Alex Aster is the managing editor of The Newsette, the author of a forthcoming series, and founder of Aster Way, a blog where she gives creators the inspiration they need to follow their dreams day by day. As part of our “Ask Alex” series, she tackles some of our readers’ most pressing questions, in an effort to bring a new perspective to the table. Today, Alex answers a question about feeling sluggish.

Dear Alex: I have no energy. But I sleep at least six hours a day. And I drink lots of coffee. Still–every day, there’s an inevitable crash at my desk. I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, and can’t find the mental strength to get through an entire workday. Help.

AA: There’s a phrase I like to remember when I’m frustrated. When I’m scratching my head, screaming internally, I’m doing everything right, why is it not working?! The phrase is: Banging your head against a door isn’t going to get you through it–it’s just going to give you a headache. If you just raised your eyebrows and said, say what? I get it. When you make up a phrase, it’s probably going to sound pretty strange for most other people. But stay with me.

Sometimes, we can be totally illogical. We can have a goal (get through the door), and come up with a not-so-smart solution (banging your head against it). When that doesn’t work, you would think we would try something else, right? You would think that after the first month of you drinking lots of coffee and sleeping six hours and that not working, you might pivot. But you don’t–and I get it. We’ve all approached problems like these by buckling down and saying, you know what? The solution must be more coffee. Six and a half hours of sleep. So, instead of changing strategies, we’re basically banging our heads against the wall with more vigor. Ouch.

Clearly, what you’re doing isn’t working. So, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Do you exercise a few times a week? Though it sounds counter-intuitive (and I’ve written a post about it here), working out can actually make you more productive, and give you more energy. What do you eat during the day? I learned the hard way at Penn during an exam that if you don’t fuel your body with nutritious foods, your brain will fail you in retaliation. Are you taking vitamins? Those can help give your body the minerals it needs to keep your mind alert and productive. Also, the caffeine doesn’t seem to be working. It could even be slowing you down. So, I would stick to one cup–or, if you’re willing–to go 30 days without it.

Finally, I know some people say 6 hours of sleep is enough, but actually, sleep is different for everyone. Some people can operate on their highest level on four hours of sleep (super humans). Most need eight. Clearly 6 isn’t your number. Do some trial testing to find what amount of rest works best for you.

So, stop banging your head against the door! Use the handle instead.

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