Day in and day out we will encounter all sorts of stimuli, including our own thoughts and beliefs, the opinions or feelings of others, and specific occurrences and situations. When we are operating in auto-pilot mode we tend to pick these things up. We carry them around, juggle them, haul them with us from place to place, and spend a lot of emotional energy dealing with them.
Now imagine with me that each day you wake up with 100 Emotional Energy Dollars (EE$). You open your eyes, and as with any other day you start encountering all the internal and external stimuli from the world. Imagine over each of these items there is a price tag, because in the currency of emotional energy nothing is free.
Each day we spend emotional energy as we navigate the world. If we didn’t sleep well, or we are feeling unwell, we start the day with a penalty -EE$10, as we are already using our emotional energy to manage how we feel physically. We look outside and see that it’s snowed, -EE$5 as we think about how the weather will impact our day another -EE$5 as we think about our dislike of cold weather and winter and gee wouldn’t it be nice to live somewhere warm? As we navigate life we exert emotional energy without thinking about it. The bigger the stressors or the more something impacts or upsets us, the bigger the cost overall. The driver in front of you going too slow, or the driver behind you honking because you stopped at a stoplight, or the unexpected traffic and worry about being late to where you are going – we easily spend emotional energy on these things without thinking about it. Pressures with school or work, a fight with a loved one, wondering what others are thinking about you and if you should have shared in the meeting or just quietly faded into the background. Each of these things has the potential to be a significant drain on our emotional energy account if we let it.
When we realize that there are all these emotional energy transaction going on we have the opportunity to be informed emotional energy investors. If I only have EE$100 each day, I can either unmindfully spend all my emotional energy at whatever comes up, or I can be selective about what I choose to buy. No matter how much emotional energy I spend on the weather, I have no influence on the weather. When confronted with snow, I have the opportunity to lament what is and invest that emotional energy in doing so, or I can adjust my day accordingly in response to the weather. While this may still require the use of some of my emotional energy as I make adjustments, it likely will cost less and ultimately feel like a more satisfying transaction because I am putting energy into things that I can control (ie leaving early, rescheduling an appointment) rather than those I can’t (the weather).
We have no control over the thoughts/opinions/beliefs/actions of others. Despite knowing this, all of us at some point invest emotional energy in thinking about these things at least for a short term. It’s unrealistic to think that we won’t ever spend emotional energy on the things out of our scope of influence. However, when we notice that we are doing it, we can decide how much emotional energy to invest. In situations where no amount of emotional energy is going to change the outcome, is that a transaction I want to pursue?
Each moment I have the opportunity to ask myself if this expenditure of emotional energy is adding to my life, or taking away from it? Spending a day with family might cost a lot of emotional energy, but when I’m balancing the books I’d much rather invest my emotional energy in family time than on the person who was rude at the store or cut me off in traffic, the bad weather, or the unfairness of the task/assignment that seems pointless but I have to do anyway.
How are you spending your emotional energy today?