Have you been feeling drained or depleted recently? Do you feel like you’re leaking energy? A friend shared a simple exercise with me which she did on a mindfulness course, and we both found it really helpful, so I wanted to pass it on to you. It takes less than 10 minutes.
Step 1: Take a piece of paper and starting at the top of the page, write out, in chronological order, the activities that you do on a typical day. Jot down everything, but don’t bother with too much detail. For example, mine started with “wake up, drink coffee in bed, check phone, shower, get dressed while listening to the news, have breakfast with Aaron…”
Side note: I know, I know – there is no truly “typical” day. That was my initial objection too. I decided to skip mentally over that objection and do the exercise anyway. The first thing that surprised me was that I’m in more of a routine than I realised I was – I was easily able to write down a normal day of working from home, and a normal day of working from the office.
Side note two: This exercise only works if you’re ruthlessly honest. In my mind’s eye, checking my phone is not one of the first things I do in the morning. In real life, it is. The exercise is only helpful if you write the “real life” version. Don’t worry, no one is going to see it!
Step 2: Next to each activity, write an “N” for the activities that you find nurturing, and a “D” for the activities that you find depleting. Be honest. Find having a shower depleting? Feel silly about it? It’s OK – just say it like it is.
Step 3: Look at your column of “N”s and “D”s and tally them up. Is there a pattern? Do you have noticeably more of one or the other? Do you have a long list of “D”s in a row? Do your “N” or “D” activities take up most of your day?
Step 4: Consider: we all have limits, but within those limits, what can you do to increase your energy levels throughout the day? Doing “depleting” activities drains your energy disproportionately, especially when not interspersed with nurturing activities. I was surprised when I did this exercise by how many ways I was draining my own energy unnecessarily.
Changing the Balance to Live with More Energy
Here are a few of the ideas for how to change the balance of depleting and nurturing activities that I came up with – hopefully they will spark even more ideas for you.
- Can you achieve the same thing with a nourishing activity instead of a depleting one? For example, travelling to work by train is depleting for me. Driving in on my own is depleting. But getting a lift with my friend, which gives me quality connection and chat time, is nourishing. All three get me to work, but one gets me there energised and inspired. Similarly, I know people who find having a bath nourishing and having a shower depleting – they both achieve the same goal, so do the nourishing one!
- If you know why an activity is depleting, can you change aspects of it to make it more nourishing? For example, if getting dressed is depleting because none of your clothes fit properly any more, can you afford to buy, borrow or swap for some new ones?
- Are you doing activities that are depleting that you don’t need to do? For example, I realised that writing my blog is nourishing, but managing its social media accounts is depleting. It was an easy decision to automate some updates and quit others – they are so unimportant compared to me being well right now!
- Are there depleting activities that you don’t need to do at that point in the day? For example, I find checking my email depletes my energy and yet I had got in a habit of doing it before I started any thesis writing. This meant I was consistently, daily, coming to my writing drained. Talk about self sabotage!
- Also – batch your depleting activities. Yes, I need to check my emails, but I don’t need to do it fifteen times a day. That’s like poking a hole in my energy bucket and leaking my energy all over the place. It’s much better for me to set aside a time and do them all at once.
- Putting a nourishing activity in between two depleting ones can make a difference. For example, on my depleting work days I try to give myself a nourishing activity as a lunch break (get creative: read a novel, meet a friend for coffee, walk around the park, spend time in that quiet, beautiful church round the corner….). I also try not to book anything in for those evenings. I know I’ll be exhausted and I’ll need the space to have some “in” time before I’m ready to give “out” again.
- This one is crazy: are there some commitments you have that would be nourishing activities, but that become depleting because of the way you do them? I was so shocked to realise the ways I was setting myself up for failure on this. Writing my thesis, which is my biggest work priority right now, is actually nourishing. It is HARD but it is also my favourite work job – unless I do it in dribs and drabs, interspersed with emails, crammed into small periods of time, in a cluttered work environment, in a noisy office, or at the point in the day when I’m the most tired. Figuring out what I needed to do to change my most important commitments into more nurturing activities was big for me.
- Finally, there is the obvious one. You can increase the number of nurturing activities you do. I know there are limits, but nurturing activities don’t have to cost as much money or time as we sometimes think. In fact, they can even save us time – and they certainly save us energy.
Have a go. You never know, it just might jolt a realisation of where all your energy is going.
Due credit: I’m not sure who invented this exercise but it wasn’t me. My friend learned it on a Mindfulness course at Durham University (not open to the public) but several versions of it are also available online.
Featured Image by Death to the Stock Photo.