Your energy is low. Your vitality is meh. And motivation? You get done what you need to get done but, really, not much else. Sound familiar? If you’re like virtually everyone else then, chances are, the answer is a resounding yes. And, equally likely, you’ve accepted this sluggishness and general meandering as the new normal — everyone feels this way, right?
I was right there with you — I felt like life was moving in the right direction and there was no need to rock the boat. Then, while on vacation at an idyllic retreat in the Filipino jungle, everything changed. After spending days relaxing and recharging, with little more than an odd yoga class and quick dip in the pool to distract us, I noticed a change. I had numb patches on my forehead, a rash down my right leg, and every bone ached. I hot-footed it back to Manila and hopped a flight home to the UK, where I rushed to the doctor, sure I’d contracted some strange tropical virus. What did I have? The doctor shrugged — there are a lot of viruses that modern medicine simply hasn’t discovered yet. Not exactly reassuring.
Also not reassuring were the months that followed — months spent in bed, with my job as a TV presenter on hold indefinitely. I couldn’t leave the house or, even, the bed most days. I couldn’t work out, couldn’t go out, and couldn’t do much of anything. After three hellish months I started to improve. I eased myself back into exercise and eventually into the working world — but this time, I vowed, things would be different. This time I wouldn’t accept the lackluster days and diminishing energy. This time I wouldn’t accept anything less than total focus, motivation, and vitality.
As my health rallied, I started a podcast called Zestology designed to keep me on track. Through the podcast I would, essentially, be putting myself out there and relying on listeners to keep me honest and on track. My goal? Try out all kinds of lifestyle hacks that promised the vitality I was looking for. I tapped some of the best experts and, hands down, tried out some crazy new health trends and technology designed to boost performance, energy, and everything in between.
And what happened? My energy levels started going up, up, up. Great, for sure, but since I was doing so much I never quite knew what was working and what wasn’t. I started tracking religiously, noting trends as I went. What supplements had I taken? What tech had I integrated? Yoga? Mindfulness? Better sleep?
Nine months later some key trends began to appear — seven trends that, ultimately, became the foundation of Zestology and, more importantly, of living life with greater energy, vitality, and motivation. To save you thousands of notes, observations, and random musings, here’s what they all boil down to — the seven lifestyle hacks that, together, can help give you the boost you’re no doubt seeking.
(Keep in mind my percentages and various rankings are self-reported, so I encourage you to track for yourself and see what’s working best. Not only will you have critical trend data but, at the same time, you’ll gain some serious accountability from, simply, writing it all down.)
1. Switch off.
The big secret appears to be switching off. The more I escaped technology during the day, the more energy I had. When I escaped screens for a big chunk of time — more than eight hours or so — my energy level was about 20 percent higher.
2. Focusing on relaxing.
Making a big effort to relax during the day led to significant improvements overall. On the days I recorded high relaxation — true “alpha state” — levels, my daily energy level was 9.9 percent higher.
3. Exercise works.
Going to the gym raised my average daily energy level by 5.4 percent.
4. So does yoga.
A yoga class was also energizing, increasing my daily average by 5 percent.
5. Find the right supplements for you.
The most effective supplement for my energy was transdermal magnesium, which increased daily energy levels by 2.1 percent. Not as big an increase as I had hoped but definitely something. I thought at least one supplement I took would provide a “magic pill” effect and a much higher success rate, but evidently not.
6. Fun counts.
When I organized lots of fun activities in my day, I made a note of it. I measured this by giving myself a “fun” score out of 10. When there was very little “fun” on a particular day (below 5/10), my daily energy level was down 21.6 percent.
7. Don’t forget about sleep.
Sleeping fewer than 6 hours and 30 minutes a night decreased daily energy by an average of 7 percent. Sleeping 7½ hours gave me an average increase of 2.3 percent. I was surprised that exercise had a more significant positive impact on my energy than sleep duration, but sleep deprivation's negative effects were greater.
There were plenty of other interesting (and some unsurprising) results not included here. For example, on the days I drank alcohol, my perceived average energy level was up 0.5 percent. On the day after drinking alcohol it was down 2 percent.
Disclaimer: Obviously this data is subjective. Some of the things that affect energy levels go hand in hand, or may be correlative without being causal. For example, I might be less likely to do exercise the day after drinking. Is it the lack of exercise or the hangover that negatively affects my energy level? I’m not a scientist, and this isn’t a randomized, double-blind research trial.
All I know is I have a pretty good template for living with more energy in the future — and the results speak for themselves. My takeaways? Have more fun, exercise, relax (when you can), and spend way less time in front of screens. It’s easy to pop a multitude of pills and supplements every morning, but, according to my research, making lifestyle improvements is the quickest way to living with more zest.
And the biggie, of course, is using technology to improve our lives but not to rule them. On a day-to-day basis, many of us now spend more time gazing into screens than we do into the eyes of human beings. Escaping the screens may be the secret to living with more energy and vitality.