I am watching a video of what appears to be an alien world. The animation shows brightly coloured life forms of irregular shape moving through a sea teeming with activity, performing tasks whose precise purpose is a mystery to me.
One could be forgiven for believing that this is a science fiction movie. You would be half right. It is science but very definitely not fiction. Far from being set in a distant galaxy, the action unfolding on the screen is taking place inside our bodies. The star of this extravagant production is not the latest silver screen celebrity – it is the mitochondrion. This, as you will already know, is the organelle concerned with cellular energy generation through its role in converting glucose into adenosine triphosphate.
If we are at all interested in human energy then it is helpful to visualise the physiological mechanisms responsible for it. Unfortunately the science is well beyond me and I cannot justify the considerable investment of time required to fully understand it. But that does not prevent me from using a few key concepts to help build an abstract view of this fascinating and important domain.
Why should I take the trouble to construct such a mental picture? Because human energy is a fundamental component of performance. One could even assert that our ability to consistently generate human energy and to apply it effectively is a definition of performance.
To perform well, simply being able to generate the energy is not enough. Filling the petrol tank of your car won’t allow you to reach your destination if you drive around aimlessly or have no map or directions to guide you. The energy needs to be controlled and applied in a very precise way. And without the energy itself we are unable to even start the journey. A vehicle with an empty tank will not reach its destination.
You could easily fill an entire library with books about human energy. We will satisfy ourselves for now with an ariel view of the factors that influence its supply and the effectiveness with which it is applied.
It is well understood that exercise promotes increased cellular density of mitochondria. The process, known as mitochondrial biogenesis, is facilitated by the remarkable cellular signalling mechanisms that respond to changes in stress – such as those caused by strenuous physical exertion. The human body is smart enough to know when it needs to make more mitochondria. Can you imagine your car building some extra engines because you keep increasing the number of passengers you carry and the speed at which you convey them?
Moving from the physiological sphere to the psychological, we must be aware of factors that sap our energy or cause it to be dispersed, diffused or squandered. We can look out for – and hence avoid – vampire beings, animate or inanimate, such as the Cyclops.
The manner in which our energy is directed depends on our goals, our cognitive ability, our mental health and our ability to concentrate our efforts. The Knot Garden considers human energy – and the effectiveness of its application – to be a matter of absolutely critical importance to the way we live our lives.