“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
Warren Buffett (American Businessman)
“The energy of the mind is the essence of life”
Aristotle (Greek Philosopher)
“Energy and persistence conquer all things”
Benjamin Franklin (American Politician)
Your mental energy is your most valuable asset.
It’s easy to get caught up in life thinking that other things are more important than your mental energy.
A lot of people think that money is the most important asset that you have.
Money’s helpful, but it’s not the most important thing.
You can always earn more money if you have enough energy to do so.
Something else that a lot of people say is their most valuable asset is time.
They think, “Oh, I just need more time to do this.”
But, if you’ve ever watched the same movie twice, you know that time is not your most valuable asset, either.
Very often, we have a lot of time but not enough energy.
We’re exhausted, we’re tired, we’re stretched too thin.
And, the question a lot of people ask themselves is, “What if I could just get some more time?”
But really, you should be asking yourself, “What if I could just get some more energy so that I could do as much as somebody else does in 3 hours, in a few minutes?”
That’s the power of energy.
And, one last argument that people make is, “It’s all about relationships”.
That’s your most important asset: your network is your net worth.
Relationships are definitely important. You might want to give more to your relationships, whether they’re professional or personal, but you’re too exhausted to do so and you’re too spread thin.
Mental energy is by far your most valuable asset.
And, it’s something that you have to start protecting.
Why Mental Energy Is A Diminishing Resource
The reality of mental focus is that it is hard to hone, easily robbed, and increasingly challenging to protect.
Your mind has a limited capacity for focus — less than what most people think.
Just 90-120 minutes at a time, in fact.
This is in sync with what researcher Nathaniel Kleitman discovered in the Basic-Rest-Activity-Cycle (BRAC).
Similar to sleep cycles, Sleep journal reported that our waking cognitive cycles follow similar patterns, and that peak focus is limited to intervals of 90-120 minutes, with frequent breaks.
After that first 90 minutes, your mental energy goes into a downward spiral.
Every decision you make sucks up more energy, depleting willpower and making you prone to distractions, poor decisions, and increased errors in your work.
Once distracted, your brain screeches to a sudden stop — similar to how your body jumps when surprised — according to research published in Nature.
This negatively impacts your cognitive function in the moment, but also reduces your ability to refocus and get back on task.
In the long run, you’ll work longer and harder, get less done, and feel more stressed about it.
Research out of the University of California, Irvine reported in a study called The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress that the average person gets only 11 minutes between each interruption.
And then, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.
After only 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.
It’s not lack of time that’s stealing your mental energy — it’s your inability to protect your time from distractions.
If you want to protect your mental energy and treat it as your most important asset, you’ll start taking fierce control of your environment, your relationships, and the influence you allow.
How Saying “No” Protects Your Mental Energy
The best way to protect your mental energy is to start saying “no”.
To everything that lures your brain out of focus.
The problem is that you have a kind of psychological immune system that likes to maintain the status quo. It likes to maintain homeostasis.
It doesn’t like change. It likes everything to stay the same.
And, it likes to get engaged in gossip and meaningless things.
It likes to say “yes” to everything.
You feel a sense of success when you say “yes”.
You feel comfortable when you don’t change, and will feel discomfort when you try to change.
Restructure your psychological immune system to build better routines that release and protect your mental energy.
Here are 3 places to start…
1. Get control over your environment.
Practice saying “no” first, to everything.
You can always say “yes” later.
But for now, for everything that is a habit to say “yes” to, say “no” to instead.
Say “no” to that event that somebody’s trying to rope you into.
Say “no” to responding to that passive/aggressive email.
Say “no” to the coworkers that constantly ask you to help them with their projects.
Say “no” to overtime.
Start taking back your schedule.
Block off time in your day, when you know you’re most focused, and protect that time by saying “no” to everything else.
You can’t get strategic with your time and focus if you’re saying “yes” to everything to make everyone else happy.
What you’ll do is end up with too many obligations that aren’t aligned with your own goals.
You’ll end up being one of those overworked, burnt out, unappreciated lackies at work that everyone dumps their extras on, like Old Reliable.
You’ll be too busy to pursue your own goals.
You’ll end up sacrificing energy away from things that really matter to you.
And, no one will respect you for any of it.
Start by say “no” to anything that doesn’t move you closer to your goals, and align with your purpose.
Start by feeling success when you say “no” to extra things that release mental energy, and protect your renewed focus.
2. Go on a relationship fast.
This is a big “no” area.
The toughest one.
You’re not just saying “no” to extra tasks or purposeless obligations.
Going on a relationship fast means putting people on hold.
Even family and friends you have history with.
The truth is, you’ll never have acute mental energy and focus if you’re saying “yes” to time with negative people.
Your sense of loyalty to toxic people is sabotaging your own success.
And ultimately, your happiness.
Negative people make you more negative.
Complainers make you complain more.
Every unhealthy, unworthy, unproductive person in your life will make you more like them.
They will bring you down and hold you down.
But, because your emotions get involved, or because they guilt trip you, you keep them around.
And, the dead weight of negative, toxic, manipulative people that you have in your life rob you of valuable mental energy, even when they’re not around.
The drama they create permeates.
It’s great to set boundaries.
But, it takes a lot of energy to reinforce those boundaries with toxic headcases.
It’s not worth it — you’ll never win.
The best solution is to take a relationship fast and walk away from everyone in your life that is holding you back.
Even better, take a break from all outside influence.
Get some space and some clarity in your life, and then determine who is a positive and propelling influence in your life towards success.
For everyone else that doesn’t make the cut, walk away and don’t look back.
3. Go on an information fast.
Go cold turkey on new information for a while.
Research out of Carleton University shows that the average person spends ⅓ of their time opening, reading, and responding to emails.
This translated to 17 hours a week, sending and receiving 86 work-related emails and 25 from home.
Less than 30% of these are urgent.
So, you’re wasting 70% of your time weeding through useless, time-wasting information.
That’s draining your focus, reducing your willpower, and contributing to fatigue.
Email, social media, the news… these are all contributing to compromised self-regulation, while adding to busyness and overwhelm.
This is the opposite of productivity.
Information overload is compromising you.
It’s stealing your edge.
It’s making you confused and inept.
People’s opinions are equally corrupt and distracting.
Everyone’s opinions, that they’re so happy to share with you, only serves to make them feel better about their choices.
If you want to fire up your own life and start making things happen, you’ll separate yourself from public rhetoric, opinion polling, and the rest of the world’s noise.
Say “no” to the chatter and gossip, and clear out your head.
Start trusting yourself.
You know what’s best for your life.
After you’ve had a break, be selective about what you expose yourself to and who you align yourself with.
The first step to getting what you want in life is to get good at saying “no”. Without apologizing. Without waffling. Your mental energy is your greatest asset to reaching your goals. If you don’t learn how to protect your mental energy, you’ll always be at the mercy of distracting tasks, people, and information. Taking control of your environment, the people you spend time with, and the information you allow into your life, will give you freedom to both release and protect your mental energy.
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