Today I am going to be talking about Mental Energy and why ABOVE ALL THINGS it must be protected. I’ll talk about what it is, how to ensure it isn’t wasted and the huge difference that protecting it will make to your life.
Last week I took on the rather involved topic of DRIVE and really went in depth to talk about what it was and how to find it and move forward. For those of you that have checked it out, I hope that it’s been helpful.
Now I really agonize over the topics which I bring to you here and even change the topic altogether if I feel that it isn’t working. I measure the strength of an episode’s potential in the prep period and as a solo pod-caster that means that I apply the lessons to my own life and work and only bring you things which I personally find to be impactful on it. In episode 2 (check it out of you haven’t already) I covered the topic of saying NO, as in my life, adopting that little word, and using it often, has meant that I have been able to take back control. I use it as kind of a shield. I let requests which will not further my goals, or which are not in alignment my values bounce off it so that I can say Yes to the things that really matter.
It’s a simple premise but it will make a monumental difference to your life if you give it a try and the subject that I am talking about today, MENTAL ENERGY AND HOW WE MUST PROTECT IT, is closely linked to it.
One of my favourite tweeters is Isaiah Hankel, and in his awesome book, THE SCIENCE OF INTELLIGENT ACHIEVEMENT he says that “Mental energy is the world’s hottest commodity. People are going to try to steal it, drain it, and suck it up every second you’re awake. Yet very few of us protect it. Few of us know how.”
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And if it wasn’t for Isaiah and his hashtag of #HARDTALK on twitter I wouldn’t have been able to put a name to this topic at all – He clarified my own opinion and I am eternally grateful to him for that. I am a total fanboy of Isaiah Hankel’s and we will be looking at what he says about all of this shortly.
I’ve been working professionally in film and tv for 24 years now, and during 18 of them, I was caught up in what I will call a FREELANCER FEAR of letting people down or missing out on opportunity. Of not being able to pay my bills because I didn’t get enough work and that FEAR bred a sort of DESPERATION LED drive to be always reliable, to over deliver and to take not only every single paid job that came along but also to help everyone else no matter the cost to my own life or savings or time. I had this deep-set worry that my not being there and ready and willing would mean I let someone down. In the short films that I was making I covered the ass of anyone who was falling behind and tried to anticipate the problems of each and every department because I worried that, in the low budget world in which I was creating these films, that I was somehow unhelpful or might be seen as taking advantage of them and on those films it was ALWAYS MY OWN JOB THAT I came to prep last, and in the end - in day to day life as well as professionally - I stretched myself so thin that eventually, I snapped. And I’ve gone on about this before and don’t want to sound like some sort of martyr, but I snapped because I just never protected my mental energy. I didn’t understand what it was. I didn’t have the skills that I talk about each week on this podcast, all of which can be applied to make your life and work easier. I never had a podcaster (I didn’t know what a podcast was to be fair) telling me to think smart, to protect my mental energy and to say to me – Don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright.
And remember - “Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.” Unquote. – Dale Carnegie
So let me say that to you now. DON’T WORRY I’m here to help. Everything IS going to be alright.
To get into this topic and help you understand what exactly I’m on about I must ask you this. Have you ever been asked to do something paid or otherwise and replied I’m sorry - I don’t have time?
If so, great. Learning to say no in action, which I’ll get into later, but can you think of a time when you’ve said no, I don’t have time, but really did? When you had time, but not the energy to get involved? What I suppose I am saying is have you ever said no and made an excuse or even apologized to someone because you were tired out? or because you wanted to just watch tv? or because you just wanted time to yourself?
When you just didn’t have enough headspace to take on new things. It’s not that you didn’t have TIME to help someone, but you just didn’t have the head space. Well, that head-space is the mental energy I’m talking about and it’s YOUR MOST FINITE RESOURCE.
Amy Morin, author of 13 things that mentally strong people DON’T do says that “Wasting brain power ruminating about things you can't control drains mental energy quickly. The more you think about problems you can't solve, the less energy you'll have leftover for more productive endeavours.”
