On personal energy

A beautiful passage by Scott Adams on personal energy:

I’ll define your personal energy as anything that gives you a positive lift, either mentally or physically. Like art, you know it when you see it. Examples will help. For me, shopping is an energy killer. The moment I walk into a busy store, I feel the energy drain from my body. The exhaustion starts as a mental thing, but within minutes I feel as if my body had been through a marathon. Shopping is simply exhausting for me. Your situation might be different. For some people, shopping is a high. It boosts energy. So using my example, a person like me should seek to minimize shopping (and I do), while a person who gets a buzz from it should indulge, so long as it doesn’t take too much away from other priorities in life.

Managing your personal energy is like managing budgets in a company. In business, every financial decision in one department is connected to others. If the research and development group cuts spending today, eventually that decision will ripple through the organization and reduce profits in some future year. Similarly, when you manage your personal energy, it’s not enough to maximize it in the short run or in one defined area. Ideally, you want to manage your personal energy for the long term and the big picture. Having one more cocktail at midnight might be an energy boost at the time, but you pay for it double the next day. At this point in the book, allow me to pause and acknowledge your entirely appropriate skepticism about my notion that organizing your life around the concept of personal energy is useful. I applaud your healthy skepticism. But I’ll ask you to hold off on judging the usefulness of personal energy as an organizing principle until you see how it’s woven into the following chapters. By analogy, imagine explaining the idea of capitalism to someone who had never heard of it. You’d be greeted with severe skepticism and legitimate questions: Wouldn’t it cause you to cut expenses now and underinvest? Wouldn’t it cause you to become sort of a jerk to your employees? Wouldn’t it cause you to cheat your customers whenever you could? The honest answer to all of those concerns is that they are entirely valid. Capitalism is rotten at every level, and yet it adds up to something extraordinarily useful for society over time. The paradox of capitalism is that adding a bunch of bad-sounding ideas together creates something incredible that is far more good than bad. Capitalism inspires people to work hard, to take reasonable risks, and to create value for customers. On the whole, capitalism channels selfishness in a direction that benefits civilization, not counting a few fat cats who have figured out how to game the system. You have the same paradox with personal energy. If you look at any individual action that boosts your personal energy, it might look like selfishness. Why are you going skiing when you should be working at the homeless shelter, you selfish bastard! My proposition is that organizing your life to optimize your personal energy will add up to something incredible that is more good than bad. As I write this paragraph, my wife and our good friends are wondering why I’m selfishly lagging behind and not meeting them for an afternoon of sitting in the sun. I’ll get there soon. And when I do, I’ll feel energized and satisfied and be far more fun to be around. No one will think worse of me in the long run for being thirty minutes behind for a full day of fun that they have already started. But everyone will appreciate that I’m in a better mood when I show up. That’s the trade-off. Like capitalism, some forms of selfishness are enlightened.

The problem for me is often finding the causation — what gives me energy and what doesn’t? Especially in the long run. It depends on my mood and countless factors all affecting one another in the complex system that is me. However, there are obvious ones to fix first — especially related to drugs (most notably, alcohol) and sleep. Amusing how it took 25 years and actual health issues for me to internalize this.

Eliminating the big ones allow for more presence from moment to moment, which in turn hopefully leads to more understanding.

Finally, there is the idea that I am not rational so I will not follow my own advice all the time — because sometimes it is more entertaining that way. However, that is a big exception to an otherwise solid rule.




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Maximilian Rehn

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