Some Thoughts On Restoring Personal Vitality

IMG_8788Recently, I was sorting through some photos and was struck by the quirkiness of one in particular. It’s a photo of our cat Einstein giving me a quizzical look. For whatever reasons, this shot always provides me a little reminder to focus on what’s important in life.

Frankly, I’ve always felt as though I was doing that. But then I hit a wall, and realized I could do better. Here’s what happened:

This past June, I spent the better part of my birthday on a pre-op appointment, and a few days later had foot surgery; and that was followed by more than six weeks of recovery. I had chosen to keep my client work to a minimum, and to spend my days reading. Perhaps it was the sudden change of pace, my recent birthday, or maybe my wife’s comment about how the change would be like being retired, but this was the first time in my life I felt truly old. Not just old, actually, but in a slump.

It was not a good feeling, and sparked some reflection on what it would take to re-energize.

Learning To Let Go

I’ve long realized that everything we have in life has a cost. Fundamentally, we trade our time for possessions, experiences, learning, and even relationships. Mostly, this is a good thing. After all, most of us truly do enjoy what comes into our lives, most especially our relationships.

Yet, there does seem to be an outside limit on satisfaction; and a time to let go. [Tweet this]

But letting go is hard, at least for me. So, I was fortunate to discover, read, and start applying the principles Marie Kondo presents in her excellent The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What amazed me was how her simple standard of joy could be so powerful. Specifically, Kondo advises that in tidying up, you hold each item you own and ask if it sparks joy. If not, thank it for it’s service and let it go!

Seems to me like a great standard for deciding what to keep in life: If there is no joy in it, let it go! [Tweet this]

Yes! Of Course There’s More

Frankly, in itself, seeking joy is not a sufficient basis for satisfaction in life. In fact, if we only strive to be happy, we’re bound to be disappointed. As Tom Rath points out in his excellent Are You Fully Charged? pursuing happiness is shortsighted. Rather, happiness is a by-product of pursuing meaning, especially in activities that make a difference for others.

Yet, as I’ve advised clients it takes work. As Rath puts it:

“Meaning does not happen to you — you create it. One of the most important elements of building a great career and life is attaching what you do each day to a broader mission. Until you understand how your efforts contribute to the world, you are simply going through the motions each day.”

While creating meaning sets the broader context for an energized life, your personal vitality also benefits from your daily practices. While these can differ from person to person, here, based on Rath’s work as well as other resources, are five ideas that you may find beneficial:

Harness the Power of Intrinsic Motivation. When we think of motivation, most of us tend to tie it to external outcomes, like earning a paycheck. Yet, we’re also motivated by internal factors, and do things because we want to do them. While both forms of motivation work, it turns out that intrinsic motivation is much more powerful, a fact well documented by Dan Pink in his fascinating book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In applying this to your personal vitality, start to focus more energy on the things you want to do – both at work and in other parts of your life.

Take Control of Your Health and Well-Being. Controlling your health and well-being may seem like it involves too much work, change, and discomfort. And confusion! Frankly, we’re exposed to so much conflicting health information it’s hard to know where to start! Yet, according to Rath, it all comes down to some basic management of how we eat, move, and sleep. If you like, you can find detailed information in his Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. You can make a project out if it, and it would be worthwhile. In the meantime, I found using a fitness tracker not only provides data to show how you’re doing but can also fuel your motivation to do better.

Cultivate Friendships. Most of us realize that relationships are important to business and career success. So, we network. Yet, nurturing friendships is even more important to living a satisfying and successful life. After all, friendships have health as well as social benefits. On some level, we all need to find belonging and are better off when we do. Investing time in creating friendships, both in person and online, can have a big positive impact on your personal vitality.

Focus On the Before and After of Experiences. It’s not possessions but life experiences that support a happier life. No doubt you’ve heard that, as it’s an idea that’s been around since the ancient times! Yet, recent research on spending habits indicates that purchasing experiences, especially with other people, enhances well-being. What’s more, it turns out that more than the experience itself, anticipation and memory make a greater contribution to overall well-being. So, make sure to enjoy planning and remembering as well as the doing!

Be Ready to Respond to Stress and Hardship. No doubt about it, no matter how well things may be going, we all face occasional hardships. The trick is to realize that you already have or can develop resilience skills. In fact, if you’re already managing your personal vitality, you’re well on your way. Still, helpful resources are not hard to find.


  1. says

    Hello Walter,
    I love how you used Einstein’s ‘quizzical’ photo to empower this post, illustrating how we can be influenced by those creatures and people around us in the most unexpected ways and/or at the most unexpected times.

    In the time I’ve known you, I could tell you placed value – and intention – in focusing in on what’s important. However, it is understandable that we ALL (even the most focused of us) can hit walls from time to time.

    Your sharing your particular experience spawned by a birthday and subsequent recouping from knee surgery is a great reflective piece that can help any reader now (or in the future) grappling with similar frustrations and fears of what ‘growing old’ may feel like.

