I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a ton of health and self-help books over the years trying to “fix” my chronic pain and fatigue. Last year I found a book called Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit. Instead of listing a bunch of “cures” that may or not work, this book takes a more holistic look at exploring your energy.
One of the most useful chapters for me was Chapter 3, From Chaos to Energy Balance. In this chapter she suggests examining your activities for their energy balance.
To start, pick an activity you might do on an energy draining day. Could be something related to personal hygiene, productivity or leisure. Now consider these aspects of the activity:
Does the activity activate your sympathetic (calm) or parasympathetic (fight/flight) nervous system?The sympathetic branch of your nervous system was designed to perform under crisis. It activates our fight or flight response. This is handy if you are being chased by a tiger, but in our modern fast paced world it is often over active. Add to that the tendency to pick up on things and react to them more intensely of the highly excitable person, and you have a recipe for Adrenal Fatigue! The parasympathetic branch acts as our “break pedal.” It helps us to stop and rest so that we can recuperate. Things that decrease the heart and breathing rate, such as meditation and taking a hot bath, can activate the parasympathetic branch.
When you think about this activity do you feel scared or brave? If you are doing something out of guilt, shame or apprehension then it will be draining to you. If, on the other hand, your actions are motivated by assertiveness, joy and goodwill, it will be more energizing to you.
Do you see this activity as an obligation or a joy? Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life, is fond of saying, “don’t do anything that isn’t play.” (p.135) If we do things only out of a sense of duty, not only is it draining for us, but will eventually engender resistance to perform the activity. He encourages a shift by translating “have to” to “choose to.” To do this you acknowledge that you are choosing to do something because you like the outcome. Instead of saying, “I have to ___”, say “I choose to ___ because I want ___.” For example, I might say, “I choose to clean my house because I want to enjoy peaceful surroundings.”
Are you doing the activity for others or for yourself? It is one thing to do something for others because you enjoy contributing to their wellbeing. If you are doing it for approval or recognition though, it is likely to get draining fast. Even if we are doing it for the enjoyment of making their lives better, if we put their needs before our own we don’t get the chance to recharge our own batteries. As Montpetit says, “Over time, what we enjoy doing for others ends up becoming an obligation when we continually deprive ourselves in order to be able to do this activity.” (p.66)
When doing this activity do you feel connected or disconnected? According to Montpetit, a sense of powerlessness comes of feeling alone (or disconnected) in the universe. (p.67) This leaves you feeling on guard and forcing things in the direction you want them to go. Eventually you might resign yourself to a feeling of helplessness. When you feel connected and powerful, on the other hand, you have an inner feeling of well-being and a sense that you are part of a whole greater than yourself. You come to a place of acceptance where power comes from working with reality instead of pushing against it.
When you do this activity, is your focus on the past and/or future or is it on the present? This concept was actually brought up in a later chapter, but I think it is another element to consider when taking stock of your energy balance. In our culture we are often focused on striving toward the future or pondering the past without taking the time to really be in the present. This is why mindfulness meditation has taken off and helped a lot of people. If your mind is on the past or future, your energy is more likely to be drained. Bring yourself to the present moment to help recharge your battery.
What I particularly like about Lucie Montpetit’s approach is that while some of these elements are clearly draining or energizing, a lot of it is in how we perceive them. If we can activate our courage, spirit of play, self-care, sense of power and be mindful in the moment, some of the same activities can become a lot more energizing.
Taking these elements into account, what is something that renews your energy that you would like to make more time for into your day? What is something you are already doing that could be made more energizing by shifting your perspective a bit?