Kobe Bryant is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all times. He won 5 NBA championships in his career. But when he was 12 years old, he had a crisis moment.
Bryant’s father and uncle were both national basketball players themselves. And so, Bryant loved the game from a very early age. To develop his skills, 12 year old Bryant enrolled in a summer basketball camp in Philadelphia. And do you know how many points he scored in the whole camp?
He didn’t score a single basket, not even a free throw – and was about to give up on basketball! But serendipitously, he read about Michael Jordan at that time. How Michael Jordan was once cut from his highschool basketball team because of poor performance!
But Jordan didn’t quit. He worked hard and became the best basketball player of all time!
Bryant took inspiration from this story and decided to become the hardest working player of all time. Because he was obsessed to make his family feel proud of him. He was determined to never have a summer of zero ever again.
His conditioning coach Tim Grover tells us the story that he would actually have to ask Bryant to train less!
Bryant would call Grover to come and coach him at 3am in the morning. You would often find Bryant starting his practice 7 hours before the whole team arrives. And yet be the last one to leave the practice sessions. He would hit the gym twice a day. And train for 16 hours on perfecting his game. He wouldn’t leave the court without downing 400 shots! Day after day.
It’s this insane work ethic that put him to the top.
But how do you get the energy to work this hard?
Conventional wisdom tells us that to gain more energy, one has to: eat well, sleep more, and exercise.
But if eating gives us energy, shouldn’t exercise deplete our energy? Shouldn’t effort reduce energy? But studies after studies have shown that movement and exercise, even just getting up from your desk and moving around, make you feel more energetic. A meta study published in Psychology Bulletin that analyzed 70 research studies involving over 6800 people showed that 90% of the people who completed any sort of an exercise regime felt more energetic!
What is happening here?
Maybe we should flip the whole question: Instead of trying to learn how to gain more energy, we should focus on understanding fatigue. What exactly is happening in our bodies to make us feel tired?
Running marathons teaches us a weird thing about fatigue
Long distance runners start with a lot of energy. And as they run further, they start feeling tired. But a funny thing happens after a while. An out of breath runner suddenly finds the energy to push harder with less exertion. He finds his second wind. His runners high.
Biologically what’s happening is that as our muscles work up, it builds lactic acid. When our bodies find the proper balance of oxygen to counteract this lactic acid buildup, we feel we can push further. Along with this, the endorphins released give you a feeling of euphoria.
But what the runners high shows us is that it’s not the amount of work we do that saps our energy. But the underlying chemical imbalance in our bodies. If we learn how to balance our hormones and various chemicals, we can feel energetic even after putting in a lot more effort everyday!
5 big things that help reduce fatigue and increase energy
A good night’s sleep makes us feel more energetic because sleep helps flush all the toxins from our system.
Sugar makes you feel lazy and trans-fats makes you irritable because they affect the chemicals in your body. Even though food gives us energy, overeating makes us feel lethargic because it creates a chemical imbalance. Eat clean and eat less.
Exercise works in making our bodies produce energy more efficiently. Samantha Heller, a dietician and physiologist explains: the more you exercise, the more mitochondria your body makes to produce energy. Mitochondria are the part of your cells that oxidizes glucose to generate energy.
Better more efficient oxidizing of glucose makes you feel energetic. Which is where breathing comes into play. The better you breathe in oxygen, the more efficient your energy usage.
Wim Hof is known as the iceman. He ran a marathon without wearing shoes in Arctic snow. Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro wearing shorts. And stood bare feet in ice for 112 minutes.
Otto Musik, a paediatrician at Wayne State University put Wim Hof in a MRI machine to figure out what’s going on. And found that the breathing exercise that Wim Hof does helps saturate his blood with oxygen and helps release high levels of dopamine and serotonin – that makes him feel euphoric. Hof’s breathing and meditation also helps him activate a part of his brain that releases cannabinoids that inhibit feeling pain or cold.
The Wim Hof breathing method is simple: inhale deeply through the nose and exhale freely through the mouth. Repeat it 30-40 times in short powerful bursts till you experience light headedness.
People who exercise have experienced that they can double the number of pushups they normally do after trying the Wim Hof breathing technique.
Pranayama is a whole section of yoga that is all about practicing breath control. Its proven to help people feel more energetic, become better with focus and concentration, and even things like reducing stress. Proper breathing can help you unlock your potential energy.
The last one is a weird one. Its purpose. Having a purpose in life makes you feel more energetic. A strong purpose makes it easy to wake up in the morning and push yourself.
It’s what allowed Kobe Bryant to put in the hard hours and long days practicing.
But how does purpose work with reducing fatigue and increasing energy?
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and geneticist Steve Cole conducted a research on 80 participants. The participants were given a survey that determined their levels of happiness vs meaning.
Happiness was defined as feeling good. Meaning was defined as orientation to something bigger than self.
Then all the participants’ blood was drawn to compare genetic markers. What the researchers found is that 75% of the participants had more happiness than meaning in their lives. And these people also had an activated stress related gene pattern. A gene pattern known to activate inflammatory reaction – similar to people who face constant adversity. Or to people who face bacterial infection.
In comparison, participants who had meaning in their lives showed a distinct deactivation in this stress related gene pattern – even when they had low levels of happiness!
Purpose and meaning helps reduce stress and increase energy.
- Energy is not related to effort. In fact, you can gain more energy by putting in the correct kind of effort.
- Sleep well, eat clean, exercise, and focus on better breathing to keep your chemicals in balance.
- Prioritize for purpose and you’ll be able to push yourself to achieve greatness.