‘The process of writing, the process of reflecting on where we are right now and what must happen for us to move forward towards where we want to be, this is a process of living with greater intention.’
What’s your most precious resource? Time? Money? Or is it, in fact, your energy?
No matter how smart or skilled we are, if our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy is depleted, day after day, we won’t be showing up to do our best work.
In this conversation, Simon Alexander Ong reveals how we can design our lives to maximize our energy, so that we can maximize our impact. Spoiler alert: writing is one of his secret weapons…
Energize site: https://getenergizebook.com/
Simon on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simonalexanderong/
Simon on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/simonalexandero/
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Alison Jones: I’m here today with Simon Alexander Ong, who is a personal development entrepreneur, coach and public speaker. His clients are from all walks of life, but they all share one trait: they all believe that the greatest investment you can make is in yourself.
Simon regularly keynotes public events and conferences, and his new book Energize was published by Penguin in April 2022, so the month before we are speaking.
Welcome to the show Simon, it’s great to have you here.
Simon Alexander Ong: Alison, thank you so much for having me on your show today.
Alison Jones: It’s lovely to see you. And I want to talk to you about energy. I’m feeling a bit depleted right now, post Business Book Awards, end of a long day and I just thought your, where you capture energy as a scarce resource and the thing that we need to manage, much more than we manage time, which we talk about a lot, was really, really fascinating.
So just let’s kick off with that. When you’re talking about energy, what do you mean by that? And why does it matter?
Simon Alexander Ong: Sure, for me it is absolutely important, especially when we have big goals and dreams that we want to work towards, because what I’ve observed in my entrepreneurial journey so far is that the most successful in any industry isn’t the most intelligent, the strongest or the fastest, often it is those able to sustain their energy over the long term. Because they know that you simply cannot show up as your best self if you’re always starting each day exhausted and depleted of energy.
And so that’s where I think energy comes into play, it’s understanding that once we address not just the physical, because I think the physical is the obvious place, ie get sufficient rest, sufficient sleep, keep your body well hydrated and move your body, but also the emotional, the mental and the spiritual side. Once we address those what happens is that we can approach each day from a greater place of energy.
Alison Jones: And talk me through the other aspects. So I think everybody’s completely on board with you with the physical stuff. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m exhausted. If I don’t hydrate, you know, if I don’t get, if I go for a run, I come back feeling more energetic. We do get that. Talk us through the other aspects of energy so the mental, the emotional and the spiritual.
Simon Alexander Ong: Sure, so I’ll start with the spiritual energy. So, you know, if you are feeling low in spiritual energy, when you are doing something that goes against who you are or does not allow you to express your potential, your talents and your skills. And that’s why when you look at society, often we are exhausted not because we’re doing too much, but because we’re doing too little of the things that bring us joy and we’re often running someone else’s race. But once we take ownership of who we are and do something that is aligned to our true self and the abilities that we possess that is when we begin to feel higher on spiritual energy.
Mental energy is simply our ability to focus, you know, in a world that is increasingly noisy, busy and distracted. Many of us have actually low mental energy because we are giving up our mental energy to everyone and everything around us. And so once we have the ability to manage our attention and focus, that is when we begin to elevate our mental energy.
And then emotional energy is simply understanding, how do we respond to things that are outside of our control? Because very often in life, especially when you start a new path, or you try something new, you are going to face obstacles, challenges, and setbacks. Now, for many of us, we will get caught up in that. But if we are careful and if we can pause, step back and seek a new perspective, what happens is we begin to master our emotional energy. We don’t let it control us, but we begin to master how we respond to things that are often outside of our control.
And so for me, once we begin to address those areas of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, what happens is that we increase the probability, Alison, that we can enter more periods of flow.
Alison Jones: Where we actually get more done in a more joyful state. I guess the holy grail is, how do you get more of that energy? So is it, I mean, it sounds like it could be a circular question. You know, when I have the energy to focus on my mental energy, then I get more mental energy. If you’re feeling depleted in every sphere, where do you start?
