Some months ago, I read an article on Linkedin about the common traits of ambitious people. What stayed with me most from that post was the author’s emphasis on figuring out and holding onto your personal energy equation. This, in the author’s opinion, was critical for handling overwhelming stress and challenging situations. Not only that, it could help you shift your thinking from trying to achieve the elusive work-life balance to the more practical work-life fitness paradigm.
Around the same time, I was on a self-imposed break from social media and blogging. And this post got me thinking about my very own energy equation and the steps that I needed to take (on a daily basis) in order to come out on the positive end of this equation instead of feeling perpetually fatigued (just like a great many parents out there).
But first, let me delve a little deeper into what constitutes one’s personal energy equation.
What is your personal energy equation?
Your personal energy equation can simply be defined as the delta between the things that give you energy and the things that drain your energy. Every day, upon waking, you have a mental map of the things that you need or want to accomplish. Some of those are happy, energy-giving activities that you look forward to and enjoy doing. And then there are some that are unpleasant, energy-draining activities which, given a choice, you would rather skip. Your personal energy equation is just an indicator of how much, at the end of the day, you would feel energetic or fatigued by your undertakings on that particular day.
In order to be able to do more and be more, you have to strive to always come out positive in the energy department. But how? Here’s what has worked for me and what I believe is the key to keeping your personal energy equation positive in the long run.
1. Slow your day down
This may sound counter-intuitive. After all, you are trying to do more and not less. But slowing your day down and not delving straightaway into your TODO list could actually be good for you.
First, it gives you a chance to evaluate your day and prioritize, slimming the list down to only the indispensables (“The bare necessities”, if you may – The Jungle Book fans, anyone?).
Second, it gives you a chance to check if your day is too energy draining to start with, so that if needed, you can postpone a few “down the list” tasks for the next day and replace them with some energy giving tasks instead.
Third, focussing on your roadmap, even if for a few minutes per day, helps you look for better, efficient ways of getting things done. And who are you kidding? Unless you are a supertasker (in which case, feel free to multi-task away), trying to do everything simultaneously will only lead to less productivity and mistakes. So yes, try to slow your day down and focus on one thing at a time. Work slowly but consciously towards things that add value to the kind of person you wish to be and the kind of life you wish to lead.
When I started slimming my list down only to essentials (w.r.t. blogging – this meant spending less time on social media – that too on limited platforms, writing less frequently and writing only about things that I felt inspired by), it made my days much less hurried and more mindful.
Being mindful meant the ability to live the little moments constituting the essence of life more freely. For example, saying “yes” more often to a game of “hide and seek” with my 5-year-old or baking a chocolate cake just because or skipping past the barrage of negativity on my facebook feed (After all, silence is a valid response too!).
2. Know and accept your limits
Guilt is a common theme of parenting. If you are one, chances are that you’ve felt guilty multiple times since you woke up this morning. But let me tell you this – that nagging self-critical voice (or voices) inside your head reminding you non-stop about how you are messing up your children’s lives, is one of the biggest “fatigue inducers” out there. The faster you can nip it in the bud, the better it will be for your personal growth and overall positivity. And the one big way to do this is to know and accept your limits.
For me personally, one of the biggest guilt-inducers is my introversion. I don’t like crowded places. This includes playgrounds filled with children and their parents. It means that I rarely if ever, take our son to the playground during peak hours. Add to it the fact that our son refuses to go to school, I sometimes feel terribly guilty that he is not getting enough exposure to children his age and also that he probably is not getting enough physical activity.
But over time, I have come to accept it as what it is. I can either take our son to the playground and then be a cranky and annoyed parent for the rest of the day (and possibly for a couple more days – I need plenty of alone time to recuperate) or I could simply acknowledge my limitation and move on.
Knowing and accepting my limits in this regard has led me to devise plenty of workarounds. Our son is allowed to ride his bicycle and scooter inside our apartment (despite the accompanying messy tire-tracks!), which he takes full advantage of. We go for one-on-one playdates to his favorite friends’ homes. We go to the park and roam the neighborhood (occasionally) during non-peak hours when we don’t run into people. During weekends, hubby (who is an extreme extrovert 😉 ) takes him for socializing while I stay back and enjoy silence and solitude. In the next year or so, I am hoping that our son will become independent enough to go to the park (inside our apartment complex) by himself and play with his friends without needing me to accompany him. A win-win, for sure!
This is just one of the many examples why knowing and accepting your limits is essential for keeping your energy equation positive. Forcing yourself to do something just because you have to is a non-sustainable model in the long run.
3. Challenge your boundaries
This point may seem to run in the opposite direction of what I just said. But bear with me here. Challenging your boundaries, as you will see, goes hand in hand to, and in fact, compliments beautifully, knowing and accepting your limits.
Once you have drawn a line around who you are and what you stand for, it is time to expand on your idea. It is time to venture out of your comfort zone, a little at first – to see what it feels like to be in the unknown. There is a good chance that you will not like what you see.
But there is an equal chance of discovering a facet of your life you were previously oblivious to. So, balancing your “Yes”s with your “No”s w.r.t. drawing boundaries is a must, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you in the beginning.
Until 2016 end, I was primarily a parenting blogger because those were the topics I enjoyed investing my energies in most. But as my writing has evolved over time, taking it into directions other than parenting is appealing to me at the moment. This experimental shift is definitely adding to the plus side of my energy equation despite the inherent discomfiture everytime I press “Publish” button 😉
4. Do at least one thing every day that makes you feel alive
In our result-oriented world, we are so driven by the outcome of our endeavors that we seldom enjoy the process. Doing some things just because it makes us feel more alive (and not because it adds to our material success) is essential for ramping up our energy equation. Whether it is music, reading, movies, exercise, meditation or simply a nap, you must vow to do at least one thing every day for yourself, even if it is for fifteen minutes only.
As a homeschooling SAHM, it is easy for me to forget to be nice to myself. There’s always something or the other vying for my attention every second of the day. But over time, I have made it a habit of granting myself reprieve for at least fifteen minutes per day to do things that I love.
In the past, writing a blog post used to be my “feel-alive” thing. But writing takes time and you cannot do it every day. This denial of self-care used to constitute another round of self-bashing and feeling of underachievement.
Nowadays, instead of having one big “feel alive” thing, I have expanded my “dopamine” arsenal to include other less time consuming, but equally feel-good activities like listening to music, sitting in the sun, napping (on the days I feel the need), reading, learning something new, a long hot shower etc. Finding such little pockets of self-care is especially life-saving for time-starved parents like me because it is relatively easy to find little breaks during our hectic days than to hope for that elusive big chunk of time for hobbies.
5. Strive for the happy middle
If you are a perfectionist-in-remission like me, striving for less than one hundred percent may look like an exercise in self-control. IT IS HARD (I know!). But curbing your perfectionistic tendencies is a must to uplift your energy equation. Whether it is the energy you expend writing the perfect blog post or the effort you pour into tutoring your child, striving for the happy middle is the key to less stress and more contentment.
If you did not manage to accomplish all you set out to today, don’t fret. Be happy with the things that you did achieve. Better yet, stop looking at the clock (if you can). After all, time – our yesterdays, our todays and our tomorrows – is a construct created by us. As long as we are moving in the right direction and are enjoying our progress, speed and dates should hardly be of consequence.
Over to you
There are many, many other steps to keep your energy equation positive. Just remember that running on empty may seem like a good idea in the short run, but over time, you will only end up destroying the only machinery – your body (and your soul) – that you have at your disposal for making a positive impact on the world around you. So, go ahead, and figure out your personal energy equation. And by all means, strive to make it a positive one forever. Why wait?