Energy Expenditure

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.

Rainer Maria Rilke

This is a continuation of my previous post, Conservation of Energy. It seems facetious and obvious for me to state that you should spend your time on things that bring you more energy and avoid things that don’t. I’d like to explore this concept with you in more detail.

It’s common to misidentify what we think will energize us. Binge watching a show starts out as a great idea, but usually ends with us becoming one with the sofa and sinking into apathy. In some rare circumstances, we’re able to power through the series and feel better at the end than when we started.

The discrepancy is due to our mental state – which in turn is largely influenced by the amount of skill we have and the challenge presented by the task. Take a look at the image below.

Mental state as a function of challenge and skill

This model asserts that there are four negative and four positive states that we can meander between. Our goal should be to remain in target states of arousal, flow, control, and relaxation so we can end our day feeling invigorated and satisfied.

But, we can’t always choose to work on challenging tasks that we’re skilled at, can we? We can! All it requires is some trickery to modulate the task’s difficulty and the skill required.

For example, spending money is one of the easiest things in the world to do. There is virtually no challenge or skill involved. However, you can dramatically increase the difficulty by trying to find the closest brick and mortar store with the lowest price. Or, maybe we see if we can buy that chicken cheaper than the last time we bought it? Et viola! Have we discovered why so many people partake in extreme couponing?

So, next time you have to do something that puts you in a state of anxiety, worry, apathy, or boredom, see if you can add or remove difficulty to sharpen your skills on. Eating food for the fiftieth thousand time in your life? Enjoy it with your eyes closed or with your opposite hand. Can’t beat that video game level? Play it on easy. Yet another shower? What’s the coldest temperature you can shower in? Let your creativity flow and I can’t wait to hear about your new Guinness World Record on the fastest time to make a bed.


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