this may be true in the short run. Over the longer term, though, it is a failure of leadership not to seek support. We become a bottleneck.

We also prevent equitable workloads from happening by failing to train others. This habit disempowers our co-workers, subordinates and family members. It also seals our fate as victims of overwork.

If we consistently fail to ask for help, we must face some hard questions about why. Do we need to have control? Do we mistrust those around us? Or are we avoiding other things and hiding in an addiction to work?

 Those that have difficulty asking for help usually find themselves burned out and angry with everyone around them. Taking a hard look at the cause of overwork might open up the possibility for more support. That and making specific requests about what help is required.

 

Vitality is a resource that requires careful stewardship. A personal energy crisis can be avoided by taking measures that add to your enjoyment of life and support your engagement with what is most important to you.

As cultural anthropologist Carlos Castaneda reminds us:

 "To be young and vital is nothing. To be old and vital is sorcery."

Posted on May 23, 2013 .