Every day is an attack on our senses.
Rude people on the subway. Your boss losing his temper. Blood and thunder on the news. Endless clickbait on social media.
You must protect your energy against this onslaught, or you’ll get swept away by it.
Learn how to manage negative people, why you should monitor your thoughts, and which options you have for recharging yourself.
- Why It’s Important To Protect Your Energy
- 12 Ways To Protect Your Energy
- 1. Manage Negative People
- 2. Never Hate
- 3. Take a Critical Look At Yourself
- 4. Protect Your Energy From Yourself
- 5. Stop Watching the News
- 6. Cut Out Social Media
- 7. Quit Your 9 to 5
- 8. Prioritize Important Over Urgent
- 9. Reduce Complexity
- 10. “Download” Your Brain
- 11. Increase Self-Awareness
- 12. Learn To Recharge Yourself
Why It’s Important To Protect Your Energy
We like to think of everything in terms of money.
If I get this much money I can buy that. My time is worth that much money. And so on.
But the real currency in life is energy.
With enough creative energy at your disposal, you can achieve anything:
- You can sculpt the perfect at the gym
- You can exercise your willpower and eat healthy
- You can build that passion business and quit your 9 to 5
- You can overcome your anxiety and talk to attractive strangers
- You can expose your mind to the best books and ideas, expanding your horizons
And yes, you can also utilize that energy to make a boatload of money if that is your wish.
But just like money, energy is a limited resource. We get a certain amount of the stuff every day. Once it is used up, you are done for the day.
It’s like the battery in your smartphone. When you wake up in the morning, just like your phone, you are fully charged. And as the day goes on, we more and more exhaust our energy reservoir.
But it makes a difference what you do.
If you play video games on your smartphone a lot, it will run out by midday.
Likewise, if you expose yourself to numerous pointless stressors, you will gamble your precious life energy away quickly. You will have nothing left for the truly important tasks.
That is why it’s so important to protect your energy — so you can make progress with the things most dear to your heart. Your passion projects.
Towards the end of their lives, many people come to bitterly regret their choices. “Why didn’t I travel the world like I always dreamed about?” “Why didn’t I pursue my passion for painting?”
The answer is you didn’t consciously manage your energy. You allowed outside factors — other people, unforeseen events — to determine how you spent your energy. And now life is almost over and you have nothing left to spend.
Don’t let that be you. Protect your energy.
12 Ways To Protect Your Energy
Here are 12 strategies to defend yourself against various energy sinks.
1. Manage Negative People
Certain people revel in negativity.
They love gossip. They enjoy putting other people down. They might even get a kick out of seeing others suffer.
These people will do everything in their power to entangle you in their drama. This is why you must keep your distance.
There are levels to this.
Some people will be fantastic to be around. I call these 2-week people. If they were going to come on a 2-week vacation with me, I would look forward to it.
Then there are people who might be enjoyable to be around for two hours or so. Catching up with them is a pleasure, but once that is done, you want to move on.
Other people will only be tolerable for 20 minutes before their negativity will take a toll on you. Relatives often fall into this category.
And some people, you might only suffer for two minutes (if at all) before you should do a runner. Their negativity constantly seeps through.
What To Do About It
It’s your job to know who fits into what category and to behave accordingly:
- Put the people in your life into the four categories — 2-minute people, 20-minute people, 2-hour people, 2-week people. Do this in writing.
- Look at the 2-minute people and see if you cannot cut some or even all of these people completely. It’s an instant win.
- Now, give each person the space that you assigned to them. Next time you see that annoying colleague or that nosy aunt, excuse yourself after 20 minutes.
Generally, it is better to err on the side of caution. Don’t hope against hope that person
X might behave better this time around. They won’t. People don’t change.
2. Never Hate
It is important to never hate.
First, negative people are a given in life, like the sun or the rain. They have been around since the beginning of time and will be around until the end. There is no point in getting upset about them.
Second, when you allow your hate to get the better of you, the other person has won. You have bought into their negative worldview and are now wasting your energy on things you can’t change.
Third, while you should not make excuses for negative behavior in other people, you should at least be able to understand where they are coming from. Maybe they never received any love. Maybe no one taught them better.
Every person has a story.
What To Do About It
If you are prone to slipping off into hatred, start monitoring your thoughts more closely. Daily journaling is a great tool for that.
