Do you ever have one of those days when you felt “in the zone” and on top of your game? And others when you felt more like the mythical Sisyphus endlessly pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down? At the root of our feeling in the zone or not is energy.
Energy can be explained in terms of type – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. But it also can be interpreted in terms of quantity – high or low – and quality – positive or negative. Optimum performance is only available in one of the possible combinations, high positive mental and emotional energy.
High negative mental and emotional energy is where fear resides along with anger and feeling like a victim. It is a state of mind where little thinking is possible because it is dominated by emotions and feelings. In other words, we do not think here we just react. The culprit here is cortisol which in effect shuts down our immune system along with our mental capacity. The resulting turmoil slams us mentally as well as physically because our sense of danger and our physical senses share the same neural pathways.
Low negative emotional and physical energy is a place of depression, lethargy and apathy and our ability to perform at all, let alone well, is strictly jeopardized. Low positive mental and emotional energy on the other hand is a place of relaxation, a state in our crazy busy world we access far too little because we are too busy being busy. We turn into human doings, not human beings.
In his latest book, “You Can Be Excellent at Anything”, Tony Schwartz maintains that achieving high positive emotional and mental energy is the ideal but should not be sustained for long periods of time. Our bodies, he explains, follow circadian rhythms which are normal sleeping and waking cycles. Feeling tired from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm for most people is a natural part of the circadian cycle. This cycle dictates two sleep periods during a 24 hour period – one for 7 to 8 hours and the second for 30 minutes, the so-called “power nap.”
We fight fatigue in the afternoon with stimulants like coffee or “power drinks” when a nap would help us relax and restore high mental and emotional energy. Similarly, ultradian rhythms in the body cycle every 90 to 120 minutes. As a result, writes Schwartz, a good strategy for maintaining peak performance is to focus on a single task for 90 minutes, then take a relaxation break – maybe a quick walk around the block – then tackle another task on your schedule.
Building your schedule around a focus, relax, focus cycle will honor the circadian and ultradian rhythms around which your body and mind normally function and will help you lead a more energetic life in the zone. Who knows, you might even get more done than you do now.
In some societies and cultures it may be permissible to tune out for 30-45 minutes for a nap in the afternoon to restore your energetic self. In other more driven cultures such naps may be frowned upon. Here is some advice if you want to try the napping technique. When the boss comes round to ask for that report or whatever and comments on your sleep cycle, just tell the boss that “while you may not look busy on the surface, at a molecular level things are pretty hectic.” Good luck.