Trading in Energy

(“Why am I Always So Tired?” – How Discerning the Cost of Anything is Essential to Living Well, Part III)

This is Part III of a series looking at how discerning the non-monetary cost of things in our lives can help us figure out why we’re so tired – and how we can live better. Read Parts I and II.

Most of us think about the cost of a thing is how much money we have to spend on it. But really, it’s how much life we have to spend on it. Life cost can be considered, practically, in terms of time, energy, and emotional expenditure.

Energy is a life-cost closely related to time, but rarely considered on its own terms. We might know that a task will cost us 2 hours to complete – but have you ever noticed that the very same task can cost 2 hours one day and 45 minutes the next? That’s because how much time something costs can depend on how much energy we have to spend. (This isn’t true of all activities, of course: a 3 hour train ride is a 3 hour train ride, no matter how tired we are.)

Unlike time, energy is not a fixed asset. Some activities drain us, while others seem to leave us with more energy than when we started. If we’re paying attention, we’ll know ourselves well enough to be able to judge our daily energy gains and losses.

Practical Tips for Discerning Energy-Cost in Our Lives

If this is a new concept to you, start with an easy gauging activity: make a list of all the things you do in a day. Next to each one, give a rating from -10 to +10, indicating how drained or charged you feel at the end of each one. Looking at the page should offer a pretty clear picture of how much energy you’re dealing with during your daily routine.

Spending our energy – just like spending our time or money – isn’t necessarily a bad thing: some activities are draining (expensive) but worth it.* The key is that we’re attentive and intentional about how we invest our energy. If every single activity of our life drained our energy, we’d reach burnout pretty quickly. Are we considerate of how to make sure we spend some of our life on things that recharge and refresh us?

Here’s an example:

Most parents of small children find themselves in an energy-draining season of life. They are often balancing the challenging work of raising small (irrational) people who don’t sleep well, with trying to earn a living, keep up a home, and maintain their marriage. Each of these activities in themselves are, in terms of energy, expensive but worth it to the parents who have chosen them.

The problem is, these expensive-but-worth-it seasons of life can leave us completely drained of energy, and as a result, feeling completely drained of life. The life-cost, in terms of energy, is extremely high.

While in these energy-draining seasons, each person can help themselves and others to avoid burnout by simply discerning how they might invest some of their energy in things that actually recharge and refresh them. Maybe it’s getting more regular sleep by sending the children to a grandparent sleep-over on the weekend. Maybe it’s taking one hour a week by themselves to run, paint, read a book, or whatever leaves them feeling more like themselves. Maybe it’s instituting daily quiet time, drinking more water, or phoning a friend.

While different for every person, it’s important to discern how to bring life-building, rather than life-draining, activities into our days. Most of us worry about having enough money: do we consider how we might get enough energy?

*Of course, not all draining seasons of life are expensive-but-worth-it. Some are a waste of energy. Some of us spend our lives and hand over our energy to jobs that we hate or truly toxic relationships for no good reason. We would do well to ask about our energy what we ask about our money: is this a good investment? Am I trading my life for something truly worthwhile? If not, how can I change?

Am I trading in my best energy for the things I want to invest in the most?