3. Take a Critical Look At Yourself
If you regularly experience a lot of negativity in your life, it’s because you attract it.
There are two versions of this:
- You might be a drama person yourself, without even realizing it. And this attracts other drama queens.
- You lack boundaries. If you are a pushover or a people pleaser, negative people will sense that. They will leech onto you.
Either way, the problem is you.
What To Do About It
In instance 1, you need to take care of your own negativity. Therapy or coaching are good ways to do so.
If you have no boundaries, learn to say “No.”
Make this a 7-week experiment. During week 1, on Mondays, you will politely but firmly reject any request coming your way.
During week 2, you add Tuesday. During week 3, you add Wednesday. And so on.
By the time 7 weeks have passed, you will have desensitized yourself to letting people down for good.
4. Protect Your Energy From Yourself
The reason why we allow ourselves to get triggered is because, in a perverted sense, we enjoy it.
We enjoy getting worked up about our stupid boss.
We love bitching about our jerk of a partner to our best friend.
We revel in lashing out at our narrow-minded, backward parents.
The thing is — as long as we are busy getting puffed up about everybody else’s stupidity, we don’t have to deal with our own flaws.
We don’t have to do the hard things that would actually propel us forward, like pursuing our passion or learning that important skill.
This is why, first and foremost, we must protect our energy from ourselves. It is our decision to waste it on trivial matters, nobody else’s.
What To Do About It
Whenever you catch yourself getting in a huff, go work on your most important project.
5. Stop Watching the News
Most of us watch the news every day. We feel like we are supposed to keep up with what is going on in the world. Being an informed citizen and all that.
But in truth, the news is a misery machine.
Just look at the homepage of any news outlet. Murder. Corruption scandals. Natural catastrophes. Sexual harassment.
What emotions do these headlines elicit in you?
That is their whole business model — to make you feel agitated.
Because the more upset you get, the longer you will spend looking at their website. And that means they can show you more ads which is how these big media corporations make money.
In essence, you are wasting your energy over matters that don’t personally concern you, so that rich media moguls can get even richer.
But there is no point in blaming the evil media. The only reason they are getting away with it is because we, the mindless sheep, are so quick to gobble up that concoction of misery.
We love to waste our energy over scandals and other people’s agony.
What To Do About It
The only way out is to take responsibility for yourself. Make a pact with yourself to never check the news again.
This will be tough. We are hardwired for gossip and we have been indulging in this addiction for our whole lives.
Here are some ideas on how to make the transition easier for you:
- Get an app to block all news websites on your smartphone and your laptop.
- Tell your family and friends about your resolve; you are more likely to go through with it if you announce your intent publicly.
- To further increase pressure, consider telling everybody you know on social media (one of the few things social media is good for — enlisting peer pressure).
- Consider getting an accountability buddy or hiring an accountability coach. You’ll report to them every day if you stayed “clean” or if you relapsed.
- Use a service like stickk.com to create a negative incentive. For example, every time you check the news, you must pay $50 to a cause you despise.
This is the irony — to protect your energy from the news you first have to spend a significant amount of energy to wean yourself off the news. This will be a recurring theme throughout this article.
6. Cut Out Social Media
Social media is the news on steroids.
What makes social media so much more powerful is that there are no boundaries.
Since the news offers the same information to everybody, they must cater to the common denominator.
For example, they can’t rely too much on sex to sell, or there will be an outcry from their more conservative readers.
They also can only twist the facts so much, or there will be a legal and financial backlash.
Social media has no such inhibitions:
- Tits and asses
- Horrific car accidents
- People being shot or mutilated
- War crimes
Anything goes on social media.
That’s because the algorithm will serve each user individually. And if you watched the video of this guy getting beheaded once, they will show you another video like this.
It’s this extremity that makes social media so draining.
Yet, we keep scrolling.
That’s because the algorithm accomplishes a feat previously unheard of — it eliminates boredom from your life.
And there is plenty of boredom to get rid of.
Every day is the same. We get up, we spend 8 hours in our cubicle, we go home, and watch some Netflix. It’s Groundhog Day.
But when you check your Instagram, suddenly, fireworks go off. You get one hit of dopamine after another. As long as you keep scrolling, there will be thrills.
This is how they get you — by picking exactly what excites you and then helping you forget about the rat race.
For this diversion, most of us will happily waste our daily energy reservoir. After all, what else is there?
What To Do About It
To get off social media, you must create a more exciting life for yourself.
