Don’t Be a Flatliner

I first started noticing them well before the hype of the TV show and movies, these people who seemed to have no pulse, no passion, no soul. These people that I call the walking dead.

At various levels of predictable speed, from dragging their feet to being lost in adrenaline-filled busyness, they would get through the day, every day, as if life were something to merely survive as opposed to something we should feel privileged to experience.

I remember the first one I ever saw. It was in January 2001. I had started working at Megacorp only four months before. It was about 8am and he was pressing the elevator button to get to his cubicle and start his day. He was expressionless, resigned.

How did he get that way I wondered. Could he recover? If I feel into this state, could I?

Little did I know that I would seek to answers these questions, for decades.

I have a renewed sense of urgency in the matter because the infection seems to be spreading. We’re all sorts of busy, and the busier we are, the more disengaged we become. We’ve lost our rhythm, we’ve lost our pulse.

Too many of us are flatlining decades before our time. We cease to live well before our body grows clammy.

At the root of this premature personal rot is a lie. This lie is the belief that we’re machines, that we’re expected to:

  • Stay focused, to stay on task at a steady clip for 8, 10, 12+ hours a day
  • Be “always on”, always available, at the world's beckon call
  • Steadily turn out our own version of widgets day in and day out

We’re built to follow natural rhythms—circadian, cardiac, energy rhythms—but we’ve lost the beat.

And our bodies are a reflection of our lack of attention. As a society, we suffer from everything that is chronic. Chronic:

  • Elevated blood sugars
  • Elevated stress hormones
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Shallow breathing
  • Back pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Infections
  • Headaches
  • Disease

These are signs of a system devoid of healthy cycles of intermittent stress and recovery and it's starting to be a new type of normal. We're expected to be broken in some way.

Denial Is a Powerful Thing

[Corporate] cultures that encourage people to seek intermittent renewal not only inspire greater commitment, but also more productivity.

We are oscillatory beings in an oscillatory universe. Rhythmicity is our inheritance.
— Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement, p. 30.

We know something doesn't feel right, but we forge on anyway, masking our lack of natural rhythm—our own custom-tailored flatline—with various crutches: coffee to give us energy in the morning; sugary foods throughout the day to keep it going; cigarettes and anti-depressants to take the edge off; social media and busyness just to feel something, anything; and we consume copious quantities of alcohol, tranquilizers, pain pills and TV at night to bring us back down. It’s no way to live.

It’s a low-energy life. It’s no life, really. And we don't have to let it turn into a life[less] sentence.

We're human beings, not human doings. We're meant to follow natural rhythms. Sprint/recover. Sprint/recover.

According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, just as we need to stress our muscles and our cardiovascular system to build physical resilience, we need to sprint and recover in all areas where we expend energy:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual

In order to reenergize our lives, we need to stop thinking in terms of the time we spend and instead think about how we expend and renew energy. And here’s the paradox: the more we direct our energy in focused ways, with intermittent moments high intensity followed by rest and renewal, the more total energy we get in return.

By paying attention to how we expend and renew our energy, we can create more of it and become happier, more productive, more focused & engaged versions of ourselves.

We feel most alive when we push ourselves toward regular peaks in each of these areas.

  • Physically, we can push ourselves hard for short durations. That’s what energizes us, tops us up.
  • Mentally, we can immerse ourselves into tough learning and thinking activities for about ninety minutes at a time. By taking these deep dives into thinking and problem solving, we can increase our capacity to give increasingly difficult tasks undivided attention. 
  • Emotionally, we can feel deeply for others and for ourselves by seeking meaningful connections.
  • Spiritually, we can dig deep into meaning, gratitude, why we're driven to do certain things for ourselves and others.

We feel better, more like our true selves when we tend to each of these important areas. Further, each of these can be a source of recovery for another. And, if we tend to them properly, we can have multiple peaks of performance throughout our day.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
— Henry David Thoreau

By developing our ability to manage and increase our available energy, we no longer merely survive our days. We experience them. We can thrive in a way that only seemed possible as children.

We can feel alive. We can feel well. We can revere our personal rhythms, working with them now that we're no longer at odds.

Please. Keep your finger on the pulse. Your pulse.

Image credit/copyright: grandfailure/

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