Has your brain ever been so cluttered with unfinished tasks, commitments to other people, grand plans and small ones, regrets of things long past, worries about what other people think or just might think or letting someone down, or with wording the emails you feel you need to reply to, or shopping lists of things to buy, birthdays to remember, and any other thing that gets stuck on your mind, that you feel so fatigued that you just can’t seem to achieve any of it. That’s what happens when you don’t take care of and PROTECT YOUR MENTAL ENERGY. And the end of that journey by the way - is burnout.
I quoted from Isaiah Hankel earlier as it’s his angle on all this that most precisely aligns with my own, and there’s a lot of articles on this subject out there – for me though, the only one that I fully agree with, is Isaiah Hankel because he doesn’t pull his punches.
He says that “Mental energy is YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET. Without it, you won’t have the enthusiasm, motivation, drive, and physical energy to live a full rich life. - The problem is this asset DEPRECIATES RAPIDLY every day.”
And that depreciation comes about through distraction. It’s why I urge you in episode 3 to do a brain dump and prioritize, and get all of your thoughts and tasks and worries out of your head and onto a piece of paper or a whiteboard. It’s why the first major topic of the entire series was about learning to say NO.
The subject of Mental Energy is detailed at length in Isaiah’s excellent book, THE SCIENCE OF INTELLIGENT ACHIEVEMENT, and even that title, you may notice, aligns very closely with The Higher Level Thinking which I encouraged you to adopt right from episode 1.
Isaiah points out that although “People carefully protect the money in their bank account and the time in their calendar, they do little to protect their attention.” And “Attention”, he says “is the gateway to your mental energy. WHERE YOUR ATTENTION GOES, YOUR MENTAL ENERGY FLOWS.”
He also quotes several scientific studies in the book, stating that we only get about an hour and a half to two hours of peak mental energy and five hours or less of “near” peak mental energy each day. For the rest of the day, your mental energy levels are medium to low at best. But don’t worry - The good news is that if you get enough good sleep, your energy replenishes 100%.
So now that we know WHAT IT IS, and how VALUABLE IT IS - I think it is especially valuable if you regard yourself as a creative and are constantly having to come up with new things, and out of the box thinking and solutions, then HOW DO WE STOP IT FROM GETTING AWAY FROM US and GET IT UNDER OUR CONTROL?
“Taking back your mental energy is not a cakewalk. It’s a dogfight.” Says Isaiah Hankel, as it depletes so quickly again each and every day and every DISTRACTION, everything on your mind, will have a pull at it and tear a piece off.
He also reminds us that more often than not you will discover that the direction in which your attention is flowing will be in the direction that suits someone else’s objectives. That’s the battle he is referring to. I go on and on about taking control of your own destiny, and getting control of your mental energy is a major part of that.
You see your brain hates change and it likes distraction. It wants you to stay in this comfort zone of distraction you’ve created, wasting your energy on the wrong things—so it works to keep you there, but you can’t let it linger.
SO HOW CAN WE BEGIN TO SAVE OURSELVES?
Well, we’ve about come full circle as I’m back to using the word NO. If you want to protect your mental energy you need to get back control of your life and start saying no to the things in your life that really don’t matter, and saying NO as I have said before is as much about stopping yourself from saying YES as it is about saying no. You don’t have to say yes to anything that doesn’t further your own dreams or goals, no matter how it may make you feel. You need to shake off the negative connotations of the word and realize that far from being a negative force on your life, the word no is really the most positive.
When you get back a modicum of control in your life by saying no to those things that don’t really matter, you will find yourself with time to consider those things that really do.
Isaiah Hankel says about this, and again I’m totally in alignment with him, that you should Set “NO” as your default response.
He says “Start rewarding yourself for being selective. Every time you say “no” you get one step closer to achieving TRUE SUCCESS.”He also says that we can protect our mental energy further if we stop “burning through our mental energy on emotional drama and the key to doing this is to learn to walk away from energy draining people.”
Now I won’t go fully into this here as later this season I’m doing a whole episode on it but toxic people, Energy Vampires and Negative and Energy draining people—people grow stronger by feeding on your attention, who play the victim and create all kinds of drama to steal away your attention must be AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS.We can also improve our odds by surrounding ourselves with positive people.
Isaiah says to “Find people who energize you and keep you on track towards your goals. Then, hold onto them.”
