When a boulder-sized weight lands on your shoulders—such as a substantial loss of a loved one, home, or job, you're going to have a major stress response. While you are trying to recover and regain equilibrium, you'll likely experience suppressed energy, a barrage of negative emotions, and may even find little meaning in life. It's exhausting to live through a crisis or serious blow, but it's also fairly unavoidable. As Winston Churchill once said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."
While you can't avoid the energy drain associated with life's big boulders, you can change how you respond to the pebble-size problems. In those daily moments that bring smaller aggravations, annoyances, and roadblocks, you can mindfully choose your response and consequently conserve energy for when you really need it. Boosting your energy reserves also helps you in the day-to-day effort to do your best work. When you are distracted, easily overwhelmed, or overreacting, you—and everyone around you—suffers and productivity goes down.
Here are four steps to boost your energy reserves for improved performance:
First, pay attention to energy flow. Next time you talk with your boss, peer, partner, or colleague, be mindful of whether you are giving energy to or taking it from that other person. At the same time, become attuned to what is occurring when interacting with the other person—are you feeling drained or restored? You have the power to add to both their energy tank and yours, but awareness comes first. Add a non-judgmental attitude, and you'll start to see how you might shift the energy flow.
Next, choose how to spend your energy. Undoubtedly, you won't be able to rid your life of all "energy vampires" that suck away good vibes. However, you don't have to make it easy on them. Sure, you can accelerate the energy drain by making a bigger hole in the relationship, or you can start to patch the holes by your own actions. When that difficult person begins to get on your last nerve, stop, breathe, and realize that if you respond negatively you will simply feed the energy loss. Instead, think in terms of conservation—what would be the wisest response to preserve your energy in an appropriate way? If you want to build a positive reputation as someone with "strong people skills," you need to carefully choose how you spend your energy in critical business and working relationships.
Then, get clear on your locus of control. Many times we give away our energy unnecessarily by worrying about things outside of our sphere of influence or beyond what is expected of us. When a pebble-sized issue floats down your stream at work, you don't always have to pick it up and make it your own. Setting up appropriate boundaries is a key part of stopping unnecessary energy leaks for you—and for your team. Every effective team is one that is clear on members' roles, functions, and levels of accountability. When the delicate balance of expectations and accountability gets incorrectly shifted or inaccurately assumed, neither you nor the team is operating at maximum effectiveness. Sometimes a situation can be rather easily managed by getting clear on where you or others on the team have set or enforced appropriate boundaries.
Finally, plug your personal leaks. Once you have made some progress on the first three steps, you have a little more room to take care of yourself. Learn to be your own best advocate. You might start by making healthy choices about eating, sleeping, and exercising. You could choose to surround yourself with people who make you feel better about yourself instead of worse. Remember, what you value gets your attention, and what gets your attention directs your energy. The more quickly you pinpoint the ways you're draining your energy, the closer you are to a better, more resilient you. Bottom line: The choices you make to take care of yourself (or not) build the foundation for your energy level at work. No energy? Then work is that much harder.
In spite of energy-draining people and events, you always have choices. You can live in a way that either adds to your energy or depletes it. Anything can be a heavy boulder, but you can choose to build your resiliency by managing one small pebble at a time.
Amy Martinez is a senior faculty member with the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education.