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Microbursts: 4 ways this simple concept could reboot your life

A coach from the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute lets us in on the secret to boosting your four core energy levels—in two minutes or less.

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On any given day, all sorts of things can cause your energy levels to plummet, whether it’s sitting through marathon meetings or tackling a complicated project with a tight deadline. And more often than not, people in need of an instant energy pick-me-up tend to reach for a cup of Joe.

But what if we told you there’s a much better (and healthier!) antidote to flagging energy than a java jolt?

It’s called a microburst—a deliberate, intense and brief expenditure of energy that can help you recover your energy equilibrium.

That’s right. You can harness energy to … boost your energy!

“When people feel tired, they don’t often think about using more energy to recoup what’s been lost, but that’s exactly what the science supports doing,” says Jennifer Lea, Director of Client Training and a performance coach with the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.

In fact, there’s an entire science to human energy management that looks at energy in four dimensions: physical (how much of it you have), emotional (the quality of your energy, be it positive or negative), mental (your ability to focus and concentrate) and spiritual (the energy that gives you meaning and purpose, or as Lea likes to say, the type that “lights a fire in your belly.”)

And as she explains, when one dimension is lacking, you need to look for a way to restock it, which is where microbursts come in.

“To use a tennis analogy, it’s not just what you do when you’re ‘off the court’ to rejuvenate yourself, like sleep and exercise, but what you do ‘between points’ throughout the day,” Lea says. “When you have two minutes between that intense conversation with your boss and leading a meeting for clients, you should optimize those brief periods to get renewal.”

From helping to sharpen your mental acuity to even improving your gratitude quotient, here’s a look at the many ways microbursts can be beneficial to your health.


Microbursts can help … pep you up.

One of the most common manifestations of low energy is physical—you know, the feeling that your body has suddenly slowed down to half its normal speed. To recoup a drain of physical energy, says Lea, you gotta, well, get physical.

Just one to two minutes of intense movement can be enough to hit the gas on your entire energy management system by improving blood flow and getting oxygen and glucose better coursing throughout your body.

“Incorporating physical microbursts into your afternoons can be especially helpful because that’s when our bodies tend to hit the snooze button,” Lea says.

How to do it: Run up and down a flight of stairs, go for a brisk walk by taking the long way to your next meeting, or do a minute of jumping jacks in your office or even the restroom. If you have the room and the privacy, a flowing sequence, like yoga sun salutations, is another great way to boost low physical energy levels.


Microbursts can help … improve your mood.

Even if you really love your job, you may occasionally find yourself emotionally drained by, say, a trying conversation with a client or an email peppered with bad news. To go from negative to positive energy, says Lea, try a microburst of laughter.

“It only takes a few seconds, yet it’s one of those tools that we often don’t intentionally activate ourselves,” Lea explains.

How to do it: Strike up a conversation with a friend or co-worker who has a good sense of humor, watch a silly video on YouTube (baby animals, anyone?), or visit a funny or satirical website like The Onion.

Set an alert on your calendar, phone or activity tracker for a microburst every 90 minutes, and vary your microburst types throughout the day.


Microbursts can help … reboot your brain.

Focusing mentally on a difficult or arduous task can be the most exhausting of the four types of energy drains, plus there’s a diminishing return—after a certain point, the longer you try to concentrate, the less productive you tend to be.

“That’s why you need to give those hot neurons a break and cool them down,” Lea says, adding that you can do this by using a different part of your brain for a contrasting mental task. For example, if you’ve been focused on an analytical task, switch gears and try something creative.

How to do it: Work on a crossword puzzle, spend a few minutes doodling or coloring (there’s a reason why adult coloring books are all the craze right now), or simply calm your brain by meditating or doing a simple breathing exercise, such as inhaling for a count of four, then exhaling for four.


Microbursts can help … foster gratitude.

The spiritual dimension of energy management can sometimes be the hardest to pinpoint, but it typically hits once you’ve exhausted your other energy levels.

“The energy vampire in this dimension is connected to the feeling of losing your path a little,” Lea explains. “It’s when you’re not feeling in tune with the desired outcome, or you’re unsure of what value you are bringing to the table.”

A classic scenario? You’re already feeling physically tired, when you have an emotionally difficult conversation with a co-worker that leaves you feeling unable to concentrate on the task at hand. Suddenly, you’re not sure why you’re doing it all.

The spiritual energy-boosting hack: Tap into what makes you feel thankful.

How to do it: Try a gratitude exercise by spending 60 seconds writing down things that you’re thankful for. “It can be anything—even that it’s not raining!” Lea says. “The goal is to just stop and be in the present moment.” Or practice random acts of kindness, such as thanking a colleague for her hard work on a project or sending a text to someone you love. “Science shows that if you are able to appreciate others, you can appreciate what’s good in your life,” Lea says.

Setting yourself up for microburst success

So now that you have the 101 on how to boost your four core energy levels when they’re flagging, Lea has one final tip for ensuring that you find the time each day to give them some much needed TLC.

“Set an alert on your calendar, phone or activity tracker for a microburst every 90 minutes, and vary your microburst types throughout the day,” she suggests. “Your microburst should always be intentional, and have a goal. For example, ‘I need to zone out from having worked on this hard task, so I’m going to play Candy Crush for two minutes.’ ”

And if the 90-minute mark turns out to be an inopportune moment, set a mental bookmark for when you can next spend one to two minutes on yourself.

“We often feel like we are on this hamster wheel,” Lea says. “If we don’t recognize when we need to take microbursts, we may never get off it.”

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