Simon Alexander Ong: I think the first place to start is if that you are feeling exhausted is first of all, just to slow down. Sometimes a reason that we are exhausted most often it’s because we’re just putting too many things into our diary. I mean, when we plan our week ahead, often we are quick to put in work meetings, quick to put in social events, quick to put in our holiday plans. But how quick are you to put in ‘me time’ into your diary?
And so I think the first place to start is simply by looking at your calendar and seeing how much of that week have you blocked out simply for yourself. And what happens is that once you start doing so, you begin to tap into the fact that we all have an energetic rhythm.
So we simply can’t be working all the hours in the day. We’ve got to start thinking, well, how can I integrate periods of intentional rest so that I can readily reset, recharge and rejuvenate to come back with a fresh new pair of eyes?
Alison Jones: And that might take some experimentation, I guess, in terms of when in the day, when the week is best for that. And also what you do with that time.
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely. And that is why I’m a big believer that self-development cannot happen without self-awareness because you can’t change what you’re not aware of. And so some of us will have greater energy in the morning. Some of us will have greater energy in the evenings. And so once we start to understand our own rhythm, what happens is that we can start working with our body and not against it.
Alison Jones: And you mention self-awareness, which is a phrase that comes up repeatedly in the book. And I think one of the tools – I’m going to seize on this in a very self-interested way, because it’s what I care about most – it’s not a book about writing, but there’s an awful lot of writing in it. You invite people to reflect and to write and you do say that writing can be a really helpful tool for self-awareness, so one of my passions… Talk us through that.
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely. For me, and it’s a subtext that I use in the second chapter, I mention that writing as a tool can be the cheapest form of therapy. Because what happens is that when you write, and now when I talk about writing, I don’t mean typing on a computer or on a tablet, like an iPad, I mean actually putting pen to paper…
Alison Jones: Because something different happens in your brain, doesn’t it?
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely, because I think the very activity of putting pen to paper, it forces you to slow down. It forces you to clarify your thoughts, to read what you’ve written on paper, and then to organize what you’ve got on the pages you’ve just written on. And that process is something that cannot be replicated when you’re typing on a device. And there’s a great comment that I share in the book from a woman that I had the pleasure to interview when putting the book together called Diana Chao.
And when she delivered a Ted talk, she said in her presentation, that writing is humanity distilled into ink. Writing is humanity distilled into ink. And I think the reason that spoke out to me when I first heard her share that statement is because through the process of writing, we get to know more about ourselves. And I think that in this pursuit of wisdom, of insight and ideas, that is where it begins. I mean, true wisdom begins with knowing ourselves, and the best place to start is putting what is in your mind onto paper so you can see what is going in your mind and organize your thoughts, so you get greater clarity.
Alison Jones: And there’s a sort of interface, isn’t there, between the invisible and the stuff that you don’t even perhaps recognize in your own head, and writing is a process by which you make it visible, just to yourself at first, but then ultimately can go on to communicate with other people.
I want to talk about how you wrote the book actually, and I’d be interested to hear, but just before we move on to that, your point about intentionality as well and, I mean, I guess one of the things that writing with pen and paper is doing is it’s taking you out of that world of distraction, out of the kind of always-on, screen-based, work posture where you’re hunched over your computer. So that in itself is a good thing. But you mention that the way that writing can help you be more intentional and the value of that, I thought that was such a great word. Just tell us a little bit more about what you mean by that.
Simon Alexander Ong: Yes, I think intention at a broad level is so important because a lot of us talk about designing a great life, working towards something that is meaningful for us. But if we break that down, Alison, you cannot design a life without designing your days, because that’s where it begins.
We have to live with intention each and every day. If we don’t, then we’re never really going to design the life that we want, because life is made out of what we put into our days. And so for me, the process of writing, the process of reflecting on where we are right now and what must happen for us to move forward towards where we want to be, this is a process of living with greater intention.
And unless we are committed to that process of living with intention, then we cannot be dissatisfied with the result because we’re giving up control of that future or the trajectory of where we want to be to somebody else. It’s only when we take responsibility and live with greater intention that we can control where we arrive tomorrow.
