Getting past the energy crisis

Proper form is essential to avoid injury and build strength
Proper form is essential to avoid injury and build strength

I’ve been in a bit of an energy crisis, over the winter. I just haven’t felt like doing anything much, and I’ve felt my energy waning. I haven’t been exercising as I should. I do ride my exercise bike in the mornings pretty regularly (it’s rare that I don’t, which is good), but I haven’t been lifting or swimming as much as I should be.

I start, then I feel tired and sore, and my motivation gives out.

So, I stop lifting… I stop swimming… and then I feel even worse.

The thing is, when I DO exercise — lifting and swimming and stretching — I actually feel great all day. And my energy is great. It’s just getting myself to actually do the initial work, that’s the problem.

But now it’s springtime. And with the days being longer, I feel my energy returning. I’m a real “sun person”. I love to be in it (within reason, so I don’t get sunburned or drained by the heat). And despite my sometimes painful light sensitivity, I love the sight of sunlight brightening the world around me. It just makes all the difference, as does a few extra hours of sunlight each day.

But with my energy being as low as it has been, it’s hard to work up the enthusiasm to make the most of it. Energy is a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more of it I have, the more I get… the less of it I feel, the less of it I can generate. And even if I want with all my heart to “kick it”, if I don’t have the strength and the energy and resources to do it… well, it doesn’t happen.

So, I have to do something. I need my physical body to support the wishes and desires of my mind and heart, and without conditioning, that’s not going to happen. Keeping in shape is about more than keeping the pounds off and looking good. It’s about keeping myself as functional as possible — getting myself to a place where the strength of my body is on par with the drive of my mind. It’s about never giving up, never quitting, always keeping myself functional in ways that actually let me live the life of my choosing.

Just an example: I have water delivered. In those 5-gallon bottles. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, so that’s a 40-pound weight I need to lift intermittently, when I change out the water cooler. It’s never really been a problem for me in the past, but over the last year or so, I’ve had less coordination and strength. It’s been an interesting challenge to A) hoist the weight up, and B) flip it over onto the top of the cooler without dousing everything around it with water.

Normally, I can do it fine. But the last couple of times, I’ve given the nearby shelf a good splash. It’s not that big of a deal, because everything can be dried off. But then it’s one more thing I have to do, and that puts a crimp in my flow. It also annoys the crap out of me. I hate that. I hate being weaker than ever. I hate being uncoordinated. I hate the disheartening sound of water splashing out of the well where it’s supposed to be.

It’s not the end of the world, but it bothers me. And it’s something I can actually fix.

So, it’s time to do something about it. I need to get my behind in gear and get serious about my strength routine. It’s for the sake of being more conditioned and capable, as well as better balance. Plus, I need to be smart about it and not injure myself by doing too much too soon.

Now I’m adding another aspect to my workouts — the mental warmup in the morning, before I get out of bed. I’ve read in a number of places how visualizing physical activity actually primes you to do it properly. The brain simulates the activities before you do them, and that gets the right connections firing.

Here’s an excerpt from Visualization in Sport

Visualization in sport is a training technique that forms a part of the larger science of sports psychology. Visualization is also known as mental imagery and rehearsal. Visualization is used primarily as a training tool, one that improves the quality of athletic movement, increases the power of concentration, and serves to reduce the pressures of competition on the athlete while building athletic confidence.

Visualization occurs when athletes are able to create an image or a series of images relevant to their sport, without any external prompts or stimulation; the images are mentally generated by the athlete alone. Visual images are usually the most important to athletic training and may be employed as the sole mental training method. Athletes may also depend on auditory images (sounds), kinesthetic images (movements), tactile sensations (touch), and purely emotional stimulation, in combination with visualization or as freestanding training aids, as may be appropriate to the effort to elevate the performance of the athlete.

There is a powerful relationship between mental and physical performance in sport. The development of a wide range of mental powers, such as focus and concentration, elevates athletic performance; over-analyzing detracts from the athlete’s ability to react instinctively, an attribute that is usually a more desirable quality than the ability to reason through every sporting circumstance.

