What's Your Return on Investment?

I’ll admit that if I saw this title in my news feed, I would scroll right on by. I am not generally interested in anything that is remotely connected to the financial realm. I would have made a very poor banker or investment person (I don’t event know what they’re called - brokers? investors? traders? Ugh.). So, it stands to reason that this will not be about money.

What I would like to talk about is how to approach energy management. By energy, I mean our mental and physical stamina but also that vibe that we put out to the world. The latter can be a bit harder to grasp but consider it your level of approachability or the signals you’re sending others around you about your mood. I believe the two are closely inter-related because it is difficult to appear approachable if you’re exhausted and running on fumes.

I’ve seen so many self-care authors and various specialists describe energy reserves much like a bank account - where effective energy management means that there are more credits (and happiness) to your account than debits (anxiety, sadness, frustration). After my husband’s car accident, his Occupational Therapist worked with him to manage his energy using a points system. He had a set number of points per day and then determined how many points each activity used up. It was not possible to replenish points or transfer them to the next day. They were there in the mornings - 7 after a good night’s sleep or fewer after a restless night.

I used to subscribe to that theory until a few years ago when I had coffee with a lady I just met. This woman contacted me through my Facebook jewelry page and asked me to make her a custom mala (meditation necklace). We messaged back and forth and decided to meet for coffee and for me to drop off the finished product. I clearly remember feeling tired that day, rushed and overwhelmed. This woman turned out to be lovely - as I knew she would - but as the conversation went on, my mood lifted and I began to feel energized. We talked about everything. We began pouring our hearts out to one another. Conversation was easy, flowing, natural and so inspiring. When I left, I felt better than if I’d slept soundly for a week! I was on an energy high like no other. I felt like I was ready to face - no, take on - the world. That was when I realized that energy isn’t finite - a set of credits and debits - but a highly changeable asset.

I would argue that seeing energy as a finite commodity fails to take into account the fluid nature of energy and its potential for manipulation. In fact, I believe that manipulating this potential to amplify or shrink is important in leading a wholehearted, balanced life. Let me explain.

Some things are tangible and finite. For example, if we eat a piece of pie, there will be less for the next person who comes looking for a snack. As we use something up, the quantity diminishes until replenished. Easy-peasy.

Some intangible items are also finite. Allow me to use money as an example. From a basic standpoint, the money we have is finite. I remember a not-too-distant past where money was a physical thing I kept in my wallet. It was tangible - it could be touched. I readily knew if I had enough or not to cover an expense. Over time, money has increasingly become conceptual. Our paycheques are automatically deposited into our accounts, we pay for goods and services with plastic cards and go online to pay bills and check our balance. Many of us can go weeks or longer without handling physical money. With the possible exception of my Dad, who still insists on withdrawing cash from the ATM before heading to the store, most of us have pretty much adapted to seeing money, assets, financial worth as numbers we pull up on an electronic screen. We know what we have and we operate from a standpoint that as long as we are not running a deficit, we’re okay.

Where it becomes a bit nebulous is when we start to tinker with the types of replenishment. The money you or I have in our bank account is finite but that changes when we apply for loans or use credit to spend more than we have. Repaying what was borrowed or overspent will often result in cuts to previous areas of spending - especially when interest is high - or in more overspending and bankruptcy. We can also make similar links with energy management. After borrowing against our energy reserves for too long, our bodies or minds (or both) can’t deal with the deficit and we burn out.

That tells me that many of us have been taught to think of most things - tangible and intangible - as finite but still with the possibility of spending more than we have. That leads us to deal with things from a standpoint of scarcity. We become stingy with where and how we spend our money, points or energy. The thinking becomes: if I spend all my points/energy/money on this one item, there will be nothing left for me to accomplish something else. Sadly, I’ve seen this permeate into other areas of life and result in competition between people or jealousy. Can I truly be happy for someone else’s success if I believe that there’s only so much success to go around?

Based on my coffee experience and years of paying very close attention to the ebb and flow of my daily energy, I suggest we abandon the finiteness of energy and approach it from the standpoint of abundance. What if we saw energy as something that can easily be amplified exponentially or shrunk down to nothing? I would argue that our mindset, our behaviours and the people with whom we interact are three factors that can significantly affect our ability to manipulate our energy.

