Mental Energy

It’s hard to say “energy”, in a real sentence with real people, and not come off as pretentious; or weird. I know because I’ve tried—saying “energy” in conversation—and I’ve been called pretentious, and weird.

And unemployed.

Which is fine. I’m just going to make a quick preface now, to hopefully avoid any of that know-it-all, earthy pretense.

Preface:

  1. In younger, pre-Sunnie years, I would say “energy” to sound cooler and to maybe impress people or girls with tattoos. I would follow up energy with a long, drawn out “mannnn” or put my right hand in a thumb-pinky extension—“hang-loose”.
  2. I don’t do that anymore. I will wear a runner’s fanny pack and/or remark about its “runnability”, though, to sound and look cooler.
  3. “Energy”, in this blog post—basically anything after this sentence—will describe/encapsulate one definition: the measurable matter (small, small stuff) that exists within in our bodies; shaped by our physical movement and our mental cognition.
  4. I made that definition up. I need you to respect that, and then know that that definition, along with a two-toned neon runner’s fanny pack, at this point in my life, are really all I have that make me cool.
  5. If you’re confused and this preface failed, think thoughts are things. You’ve heard that before. It describes the actual physical/measurable impact our thinking and our attitude can have on our bodies, and on others. When I say “energy” I’m basically referencing that.
  6. I’ll hit “mental energy” at the end.

During a longer run a few months back, I remember feeling very strained. It was a unique strain, though, which is why it stuck out and why I’m recalling it now.

It wasn’t my legs or my lungs that were fatigued, but rather, my whole body and whole cognition. In a weird way, I couldn’t direct any energy or focus where I wanted (legs, core, feet). I wasn’t aware until after the run, but, listening to a podcast, thinking about the upcoming work week, and pondering if in fact it really does happen to most guys, were all not aiding my run. Contrarily, and as I’m sure you probably guessed, they were taking away that very energy I needed.

Once home, after stumbling through the last few miles and really just using aggressive self-talk/degradation as my fuel, I took to my balcony to rest; and read. Letting you know where I decided to rest, and read, isn’t important, either, but I wanted you to know I have a luxury condo (balcony)… “Altered Traits” was the book I was reading at that time and I now realize it was pretty neat coincidence that that’s what I was reading, after that run.

In a pretty brutal attempt to summarize the book and note its relevance—in one sentence—a team of neuroscientists conducted tests and collected the data of meditation practitioners (wide-ranging: novice, intermediate, bald monk) that quantified the alteration and impact of both meditation and specific thinking upon the brain and body.

What we think—mindful meditation is main focus of the book, but they examine the power of all types of thought and focus—impacts us in two ways: 1) it can measurably impact our chemistry and wiring (greater production of neurotransmitters, regulation of stress hormones, help keep us away from Tik Tok) and, 2) thinking and non-thinking alike (cough—mindful meditation—cough) both use and preserve energy.

(#2 is the important takeaway in this instance, for this post.)

As I was running that day, struggling, I realized that what was going on in my head was affecting my body, and my performance. It seems so simple of a connection, but so many of us overlook our mental energy and how it is a resource just like everything else, like everything physical. We think—I definitely did—that what happens between our ears does not register as anything corporeal, leaving no footprint or bi-product. But, as it is assuredly a resource, making physical alteration to our brain and bodies, it will also burn fuel. I couldn’t understand why I fatigued so quickly that day, running, until I saw thinking as a thing; a physical thing. When I did, and I truly realized and respected cognition as a bodily influencer—just like physical activity—the lightbulb went off.

Running is physical, and of the body, so it makes sense that something like that will lead to strain. Thinking, and worrying, and wondering, are mental, but the mind is connected to the body. Mental energy is of currency just like everything else, and the way we use it, dictates the vitality we can access, the way in which we can live.

F*ck.

That was a lot, and maybe a little incoherent. Writing that, trying to concisely stress a heavier point like the mind-body connection, makes me appreciate how good real journalists and real scientists are. But they probably can’t run marathons and/or execute an extend-o-straw bar trick (fasten 20 plus plastic straws end to end, place over shoulder of oblivious female bar-goer, suction drink until she becomes aware, initiate playful conversation), so I’ll stand behind that.

Here are a few things—bulleted—related to the understanding of mental energy that help me daily to live in greater health; also a better runner:

  • Singular Focus:
    • Whatever I’m doing, I’m trying to do that. Multi-tasking, if you’re bouncing back and forth between multiple tasks and thoughts, is absolutely crushing your energy. When you move back and forth between things, or scroll, your brain and nervous system are forced to focus on one thing, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then you become a Kardashian. Social Media is not a bad thing—many vehicles of it are great tools—but using it without a singular focus stresses your brain which in turn will exhaust tons of energy to keep up. Lock into whatever you are doing. If you need to switch work/thought, maybe check an email or revisit another task you have lined up for the day, make a simple mental proclamation that you are moving to another singular task. Do not keep both tasks in the mind’s awareness. that’s vampire energy.
  • Present Focus:
    • Thoughts are things; things that affect your body. If you are doing something in the present (everything you do is in the present, if you aren’t sure) and thinking about the past or future, you are taking away energy from whatever you are doing, i.e. running while thinking about if your mother is going to register your personal phone number on a national healthcare site, victimizing you to 8 million calls a day*. Your performance will suffer, as you are taking away resources of energy that could otherwise be solely directed to whatever it is you are doing.
  • Bedside List:
    • One more time: thoughts are things. Going to bed with a lot on your mind will impair your sleep and the many regenerative benefits of sleep. In an anxious, thinking state, your body responds in chemical process. So, write whatever is on your mind down, putting the journal or notecard on your nightstand, and you will remove that thought(s) from your mind-body system. You can make fun of me for the neon runner’s fanny pack, but not for this. This is a gamechanger, and something I know can help you enter into deeper, more restful sleep, quicker.
  • No Music/Podcasts on Long Runs:
    • I know most people reading this aren’t training for endurance events, and this isn’t that applicable of a tip, but it’s a powerful example illuminating mental energy. When I run, for long, extended periods of time, I do not listen to music or podcasts. Thanks to wearable technology (Whoop), I have measurable proof that I perform better in a singular state. Listening and processing subject matter of podcasts, and even the lyrics of music, are things that require energy—running 20 miles demands enough energy as it is. I’ve found that when I focus solely on my breath (or stride) and landscape, I am much fresher, for much longer. Science shows that to be true.
  • No Phone for #2’s
    • You get it. I’m a high fiber guy, so these moments of my day really do require singular focus.

*She did.

What I’m getting at, is, basically, if you think I’m a bad texter, or have ignored you, I’m just conserving my mental energy.

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