Why Be Tired:
Energy For Sedentary Workers
How To Do More Work Without Getting Tired
Conquering Your Fatigue Problem With Food
Improving Your Energy Machine With Exercise
Use Your Glandular Energies
Sex And Energy
Test Your Efficiency
Energy For Sedentary Workers
( Originally Published 1936 )
THIS is a preliminary chapter. Skip it, for the moment, if you wish. But come back to it. It is for the man who thinks he has "enough" energy. Most people have enough energy to worry along, and it is a customary bit of indolence to regard that as all they need. Unfortunately we have no convenient rule for estimating how much energy we have, not to mention how much we should have.
This book is not to help you worry along ; it is to help you forge ahead. "Enough" energy is not enough. You can profit by having twice as much energy as you think you need. This chapter is dedicated to an appreciation of that fact.
You can be tired and not know it.
Furthermore, you do not always know when you are tired. An accurate test of your endurance would often show fatigue when you cannot feel it. The most prevalent and dangerous fatigue is not the kind that you feel in your muscles, the kind that makes you lie down and go to sleep. It creeps unawares into your nervous system, gives you the restless jitters. You are unable to rest quietly, unable to sleep. You rush around and wonder what is biting you.
This is true of the sedentary worker. Sedentary fatigue is nervous fatigue. Being tired, the nerves are unable to feel their own fatigue. The man does not know why he is not working well, why he sleeps poorly, why he is jittery, why little things "get on his nerves," why he has little appetite and much indigestion. Those are the signs of nervous fatigue. They are the beginning of nervous breakdown, or neurasthenia, sometimes called the great American disease. Striking thus at our very sanity and lacking in the healthy reactions of muscular fatigue, nervous fatigue becomes far the most dangerous type of this disease. It follows that the sedentary worker is the man who should pay most attention to his energy.
There is still another reason why sedentary workers should make more than average provision for energy. Energy comes from the heart, the lungs, the stomach, the muscles. Muscular work supplies a training system to keep these vital organs in condition. Sedentary work allows these organs to deteriorate.
Why will a summer on the farm renew an office worker when a summer in a busy office would break a farmer ? Does it not suggest that sedentary work is the hardest work of all ? Perhaps we should change "sedentary work" to "high-pressure work." I think it would be nearer the truth. I am going to suggest that we think of sedentary work as the most strenuous kind, and that we think of sedentary workers as office athletes who need as good a training system as any other athlete.
The sedentary man is just the one who is likely to think he has enough energy. This chapter is written for him. He cannot feel his type of fatigue ; his type of effort does not leave him puffing and blowing ; al-most invariably he has less energy than he should have. Almost invariably a flight of stairs will remind him acutely of some such thing as high blood pressure, tobacco heart, or twenty pounds of fat. The net result is only that he falls heavily into his chair, thanking the powers that he is not a stair-climber, that he is a sedentary worker and the brain does not use much energy and strains no organs.
That has its elements of truth. Mental work, or any sedentary work, does not require much energy in the usual meaning of calories burned. Brisk walking burns more than twice as much energy as office work. But this is due entirely to the relative sizes of the brain, the nervous system and the muscles. The brain weighs slightly more than 2% of the body weight and the nerves even less, while the muscles compose about 45% of the body weight. The muscles therefore burn far more calories, but that does not alter the facts of mental and nervous fatigue.
The nerves, as a matter of fact, tire more easily and often than any other tissue. Even in muscular work the nerves usually become too tired to carry commands to the muscles before the muscles themselves tire ; an apparently exhausted muscle will continue to work if an electrical current is substituted for the tired nerve force. Sedentary work, which puts so much co-ordinating work upon the nerves, is therefore putting the strain upon the weakest link. The fact that it saves muscular energy and calories does not mean a thing in our favor ; to the contrary, it usually means that the system will be clogged with unburned food and that the circulation will be too sluggish to remove fatigue poisons rapidly and efficiently.
