Photo Credit: Joshua Earle, Unsplash.com

Written by Luke Iorio, President of One Idea Away and iPEC
October 25, 2019

Why is my life the way it is?

This is a question I’ve pondered at various lows and highs in my life—looking to understand what had brought me to the experiences I was having. 

This question led me to a lot of reading, some seminars and trainings, quite a bit of introspection, my fair share of bewilderment, and thankfully (albeit slowly) to a better understanding. 

Phase One: Habits and Behaviors

When I first began investigating this question in my life, it first led me to look at my habits and behaviors. After all, what we do—the way we speak and relate to each other, the way we make decisions, the way we react during stress—has a clear impact on the results we experience in our lives and work. It seemed to me if I changed my habits and behaviors, surely I’d create new circumstances and different results. Well, this path led to incremental changes, most of which didn’t stick. They weren’t sustainable changes. 

During this phase, I tried working out, obstacle races, a few beach vacations, and being more assertive and decisive. I only later could see I was trying to change outer circumstances to make me feel differently inside. I held the belief that, if only I could bring about these new results and circumstances, then I could feel the happiness, peace, and fulfillment I was really after. 

I mistook the good and most joyful moments I had experienced as being caused by where I was or what activity I was engaged in. Those may have contributed but they weren’t the drivers. 

Phase Two: Going Within

When changing my actions and activities didn’t work, I was faced with the reality that changing my outer life wasn’t going to change my inner life. I had to go within, which meant into a messy world of feelings and emotions and confusing, incessant thinking. 

Let’s work in reverse . . . what drives your actions, which with repetition creates your habits and lasting behaviors? It’s how you feel

If you feel stressed or aggravated or worried, your actions will reflect it. Whereas if you feel joyful, confident, or peaceful, they’ll look another way. 

This naturally led to the question of: so why do I feel one way and not the other? That comes down to your thoughts and perceptions—the way you think about, relate to, and see the particular events of your life as they unfold. (In truth, neuroscience has a lot more to say on this as feelings and thoughts are incredibly intertwined; but our focus here is on finding key drivers for why our lives are what they are and how we can then create change).

Based on focusing at the level of thought I dove deeper into understanding psychology, our development, how we form cognitive biases, emotional intelligence (as it opened up new thoughts and perspectives), and checked out methodologies such as neurolinguistic programming (NLP), other ways of reprogramming our thoughts and experiences, and even the law of attraction. 

They all gave me greater insight and sustained my interest and progress—for a while—until I plateaued once more. Something still felt a little off and very effort-full. 

Phase Three: Deeper Yet

The personal study into psychology, NLP, emotional intelligence, and other fields did get me to much more closely examine my more closely held beliefs and values. 

This was extremely valuable and yet still I felt the pull of something deeper, something that gave me a greater understanding of why I even believed what I believed or valued what I valued. It was also a growing awareness that what I thought I believed didn’t always line up with what I was feeling or doing. I couldn’t just think my way into a new experience of life. 

And that’s when I was introduced to Energy Leadership.

Phase Four: Energy Matters

I was lucky enough to read an early manuscript of the book, Energy Leadership, a couple of years before it’d become a bestseller. The book, in narrative form, illustrates the framework that’s at the heart of the coaching process taught at the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Energy Leadership became an instrumental component in the work that I’ve now done for the past 14 years.

It amazed me because it connected so many dots in what I was experiencing and beginning to see. 

Energy’s the driving creative force that shows up as and in our beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions. It’s the spark that sets off this chain reaction—in the moment based on what you’re focused on and experiencing as well as across your overall perspective of your life. In any experience, the first thing that gets stirred in us is our energy based on how it’s relating and connecting to what’s occurring. We then label that energy with thoughts and emotions. 

And here’s where Energy Leadership really opened things up for me: this energy has patterns (specifically, seven of them). Each of those seven has associated thoughts, feelings/emotions, and actions/results.

When I became aware of these seven patterns (that occur within two different types of energy), I became aware of how they were present in my life. When any situation would arise, I could focus on the energy of the experience and quickly identify what pattern or patterns were playing out. 

