GIFTEDNESS AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT
As a coach and mentor for gifted people, I spend a lot of my time with clients working on best managing their limited energy in the face of their many desires. They’re often frustrated because they feel they don’t have enough time in a day to pursue all their interests: they have twenty books in a pile next to their bed, and the reading wish list keeps growing; they have four hobby-projects going on in addition to work, family, and relationships; they are learning a language (or several), studying a new discipline, writing a blog, and who knows what else! And they are often doing it all at once, as fast as they can – meaning they’re not getting healthy breaks in their energy, and are pushing through…sometimes to the point of burnout.
I struggled with all the same issues until I learned about how our daily energy patterns work, and how to use them intentionally to manage my desires and needs in more productive and healthy ways. Most of what I learned in this domain came from the work and teachings of Ernest Lawrence Rossi, a psychologist whose research explores how our psychobiological rhythms and mind-body connection influence optimal functioning and self-expression. Through his insights, I was able to discover how making seemingly small changes in my daily rhythms had a major (positive) impact on my productivity, mood, concentration, health and self-image – and significantly reduced the “gifted mind overwhelm” I used to constantly experience. Here’s what I learned, and what I help my clients with:
ULTRADIAN RHYTHMS: OUR DAILY ENERGY CYCLES
As we sleep, our dreams (even if we don’t remember them) follow a pattern: they take place during 10-20 minute periods at intervals of 90-120 minutes. Our daydreams (even if we are not aware of them) follow the same pattern: if we don’t otherwise interrupt ourselves, we naturally fall into a sort of trance-like or daydreamy state for periods of about 10-20 minutes at at intervals of around 90-120 minutes. Essentially, the 90-120 minute intervals are our high-concentration energy cycles and our 10-20 minute daydreamy cycles are our “mental breaks”. On average, if we follow a regular sleep cycle and don’t interrupt our natural mental process during the day, we will have six high energy periods and six “Ultradian Rhythm Breaks” (or “Ultradian Rest Periods”) per day, with the rest of our cycles happening in our sleep.
Ultradian Rhythm Breaks occur when our minds are full or tired and need a rest. This doesn’t mean our minds completely go inactive, but that they go into a more “right-hemisphere” dominant mode of integrating and consolidating the information that we have been taking in during the high-energy or “left-brained” cycle. These periods offer an opportunity for our mind and body to reconnect, communicate, adjust and rebalance – this especially when we are performing extreme intellectual or physical tasks, with our attention to either mind or body being occulted by our extreme focus.
Since energy cycles and Ultradian Rhythms weren’t taught to us in school, and most of us didn’t receive training on psychobiological self-care, most of us don’t know how to observe and respond to these natural patterns in our energy. Fortunately, it’s quite simple to recognize the characteristic signs of the onset of an Ultradian Rest Period: yawning, eye soreness or dryness, mental confusion, information overload, stress, physical discomfort, or sleepiness, among others. It is the moment when our concentration shifts and we seem to move into another dimension, however extreme or subtle that shift may be. This can occur at work, at school, at home, in a conversation, while studying, while reading, while helping our children with homework, and during just about any other concentrated activity one can imagine. It happens often during a dinner with friends, when, after a couple hours of animated discussion, someone goes for a bathroom break, someone else checks their phone, and the table falls into a quiet hush for a few minutes; then, suddenly, after a bit of a break, it seems that everyone gets their energy back and the conversation starts again.
That new burst of energy is the sign of an Ultradian Rest Period ending. Other signs of shifting out of a rest period and back into a high energy phase include a creative insight, a sudden strong desire to pick back up on your work or a task, sudden mental clarity, or any kind of boost or spark of physical, mental, emotional or relational energy. Typically, at that point, returning to your work or to the next task or conversation topic will be motivating, rather than draining, and you’ll approach your work or task with a new, refreshed energy and often key insights that were missing before you took your break.
ULTRADIAN REST PERIODS
Of course, if we are in a rush to learn or accomplish something, it will always be tempting for us to “skip” our natural mind-break. We may let the length of the book, the duration of the meeting, the number of emails, or the needs of those around us determine our rhythm.
In addition, many of us interpret the signs of the onset of an Ultradian Rest Period as signs of personal weakness rather than personal need and try to force ourselves to continue on with the task at hand. In this case, since concentration typically becomes difficult and motivation wanes, the temptation is too often to berate ourselves for our “inability to concentrate” or “lack of motivation.”