Visualization is intended to take the athlete to an image that conveys what perfection represents in the particular aspect of the sport. During visualization, the brain is directing the target muscles to work in a desired way. This direction creates a neural pattern in the brain, a pattern identical to the network created by the actual physical performance of the movements. A neural pattern is similar to diagramming the specific wiring and circuits necessary to transmit an electrical current. Alexander Bain (1818–1903) of Great Britain was the first scientist to develop a theory as to how the brain built such patterns to direct and control repeated physical movement. Numerous researchers since that time have expanded on the concept. Visualization alone will not develop the most effective mechanisms in the brain to later perform the desired action, but physical training coupled with visualization will create better recognition of the required nervous system response than physical training alone.

This technique has been around for a long, long time. And I used to do it, when I was competing in high school sports. Somehow, the practice didn’t always translate properly to my regular life away from sports, and somehow I thought that because my non-athletic visualizations just weren’t working, I was either doing it wrong… or it just doesn’t work.

I’ve modified my beliefs about visualization — down-sized them a bit, you could say. Now, instead of using it to shape my entire life, I’m focusing on visualization of basic physical activities, those very kinesthetic behaviors that actually respond to the brain’s visualizations.

I’m visualizing proper form while I lift weights. I’m thinking about the feeling of my body as it moves the weights up and down, back and forth. I’m visualizing workouts, and I’m imagining how good it feels to do it. And this morning, after I lay in bed for 20 minutes, waking up gradually and thinking through my workout, I felt really good, doing the workout itself. And at the end, it was even more satisfying than ever.

So, this is good. I know I’ve done it before — I’ve started out strong, then I lost my focus and stopped doing the visualizations… and some of the exercise. Part of the problem in the past, is that I would get over-tired, push myself too hard, then get injured, and I’d take time off to heal… and then I’d never get back to my former practice.

I’d just forget about it. As though it didn’t even exist.

And by the time I remembered it, I would be de-conditioned again, and have to start all over.

How demoralizing.

Now, though, it doesn’t feel demoralizing. I feel energized. And I know I’m doing the right thing by taking it easy and just getting used to the motions again. I am working with either very light weights, or no weights at all, to re-develop my kinesthetic and proprioceptive sense. I also have access to a strength trainer at work who consults with employees about exercises and nutrition. So, I’m going to take advantage of that benefit.

I’ll carve out time in my schedule, and I’ll just do it.

Because I can.

Spring is here. Summer’s coming. Then fall. Three seasons — followed by winter, which I actually love. All of them ready for me to get moving into.

Onward.

And now… for my next trick —

When it works, it’s like magic

Two nights in a row of 7+ hours of sleep — I’m feeling pretty positive today, especially since my spouse gets back from their business trip this afternoon. The last two days have been quiet, and I’ve gotten a lot done on different projects, but it’s just not the same, when I’m all alone in the house.

I’m looking at my list of things I was supposed to do, this weekend, and I have had to do a lot of shuffling, because I miscalculated the amount of time just about everything was going to take, and I also got distracted and caught up in things that weren’t even on my list — but should have been.

The yard really needed to be worked on, and the driveway really needed to be cleared out. No question about that. The only thing is, it took me a full day of strenuous activity to get that all in order yesterday, and then I was wiped out — barely had enough energy left to make a late supper and watch some t.v. before going to bed a little before midnight. I didn’t even have the energy to clean up after myself, as I usually do before bed. I just left the dishes in the sink and the living room in disarray, to take care of this morning.

I watched Game 3 of the World Series last night, but I had to turn it off, because I get really amped up by the game and the competition, and then I have a hard time sleeping.

Last night I did not have any trouble getting to sleep. Once I got down, I was down. And even when I woke up at 3 a.m., as I often do these days, I was able to get back to sleep, which was pretty awesome.

Today is another gorgeous day, and I have a few things to do before I head to the airport. One of the things is something I can only do when my spouse is not around, because it is loud and involves power tools, which drive them crazy. I have a few hours to do this work, which I am hoping will be enough time. I have really thought it through, from start to finish, and I am pretty sure about the exact steps I’m going to take, so it should go pretty smoothly.

This is my new technique for getting things done, and it seems to be going really well — based on my past experience (and I have to have past experience for it to work), I envision the process of doing something. I imagine myself doing it, I “feel” myself going through all the steps, and I envision the results of my work. I imagine when and where I might encounter issues, and I figure out how I will solve them. I probably spend about 10 times more time thinking things through than doing them. But when I do it, the results are usually 10 times faster than if I had just waded in and hacked around at what I was doing.