If it was a really enjoyable experience or I was particularly effective at whatever I was doing, I now knew the pattern to repeat to significantly increase the probability of having this experience or effectiveness again. If it was a particularly stressful or frustrating situation, I also knew what was going on to break that habitual cycle. 

The Two Types of Energy

A quick way to understand the two predominant types of energy we experience can be seen in these two biological processes:

  • Catabolism – Catabolism can be simply summarized as the process the body uses to generate energy to counteract a stressor. The body will find available energy stored within its system, and pull from it to generate energy. It’s referred to as destructive metabolism.
    • Catabolic energy = draining, contracting, resisting energy (cat = down, against)
  • Anabolism – The opposite energy and process is anabolic. Anabolism is the process by which the body builds itself up and grows. Anabolic energy’s constructive, expanding, rejuvenating, and sustainable. It’s referred to as constructive metabolism.
    • Anabolic energy = constructive, expanding, growth-oriented energy (ana = building, upward)

The seven levels of energy are on a spectrum ranging from high catabolic to high anabolic.

When you’re experiencing catabolic energy, you’re much more likely to believe you have no or very limited options to move forward. You might vacillate between avoiding taking action and being quite frustrated that the situation isn’t conforming with your expectations or efforts. You may become indecisive or feel like the only way forward is to forcefully push or defend your perspective or way of doing things. You’re more likely to become entrenched in your view and can ultimately feel quite drained. 

To be clear, catabolic energy is something everyone experiences. It’s a natural reaction and, at its most basic level, can be seen in the fight/flight response that fires off when we perceive we’re in harm’s way. The challenge is that we’re no longer being chased by saber-toothed tigers and our nervous systems and brains can be a bit too revved up.

In turn, we perceive a terse email, a confusing phone call from our boss, or an odd look from our partners as significant stressors, and therefore potential threats. This is one of the reasons why there’s a significant amount of ongoing catabolic energy across people of all backgrounds. 

Alternatively, when we’re in an anabolic state, we’re not easily triggered or dropped into an ineffective stress response. Anabolic energy is growth-oriented and restorative; it supports a more open view of what’s occurring, presenting you with more perspectives and possibilities to consider and choose from. You tend to look more objectively and clearly at “what is,” minimizing interpretations.

Anabolic energy’s behind everything from creativity and intuition to compassion, caring, and connectedness. After hours of highly engaging work, you’ve likely felt a prolonged or sustained sense of energy—as if you have at least as much energy as when you started; this is an experience of anabolic energy and the cornerstone of both high performance and also more joyful, purpose-filled living.

There are many more aspects and ways that anabolic energy fuels us, but these initial understandings were enough for me to begin to recognize what I was experiencing, why I was experiencing it, and would ultimately lead me to learn what I could do about it.

Think about the last time you were really stressed. Consider what you were experiencing. Did it feel spacious or contracted? Did you feel at peace or overwhelmed or frustrated? Did you feel like you had a lot of options or barely a few? Take some time to notice both stressful occasions as well as how you generally experience and perceive your life. This will give you a first glance at whether you tend to experience more catabolic or anabolic energy.

Four Ways Life Began to Unfold

First, I began seeing my life and the way that it was not as simply good or bad moments or something to celebrate or an indictment of how bad I was doing. Instead, I began to see life as a range of experiences that reflected what was going on within me.

Next, I realized it was possible to navigate my experiences in such a way as to understand what was really creating the experience that way—honing in on the perception and beliefs that helped me identify the energy.

I now had a map of sorts that allowed me to first understand and release what wasn’t working for me, and second, an array of new perspectives and resulting choices that could help me engage in whatever the situation was in a more empowering, productive, and effective way that also felt more aligned with who I was and how I wanted to guide my life.

Lastly, as I got much more experienced in recognizing my own energy and the patterns that were playing out, I began seeing the energetic patterns playing out everywhere. It’s like someone showed me the real-life “Matrix.”

Bottom Line

Energy matters. And I don’t simply mean that it’s important—although that’s certainly true. I mean that your energy creates matter—the matters, experiences, and circumstances that we see in our lives. This energy is malleable once we learn how it works and how we can consciously guide it. 

So, my bottom-line finding and answer: Energy is the creative force in your life.

Photo Credit: Joshua Earle, Unsplash.com