Her name was Melissa. She was part of a group of leaders I was working with. That day we had just covered each person’s personality profile, and I was introducing them to the “Energy Bucket” and the concept of energy centers (Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual and Social( P.I.E.S.S.). I had them draw a bucket on their 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper. At the top I had them write down the things in their lives (people, places, activities, ideas, etc.) that gave them energy. At the bottom of the bucket I had them write down the things (same categories) that drained them. Then I had them draw a line across their bucket where their energy was that day, and where it was normally.
Someone gasped. It was the first time that they had visualized the fact that they had more things draining them in their life than giving them energy. It wasn’t Melissa. Her bucket was far worse. Looking back, I have never seen any one’s Energy Bucket was at 15%.
Later that morning I met one on one with Melissa. I asked her to show me her Energy Bucket and to tell me what was going on. She burst into tears. When she regained her composure, she offered that she had been working 12-hour days, seven days a week for seven months. She indicated that she was scared. She used to be able to rattle off the specific regulation pertaining to their work when asked by her people. She could no longer do so.
Our conversation went on for another two hours. She was at a very fragile point. I asked her what the logical consequence was of her continuing to have a decline in her energy. She described that she had headaches, stomach issues, was smoking more, had stopped exercising, drinking more and grabbing ‘whatever’ to eat when she could. She didn’t know what the consequence was until I hinted, and she figured out that at 42 she was headed for a major health ‘event.’
I want to stop here to explore a dynamic that I see a fair amount. It is how we care for ourselves, specifically when we are under stress. It depends on the type and amount of stress, but consistently, at the very time we need to care for ourselves better, we do the opposite. We are world class at ‘energy depletion.’
Based on the situations I’ve heard about, we all experience a stretch, or stretches, of time where we deplete ourselves in order to get through ‘it.’ The ‘it’ can be any number of things – our baby’s first several months, a big project at home or work. Or, it becomes a ‘state of being.’ Stress becomes a way of life, and we choose what we choose in how we will deal with it. Dr. William Glasser would say, “We choose the behavior that gives us the most control, even if it isn’t healthy.”
During these periods of our lives many of us choose to do ‘violence’ to ourselves (term courtesy of RW Smith). The violence can come in many forms – eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much; other forms of diversion (TV, video games, partying – anything to take our minds off our stress, our life).
Not many people like the term ‘violence’ to describe what they are choosing to do to deal with their stress. It is a term I like because it tends to get our attention and enables us to think about our choices differently; to think about ourselves differently.
Recently, I had this conversation with myself. I don’t know the genesis for my increase in alcohol consumption – increased pain with my arthritic knees, worrying about my children, grandchildren who have A LOT of energy, reflection on the aging process (who is the old guy in the mirror), etc. What I noticed was that I was choosing to use alcohol more to ‘deaden’ the challenges and stress of my life.
Regardless of the reason, I reached the end of last year wanting a different ‘relationship’ with alcohol. I wasn’t sure what that meant other than less. During this time of reflection, I explored whether the behavior might be intentional because I didn’t like myself. I concluded that I did like myself, and that what I was doing was not okay. It was also an embarrassment that I had allowed myself to potentially damage my health through my behavior.
It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution to reduce my intake, but a resolution to do differently. A commitment to take better care of myself for me and all those around me who loved me.
I am happy to report that my progress has been good in the first 41 days of the new year. The current journey, however, has not been without setbacks. In those days of increased consumption I have managed to understand the nature of the environment and circumstances and to forgive myself, and to do better. Each time that has happened I was able to get back to my goal.
The revolution for me – it was easy to make violent choices toward myself without a thought. It was easy to become less ‘awake and aware’ of how my choices and habits had shifted without thinking twice. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While I understand Socrates’ statement, that is not where I want to start. What I do want to do is to ‘invite’ you, me, us to find a quiet spot and to ask, “Are there areas of my life that are not where I want them to be? Is it time for me to make some different choices?”
Some of you may be like my children (2 girls and a boy) and their spouses. My son and daughter-in-law have three kids, 5, 3.5, and one. My daughter and son-in-law just had their first child. My other daughter works for the U.S. Postal system. All three are, or have, experienced ‘survival’ time. Survival time is exactly that – it is the bottom rung of our needs (think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). We are doing what we can to survive. If that is your moment, you may need some space just to get through that time before you can think about what you need/can to do differently. If we stay in that mode a long time, however, we can miss the opportunities to begin to do differently because we have been doing ‘survival’ for so long.
I will write a part 2 for March so we can find out what happened to Melissa and continue our ‘discussion’ about our self-care. One final thought. These moments of our life can be moments that have us in a very fragile state. Often, they require multiple steps; some that require us to stop doing, some that require us to start doing. My experience, having coached several people in and out of this state, is that it requires a resolve to take the first step forward something better no matter how small (often, difficult and uncomfortable). Then to take another, and another, and another undaunted by setbacks. The first step is the knowledge and the motivation that you want something different.
I look forward to hearing about your journey.
To a better you…