Woman with wind-up key
Photo: Greg Miller
Forget being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—all the author wanted was enough oomph to get through the day. And she needed something more inspiring than "eat right, sleep right, exercise." So she went looking for her very own, very personal wind-up key...
When you spend as many hours as I've spent collapsed on the couch in front of the TV, you have a lot of time to think about how bushed you are and what you might do to give yourself more energy. At 30—single, no kids—I suffered not only from exhaustion but also from exhaustion guilt. I knew I was too young and unencumbered to be so tired, but even on my best days, when I started off grooving, the grooving inevitably became chugging, which quickly turned to churning, which eventually sank into grinding.

I'd tried the "exercise, eat right, get a good night's sleep" program—and found it unsustainable. I would run for a week, then run out of steam. My budget did better with $5 Kung Pao chicken dinners than $10 salads from Whole Foods. And my life as a freelance writer was too unpredictable and deadline intensive for a minimum-daily-requirement approach to sleep. There had to be another way.

So I devised an incredibly random and totally unscientific strategy to recharge, based on a few "if, then" theories I'd speculated about during those lethargic hours on the sofa.

1. If sluggishness, like yawning, was contagious (and judging by my family, I'd say the chances were good), then might energy be, too? In which case, would spending time with energetic people pep me up?

2. On the other hand, if one's energy level was the result of genetic predisposition, like big breasts or flawless skin, then, in the spirit of push-up bras and concealing foundation: Would faking energy give me energy?

3. Or maybe low energy was the result of a bad attitude—in my case, expressed by the mantra "I don't feel like it." If so, could I turn things around with a hearty dose of "I think I can"?

I'd conduct my own energy-building experiment, answering these questions and checking in with some experts along the way.

Afraid of losing momentum before I even got started, I quickly made a list of people whose energy I might be able to tap. My first (insane) thought was the fifth graders my friend Maria teaches—if ever a group of people had pep to spare, it would be a bunch of manic kids. But when I talked to Jon Gordon, author of The Energy Bus, he encouraged me not to confuse frenetic with energetic; the former, he warned, is often a sign of being hopped up on what he calls stress energy. "The people who make you feel energized may not be the ones who are bouncing off the walls," Gordon said. My energy-by-osmosis experiment made sense to him; he told me that every social interaction is an exchange of energy. But he urged me to gravitate toward "the right kind of high-energy people"—people whose oomph was enthusiastic but focused, passionate but purposeful.

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