Are you an anabolic or catabolic leader?

(7 min read)

Your energy (aka, your attitude) dictates how you show up in the world, and your energy is dictated by your perceptions and beliefs of the world, others and yourself.

Depending on how you perceive a given situation you are going to experience a mix of two kinds of energy: Catabolic and Anabolic energy.

Catabolic energy is characterized by destructive, contracting, stressful energy. It’s the kind of energy that’s present when you feel that you “have to” finish this project on time or when you “should” have that difficult conversation with your COO. Catabolic energy is the grit-your-teeth, get-it-out-the-way, push through it kind of energy that helps you get the job done. It can also be characterized by an apathetic, “low-energy” kind of feel vibe that has you avoiding unpleasant work or people.

Anabolic energy, on the other hand, is creative, fueling and expanding. At work, it shows up as enjoyment of the process - even when it’s challenging. At home, it shows up when you are spending treasured time with someone you love, fully present and fully engaged. In sports, it shows up when you are performing at your best, seemingly without thinking. It’s the kind of energy you experience when you are in a flow state: everything feels effortless and you’re operating at your highest potential.

At any given moment, you are experiencing a combination of catabolic and anabolic energy.

Why do we experience one type of energy or the other?

Imagine an identical scenario where one can experience two completely different kinds of energy:

You’ve been in business for a couple of years and it is the time of year where you sit down to review your budget and operating expenses. In the following two scenarios, you hold two different sets of beliefs that completely shape your reality.

Scenario 1: 

You believe that numbers are hard. In high school, you always did poorly in math class and years later when you took that online accounting course, you found it incredibly frustrating and didn’t finish it. You find this yearly meeting to be a “necessary evil” to keep the business moving and making an impact on the communities it supports. You also have a sneaking suspicion that your accountant and teammate are rolling their eyes at the absurdly simple questions you need answers to. You might believe that *actual* business people already know this stuff. You feel deflated or doubtful that anyone actually takes you seriously because of this weak spot. 

Scenario 2:

You believe that numbers are a challenge AND financial reviews are a chance to learn new things and get a different perspective on the business. Although you never did well in math class, you see the value and importance of keeping yourself abreast of the financials of your company. You are grateful that this process lies within your COO’s zone of genius. Although you ask lots of questions at these meetings, you know that your team is there to support you in making sure you understand every little detail. 

It doesn’t take much to realize to notice how different you are thinking, feeling and behaving in each scenario. Your energy impacts everything. And it is completely dependent on the beliefs and perceptions you hold about the world, others and yourself. 



The seed of change begins with awareness and identifying how catabolic and anabolic energy shows up for you. 

Throughout your day, ask yourself: Am I experiencing anabolic or catabolic energy right now? 

If you’re experiencing catabolic energy, you may feel low-level (or high-level) stress, overwhelm or resistance. 

Catabolic energy will leave you with a sense that there is a problem and someone is at fault (either you or another person). You also might be feeling stuck, overwhelmed, demotivated or that a particular aspect of your life or business is out of your control. You might notice that your current situation is negatively affecting your mood. 

When anabolic fueling energy is present, there is a sense of motivation, clarity and forward-movement. 

You may feel a strong sense of confidence, motivation and self-reliance. You may feel clear and grounded. Anabolic energy will have you see challenges as opportunities to grow.

Once you bring awareness to your current experience, the next crucial element of transformation becomes available to you: choice.

Freedom to choose how you want to respond to situations (vs. reacting to them) becomes available once catabolic energy is identified, acknowledged and cleared. Being at choice is one of the most powerful places you can act from. Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning where he chronicles his 4 years spent living in concentration camps during the Holocaust, describes this eloquently: 

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

At Level 7 Leadership, we partner with social-impact founders to skyrocket their self-awareness and provide them with tools to more easily and effectively choose how they want to show up.

Want to learn how we do that? Check out our services page to learn more.


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