However, no type of fatigue can be considered separately, apart from the body as a whole. Fatigue poisons formed in any part of the body, enter the blood and circulate into and poison all other parts, just as the venom of a snake spreads from a bite. The brain is the most sensitive tissue in the body, and it is therefore most affected by fatigue poisons in the blood. When you tire, from any cause, your brain is the most tired part of you. So, while mental fatigue itself is rare, the brain often suffers from fatigue poisoning. Fatigue is, above all things, brain poisoning. To preserve an alert mind it is necessary to avoid all kinds of fatigue. This is the important truth of fatigue as it applies to sedentary workers, since they need alert minds.
This is not a theory ; it has been established a fact. Experiments prove that after an hour of brisk walking the mental ability has decreased, or fatigued, more than the leg muscles themselves. Walking, which uses more energy than thinking, also has been shown to tire the mind more quickly than mental work. It is common experience, of course, that more than any other type of worker the thinker must tackle his problems when he is fresh. Then, long after his brain refuses to do good work, his muscles will enjoy gardening, shop work or even athletic games. There is no doubt but that in any kind of fatigue your mind suffers first and most.
We can, therefore, formulate a law of seeming contradiction : mental work uses less energy than any other kind of work, but needs more energy than any other kind of work.
A fact which further stresses the importance of this law is that the parts of the brain which do the most difficult thinking are the most sensitive parts, and are poisoned by fatigue even more quickly than the brain in general.* You have noticed how a difficult problem is beyond you in the afternoon, but is comparatively easy next morning when you are fresh. This rule holds true in any case of poisoning, as we have seen demonstrated by inebriates who are able to gush nonsense long after sense has left them. Studies in delinquency invariably show this rule to hold true in fatigue. Will, restraint, caution, decency and other of the higher mental functions are at low ebb after a fatiguing day, so that immoral and unscrupulous things are done which would not be done in more energetic hours. Industrial accidents increase with fatigue be-cause tired men have not "sense" enough not to take chances. Weygandt demonstrated this truth of fatigue by showing that simple mental functions are restored by a short sleep, while more difficult functions require a much longer sleep.
Therefore, a decrease of 2o% in the quantity of energy means a greater decrease in the quality of thinking. Still, we suffer from chronic fatigue and wonder why we are not geniuses.
The energies of great men.
The genius has long understood the importance of energy and known the impossibility of doing good work with a tired mind. He is not a man with a perfect mind, but a man who gets the best out of an imperfect mind. In seeking to get his best, he learns the best rules for working.
The rest of us are more familiar with what it takes to be a fighter or football player than with the requirements of good work. In reverse of the truth, there is even a current theory that mental giants are physically frail.
Francis Galion, Darwin's cousin, was the first to disprove that theory. His inquiries into the lives of men of genius found great energy to be their most characteristic feature. Their energy was such that work seemed necessary as an outlet, or as Galton put it they seemed "goaded into work" by their restless energies. They reacted energetically even to the hardships and burdens which only brought complaints from less energetic men.
How often do you welcome hardships ? How often do you feel so energetic that you must seek work, and work of important proportions ?
We have a saying that laziness is the chief cause of failure. There is a great deal of truth in that saying, but it has been revised by modern knowledge. Laziness has been explained. We used to define lazy as : indisposed to exertion ; averse to labor ; unwilling to work. We have discovered that those things mean a shortage of energy. The energetic man enjoys exertion. Our saying now becomes : lack of energy is the chief cause of failure.
It probably is. People do not want to fail. We do not meet many people who are too dull to succeed, and some of the dullest have succeeded. Two of the dullest people I know have succeeded one writes for the national magazines and another is high in government service. But they are energetic, enthusiastic and concentrated. I am continually amazed at how clever people are, rather than how dull ; but I am also amazed at the general lack of enthusiastic energy. You know how people droop around and avoid effort. They fail because they haven't got success in them. They lack overflowing energy. You can tell that by their chronic complaints about how hard and how dull their work is, what a Simon Legree is their boss.
