How to be better: Use your brain’s energy to grow your emotional power

by | Mar 24, 2024 | Blog | 4 comments

To what extent are you using your own energy to influence your own life? If you’re able to understand and appropriately use your emotional energy, especially your emotional power, you’ll be equipped to lead your own life and others. Until then, you may struggle.

That’s the thesis of the thought-provoking, insightful, and actionable book Energy Rising: The Neuroscience of Leading with Emotional Power by the neuropsychologist Julia DiGangi. Her broad background as a researcher, clinician, and worker in UN-declared emergency zones serving vulnerable individuals has given her a unique perspective on this topic.

Emotional power, as Dr. DiGangi defines it, is your “ability to stay strong in the midst of life’s inevitable challenges.” You’re able to deal with more obstacles when you’re comfortable working with your emotional energy, that is, your body’s electrical, chemical, and magnetic energies that combine to create your emotions. Her point is that you should view your emotional power not as what you do, but as the energy you possess, notice, and apply, which becomes the emotions you feel.

Humans experience many emotions. When you’re ready to get serious about better managing your energy, Dr. DiGangi suggests distilling your emotions into two kinds of energy: ones that hurt and ones that heal.

  • The painful emotions—the ones that deplete your emotional energy—can be a range of negative sensations, such as stress, worry, anxiety, frustration, confusion, shame, disappointment, inadequacy, jealousy, or anything else that causes you to feel bad.
  • The emotions that heal—that is provide you with emotional power—provide you with positive sensations, such as confidence, peace, resilience, worthiness, value, significance, and esteem.

To increase your emotional power, Dr. DiGangi explains that you need to accept a paradox of life—you need to stop avoiding your negative feelings and start to deal with your emotional pain. That’s because these feelings generally don’t go away on their own. And worse, your pain and level of exhaustion can continue to rise. Research by her and others show that you can spend extensive amounts of brainpower and bodily energy ignoring, pretending, denying your painful feelings, or making yourself numb. And that then can create more painful feelings in terms of increased exhaustion, burnout or sleepwalking through life.

Once you’re able to understand these concepts and then work with and through your emotional energy–including present and past pains–you can increase your emotional power and better sustain it. You’ll then become better at leading yourself.

And according to Dr. DiGangi, it also helps to stop viewing leadership as a position. Instead, view leadership as an overall identity. In other words, when you’re a leader you’re using your own energy to influence you and your life. It’s all about who you are being at all times of the day and all locations: at work; at home; in parenting; in relationships; etc.

The book combines useful science lessons with practical advice. For example, readers learn the basics about neuroenergetics, the field of studying how the brain creates, distributes and uses energy. This helps with understanding how to optimize your brain’s limited energy supply.

On the practical side, Dr. DiGangi presents eight “codes” for building your emotional power. The first five focus on helping you rewire your thinking and actions for different situations. These include transforming your emotional pain into emotional power and dealing with uncertainty based on your life experiences. The other three codes help you connect better to others.

Throughout the book, the writing is clear and wise. Dr. DiGangi explains the science including the research in an easy-to-read manner. She also shares many relatable stories and describes how to use the concepts for yourself and with others.

Some of my favorite concepts from the book are about connecting with others. They include:

  • “The people around us arouse our nervous systems for better and for worse. Our spouses soothe and infuriate us. Our children delight and disappoint us. Our coworkers support and aggravate us.”
  • “You can intelligently lead people only to the degree that you can manage difference…Every relationship problem is about difference—the complicated duality between independence and dependence.
  • “It’s like our brains are saying: ‘I really want to be connected to you and there’s one simple catch: I decide how we do things around here.’ All meaningful relationships invariably produce this type of tension.” (That is, people aren’t behaving as you want them to because they want to decide how to do things for themselves and maybe for you too.) “In fact, the more meaningful the relationship, the more tension you’ll likely feel.”
  • “The quality of the relationships you lead—at work, at home, and in your community—depend on whether you direct the energy of difference, always born in the tension of dependence and independence, toward a place of pain or a place of power.” According to Dr. DiGangi, you’ll improve the quality of these human relationships when people connect to you through their own free will rather than you trying to command them to do so.
  • “Change is hard to do because it’s energy intensive.” Furthermore, when you’re dealing with change, you may be experiencing conflicts within yourself as well as with others.

In less than 200 pages, Dr. DiGangi provides a self-leadership book like no other. She skillfully and credibly shows how to reflect on your own emotional experiences and then change the way you relate to your own emotions, which changes the power dynamics you have with yourself.

Her ideas are unconventional, and many seem counterintuitive initially; however, the science is sound. By accepting and dealing with the things that make you uncomfortable, anxious and/or stressed, you can better understand yourself. And this increased understanding along with greater emotional power will help you improve your relationship with yourself and with others.


  1. Meredith Eisenberg

    I’m going to grab this book. I’m stepping into a leadership role for Rotary of a club where most of the members are VERY different than I am. I know the key to doing that well and enjoying the year is both self management and the management of differences

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Congratulations, Meredith, on your leadership role! This book should be very helpful to you, especially since you’re describing a situation that could be full of energy-draining challenges. You deserve better, including lots of energy enriching experiences. Please keep me posted, and glad to help.

  3. Elise

    This book is calling my name and it feels like I’ll need a journal to go along. Your summary hints at some deep work that could help clear the thinking and leadership way for real, productive, efficient power. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Liz Guthridge

    You’re welcome! By moving forward, you’ll work on the “emotional shake” for your nervous system, similar to how you work on “muscle shake” for your body when you exercise. Your muscles get stronger when you work on resistance. You’ll strengthen your emotional energy when you take your emotional pain and convert it to power. Here’s a link to an insightful interview with the book’s author that another one of my newsletter subscribers shared:

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