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Energy and vitality are often used as buzzwords around an office, but why are they especially important for leadership? Ask yourself, do people want to follow someone who is exhausted all the time? The answer is probably no, and exhaustion and fatigue in leaders generally affect everyone else in the work environment--and not in a good way.
If you really think about the amount of energy you have available each day, do you think you’d be at 100%? Or, would you be on the opposite end, basically dragging yourself out of bed? Or, maybe you’re in the middle, getting things done but wondering how you could have more energy during the day.
According to science, energy is the ability to do work, and vitality refers to the state of being strong and active. However, some people start the day without feeling strong and ready to work. They feel fatigued, but they force themselves to continue until they crash. Then, they are burned out and ready to quit.
It’s as if someone was trying to take a long road trip without ever stopping to refuel or recharge the car. It simply doesn’t work. We need to stop and take care of the car to continue the journey. As much as many people don’t want to hear it, we must stop and take care of our bodies and minds.
It has become the norm to push ourselves to continue to work. We push past the warnings from our body and brain and, instead, try to accomplish one more thing. Unfortunately, things don’t seem to have improved lately--even with the work-from-home trend pushed forward by the Coronavirus.
A survey from 2020 found that of those who had transitioned from the office to the home, 55% were working extra on the weekend to keep up with their required workload. 34% of respondents said they regularly worked more than 8 hours a day.
In Japan, there is even a word, ‘karoshi’, which means ‘death from overworking’. As leaders, we must encourage our employees to find a balance between work and living life. We cannot enhance our performance if we are always tired and stressed out. Our brain and body will eventually fail, leaving us without some of our most valuable resources.
If we neglect ourselves to work more, our thinking and actions may be out of sync, and it might take us longer to react or find solutions to a problem. The idea of mental vitality, beyond physical vitality, has been linked to cardiovascular health. In one research study, people who scored higher on the Mental Vitality Scale were less likely to be stricken with cardiovascular conditions, highlighting the importance of having both physical and mental vitality.
We now have technology that can accurately assess how integrated our minds and bodies are. Neurofeedback training may soon become a regular part of your routine check-up, which now typically focuses on physical health. Stimulating your brain can help revive your energy and vitality to increase your overall performance as a neuroleader.
Learning how the brain functions when we operate in a leadership capacity can help us optimise our actions. EEG (electroencephalography) technology can help us understand what may be going on in terms of our brain waves and emotional state.
Combining good physical health with good management of our brain health will ensure proper integration to support performance. Research has shown how the brains of high-performing individuals are more integrated compared to their average-performing peers.
Workers today are more productive than ever, so we know people are working harder. According to the Economic Policy Institute, productivity has increased 61.8% from 1979 to 2020. Workers are expected to do more with less while not taking proper lunch breaks, getting enough sleep or having time to exercise or just relax.
Living like this can drain our most precious asset--our energy. At some point, we have to face reality and the consequences of living this way. While our work is important, it should not overshadow other aspects of being a human- companionship, time to relax, time to create art and music, and just living and enjoying life.
In the short term, we may become moody, grumpy and snap at people around us. This behaviour can drastically impact our relationships with others, both at work and at home. Our social lives may also suffer because who wants to be around someone who is always short-tempered?
People may ‘fake it til they make it’ at work, but then they go off on their partners, children and pets at home. They cannot keep up the act in their personal lives, and the people they value the most (friends and family) are hurt.
Long-term consequences are even more profound because, at some point, our physical and mental health will be affected. Continually pushing yourself without understanding how energy is generated can lead to disease.
If this sounds like your life, it is time to stop. Take a break, sit comfortably and focus on yourself in a practice called interoception. This means you notice your physical body and feel your emotions. Listen to your heart beating and focus on the rhythm of your breath.
Many people find it easy to practise this with their eyes closed, minimising distractions. Our brain and major organs are constantly relaying information back and forth, and when we stop and listen to our bodies, we can start to understand how we are truly feeling.
Stop for a moment and breathe. Follow the exercise above, and try to listen to your body and mind. Then ask yourself…how do I feel at this moment in time?
If you aren’t sure how to answer that question, you probably need some practice. Doing exercises like interoception will make you more aware of what is going on within. Then, you can set up strategies to help regain your energy when you notice yourself becoming fatigued.
In recent years, neuroscientists have realised that a critical function of interoception is to signal the body’s energy status, which can help us develop the behaviours we need to renew our energy resources.
For example, if a meeting is particularly tense, and we recognise the tension in ourselves, we could go for a walk to reset our brains. Once we are relaxed, we will be better able to face the next tasks we need to accomplish. Otherwise, we will carry that tension with us throughout the day until it becomes overwhelming.
When you take the time to cleanse your physical body of accumulated stress and toxicity, you are rewarded with increased vitality and optimal health.
From a leadership perspective, most people want to follow leaders who are energetic, dynamic and full of vitality. People will not be inspired or enthusiastic about working for leaders who are always tired, in a bad mood or apathetic.
Once we learn how to assess our energy levels, what can we do to maintain them? Consider these ideas to help increase your vitality and energy.
We must take care of ourselves because if we do not, who will? The sooner we establish healthy habits, the better we look and feel. Having an abundance of energy is possible, but only with significant lifestyle changes. Aren’t you ready to feel more energetic at work and home?
Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute
Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.
Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.
Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership
In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.
Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.
Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.