    I agree that “fundamentally, we trade our time for possessions, experiences, learning, and even relationships,” and that overall this is a good thing. Your reference to Marie Kondo’s book and the idea of letting go/tidying up based on keeping what sparks ‘joy’ is delightful. I can’t recall if you’ve met social media friend, Dorlee (@SWCareer), but she has referred to Kondo’s book/insights as well, as recently in her new year’s post, I believe. That I’m hearing about this topic several times is reinforcing.

    I also like how you dove deeper to discuss the necessity of finding meaning in what we do. The Dan Pink quote on intrinsic motivation resonated deeply with my growing beliefs: “Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful, a fact well documented by Dan Pink in his fascinating book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In applying this to your personal vitality, start to focus more energy on the things you want to do – both at work and in other parts of your life.” <- I agree!"

    Moreover, health and well being is a topic that is at the heartbeat of living a fulfilled, meaningful life, and I agree that studying the topic can be overwhelming. Your recommended book, "Eat, Move, Sleep" has a catchy title and a description that makes good sense (how small choices can lead to big changes).

    Sometimes we can get discouraged that our little day-to-day actions don't really matter, but they DO. Look back after a few weeks, a few months or more at the results of your 'small choices,' and I guarantee you will see change. (I know YOU know this; I'm just restating it as reinforcement to myself and to your readers. I sometimes get lost in the mire, and detached from this wonderful fact).

    I also like your encouraging the use of a fitness tracker, as I have been on the fence about investing in a FitBit; I'm preparing to make the leap, as I believe 'watching the results' will definitely fuel my motivation. So, thanks for the inspiration.

    I agree also re: before/after experiences – and sometimes, when I find myself faltering in my enthusiasm, I realize it's because I need to weave a new experience into the agenda. That can be as simple as a night out with friends or cracking open a new, adventurous book that takes my mind off work or other obligations and into the thrill of dreaming and virtually doing. Or, it may be planning that next weekend trip or a day out on the boat (or whatever is one's pleasure)☺

    Walter, I especially enjoy witnessing your experiences with your photography and the vivid, storied images that result. As well, your photo stories of your and your wife's travel to Cuba sparked great joy and intrigue.

    Your noting the value and importance of building and nurturing on- and offline relationships is yet another great point. While I love my in-person relationships, online connections have opened up a whole new world of personally and professionally valuable relationships. Getting to know you and your insights on a wide range of subjects, including topics that take courage to discuss (and as such, many people steer clear of), has been invaluable. Thank you for engaging that way.

    Finally, the reference to stress and hardship and being equipped to respond with resilience is excellent. And I especially liked how you mentioned that resilience skills can be developed, and that resources are readily available, such as your blog and the resources/links you published.

    Thank you for your continued, purposeful, and energizing contributions to others by way of your coaching/personal branding/career+life strategy as well as engagements with your community that extend beyond professional contributions and interests. Your ability to uplift others – encouraging them to see their super powers as well as think beyond their personal constraints – is powerful and appreciated.


    • says

      Wow! Thanks, Jacqui, for your awesome comment! I appreciate the time you invested in responding to my post, and love the depth and detail of your comment.

      Yes, this was definitely the result of hitting the wall. We all do, of course, but sometimes it takes a bigger toll. Fortunately, having that kind of “wake up call” is a blessing – provided we put it to good use, of course!

      I think that the timing of mine was good, and it’s one of life’s wonderful coincidences that my reading list included books by Marie Kondo and Tom Rath! As a result, seeing joy and meaning as the measure of life well lived led to big insights not only about vitality generally but also what matters to me personally!

      As well, the idea of small choices leading to big changes is incredibly powerful! On some level, I’ve always believed this, though have not always put it into practice. Today, it’s a cornerstone of how I live my life! That, and awareness! At one time I would have vowed to become more mindful. It’s a nice goal. Yet, what I’ve discovered is that mindfulness can be supported by data; so, the information my fitness tracker provides helps to keep me motivated, focused, and on course!

      My awareness actually goes beyond fitness to what I notice about my experiences in the world. And whether it’s capturing the beauty around me in photos, or engaging with friends both in person and on line, the reward is a life that is richer, deeper, and more joyful than one where goals put happiness just beyond reach. The best goals I find are immediate and focused on the daily actions that make our life better over time (back to those small choices, again).

      Of course, the stress and hardship part is never easy, but needs attention and planning. And as I’ve discovered, we can develop the capacity for resilience. In fact, we must!

      Perhaps the one area of my life where I could do better is in taking an even stronger stand on some of my personal and political convictions. For me, it’s typically a balancing act – that is, between saying what I firmly believe while finding common ground. It’s not always easy, but I’m beginning to experiment with it a bit more!

      Meanwhile, I’m happy if there are things I can do or say to lift others up, and to make the world better in some small ways. Thank you for seeing and saying that, Jacqui! I appreciate your wonderful feedback! :)

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