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9 Energy Hacks to Stay Motivated When You’re Exhausted

9 Energy Hacks to Stay Motivated When You’re Exhausted

Americans work a lot. The vast majority of us go above and beyond the typical 9-5, Monday-Friday routine, working between 45-55 hours per week. So when energy starts to lag and the day gets that much longer, most of us turn to chemicals and quick fixes to get the boost we need. It’s hard to stay motivated.

But in the long term, the second (or third) cup of coffee, the after-lunch 5-hour energy shot, or the bag of peanut M&Ms you down at 3 A.M. are doing more harm than good. You’re cheating yourself with sugar and caffeine.

Fortunately, there are other energy hacks you can implement that will work as well, if not better than, the elevator-Snickers at way past go to bed time. Here are nine such hacks to stay motivated and how to implement them into your schedule starting this week.

Screen Detox Before Bed

We are hard wired to sync up with the light cycles around us. So when our brains are fully stimulated for hours up until the minute we lay down to sleep, it’s that much harder to get a good night’s sleep and in turn stay focused the next day. Even if you fall asleep immediately, the quality of sleep is low.

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To avoid this and ensure you get the full night of quality sleep you need to jump out of bed refreshed, avoiding screens for 1-2 hours before bed every night. Better yet, when you wake up also avoid looking at your phone for 30 minutes to an hour. You’ll feel more relaxed and more energized, reducing those mid-day crashes.

What a Good Breakfast Looks Like

For years you’ve heard that you need breakfast to start the day properly, but most of us do it incorrectly. We either cram something down real quick so that we feel like we’ve covered our bases or we wait too long.

Your body doesn’t need 1,000 calories first thing in the morning. A banana and a large glass of water will get you moving much faster than a sugar-laden donut. Small snacks until lunch will keep you moving at a steady pace until your next meal.

Visualize Your Day with Clear End Goals

Visualization is a powerful technique used by many of the world’s most successful people. The human mind processes images thousands of times faster than any other form of stimuli, to the point that if you visualize yourself completing a task, your body will respond as if you did.

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Michael Phelps has famously visualized tens of thousands of races he never swam. So effective was his habit that when his goggles filled with water during an Olympic final, he not only finished the race, he won in record time.

Listen to (the right) Music While Working

Music can motivate and push us through spells of low energy, but you could be listening to the wrong kind of music. Music with human voices can keep you from 100% focusing on what you are doing – it’s how we’re wired.

Classical music, instrumentals and even techno or EDM are better suited for work. For a service that takes this to the next level, check out Focus@Will, an app and web service that plays continuous productivity focused music in these styles.

A Twenty Minute Focus Hack

One of the most famous hacks in productivity circles is the Pomodoro technique. Put simply, this requires that you focus intently for 20 minutes on a given task and then take a five minute break. There are software tools that will help you do this, tapping into the natural timeframe your mind is willing to sit still and focus on one action.

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Not only does the Pomodoro technique engage you in much greater stretches of focus, it also forces you to break up your tasks and goals into bite sized chunks – which itself has been shown to have many positive benefits.

Build a To Do List You Can Trust

A good To Do List is the cornerstone of productivity. One of the most famous “To Do List gurus” is David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. The basic idea behind this philosophy is that when something comes up, you write it down and place it in your “inbox”. At set intervals during the day, you review your inbox and categorize tasks accordingly – either doing them, delegating them, or scheduling them for later.

When you do this consistently, you reach a point at which you can fully trust your to do list – putting the stress of remembering what’s next out of your brain entirely.

Go For a (Short) Jog

Physical exercise does a LOT of things for the mind – too many to list here. It releases endorphins, reduces cortisol levels, stimulates muscles and nerves, and keeps your brain active. In short, even if it makes you physically tired, good exercise will jump start the brain. A good mid-day jog will keep you going through the toughest schedule.

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Patch Together a Standing Desk

Sitting is bad for productivity. Your body actually changes both chemically and physically when you sit down, and the result for many people is a less focused, lower energy level, even if they follow every other tip in this article.

Hence the recent popularity in standing desks. But standing desks can be very expensive. So if you want to give it a go without investing in a custom built desk, build one yourself. You can either follow the instructions here or grab a spare filing cabinet on top of which you can place your monitor and keyboard.

Give Your Mind a Jumpstart Mid-Day

At a certain point, your mind is going to get distracted. Whether it’s a repetitive task or a midday crash, you’re going to find it hard to get back into the swing of things at a certain point.

Changing venues, going for a walk, talking to a co-worker, or running up and down the stairs can break you out of whatever loop you’re currently stuck in and jump start your mind enough to get back into the swing of things.

Not every tip above will work as quickly or as effectively as a quick shot of caffeine for everyone. But if you start making small changes to your lifestyle to match this list, you’ll almost certainly see results that will allow you to get more done with your day.

Featured photo credit: Check List/Gerardo Hernández Arias via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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