In January, I Hit a Wall. Here's How I Got My Energy Back.

May 2, 2017

Tony Schwartz is the CEO of The Energy Project. And yet, a few months ago, he was out of energy.

Early in January, I hit a wall.

Over the previous year, I had set out to completely reshape The Energy Project, the company I run, and change is rarely easy. At mid-year, I got drawn into the presidential campaign, and it consumed a great deal of my time and emotional energy. And then, on January 1, my younger brother suffered a severe stroke. On the weekends, I began to travel back and forth between New York and Boston to be with him and his family.   

All this came back to me as I created a LinkedIn Learning course about managing personal energy – and served as a humbling reminder of just how connected personal renewal is to performance, not just for our clients, but also for me. 

During 2016, here are a few of the things that fell out of my life: 

  • Getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night, which I need to feel fully rested and alert.
  • Working out regularly, as I had done religiously for decades. 
  • Taking weekends off, and real vacations during which I completely disconnect from work, and from the Internet.
  • Patience

Here’s what I added during this stressful period:

  • A lot of sugar in my diet, mostly in the form of sweets.
  • A dozen unwanted pounds. 

As CEO of The Energy Project – as our Chief Energy Officer – I had always prided myself on walking our talk, and serving as a role model for the core practices we teach our clients. I knew that even people with the best intentions can fall off the wagon, but I believed I knew too much about the consequences to ever let that happen. 

In my talks and workshops, I often tell the story of the boiling frog experiment. It goes like this: If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it immediately jumps out. Hardly a surprise. If you then cool the water down to room temperature and throw the frog back in, it stays there, swimming happily. Again, no surprise. 

But if you slowly heat the water up, until it reaches boiling again, something counterintuitive occurs. Rather than jump out, the frog eventually cooks. It’s called adaptation. Because the heat increases gradually, the frog eventually stops noticing. It goes numb to the changes it should be experiencing. 

“How,” I ask audiences, “are you the boiling frog?”

Over the course of last year, I was so busy trying to get by that I stopped noticing the heat was rising – until it got so bad that I felt I couldn’t go forward. 

That feeling of inner emptiness is what finally got my attention. I decided to immediately take two weeks off, stay home, and devote the time entirely to taking better care of myself.

Just having the unfettered opportunity to slow down made a huge difference. I got more than 8 hours of sleep every night, and I took a nap each afternoon – likely making up for the accumulated exhaustion of the previous year.

I began each day by working out, which made me feel better and stronger, but also reminded me how much pushing myself physically is relaxing mentally and emotionally.

I cut sugar almost entirely from my diet. After battling through a couple days of craving, I began to feel significantly better physically, and my mood stabilized. Finally, I consciously chose to do activities that I enjoy – most of all ballroom dancing. 

I returned to work feeling better than I had in more than a year.

In our work with clients, we’ve discovered that skillfully managing your physical energy – sleep, above all – often has a dramatic impact on the other dimensions of our energy: emotional (more control over how you feel), mental (more control of your attention) and even spiritual (a more powerful sense of purpose). 

Given the high speed of our lives, the torrent of information to which we’re constantly exposed, and the ever-increasing demands we each face, few of us take the time to notice what’s going on inside us, and how that influences the way we show up, on and off the job. 

It has been nearly three months since my vacation, and the systematic recommitment to taking care of myself has proved to be a terrific investment. I’m sleeping at least 8 hours a night, I’ve cut back the sugar in my diet dramatically, I’m working out regularly and lost those dozen pounds I put on. 

My most important lesson? You can’t change what you don’t notice. And you won’t notice until you make noticing a priority.   

Tony Schwartz is the CEO and founder of The Energy Project. You can watch his LinkedIn Learning course on managing your energy for sustainable high performance for free.