Our approach to mental energy is very simple: it describes the capacity we have for managing our life and environment. Try thinking of it in banking terms. You invest your time and energy each day to various tasks, activities and relationships.
Some of your investments will provide good returns and actually increase your energy levels. Others on the other hand will drain you and deplete your energy stores. We can’t naturally eliminate all draining investments, but our goal is to help you in making wise investments that keep the balance positive.
To help us to evaluate and manage our energy balance we have developed the ‘energy pyramid’. This pyramid is divided into three parts. The top level focuses on ‘myself’, the middle level on work environment and the bottom on your social environment. Each of these levels has an impact on our mental energy and wellbeing and we should put effort into all of them, purposefully investing time and energy into right things.
Time for me – does it exist?
This layer of the pyramid most likely received the lowest amount of time and energy investments, and often rightly so, as we are constantly dealing with other people. However, even the small investments into activities that you enjoy, can be hugely valuable and provide very significant positive returns.
Remember that the focus should not always be on doing something. An equally important, but sometimes more difficult, task is to occasionally do nothing. To be idle. Research is showing us that when we rest, our brain is far from idle, and this mental processing during our downtime is very important for our health, wellbeing and performance (1).
As life gets busy with various commitments, remember to hold on to your ability to rest and recharge yourself with enjoyable activities, idle moments, and sufficient sleep. Pay attention also to your thinking patterns, as we easily get into negative spirals of worry and anxiety, which can consume your thoughts and drain your energy.
Surviving or thriving at work?
The second layer of the pyramid focuses on our work environment, and with most of us this eats up most of our time, and often even more of our energy. However, we should not see work as a necessary evil that we have to do in order to gain income, but rather as a way of using our abilities productively and learning new skills in order to serve others.
Researchers have identified three different approaches to work. Seeing it as a job motivated by money, a career motivated by success, or a calling motivated by the work itself (2). They found that those who view their work as a calling, and are able to do work that is in line with their values, had the highest work and life satisfaction. The key factor was not really in the content of the work, but rather in the motivation and attitude towards it.
A second important element in our work environment is our ability to pace ourselves. Trying to push through each day with 100% effort from one task to the next is not sustainable as it is very draining, and it will actually not even lead to our best performance (3). We have to be deliberate in how we use our time and energy at work by paying attention to setting boundaries, taking mental and physical breaks, and also our diet choices.
Enjoying time with friends and family?
The final layer of the pyramid focuses on your social environment, which includes your family and friends. Social relationships are extremely important for people and research has shown their importance in connection with mental health, physical health, health habits, and even mortality risk (4). For example, adults who are more socially connected have been shown to be healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers.
What happens unfortunately often though, is that we have depleted all our energy stores at work. We come home and are physically there, spending our time with family and friends, but mentally we may be so drained that we are not able to invest any energy to our relationships. With poor quality investments, we will also see poor returns and our relationships may suffer.
In order to manage your relationships effectively, we recommend you to first of all manage your daily energy levels in a balanced way. Secondly, invest time and energy to those people that mean the most to you, and be ready to sometimes limit your involvement with people that drain our energy.
Are you investing in what matters most?
Bringing it all together, let’s take a final look at how well your actual investments are aligned with your priorities. Take a moment to think about what is really important for you in your life, and what are some of the key values that define who you are. Then evaluate whether your actual time and energy investments reflect your priorities and key values, or if your actions are actually showing something quite different.
We all have 24 hours in each day and have time to do what is important for us. Learn to prioritise and schedule your most important activities and relationships first in your calendar. Avoid living constantly in a reactive mode – being consumed with urgent issues that come your way and unable to say no. Be purposeful with your life and take control of your investments, so that you can be proactive in how you manage your time and energy.
Finally, remember that investments by nature require something from you. If you want positive returns, you have to be willing to give something of yourself, and sometimes even take some risks.
Matti Kontsas, Science & Development Director
Matti heads the Hintsa science teams. He has a family with three children and juggling work, personal interests, children’s hobbies, time with his wife, etc. makes balancing energy investments an interesting daily challenge.
1. Immordino-Yang, M.H. et al. Rest is not idleness, implications of the brain’s default mode for human development and education. Perspectives on psychological science 2012, vol. 7 no. 4, 352-364.
2. Wrzesniewski, A. et al. Jobs, careers, and callings: People’s relations to their work. Journal of Research in Personality 1997, 31, 21-33
3. Ericsson, K. Anders. The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance 38 (2006): 685-705.
4. Umberson, D. & Montez, J.K. Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010 ; 51(Suppl): S54–S66.