Alison Jones: I love that, and writing is a tool to force you into that state of articulating it and also to hold you accountable on the page. Yes.
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely.
Alison Jones: Wonderful. So let’s talk about your own writing. What does it look like for you? How did you go about taking the invisible stuff that’s been swirling around, that’s been born of practice and working with people and the insights you’ve had, what’s the process by which you translate that onto the page of the book that I’m holding?
Simon Alexander Ong: Sure. So I think, first of all, I want to share with the audience that, you know, writing this book has been one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced. Now, writing a book itself is a challenge, especially when, in my case, you’re going from, the longest thing you wrote before was a newsletter or a social media caption or something in your diary, to a piece of work that is 65,000 words. And you throw into the mix the fact that you just become a parent for the first time, your family are not around because they’re living abroad, your wife and yourself are running a business that has to adapt because of COVID and the whole world is in lockdown. And so that’s why for me, it was one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced.
But I think going back to the question, what helped me is a habit that I picked up from an interview with Richard Branson. So when Richard Branson did an interview, one of the questions he had got asked was ‘what one tip would you give to those who are looking to either be better leaders in their life or improve as an entrepreneur?’
And he said, ‘one of the habits I would want people to embrace is to carry a notepad and pen wherever you go, because you have no idea when an idea or an insight strikes you from a conversation with a random stranger to something you read in a magazine or newspaper that’s left on a train or mode of public transport. And so that allows you to capture all of these things onto paper.’
And I think the process of doing that for myself in the years leading up to landing that book deal, meant that when I sat down to pull together my thoughts and research, I already had it all laid out in a number of different notebooks. I just had to revisit all the things that I’d captured by writing these thoughts onto paper, and then weave a thread through them so it made sense and there was a narrative that binded them together. So it meant that I took a lot of the hard work out of the process simply by having embraced this habit over the years.
Alison Jones: And what really strikes me about that as well, just taking it back to the energy piece, is that if you are depleted, if you don’t feel you have the energy to do what you need to do in the day, you aren’t going to be open to those random things coming in because there’s no space. Your attention is already stretched too thin.
So, the more you manage your energy and feel able to do what needs to be done and still retain the kind of curiosity, the openness to other things coming in, the more creative you’re able to be, and probably the more easily you solve problems, as well as writing books, I would have thought.
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely, because I think when you manage your energy effectively, what happens is that you are more able to live in the present. You’re more able to live in the present, not worry about what happened in the past, what is the come later in the day or tomorrow or next week. Your energy is right in this present moment.
And what I think we realize, and I realize especially now being a parent, is that at the end of the day, people do not want your time as much as they want your energy. You know, you could be…
Alison Jones: Oh, that’s a great observation.
Simon Alexander Ong: …you could be spending two hours with your child. But you’re not there in the two hours that you’re there with them, you might be on your phone, you might be distracted, you might be thinking about that meeting you’ve got to plan for tomorrow, or you’re dwelling about an argument you had with a friend yesterday, so your energy really isn’t with that child or that partner, or that friend that you’re with. But when you are present people feel it, people know it. And so I think when our energy is in the present, what happens is what you said there, Alison, is that suddenly we access this creative energy that we all possess.
Alison Jones: And we build better relationships as well. A great point. So when your, I mean, you make it sound like a sort of charmed thing, that you brought all this stuff together and poof, out popped book, it doesn’t work like that. Tell us what you struggled with and what delighted you, and you know, what actually was it about the process that you learned about yourself?
Simon Alexander Ong: Sure. So reflecting on the journey, my biggest struggle was getting the hours in that I needed to, because before I started the writing journey and became a parent for the first time, I had this imagined scenario, I can imagine many first-time authors may have of putting in a few hours every day, having a nice cup of tea and an organized study, very minimalist, with my laptop in the centre of it and writing away for hours.
Unfortunately wasn’t reality because I would start writing and then 15 minutes into my writing our child would be crying and then I had to go in and change nappies, feed the baby, do all the things that you would have to do as a parent and then come back and think, well, actually, where did I last leave off? And so the actual reality of the writing journey was it was very up and down.
