Everything we do requires energy. Many people blame a lack of time for their failure to reach their goals, when it’s actually that their typical day saps their energy before they get a chance to work on “dream road.”
Human energy is clearly important, let’s take a look at some of the worst ways to spend it. If we can cut down on our energy spending in these areas, we’ll have more energy left over for the things that truly deserve it.
Where NOT to Spend Your Energy
Think about the last time you won an argument and the other person said, “You’re right, I just changed my beliefs.” Maybe it happens once per lifetime (if you’re lucky). On the whole, arguments cost a lot of emotional and mental energy. And our reward for going through this difficult process? Nothing. It’s typically a negative experience for everyone involved. Nobody wins. Nobody changes their viewpoint. Then everyone needs a nap.
“A man lives by believing something: not by debating and arguing about many things.”
~ Thomas Carlyle
There will be conflict and disagreements in your life, of course, but instead of arguing, you can discuss. It takes two people to have an argument. Given that arguments are emotionally-charged and ego-driven, they’re unlikely to lead to anything positive; but a respectful discussion can lead to compromises and changed minds. It’s possible that you’ll be discussing something as someone else argues it, but you can’t control others. On that note…
2. Trying to Control Others
I know, I know. They’re doing it wrong. But that’s not your problem.
One of the most freeing facts of life is that you have direct and complete control over only one thing in the entire universe—yourself. Some people expend unbelievable amounts of physical, mental, and emotional energy to try to change and control other people. They’re always disappointed when they eventually find out that people can still make their own decisions. It’s a waste of energy to try to control and manipulate others.
Instead, we can influence people naturally. For example, say that you’d like your brother, John, to exercise more. The controlling way would be to try to use guilt and shame to manipulate him into going. You’d tell him he’s ruining his health, he won’t be there to take care of his family, etc. The healthier approach (that requires less energy) is something like, “John, I’m going to the gym, wanna join me? It’ll be fun!” You can ask or encourage him to go, but leave the decision up to him without any guilt-strings attached. The difference is fully understanding that it’s his decision and that you’re not responsible for his health and choices. It’s better for both of you.
“If I want to be free from any other man’s dictation, I must understand that I can have no other man under my control.”
~ William Graham Sumner
3. The Past
The more energy you surrender to the past, the less energy you leave for your future. Life consists of this moment forward.
Stephen King says that he likes to write stories by putting people in extreme situations to see how they get themselves out of it. It makes for exciting stories. But if the characters could simply reject their past, there would be no story. Embrace your story to this point, including the unsavory parts, and figure out how to get to a better situation. Going through tough times enriches your story. People love underdog stories because we all have experience being the underdog.
The present moment is unwritten and the possibilities for your life are literally endless. That’s comforting regardless of whether your past is positive or negative. We are the authors of our stories. What will you write next? Focus your energy on that.
Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy, you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in.
~ Katherine Mansfield
4. Your Problems
Your problems don’t deserve your energy, potential solutions do. Life is about where you’re going right now, not where you’ve been.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
~ Albert Einstein
Here’s a controversial one. The reason it’s here is because on the days that you feel unmotivated, trying to get motivated again is inefficient. It’s like burning 50 gallons of gasoline to produce a tiny bit of electricity. Instead of expending energy to try to get yourself to a state of motivation, it’s far more effective to start the desired action with a strategy like mini habits. Mini Habits has changed thousands of lives because it’s a more efficient use of energy than a direct motivation-generation strategy.
When I relied on motivation, I’d sit there on my bed trying to motivate myself, and the longer it took, the more defeated I felt, and the less likely it was going to happen. “Getting motivated” sounds positive, but when it doesn’t work, it’s an energy drain! Meanwhile, a tiny amount of willpower energy (i.e., a small step) can ignite your motivation to do more through the power of momentum. The next time you don’t feel motivated, don’t try to talk yourself into it. Instead, force yourself to take one step in the direction desired, and watch what happens. It’s great!
6. Sinking Ships
You need to be able to cut your losses. Since nobody likes to lose, we are prone to waste more energy than necessary in sinking ships. Once you let a ship sink, you’ve admitted to a loss, and that’s okay! Success doesn’t come about by never losing, it happens when you lose enough to learn enough to succeed.
Persistence is great, but to persist in something that has no chance to succeed is folly. To make it easier to drop a losing battle, consider the vast possibilities that await you on the other side of it. The world has too many excellent opportunities to get stuck on ones that fail. Persistence doesn’t mean trying the same thing repeatedly. You can persist in beating your head against the wall, but that’ll only concuss you. Warren Buffett said it best.
“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
~ Warren Buffett
7. Social Media
Social media is great in some ways, but compared to our other options, it is a notorious waste of energy when consumed in large doses. With the political unrest in the USA right now, Facebook is a cesspool of rants, bias, complaining, and bad news. It’s okay to be informed of the world’s happenings, but I heartily recommend that you find a different source than Facebook! I’ve wasted a lot of energy on Facebook in particular, and my life is no better for it. Social media provides a very low return on your invested energy (ROIE).
“Because it’s so easy to medicate our need for self-worth by pandering to win followers, ‘likes’ and view counts, social media have become the metier of choice for many people who might otherwise channel that energy into books, music or art – or even into their own Web ventures.”
~ Neil Strauss
8. Others’ Expectations
In the same breath that you can’t control others, don’t let others control you. We all feel the expectations of the world we live in, but what do we gain by abiding by them? Some people will be pleased by what you do, and others won’t be. The phrase “be yourself” has been so popular for so long because if you live life as you’d like to live, you will please some and displease others. It’s the same result as abiding by expectations, except that it’s the life you want to live! (Caveat: if you’re in a relationship, then you’d do well to consider the expectations of your partner. But don’t guess… Ask them what they expect from you and the relationship!)
“Many Japanese painters and calligraphers would change their names intentionally to keep their relationship to the art always fresh. This way, others’ expectations can be avoided.”
~ Tina Weymouth
Where to Spend Your Energy
Spend your energy anywhere that provides a favorable Return On Invested Energy (ROIE)!
Some of my favorite ways to spend energy (based on their high return) are…
- People/Relationships: Without others, life is bland. Without love, life is misery. A little bit of effort goes a long way with people.
- Devising Strategies and Planning: One effective strategy can change the entire trajectory of your life. Strategies can help you with every aspect of life. You can find a better way to shop, a better way to eat, a better way to sleep, a better way to communicate, and more, and once you do, the improvement is permanent because you can use strategies repeatedly. The ROIE in this category is insanely high!
- Working: It requires a lot of energy, but when you find a career that you love, the sense of satisfaction and contribution to the world is always worth it. I have no desire to ever retire because I enjoy what I do.
- Playing: Playing is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Sports and games are fun, bonding, and destressing; they are well worth the energy invested in them.
- Exercise: This is like a cheat code. When you exercise, it improves your fitness and baseline level of energy. Then you’ll have a lot more energy to spend in other places!
- Reading: I often fall asleep while reading, not because the content is boring, but because it takes a massive amount of mental energy to read and comprehend text (okay, reading in bed might be a factor). For the surprisingly high energy cost of reading, it’s worth every joule!
You may or may not agree with my suggestions, but at the very least, consider this concept: Energy is like money. You can spend it in a number of different places, and the best places to spend it will give you more value in return than they cost. That surplus is what a great life feels like—when your thoughts and actions meaningfully increase your enjoyment of life and your impact on the world.
If you’re unhappy with your life, it means you’re not happy with your return on invested energy—find other ways to expend energy.
(photo by snowpeak)