You must stop looking at those pics and videos of beautiful people in exotic locations having adventures.
Instead, you must start having these adventures yourself.
A lot of things go into that:
- You must quit your 9 to 5
- You must find a way to earn online, so you can travel and have adventures
- You must overcome your social programming, e.g., your parents telling you to get a “good” job
- You must feel at home in your own body, i.e., be fit and healthy
- You must learn to connect with others, i.e., to make friends and initiate sexual relationships at will
If that sounds like a major life project, well, it is. But it’s the only way to quit social media for good. When your own life is so exciting that you don’t want to miss a thing, you’ll have no energy left to obsess over other people’s lives on Instagram.
7. Quit Your 9 to 5
Our single biggest energy suck in life is our 9 to 5 job.
For half of your time awake, you are forced to do something that you dislike:
- You have to wake up in the morning to the sound of an alarm, no matter if you still feel tired or not.
- You have to commute to work, enduring rush hour traffic or rude subway guests.
- You have to sit in your cubicle filling out Excel tables that nobody will ever look at.
- You have to attend meetings that should never have taken place.
- You have to endure the office gossip because that is what people will resort to when they are bored out of their minds.
There might be no physical harm but in a sense, your corporate job is doing violence to you. It is bending you if you like to or not. And that friction will cost you in energy like nothing else.
Then there are the hierarchies.
Any kind of large organization cannot do without them. There need to be corporate slaves who do the boring work that nobody wants to do. And there need to be slave drivers to make sure the slaves don’t slack off.
Also, it’s the overseers who decide if you get promoted to slave driver yourself one day. Inevitably, that means that everybody is sucking up to them. Even if you don’t want to, you’ll have to, because all your colleagues are doing it.
The slaves will also scheme amongst each other. To get to a better position, some of them will team up to undermine the more competent, promising candidates. That is what is commonly called office politics.
This too will sap your energy. Being entangled in hierarchies comes with one point of friction after another.
Bottom line — you can practice all the positive thinking in the world, but as long as you hold a 9 to 5, your energy will continue to seep away.
What To Do About It
There is no way around it — you need to get out of 9 to 5.
Here are some ideas:
- Start your own passion business. Create that YouTube yoga channel you always dreamed about or become an underground comic book artist. Granted, this will cost a lot of energy as well. But unlike your 9 to 5, it will feel rewarding.
- Cut your expenses to around $700–800. Do whatever it takes. Move to a cheaper apartment. Sell your car, take the bike. Cook all of your meals at home. This way, you can get away with working the odd job here and there. But most of the time, your days will be wide open.
- Go off-grid. Buy some land in a rural part of the country and build a hut. Grow your own produce. Have your own livestock. Go hunting. Fish. I know people who have done it and never regretted it for a second.
8. Prioritize Important Over Urgent
Most of us choose the urgent over the important. Someone just needs to yell loud enough, and we will come running.
That project that your boss insists has to get done by tomorrow.
That annoying client that always wants last-minute changes.
Your spoiled girlfriend or boyfriend who thinks the world revolves around them.
But when you are constantly putting out fires, you have no energy left to take care of the truly important things in your life, like starting a workout regimen or building that side hustle that you’ve been dreaming about.
What To Do About It
- Never check your phone first thing in the morning.
- Instead, always “eat your frog” first, i.e., work on your most important task. Your most important task is that which relates to your passion in life. If you want to build a side hustle, work on that before you go to work. If you want to get your black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, go to the BJJ morning class first thing.
- To make this work, you might have to get up earlier, and, consequently, go to bed earlier.
- The same rule applies to breaks. Every time after a break, e.g., after lunch, do something for your one thing. Write two more emails to prospective clients. Do ten minutes of BJJ solo drills in your office.
9. Reduce Complexity
As a coach, the number one thing I see my clients struggle with is juggling too many projects.
Even when you have time management down to a science, there is a limit to how many projects you can take on. Once that threshold is reached, our brains spin out of control. That is a massive energy sink.
The problem is that we are greedy.
We don’t want to choose — we want it all. We want to be at the gym every morning to have that perfect body. We want to work 10 hours each day to build that successful startup. We want to party the night away and have that thriving social life.
But that is not how it works.
Understand — if you refuse to choose because you don’t want to miss out on anything, that’s the best way to make sure you will succeed with nothing.