You know, I had to nap when often my child napped to catch up on sleep and I would have to do writing in very, very short bursts. And so that was the most challenging for me.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. We all recognize that. And that in itself is a problem as you say, it’s finding your way back into that energy. In a sense there are different kinds of writing, aren’t there? So there’s the certain kinds of writing that you can do in quite a distracted way, the sort of superficial stuff where you know what it is you want to say. How did you carve out the time for the other kind of writing, the kind where you’re articulating something for the first time?
Simon Alexander Ong: I think what I did when it was that type of writing when I needed to articulate something for the first time and form I guess the genesis of the chapter and the narrative arc that I wanted to touch on, I would do that writing when my child first fell asleep because I knew at least in the first half an hour, hour, there would be quiet.
After that, it was hit and miss sometimes, once they go through that first part of the nap, it actually gives you a lot of writing time. And so that’s what I did. So at least I got that out of the way and in the periods when she was up and she was around me, I would be more focused on the research side, you know, the sort of work that demanded less
Alison Jones: The stuff you can pick up and put down as you need to. Yes
Simon Alexander Ong: Exactly, things that you can, I could watch a video, I could search something on Google, I could read a paper and I could extract some notes that I wanted to include in the book. And so I would do that activity when she was up or when she was crawling around, in which I didn’t need that deep focus.
Alison Jones: That’s hilarious. I think anybody with children will recognize that.
If I were to ask you what your best tip would be for somebody writing a book for the first time, what would you say?
Simon Alexander Ong: I would say the best tip for writing a book for the first time, and I’m going to encompass the whole process and I’ll share why in a minute, but my best tip would be, find ways to make the process fun and enjoyable, because if you don’t it can start to feel like a chore. Because writing a book isn’t an overnight activity.
You know it took me over two years and a couple of months from the moment I signed the contract with Penguin to getting my book out into the world. So it’s not an overnight journey. This is going to take you the best part of a couple of years. And so you’ve got to find a way to make that process enjoyable.
Now, for me, when I went through some dips in the writing journey, I would collaborate with fellow authors, people who were also writing books at the time. And I would say, how about we jump on a Zoom call at some point and we turn our audio off and we simply have our videos on so we can see each other writing. And for me, that was the equivalent of going to a gym class, and the moment you feel like you’re hitting a block, you see everybody else in the room still running or still lifting those weights. Even those who may be less fit than you. And that just inspires you to keep going. And that had that effect on me, as well as when I was marketing the book, it was how can I make that process enjoyable and fun.
So, you know, so that for me became a really enjoyable activity.
Alison Jones: I love that. And that point about involving other people is really interesting, isn’t it? Because you can, when you haven’t got any energy of your own, you can borrow other people’s. I mean, the more people that are interested and engaged with your book, asking you about it, bouncing around ideas, you can borrow their energy, can’t you?
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely. And I think it’s not just, it’s not just people. What also worked for me is subtle shifts in the environment. So, you know, you don’t want to be spending all of your time in the years that you will be putting this book together in the same room. You want to vary things up a little bit, you know, maybe one day the weather’s nice you go outside and you write, or you go to the lobby of a beautiful hotel and write. So you start to choose very different places. They still possess positive energy that when you write there, you feel inspired. You feel motivated. And sometimes that’s all we need. Sometimes we just need a shift in environment because if we just do it in the same place every single day, it can start to feel a bit stale.
Alison Jones: That’s so interesting. Did you ever go out to a cafe or a place where there’s sort of background noise and human company, or did you always do it on your own?
Simon Alexander Ong: Yes. I was fortunate. I mean, I’m living close to a hotel here and so I would often go there in the cafe, order a cup of coffee or tea, and then just get writing and people around you would always be different, they always change, as they do in a hotel. And so that was natural variety in the environment set up.
Alison Jones: It’s so interesting, isn’t it? I think there’s a PhD somewhere in the sort of, you know, the human white noise that facilitates writing. You just feel there’s something very isolating about writing and it can drain your energy hugely, but just putting yourself with other people on a zoom screen or in a hotel lobby or in a cafe, it can be magical.
