Last week, a discussion with a friend took me back to a book I read a couple of years ago, “How Emotions are Made” by Lisa Feldman Barrett. Dr. Barrett is a renowned neuropsychologist who explains the concept of a body budget. In short, your body budget is your brain’s prediction of how much of its resources it should spend in any given moment.
How you spend your body budget has a direct impact on how you feel. If you find yourself sad, anxious, fatigued or just out of sorts, these types of emotions place an undue burden on your body budget. You are not alone. Over the past several months, I have received fairly continuous questions about leaders’ and employees’ health – specifically, how to maintain, sustain and improve it given the pandemic’s unpredictability.
The greatest type of anxiety for humans is the anxiety of the unknown. We would rather know what is going to happen – even if it is bad – than not know. Our brains rely on information and predictability to manage our body budgets, so we prefer the predictable and known to the unknown. So how do we make an unpredictable situation more predictable? Focus on what you can control: the routines in our daily lives that offer us predictability.
Here are some of the routines I focus on:
- Create Stable Ground
I start every morning with meditation. There is a lot of data to support all the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation. As part of my morning routine for more than 20 years, It allows me to connect with the common human Self we all share. And regardless of how chaotic the world outside may be, it grounds me in the moment, allowing me to start every day in the same space, with my body budget in a calm state.
Do you have a routine to start your day in a calm and serene place?
- Choose Your Connections Carefully
The people we keep close to us also help manage our body budgets. Some people see the world as a threatening place. They always seem on edge or “perched and ready to leap.” If you surround yourself with such people, it requires expenditures from your body budget so that you are ready for whatever comes next. This rarely feels good, and if it does, it is only for a short period of time.
On the other hand, if you surround yourself with people who less volatile, more predictable and who see the world as more of a playground or a place to experiment and experience rather than a war zone, you will find your world to be a more stable, predictable place, and your body budget will also feel more stable.
I have a few close friends and colleagues that I reach out to weekly. They offer me different perspectives of the world. All of them help manage my body budget.
How do the people you connect with affect your body budget? How do you feel after a conversation with them?
- Feed Your Mind Wisely
We have all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” What is true for your body is also true for your mind. I try to limit my consumption of media that is intended to create urgency or prompt an emotional response. Whether you respond to it or not, this type of information places unnecessary demands on your body budget.
What type of information are you feeding your mind?
- Make Movement a Habit
Moving your body – even if it’s just for a minute to change your body position – has physiological and psychological benefits. The biggest challenge to physical activity is usually inertia, or simply getting started. Your brain may not want to spend from its energy budget until it experiences some return on that expenditure. Making some kind of activity part of your daily routine helps you overcome that inertia and teaches your brain about the ROI of that investment from your body budget. When physical activity becomes a habit, there is less inertia to overcome, and the brain puts up less resistance to that expenditure from your body budget.
What type of physical activities are you including in your daily routine?
- Set the Stage for Sound Sleep
Sleep deprivation is the new smoking. Most adults require 7-8 hours of quality sleep a night. A majority (including yours truly) get less than that. Sleep allows your body and your brain to recover from the day’s waking hours. Sleep cleans toxins out of your brain. For those that downplay the importance of sleep, it might be helpful to think about sleep like flossing your teeth. Any single instance of flossing may not do a heck of a lot. And you may be able to get away with not flossing well a day here or a day there. But if flossing poorly or not flossing becomes a habit, you will find yourself with inflammation in your gums and other parts of your body. An inflammatory response anywhere in your body is an inflammatory response everywhere in your body.
The same is true for sleep. Poor sleep hygiene leads to poor sleep — and that leads to all kinds of adverse results in your entire body. Poor sleep leads to poor use of your body budget.
The solution is to develop a pattern of good sleep hygiene. Some of the simplest steps include:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Start a wind-down routine about one hour before bedtime
- Limit your exposure to technology during your wind-down time
- Lower the temperature in your bedroom (65-68 degrees is reported to be ideal)
By paying attention to my body budget and taking concrete steps like the ones above, I feel more stable and in control of my decision-making, even when the rest of the world feels chaotic.
If you try some of these ideas, let me know how they work for you!
I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.
Let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!