Or as the Russian saying goes: “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”
What To Do About It
Look at every area in your life and ask yourself, “What can I do to reduce complexity?”
Here are some examples:
- If you are currently working out at the gym, consider switching over to a minimalist bodyweight workout. It will cut your workout time in half. Also, you won’t have to commute.
- If you are currently trying to build out several different marketing channels for your business at once, reevaluate. Pick the one with the most promise and go all in on that. Ignore the rest for now.
- If you are currently part of a huge social circle, consider zooming in on a handful of close friends.
- If you are currently pursuing five different hobbies, cut it down to one, the one that creates the most joy in your life.
Less, but better.
10. “Download” Your Brain
We have dozens (if not hundreds) of open loops in our lives.
That tax report we still have to submit.
That friend we have still to call back.
That toiletry we still have to buy.
These open loops live in the internal memory of our brain. That’s because our brain is constantly trying to remind us about what we still have to do.
But our brain is terrible at this task. It’s not good at choosing the right context. For example, you’ll think “I still need to get cat food” while taking a shower. How is that helpful?
It’s a giant waste of precious mental energy — energy that would be much better spent at deep work or on creative endeavors.
To solve this, you must “download” your brain.
You must create a second brain outside of your head. Once you have all your to-dos organized in one central, external place, all that mental RAM will be freed up. It will allow you to redirect your energy from trivial matters to meaningful tasks.
What To Do About It
- Capture whatever recurring thought in a central inbox. I used Evernote for that in the past but now use OneNote.
- Go through the items in your inbox and move them onto appropriate sublists.
- Date-specific items go on your calendar (events, meetings, flights).
- Actionable items go on your to-do list (“Buy milk at the supermarket”).
- Interesting ideas you haven’t committed to yet go on a someday/maybe list (“Learn Spanish”).
If you would like to see my detailed, GTD-inspired process for this, check out this article.
11. Increase Self-Awareness
We have talked about a lot of energy sucks so far.
But it’s one thing to intellectually know about these triggers and a completely different thing to recognize them in yourself.
The key is self-awareness. You must learn to read your reactions to stressful events in real time.
What To Do About It
Several times throughout the day, you should check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “Am I currently wasting a lot of energy because there is something stressing me out?”
It can be helpful to set a recurring alarm to remind you of these self-check-ins, for example, for every full hour.
Be patient. Learning to listen to yourself and what your body is telling you is a process. Like all things, it takes time and practice.
But once you do, it will revolutionize your life. You will be able to recognize and stop energy-sucking activities immediately.
12. Learn To Recharge Yourself
No matter how good you get at protecting your energy, sometimes you are going to fall into an energy trap. You will get burned out over a nuisance.
But don’t give up on your day yet.
What To Do About It
By far the best tool to recharge yourself is meditation.
Whenever you find yourself in a stressful, energy-sapping situation in life, meditation can help you get back to zero. It will help you leave that anxious state behind and return your peace of mind.
Find a quiet place, sit down, and close your eyes.
Now, watch yourself. Observe yourself as if you were an outsider looking into your own mind and body.
Notice the myriad of thoughts flashing through your mind. Pay attention to how rapidly your breath is going. Acknowledge that constricted feeling in your chest.
The trick is to not suppress anything. If you are angry, watch yourself being angry. If you are sad, watch yourself being angry.
Let it happen, whatever it is. Just watch.
By observing yourself without regulating yourself, quickly, all that anxiety will die away. This is already a very pleasant feeling.
But if you keep going now, you will start to sink deeper and deeper into yourself. Your body will start to feel extremely heavy. You will start to notice how the surface of your body is being pulled down by gravity into the chair. It’s a deeply relaxing sensation.
Sometimes (rarely) I experience one more stage. It’s like an abrupt switch. Suddenly, you are no longer aware of your body, but inside a large, endless space. And you start falling through that space, free of any worldly restrictions.
It’s one of the most exhilarating sensations I have ever felt.
When you return from one of these journeys, you will feel rejuvenated. Where you felt depleted of energy just 15 minutes earlier, you are now bursting with “aliveness.”
As with everything, practice makes perfect. You must meditate regularly (daily), to condition yourself to get to these deep states of consciousness more reliably and quickly.
At the same time, you don’t want to force it. If it doesn’t happen that day (or that week, or that month), so be it.
Keep at it, without expecting too much. That’s exactly when your expectations will be surpassed.