Energy for work and life: To light a fire, strike a match

A map will guide you where you want to go and signs will point the way. Like maps, plans and to-do lists help you focus, but you need a means of travel. Along with reminders of what to do, you require a steady supply of fuel that enables you to do it.

What is this fuel?

“Motivation” comes readily to mind, but that’s not it. I am motivated, in that my intentions are good, I believe in what I’m doing, and I have a plan. For focusing on priorities, my spirit is willing – but some days the flesh is weak.

“Drive” is good, but a little dramatic. Do I want to be driven? I am reminded of an expression of my late grandfather’s: Go at your work with an all-day stroke. I prefer, like he did, a controlled slow burn for the long haul.

“Inspiration?” Also good, but fleeting. Inspiration comes and goes; it has an accidental quality.

I have settled on a term that is ordinary but apt: “energy.” It is energy that powers concentration and focus, energy that overcomes procrastination and distraction. Energy gets me started; energy keeps me going.

Energy can be fleeting, too, right? Sometimes it seems as inconstant as inspiration. You wake up on the wrong side of the bed and you have a crappy day. We would like energy to be more reliable.

Fortunately, we do have some control over it.

Over time, I’ve made some discoveries about energy that at first surprised me. I had assumed the most important thing was to take breaks and get rest. The best way to have energy for work, I thought, was to conserve it. That’s not wrong, but I noticed that certain activities both used energy and generated it as well.

Remember your grade school chemistry: To start a reaction, you need to add energy. You might desire the heat and light of a campfire, but nothing will happen until you apply a lit match.

I settled on twelve behaviours or habits that energize me, and I keep this list handy. Any are a good substitute for what drains me of energy: social media, television, etc. The behaviours are specific and tailored to my own interests, but they relate to these themes:

  • engaging in creative activities outside work
  • reading (real books)
  • organization and planning (eg. bullet journaling)
  • exercise and movement
  • meal planning and diet
  • quiet reflection
  • paying attention to the needs of others (a.k.a. acts of kindness)

These themes are conventional. My steady-as-she-goes grandfather could have come up with them. It’s not hard to imagine others: Socializing, family, travel, sports … What I like is the radical notion that the energy source fuelling life and work is something each of us can create.

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