When it comes to your money, I expect that you have some sort of budget or at least a sense of what is coming in (and where those dollars are coming from) as well as what is going out (and some idea of what that money is being spent on). Additionally, you have learned that spending more than you’re earning will eventually lead to trouble and that to avoid this you either have to spend less or somehow earn more.
We have an understanding and acceptance that there has to be a balance between money in and money out. Yet when it comes to something arguably even more important – our own energy – we are often much more careless and frequently operating in the red.
And just like financial debt is stressful and unsustainable, energy debt causes us to operate below our ideal and can even lead to an energy crisis and total breakdown. When we’re drained, we’re irritable, easily overwhelmed and have trouble making good decisions. And when we’re not at our best, we struggle to take care of others, so balancing energy in with energy out is especially critical for those in a caregiving role.
Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s imperative.
A personal energy audit is about becoming aware of where you’re allocating your limited energy and how you’re reviving yourself. Once you’ve taken these simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to a balanced energy budget.
The 7 Steps of a Personal Energy Audit
1 – Make a list of all of the things you do that require energy. The big-ticket items will probably come easily. To help think of the others, scan through a typical day and consider if each activity leaves you more or less energized than before. Pay special attention to your “plugged-in” activities such as television and social media. We think of these as restorative, but are they for you?
Build this list over a period of several days. Are you spending energy thinking about a loss in your life? Giving energy to a toxic person? Delivering energy to something or someone where there is nothing to show for it? Be honest with yourself. After all, you have to recognize it before you can change it.
Instead of a list, you can create a simple pie chart that illustrates what percentage of your energy is currently being allocated in each direction. This visual can be helpful to highlight any possible imbalance.
2 – Make a list of all of the things you do that provide you with energy. To help you think of ideas, reflect back on a day when you felt especially energized or contemplate what you would do with a full day by yourself. Add things to the list even if you’re not currently utilizing them. Don’t get confused between physical energy and emotional energy. You may find that something like a walk leaves you energized even though it requires the burning of calories. If you prefer a visual, this information can be displayed in a frequency chart.
3 – Start by looking for overlapping items. These are key because they operate at close to a zero sum game, both requiring and providing energy. Make note of these. If you’re so inclined, the information up to this point can even take the form of a Venn diagram.
4 – Next, consider your expenditure list and rough percentages dedicated to each item. Are these areas where you want to spend energy? Is there energy being wasted? Are their items you can eliminate or reduce? Can you shift some energy from an area that is only an expenditure to one of those that overlaps with the deposit column? You only have a finite amount. Don’t waste it.
5 – Look at the list of things that give you energy. Are there more areas that you can add? Are there any you can increase in frequency or duration? Strangely, we are often resistant to the very things that restore our energy. Try adding structure in the form of a schedule. Or, promise yourself that you’ll do five minutes of the activity (this works great with exercise) and then give yourself permission to stop at that point. You’ll probably find that you wish to continue. Additionnally, simply being conscious that these activities help to restore your energy balance may lower the initial resistance to action.
6 – Be mindful of the “Starbucks Effect.” Just like small expenditures of money can slip through our fingers without much conscious thought, small amounts of energy can be allocated other directions without our intent. And these small leaks can add up. Before you spend energy on someone or something, ask yourself if it is a worthwhile investment.
7 – Aim for an energy surplus or balance. If you add something to your expenditure list, either cut something else out or add find a way to “earn” more energy. Build your reserves in the easier times so that you can pull from your reserves during the difficult periods. And when the hard times do come, make a conscious effort to rebuild your energy at every available opportunity. Think of it like uncovering the coins beneath the couch cushions. Every little bit helps.
Over time, this conscious spending of your energy becomes habit and the periods of total exhaustion will be fewer and further between. And once your energy is going towards the things that directly benefit yourself, others or the world, you’ll find a sense of peace and well-being that comes from being your authentic self.