Avoiding rust or ruin by managing our energy

Last week I wrote about how some of us might feel we’re losing our mojo: In the initial scramble which enabled us to meet the challenge of Covid19, we released a lot of energy. As the initial pressure begins to ease off, we might notice that we’re starting to flag.

You see, pressure is an odd thing.

It’s key to our performance and there’s a pressure sweet spot where we feel highly motivated. We’re in a flow state and our productivity is high, we’re creatively solving problems and generally getting stuff done.

We often describe it as being ‘in the zone’ or ‘on fire’.

Sometimes the scale tips though and too much pressure leads to an unsustainable work rate. Unchecked, this can quickly lead to stress and potential ‘ruin’.

At the other end of the scale, too little pressure to move forward and things won’t change. If we’re overwhelmed or feel there’s little we can do, it may lead to a sense of apathy. Stand still too long and we’ll start to ‘rust’.

So, the degree of pressure affects our energy consumption. Just as with fire, when too little energy is released it goes out, if too much energy is released, we reach meltdown and burnout.

In these circumstances, managing our energy becomes more important than managing our time. Keeping us somewhere in the “high chance of fire” is key, and spotting the early warning signs that we’re either under-fuelled or over-fuelled becomes the trick.

Early warning signs for stress will differ from person to person, it may manifest as restlessness, a lack of sleep, inability to think straight, headaches, poor health

Signs for when we feel stuck include frustration, boredom, dissatisfaction.

Once we’re aware of our early warning signs, we can develop strategies that will help us re-energise. We’ve probably each have a few of those already, again these will differ from person to person. For example, I use a technically challenging, physical exercise like mountain biking. As well as meeting my need for exercise, it also allows me some “active” meditation; giving my mind a total break.

So to stay in a sustainable flow state, we need to spot the early warning signs we’re heading to rust or ruin, and have a few strategies that will help us rebalance the scale to the “high chance of fire”.

Here’s an exercise that can help:

Take a moment to reflect on things that restore your energy and note down 3-5 of them.

Now reflect on what you’ve written. For some, just taking a break isn’t enough. Physical activities allow us to get back into our body, to give our mind a break. For others, we might recuperate by having a nap, reading, meditating, etc. 

Whatever we choose, we’re actively switching off our minds to rest them.

Now think about early warning signs that you’re rusting.

We might start to feel frustrated, feeling like we can’t make a difference, unable to choose what next, a sense of spinning our wheels.

Write 3-5 those down. If there’s an order, some popping up earlier than others, make a note of that

And lastly, imagine how you feel when you’re heading to ruin. 

We might get irritable, feel restless and unable to think. We might notice a twitch. Next you find it hard to get to sleep at night, or you start waking up in the middle of night. Our skin might start to get itchy. We might get headaches and start to feel listless.

Write 3-5 those down that are personal to you. Again, if there’s an order to when they occur, make note of it.

What you’ve created here is a map – a map of early warning signs and our techniques for restoring ourselves. When we combine these two pieces of knowledge – we have a straightforward tool to keep ourselves in balance.

When we realise we’re heading in one direction or another, and our energy is beginning to fall, we can take a break and restore it.

And if we do something small everyday to keep us in tune, we’ll be less likely to head to one of the extremes where we’ll need to make a bigger investment of time.

This simple technique is just one way we can manage our energy, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it and other techniques too. And if you want to share your early warning signs for rust and ruin, as well as your strategies for restoring your energy with others, please do so in the comments.

There are also ‘working’ strategies that energise us; techniques that allow us to continue on task in a way that keep us ‘fuelled-up’. 

I’ll talk about these in my next post