Life is happening with each heartbeat. The ups and downs we experience are part of the story, and part of a natural order. During a recent conversation, we stumbled into the imagery of success and life looking like the waves of an EKG (electrocardiogram).
Visually, the EKG, like our journey through life, mirrors what happens when the electrical signals of your heart are measured, or your experiences are drawn into waves. When the EKG flat lines, the journey and vigorous experiences of life fade to nothing and the end is imminent.
What I find interesting is how the EKG measures three main actions of the heart that symbolically resembles phases of life. It measures the depolarization of the upper heart chamber where blood is received after traveling throughout the body. It also measures the depolarization of the lower heart chamber when blood is pumped into the body full of oxygen. Lastly, it measures the repolarization of the same lower heart chamber.
This may sound complicated but I promise it's all fitting. The heart is a muscle that functions from electrical pulses. Like any other muscle it contracts and releases. Depolarization can be thought of as the heart muscle contracting. Sometimes that contraction looks like a high wave and other times it looks like a low wave on the EKG. We can think of repolarization as the resting period or the refractory period. Like any other muscle in your body, recovery is needed to avoid burnout.
How is our life anything like the waves of an EKG?
The answer is experience. Life is a compilation of experiences, good, bad and indifferent. How these experiences make you feel consciously or unconsciously impacts and contributes to what you perceive to be your life.
In a similar way, life experience is like the heart muscle contracting and releasing. The depolarization (or contraction) of the upper heart chamber, that receives the blood that has traveled throughout the body is like our experience downloading and absorbing the things around us.
As human beings, I believe we are spirit and energy. From the time we are born, we are receiving energy and messages from the people around us. We are not born capable of giving, we are first born in the state of receiving. We are made vulnerable to receive the energy that has been created through the experiences of our parents, the culture we are born into, the society we live in and the period of history we are brought into.
The interesting thing is, that the blood that the heart receives has been deoxygenated. Meaning that the blood traveled throughout the body rich in oxygen and returns with no oxygen left. It returns to the heart to be oxygenated again, thus a very brief and lay explanation of your circulatory system.
Similar to the deoxygenated blood returning to the heart, we also receive sometimes tainted, watered down, less than rich energy and messages from the people around us. This cycle continues from birth well into your adult years. As children, what we download and accept is seemingly beyond our control. As adults, you get to decide what messages and energy you want to download and internalize. Yet, for many this is still an unconscious process which I believe results in a victimized and helpless mentality.
Another part of life that resembles the EKG is the depolarization of the lower heart chamber, the ventricles. This is the most visibly recognizable part of the EKG, also referred to as the QRS complex, the largest wave seen. There are three deflections that make up this complex: a downward, an upward and another downward deflection. I believe this is representative of the experiences we've all had with relationships, breakthrough moments, overcoming challenges, starting your business and so much more.
As you reflect, you may find that many of your highest moments, or biggest emotional waves are bookended by these small downward deflections. The feeling of doubt before a big product launch followed by the return to reality from the high you undoubtedly experience is one example. The feeling of life being just "okay" before you experience the world wind emotions of falling in love followed by a downward deflection of loss and finding yourself again is another example.
Even more interesting is that during the QRS complex is when the heart pumps oxygen rich blood back into the body. I like to think of this as being our output. This is the "big wave" on the EKG that shows where we have peak experiences and we get to inject "oxygen-rich" energy and passion into the environment around us. Unlike being an infant that can only download, this is where we get to upload and contribute to a higher purpose for humanity.
In our journey through life and on our road to success, however you choose to define it, we get to decide on a purpose worth pursuing. What we decide to pursue, good or bad still contributes to the electrical pulses, the ups and downs we can read on our life's EKG. We just have to understand that these things are happening and grapple with them consciously to execute from an even higher version of ourselves.
The other significant part of success and life that the EKG resembles is the much needed recovery or refractory period that is measured. This is the repolarization of the ventricles, where the heart muscle relaxes. If you are a parent, a high performing professional or an entrepreneur aiming for high end goals, rest and recovery is desperately needed to execute at the level you truly desire.
In a masterclass on grit, Steven Kotler explains that recovery allows you to sustain over long periods of time. An active recovery practice will prevent burnout down the line. While I will admit that I need more discipline putting this into practice myself, I believe one of the greatest reasons that we do not consciously control our heart muscle is because we would literally kill ourselves much faster. Our anatomy intuitively knows rest and recovery are needed, but for what we can control we think rest is optional and for those less motivated.
Ultimately, the EKG resembles more than just the ups and downs we experience in life. It visually shows what is going on with our heart that is keeping us alive. An enhanced life and greater success happens when we observe what is taking place when we contract, download, and absorb the energy and environments around us. We can see what is possible for us when we execute and create peak experiences and understand that those experiences are bookended by small downward deflections, and we get to repeat the cycle. Lastly we should be reminded that even our heart is built with the knowledge to rest and recover, so we should prioritize and value rest much more.
The punchline here is that not experiencing the roller coaster of ups and downs that is life and success means that you flatline. My hope for you is to live your best life and remember, life is not just about you, its about your impact on those that download what you send out too.