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely Alison, and sort of us just speaking about it now reminds me of the same feeling we get when we board an airplane and you have to turn your phones off and slowly what happens is we start picking up a magazine or newspaper that’s left in the in the seat we’re in or the area we’re sitting in, and we started immersing ourself in that work. I mean, what’s happened is suddenly we don’t have those distractions, it is a new environment, but it’s very conducive to a state of flow. And so that’s why lots of people when they go on holiday, they’re like, oh, I read this really good article in a magazine or came across this or came across that, because we don’t have as many distractions, we’ve given ourselves space to just be in that moment and absorb whatever we’re doing in that activity.
Alison Jones: And also it’s like the difference between listening to your curated Spotify list and switching on the radio, isn’t it? You don’t quite know what’s going to come at you and sometimes that’s what you need, you can start in a different place. I love that.
And I always ask my guests as well, Simon, to recommend a business book. Now I say a business book but actually it can be any book and people have gone very off piste with this.
You’re not allowed to nominate your own obviously, but what’s a book that has had a real impact on you that you would recommend that others should read?
Simon Alexander Ong: Well, if I may, I’m going to break the rule a little bit and mention two books.
Alison Jones: You won’t be the first. I’m sure you won’t be the last.
Simon Alexander Ong: Yes, it’s just simply because I read so many books and as you can imagine many resonate with me. The first one is The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. And if you are an avid reader, you will probably finish it in one night, because it’s not a long book. I mean, it’s a parable in which the principles that the authors are trying to share is built into the story.
And for me, it’s one of those books, which I reread again and again and again, because each time I read it, I learn something new. So my first recommendation would be The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann.
Alison Jones: That’s a great recommendation.
Simon Alexander Ong: The second book would be from Simon Sinek, who endorsed my book. And the recommendation would be his latest one called The Infinite Game.
He’s written a number of books. Start With Why, Leaders Eat Last, Together is Better. But for me, The Infinite Game is the best of the books that he has written, because it illustrates something that I know, but in a really novel way, I mean he talks about the fact that many businesses focus on the finite game, which is we’re trying to be number one, or we’re working to be the best, the problem with that sort of thinking is well number one according to who? Who’s deciding, what’s the metric? Who’s deciding the metric?
Alison Jones: And also: then what?
Simon Alexander Ong: Exactly, then what?
Whereas if we position our business to play the infinite game, what happens is we actually end up winning, but not because we’re focused on winning, but because we’re focused on the fact that this is a long game.
So the way he introduces the principles of how we can all start to play an infinite game is very powerful. And I love his work, I’ve followed him for a number of years. So that would be my second recommendation.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s another great recommendation. And so much comes in there that if you’re a student of business books and you’re writing a business book, I mean, he writes like an angel, but also The Infinite Game is a great title because it’s intriguing and it’s resonant. And that metaphor, as you say, allows you to see stuff that you kind of knew, but you’d never expressed it that way. It’s really helpful.
Yes, great. Good recommendations. Thank you. I’m glad you picked two good ones if you’re going to break the rule. And I guess the only thing left to do… so if people want to find out more about you more about Energize, where should they go?
Simon Alexander Ong: Sure. So if you want to find out more about the book, you can go to the website getenergizebook.com and that is energize with a Z. And in terms of my social media, I’m most active on LinkedIn and Instagram. So if you go on LinkedIn search for Simon Alexander Ong, and reach out to my personal profile, not the company page.
And if you are on Instagram, my handle is @SimonAlexanderO.
Alison Jones: I’m so jealous of people with distinctive names, I can’t tell you. Wonderful. Well, I shall put those links up on the show notes @extraordinarybusinessbooks.com, along with the transcript of this conversation.
What absolute joy to speak to you and thank you for a book that really challenged me particularly about integrating all those different elements. Again, I knew all this stuff, but it’s how you integrate it and it’s thinking about the non-physical aspects of energy and the importance of all of those alongside as well. I found it hugely helpful. So thank you.
Simon Alexander Ong: Definitely. And thank you so much again, Alison, for having me on your show.