Where’s the Energy Drain?

Coach Heidi
That’s a simple question, and it’s also a really important point of inquiry.

So often when we feel stuck, it’s because we’re trying really hard to use energy on something that’s going to drain it away instead of putting that energy where it could truly do the most good.

Here’s a story from the recent past:

One morning when the alarm went off at 6am (Hello new middle school schedule! Ugh.) I rolled out of bed feeling a little more tired than I wanted to feel. I hung in there just fine through breakfast and getting my daughter onto the bus on time and the first hours of Monday work “post-weekend catch up.” Then at about 9:30 (Now that I get up at 6am, 9:30 is the new 11, yay?) I hit a slump. I started to get crabby and didn’t feel like doing anything at all, especially not helping people make better decisions about their own health and wellbeing. (Which is what I do all day as a wellness coach. This is markedly more challenging when I don’t feel like making wellness minded choices myself.) Anyway, by 9:30 I was pretty well caught up on my post-weekend work that needed to happen, so my slump wasn’t a result of being too busy. No, my slump was due to the cycle that I sometimes fall into that looks like this:

Finishes work tasks, looks at to-do list, sees nothing pressing. Checks email. Responds to one email, nothing else pressing needs to be done. Checks freelance communication hub. Nothing pressing, no deadlines. Checks work Slack. Nada. Checks Facebook, clicks around for a few too many minutes looking at…cats? People’s kids who I haven’t actually talked to in years? How many people interacted with the latest post on my author fan page? (less than usual, thanks algorithm, no I do not want to boost this post) Gah. Checks Instagram, scrolls until admonishes self for scrolling mindlessly. Thinks about what I ‘should’ be doing based on what all these other author/wellness people are telling me they are doing. Reminds self that doing all the things isn’t a good idea. Checks on work, still nothing pressing. Checks email. Checks Facebook. Checks Instagram…

You see where this is going.

The cycle, when there’s nothing major on my to-do list and things are a little slow at work, is to …just check. You know, in case there’s something to see. Which there often isn’t. But, you see….WHAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENS? So I keep checking, and that, in addition to this cycle being a direct result of our dopamine economy, is but one example of an energy drain.

So anyway, from there, once I called myself on the energy drain, I had a few choices: Option one: I could continue on in the pattern, clicking around, waiting for something to happen. (This sounds terrible in writing, why would anyone do that?! I could go out to the garden, make cookies, read a book, write a letter, work on some other project … yet it’s so easy to fall into that just.. check.. one.. more.. time.. trap.) Which leaves option two: Get up from my computer and do something analog. (This takes energy, but the funny thing about energy drains—especially mental ones— is that you often have to tap into your other energy stores to stop the leak.)

I’m happy to report that I closed my computer, laced up my running shoes, and headed for a trail that’s a five minute drive from my house. I had the time today to do this, so I did it. I really didn’t FEEL like running – my energy felt low and I was lethargic. I told myself I’d just walk awhile and see what happened, and what do you know…by the time I was fully under the canopy that’s just hinting at autumn, I was jogging. And as I expended that energy, I could feel my reserves start to fill again. The drain was patched. I even broke a sweat.

A few hours later, I was still feeling pretty good, though I had to stay mindful of not falling back into the “let me just check” cycle. A few times I did, but I knew I could patch the drain again by closing the computer and stepping outside, even if it was just for five minutes.

Consider your current life balance – be it in regards to work at a day job, work within the home, a side gig, or whatever else you’ve got going on: Where’s the energy drain? Where are you putting energy that’s not coming back in kind? Is the energy drain physical, existential, social, environmental, emotional, mental, financial, or vocational? What would happen if that drain wasn’t there? Of course, there are some things in life that zap energy–not all of us are born into life situations that allow ample pivots and introspection on what could shift. And navigating grief or mental illness or really hard relationship situations are all potentially “draining”, but not necessarily because of leaks—some things are just really hard. Really hard situation aside, there IS often at least a little bit of room, no matter what’s going on, to look at where energy is going and stop the leak, even if just for a little while.

Put your energy where it can do the most good. What would change if you did?

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