Doubt and self-doubt can be unusually high in these moments, as we are tempted to question whether we are getting enough sleep, or are in the right job, or are with the right friends. As gifted people, our mind tends to pile on interpretations and questions, such as, “what is the meaning of this task or relationship?”, “does it matter at all?”, “is there any hope?” and so on. The whole meaning of our existence can be called into question, because, after all, the reasoning goes, if we were rested and happy, wouldn’t we be able to get our tasks done more easily, without so much internal resistance? We can even come to the conclusion that “something is wrong with me”, but the internal resistance in these cases isn’t personal and it’s not even true resistance in the long term; it’s simply a momentary internal cue that we are entering an Ultradian Rest Period.
Of course, if we recognize the signs and allow ourselves to take the break we need, the question arrives: how should we best use these Ultradian Rest Periods? The goal in a rest period is to allow our minds to take a break and to go into a daydream or trance kind of mode. This doesn’t mean that we concentrate on creating a daydream or getting ourselves into a zen-like state. It simply means that we allow our minds to rest and whatever shows up during the low-energy period is fine, as long as we don’t try to do anything with it.
More practically, I typically warn clients to avoid doing the following during Ultradian Rhythm Breaks: checking facebook, calling a friend, or checking email and the like. Any of these things require your active attention and keep you from “zoning out” as you need to. The best way to use this time is to take a moment to listen to the body – which is usually ready to tell you what it needs – and respond accordingly. This can include a meditative pause, being present with your breathing and your body, stretching, a walk outside, a drink of water, something to eat, a bathroom break, and so on. The idea is to allow your mind a restorative rest and your body some self-care, and how best to do that depends on the situation, the individual, the task that precedes the break, and the personal needs of the moment.
SPACE FOR SELF-CARE & CREATIVE INSIGHT
This tiny change – watching when we are entering an Ultradian Rest Period and allowing ourselves to take a much-needed mental break – can have profound effects on our lives. First of all, for gifted people or anyone who feels rushed to accomplish/learn/do, these mental breaks allow us to get back in touch with our body and our physical “here and now” reality. Many gifted people are so cognitively-oriented that we forget to drink water throughout the day, or breathe deeply, or just feel our bodies; some of us even forget to eat. Our Ultradian Rest Periods give us the space to remember to take good care of ourselves and not overwork ourselves or get out of balance.
No less importantly, these periods are shown to be the moments when we typically experience the most creativity and insight about our life or the task we’ve been working on. We’ve all had that experience, when we step away from a situation which is confusing, overwhelming or seemingly irresolvable, and in the space we take, we have a “lightbulb” moment in which we see things from a new angle and are able to return to the situation and respond to it in a constructive manner.
For example, one of the best things I can do as a writer is take walks in nature. It is almost always when I’m next to the river, listening to the sound of it and not striving to think about anything in particular, that the insight hits – clarity where there has been confusion or a crystal clear “vision” of an article or book chapter. It arrives “just like that” because I allowed myself the space for it (it’s actually a bit less “magical” than that, as this is simply how the creative process works). However, if I didn’t give time for that to happen, I’d be waiting for a “message” from my brain that would probably never arrive, and then I would judge myself for being slow or otherwise unable to progress.
A POSITIVE EFFECT ON SELF-ESTEEM
Following our natural rhythms has an extremely positive effect on our self-image as well. Not only do we end up seeing ourselves as more productive, healthier, more positive and so on, we also notice ourselves being more respectful towards ourselves, and more attentive, compassionate and loving toward ourselves. We experience ourselves with greater authenticity and presence, and this spills over onto our awareness and sensitivity to the Ultradian Rhythms and needs of others. This has its own very positive domino effect on our relationships and on the people around us (especially our kids). Communication with others therefore becomes easier and more genuine, planning becomes more straightforward, and behavior – our own and that of others – becomes significantly easier to understand and accept. Thus, we see ourselves and our relationships reflecting back to us a more balanced, healthy and productive version of who we are.
We may not end up writing the fifty books we have in mind, learning all the languages in the world, or doing all of whatever our gifted minds might imagine – but we get closer to it, and we enjoy the process so much more!
-Spend time observing your own energy rhythms and practice taking breaks when you notice the signs of an energy shift.
-Consider coaching if you’d like help in learning to work with your own energy rhythms to increase your capacity for self-care, productivity, mental clarity and effectiveness.
-Let me know how this information has helped you! (share in the comments below)