The key is to get started. To take action. To not get stuck in my head while I’m thinking everything through. That’s a real danger with me – I tend to get a bad case of “analysis paralysis”, which stops me from taking the next logical step. But I need to prove out the validity of my suppositions and give them a whirl, to see if I’m on the right track — and adjust anything if necessary.

And when it works, it’s like magic. Everything flows smoothly — like butter — and it almost seems as though there was “nothing to it”. I know differently, though — a whole lot of time and effort and thought and energy goes into making it all look easy. So long as I don’t get stuck in my head.

Unfortunately, Analysis Paralysis is where I’ve been stuck with one of my projects for about 6 weeks. I was making really great progress, then I stalled. Got stuck. Flamed out. I totally fried my system, because I was going-going-going about 200 mph for months on end, with this one project. Yeah, I made incredible progress. But I also fried my system, to the point where I was having almost constant tremors, I was exhausted all the time, and I was borderline delirious.

I kept it together on the outside, but people close to me were worried.

So was I.

Anyway, I’ve reset my internal system, rebooted, and I have a much better plan for how to move forward — just do a little something everyday. Not a ton of things. Not everything. Just a little something, here and there. That way, I can make the most of my time AND not overwhelm myself with All The Things That Need To Get Done.

Speaking of which, it’s time to get going, test out my current plan to see if it works and then finish this one job… to make room for the next bunch of things I need to do.

Onward

Next visualization of the day – sleep

Long day, full of good stuff and irritating stuff. Didn’t get everything done that I intended to, but I made a decent dent.

Tired, now, and ready to pack it in.

I see myself … asleep. 😉

Good night.

Mental rehearsal for the day

It’s all in there

Today I have a bunch of things I need to get done, among them having a quick nap in the afternoon. I didn’t get enough sleep again last night, and I’m really dragging. I have a lot I have to get done, and I’ll need to refuel at some point. So onward. Until I need to refuel.

I am using what I learned about mental training the other day, and mentally rehearsing a meeting I have in 30 minutes… I can see myself doing well, being patient, helping and contributing and doing a good job. I’ve had good experiences in the past, and I’m hoping this will be one, too. No, not hoping — planning. And preparing. There’s no “hoping” here — just getting ready to do what I need to do.

I’m also visualizing myself answering all my emails and finishing up on some things that have been hanging around waiting to get done. I have a bunch of things like that — and I may take some time this weekend to get them all squared away, so I can have a freed-up schedule next week — well, freed up of the things that have been hanging around — they’ll very likely be replaced by another ton of stuff, starting Monday morning.

Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), some of the folks in my group will be traveling next week, so I’ll have the chance to run things a little more like I’d like to see them run. It’ll give me a chance to un-cramp my style. At least, that’s what I’m visualizing. I get to run things for three days. Again, this needs preparation. Goals, visualization, self-talk, and — perhaps most importantly — arousal control.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those Big Four components of Navy SEAL mental training, and it makes more and more sense each day. Obviously, I’m nowhere near their level of performance, and the “threats” I react to on a daily basis are mostly manufactured by my flawed perception and reactions, not the real (shoot-to-kill) world at large. But the effect of these “threats” is similar — it still feels like life and death, sometimes. And what makes it even more stressful is logically knowing that these are not a big deal, but my body is telling me they are. It can make a person crazy, it can.

So, work it out, work it out…

  • Goal-setting
  • Mental rehearsal
  • Self-talk
  • Arousal control

I feel like God/the universe/the cosmos/fate put these in my path, so I should really make the most of them. Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, shall we?

Oh, look – the day is waiting… time to make the visualizations into reality. Enough rehearsing. Time to live.

Navy SEALs Mental Training Video

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ju4FojRkEKU%5D

The “Big 4” Components of Navy SEALs Mental Training

  1. Goal Setting – pick a goal, a “small chunk” of an overall goal, and focus on meeting it
  2. Mental Rehearsal (visualization) – see yourself doing what you going about to do, and see yourself succeeding
  3. Self-Talk – keep positive to override the negative effects of the Amygdala
  4. Arousal Control – use long, slow breaths to quiet down the effects of fight-flight

Now, to see how I might use these same principles in combination to improve my own responses to perceived “threats” in my life…