Humans are naturally social people. Building relationships makes us happy and gives us energy. Spend time with people who think positively, and have a lot of energy, and talk in a positive tone. It will make think more positively and give you energy.We can also take on activities which increase our mental energy levels.
“Don’t forget to allocate time to friends and family, hobbies, etc. These activities provide excitement and keep you motivated. It seems counter-intuitive, however taking a break from work can actually help you get more work done. Having fun stimulates your brain in a way that improves energy levels.”
And I’m going to ask here – is there anything you used to do, even as a child that you now no longer do but wish you did? Why don’t you consider doing it again? Seriously, why don’t you? By using the word NO you have created elbow room to manoeuvre in your life – so re-join that netball team, or make a model aeroplane or go hillwalking or whatever. It’s good for the soul.Also - Keep your mind stimulated but not overworked. Mental challenges will give you energy, but too much may leave you fatigued. Without enough challenge, you may become bored and lethargic. Try learning a new skill to stimulate your mind.
And there are many more things you can do like meditate, or go for a walk etc but my favourite is to Declutter Your Mind – Do the brain dump. Get all of your thoughts on to a blank page or whiteboard – Please go back and listen to episode 3 to find out more about all this. Declutter your mind by delegating, setting reminders, taking notes, and keeping a calendar. Get it out of your brain and assess quickly what is vital and important in it all, what is incomplete and needs to be completed to give your mind a break – These incomplete tasks will really drag you down btw – and what you can completely illuminate.
To avoid making mistakes, and to declutter your mind, keep as much as you can outside of your brain. For example, if you set a meeting with someone, put it in your calendar so you no longer have to remember it. Keep a to-do list. It will enable you to be more present and conscious of what you’re doing in a given moment. Delegate what someone else can do for you. These are all ways in which you can protect your valuable mental energy.
“Your mental energy is going to plummet throughout the day, certainly. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s only bad if it’s being wasted on people and activities that are pivoting you away from true success. Be selective and start saving your most valuable resource—mental energy—for the best things in life, not the worst.” Isaiah Hankel
I would normally expand a little on the topic here but as Isaiah said it so well I’ll leave it at that. Well almost – I take grander ideas in these podcasts and focus them down to the essential but there’s something Isaiah points out in the book about having depleted mental energy and I personally think it’s the most important part of all of this.
When your mental energy is depleted you become more easily manipulated and you can find yourself caught up in things that are not in alignment with your goals or your values. You need to be very wary of this happening to you so keep a raised level of awareness in regard to it and be careful out there.
CALL TO ACTION
Your call to action this week is to do a self-assessment. A brain dump to assess what’s there. Use the Prioritizing strategy from Episode 2 to help with this.
Firstly illuminate the unimportant.Then look at what you can automate. Emails or weekly shopping for example.Then see what you can delegate – and do it. Next what is down there that you can put off until another day and deliberately procrastinate on it. It’s not important enough right now to take up brain space.And that will leave what is important, and concentrate on that.
Move the details of your important stuff into a diary or an app and keep your brain free of this excess junk. Keep it clean and your mental energy will stay for longer.
And if you’ve done a proper brain dump you’ll see that a lot of the stuff that’s been on your mind is not urgent, and some of it just isn’t even important and you can let all of that go.
And if worry is your problem, I’ll be revisiting that topic later in the series.
For now though remember the words of novelist Arthur Somers Roche who wrote that “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
Don’t let worry for things that might never happen, drain your most finite resource. Mental Energy.
Thanks again for listening. Please please please spread the word about the show and get more people listening in. I need you to spread the word for me as there’s only so much I can do with no money and social networking. If you do fancy supporting the show btw there’s a direct link to donate on the official website too. It’s at the bottom of each page. It costs about £300 a year to keep it going and at the moment I pay for that myself but as you never know who is listening I thought I’d throw it out there!
Next week I’m delving into the principle of the FOUR DISCIPLINES OF EXECUTION. I’ll be talking about how you can have the goals and the plans but if you don’t have a clear means of executing your strategy you can still get stuck in the seeds. The 4DX as it’s known will help you out of that.
Until then please take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’, PROTECT THAT MENTAL ENERGY and join me next time on Film Pro Productivity.
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