How sickly men become geniuses.
Tired people prefer to believe that great things can be done easily, that something can be got for nothing. They will try to disprove this rule of energy by recalling the sickly men who have been geniuses, the apparent exceptions.
This rule has no exception, however. Good work demands equally good energy ; that is an unchanging law of physics. Rather than being exceptions, the geniuses of frail constitution are the best proofs of the value of energy. This is true because they were obliged to become excessively aware of the part energy played in their work, and to make particular provision for energy.
It is said of Kant, for instance, that he spent as much thought upon his health as upon his voluminous works. Darwin also was endlessly nursing his frail constitution, avoiding, wherever possible, every trivial thing which demanded energy. After his trip around the world as a naturalist, which resulted in his poor health, he retired to the seclusion of his country place at Down and thereafter worked steadily, but only a few hours each day. He even supposed that his frailty became a blessing and accounted for his success, as it prohibited all strenuous wastes of energy and taught him conservation and concentration. His teachers had pronounced him dull in school.
Herbert Spencer also was frail. He found that he could not do good thinking except when energetic, and he worked only a few hours each day. His other hours were carefully planned to build and conserve energy.
Byron, frail and sensitive, sought the great remedy of physical exercise. He became the first to swim the Hellespont, a feat at that time thought to be no more than an impossible myth attributed to Leander.
Other frail men of genius have had diseases which actually liberated pathological energy. Keats and Stevenson were consumptives running a slow fever, which results in a faster rate of burning or energy formation. Even so, Stevenson lamented the fact that he must labor for days over a few pages of manuscript while vital men like Scott wrote so rapidly and easily.
Nietzsche, sick and pessimistic, suffered from a type of pituitary gland disorder which stimulates mental energy. In 1888 he wrote to his sister : "During the sufferings brought about by my headaches, accompanied with fits of sickness which lasted without interruption for three days, I preserved an extraordinary clearness of reasoning power, and could easily solve problems for which, in my normal state . . . I was not sufficiently rapid or subtle."
Thus even the frail man who achieves does not work with average energy, or what amounts to average fatigue. He works with what we ordinary mortals call excess energy. There must be an abundance which likes work and seeks work rather than a short-age which evades it. Spencer's experience caused him to place at the head of a list of educational things of most worth, "In what way to treat the body ; in what way to treat the mind."
It has been said that a man can prophesy his success by his ability to save money in excess of his needs for existence. It seems equally true to say a man can measure his probability of success by his ability to keep an excess of energy on hand. Did we make the great effort ? Did we have the enthusiastic energy for the great effort ?
We are too ready to call our minds dull, rather than to admit that we used our minds little and poorly. Descartes reversed this common complaint and attributed his success to "my good fortune in falling upon a good method of working in my youth." Concerning his sheer mental ability he remarked, "As for myself, I have never considered my mind in any particular more perfect than the mind of the average person. Indeed, I have often wished that I had thought as prompt, imagination as clear and clean-cut, or memory as full as others have."
Our real problem is to work easily, untiringly, persistently, enthusiastically. This is an energy problem, not a problem of brilliance. Courage, optimism, objectivity, patience and purpose, the important foundations of thinking, are almost entirely dependent upon energy. And mental ability itself, as we have seen, cannot exist without energy. Let us therefore set as a goal a great excess of energy which pours forth lavishly and with pleasure.
A training system for office athletes.
The athlete is not niggardly about his preparation ; he does not try to get along with the least possible energy. He trains to get all the energy he can. If he is to do his best he cannot have more energy than he needs. The common measure of the athlete's condition is his zest for activity, his anticipatory pleasure in the violent pace. If he drags listlessly and thinks of the coming efforts with dread and distaste his trainer shakes his head.
I propose this book as an equal training system for the business athlete : a training system which sends him to the office full of enthusiasm, which keeps him vital and pleasant in the face of trying work, and which brings him home with a generous margin of energy for study, active pleasures, happiness and health in general.