I have learned that my mindset plays a huge part in my energy reserves. Unlike my husband’s point system, the same activity doesn’t always use up the same amount of energy. The actions I take, my level of enjoyment of the task and the mindset I choose to adopt while performing the task play a huge role. For example, one hour of work on my laptop will be much different than one hour of work teaching yoga. (Did you notice how “choose is bold, in italics and underlined? Read on.)

I have to credit the amazing Tracy Billows, Ottawa yoga teacher extraordinaire and owner of Yogatown. I will forever remember her words during my Yoga Teacher Training about teachers paying close attention to their energy. She said that when a yoga teacher steps into a room, she has a duty to leave her own baggage outside since her energy will impact the experience of her students. She recommended that once you touch the door handle, you tune into the best version of yourself - confident, fully present and attuned to yourself and to those around you. I’ve accepted that as gospel and have always done that. I touch the handle, push that door and walk in as Julie, wholeheartedly confident, able to teach a great class, assured and able to hold space for the participants to have a good experience. And you know what? It works - every.single.time. I choose to project that positive energy into the room and it is amplified. I leave that room and feel a deep connection to the students and have a heart filled with gratitude. I realize that teaching is not about me at all but rather, it is about being of service. I know that one hour of teaching yoga is part of my “work” but it will amplify my energy for the rest of the day in a way that doing paperwork never will. That said, choosing to bring a bit of that gratitude to my paperwork tasks may not amplify my energy as much but it can prevent depletion.

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience to mine where you met someone who felt like sunshine and inspiration. Or, maybe the reverse is true. Do you have a friend of family member who is an eternal pessimist? You know the type - the glass is not only half empty but it’s chipped and they’re pretty certain that the waitress spit in it too? I think most of us know someone like this. Spending time with that person may be a bit depleting energy-wise. Does that mean that cutting this person out of your life is the only way to protect yourself? Many self-care authors say yes; I say that may not be the best way to go. I have a few energy-vampires in my life that I would lie down in traffic for any day of the week so I’m not about to part with them. It doesn’t mean that I love how they choose to perceive the world around them and it doesn’t mean that I’m self-sacrificing myself or my self-respect spending time with them. Alas, it simply means that I believe my bond with them is worth the energy. If I learn to read my own energy, understand how much of a debit is required to spend time with that person, I can make sure there’s enough in the bank or work toward amplifying my reserves beforehand. What’s more, given how fluid energy is, I can (and do) attempt to raise their energy with mine.

So, are you investing your energy wisely? How can you diversify your portfolio to bring in a higher rate of return? I’m not suggesting that you need to make BIG changes to your life - maybe you do and maybe little tweaks will suffice. I would ask the following questions: What activities make you feel more alive? Is there anything from those activities that you can bring into your other tasks? What behaviours can you adopt that will bring you that feeling of abundance, of amplifying your energy reserves? Finally, can you cultivate relationships with people who raise your energy level?

If you’re not sure how to find your tribe, maybe enrol in a course or join a new Facebook group relating to something positive. I got a clear taste of energy amplification at the end of last month as I began my learning journey toward becoming a Coach. The first learning component was an intensive one-week virtual training. I had some reservations about how the group of 23 students would “gel” or connect given the virtual nature of the meeting. Well, let me tell you that it was a beautiful experience. I found myself surrounded by 22 other students, all eager to learn how to be of service to others and a couple faculty staff who were so genuinely interested in sharing their knowledge and holding us while we worked out the learning modules. It was a week that was heavy with learning new concepts and being thrown into applying barely integrated skills so we could really assimilate the knowledge. Yet, I felt buoyed by the energy of this tribe. We shared a common purpose, a similar view of the world around us and a desire to make it better.

So, I would encourage anyone looking to gain energy to reflect on your own “energy bank account” in terms of your deposits and withdrawals but also, seek out those high-return investment opportunities. Check your mindset, make a clear decision about how you show up to your activities, make time for activities that fuel your soul and find your tribe. Allow your energy to multiply for you and for those around you. And, when you plan to spend some time with your much loved energy-vampires, maybe build in a little cushion where you can recoup your losses without too steep of an interest rate. See, I actually can speak finance!