Most of us are pretty careful (or at least very aware) of how we spend our money. We would never, for example, pay $100 for a poor-quality loaf of bread or $5,000 for toilet paper, and we get suspicious if we see a brand new convertible on the market for $2 or a house for $300.
Why? Because we know the value of these objects. We know toilet paper doesn’t cost much to make and therefore doesn’t cost much to sell. We know a convertible costs much more than $2 to make and is also in high demand, which will drive up the cost. And if we could get houses for $300, we’d all be living in mansions with our own private swimming pools and tennis ball courts.
Yet when it comes to energy, we are a lot less aware of both how we spend it and how much energy points an activity is valued at. Let’s refer to these energy points as E’s, for the sake of simplicity, and let’s say we get 100 E’s every day to use as we please.
On a typical day, where you are in a healthy frame of mind and your body is similarly healthy, you can spend E’s with abandon. Maybe you drop 5 E’s on playing your favorite video game, another 7 on doing laundry, 5 on cooking a meal, 20 on working out, etc. You’ll notice these are mainly examples of physical E’s. There are also mental/emotional E’s, such as spending 7 E’s trying to decide what to cook, 10 on interacting with someone you mildly dislike, and 15 on journaling and working through your thoughts.
On days where your health isn’t in prime shape, you use more E’s on certain activities than you normally would. If you have a bad cold, cooking a meal might cost 20 E’s and doing laundry 25. Just getting up and putting on clothes might cost 7 E’s when it would normally cost 0.25. The same is true for mental health. If you are having a panic attack, you can easily use 150 E’s and go beyond what your mind and body can comfortably handle, leaving you fatigued and taking your immune system.
How we choose to spend our E’s is important. I want to address this most with mental/emotional E’s, as these are the ones we are least aware of and where we have the most trouble determining how many E’s to spend on a thought or action.
I’ll take myself as an example. I used to spend 25 E’s on deciding what color shirt to wear for the day, because I was terrified if I chose the wrong color, I would have a bad day (OCD and anxiety at its best!). That’s a LOT of E’s to spend at the beginning of your day. Normally how much energy you spend on a shirt would be around 0.50 E, give or take depending on the occasion. That would be like spending $50 on a popsicle.
What we would never do with money, because money is too valuable to waste, we often do with energy, which is just as valuable.
So what do we do about our mental spending? As someone who has anxiety and has experienced OCD, I know I often spend E’s inappropriately. I may spend 25 E’s just being scared I’ll inappropriately spend 25 E’s!
Step one is to be aware. Begin to realize how you are spending your mental E’s. Journal about it at the end of each day. Write down an approximation of how many E’s you spent on a thought or action and how many E’s you would value that thought or action with. Was it worth the E’s spent?
Step two is to accept yourself regardless! This is critical whether you’re dealing with money or with how you spend mental and physical energy. You won’t get the results you want by beating yourself up. Rather, be glad you’ve gained more awareness and a better understanding of how much value certain thoughts and activities have. Be proud you are working through it. And recognize that this will be a process as you learn new habits to replace the old.
Step three is to begin putting what you’ve learned into practice. Begin deliberately spending less E’s on low-value activities or thoughts. Start with activities or thoughts that are easier for you, especially if you deal with anxiety. If you struggle, that’s fine. If you “backtrack,” that’s fine. Backtracking actually helps you learn so you can keep moving forward. It isn’t time wasted.
What About You?: What insights do you have? What did you learn? I’d love to hear from you!