How to optimize your energy (7 Power Habits)


“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.” – Dr. Jim Loehr

What to do

Optimize your energy with 7 power habits.

Why it works

DrJim Loehr is a performance psychologist, speaker, and bestselling author known for his work in the field of human performance and well-being. One of his most successful books is The Power of Full Engagement, which he co-authored with Tony Schwartz. The book’s main argument is that managing energy is more important for high performance than managing time. Specifically, it argues that balancing and renewing four energy sources — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual — is essential for achieving sustainable high performance.

The book has greatly influenced how I think about performance, and I highly recommend reading it. If you want to start optimizing your energy today, there’s a different, highly actionable conception of energy: autonomic arousal. Our autonomic arousal underpins our energy (and stress) levels – and it is regulated by our autonomic nervous system. This system has two main subsystems: the sympathetic “alertness” system and the parasympathetic “calmness” system. 

When thinking about energy this way, we can put our energetic state on a continuum from highly stressed to deeply asleep (see figure below). We’re on that continuum as long as we’re alive. When the sympathetic nervous system is highly active, we’re very stressed. When the calmness system is highly active, we’re deeply asleep. For most waking activities, the sweet spot is in the middle. Our alertness and calmness systems are in balance; our level of autonomic arousal is moderately high, and we’re both alert and calm. Here are 7 power habits that will help you spend much of your day at the sweet spot of being alert and calm — and fall deeply asleep at night.

How to do it

1) Get light right. This is vital for optimizing your cortisol and melatonin levels. You’ll have more energy during the day and fall deeply asleep quicker at night. To do so, use our 10-10-10 rule: Get 10 minutes of sunlight into your eyes before 10 am & avoid bright, blue light after 10 pm. Learn more about the 10-10-10 rule here.

2) Exercise. You’ll boost your energy to the optimal levels – while keeping stress in check for up to 24 (!) hours. No time for a run or hitting the gym? Don’t despair. A 10-minute brisk walk goes a long way. As a bonus, you’ll get your sunlight (see #1). To dive deeper into how exercise improves your energy, mood and productivity, read this.

3) Cold exposure. A cold shower kickstarts your energy – by increasing dopamine, the “motivation molecule”, by 250% for hours. That’s the same rise one gets from consuming cocaine. Wild, isn’t it? To avoid cold shock, put safety first: Start your shower nice and warm; then turn it to cold for 30-60 seconds at the end. Learn more about how to safely take cold showers here.

4) Have water (& caffeine). Insufficient hydration causes fatigue and even anxiety. Women need 2 liters and men 3 liters a day. For better sleep at night, drink most of your water in the first 10 hours of the day. For caffeine, quantity and timing matter: first, up to 400 mg are fine (that’s two regular cups); second, stay away from caffeine in the last 8 hours before bed. You’ll avoid destroying your deep sleep. To learn more about water and caffeine, read this.

5) Get some deep rest. The afternoon slump is a phase of low energy that occurs between 1 pm and 3 pm for most of us. Want to beat that slump? Try 10-30 minutes of non-sleep deep rest (NSDR). Too busy? Think again. Even Google’s CEO does NSDR on most days. Learn more about three brutally-effective and science-based forms of deep rest here.

6) Exhale deeply. When you’re more alert (read: stressed) than you’d like to be, do a physiological sigh. It’s the quickest and most effective way to activate your calmness system in real time. Start by inhaling fully through the nose for two seconds. Then, add a second inhale through the nose – on top of the first for one – second. Lastly, exhale fully through the mouth for six seconds. This works like a charm. Learn more about the physiological sigh and two related techniques here.

7) Sleep deeply. If you want to spend much of your day being both alert and calm, the most important factor is getting 90 minutes of deep sleep the night before. Habits #1, #4 and #6 will give you a head start. Also, try “intermittent digital fasting” (IDF): put your phone into its own bedroom (not yours!) one hour before bed, and let it “sleep in” for one hour after you wake up. On top of improving your sleep, you’ll win back 14+ hrs of leisure time a week. Learn more about optimizing for deep sleep and IDF in this popular article.

You just learned 7 power habits for optimizing your energy — the fundamental resource of high performance — day in and day out.

Give them a try and let me know how it went.