Most people acknowledge that when you do pushups your first few are the best. As you do more, your form begins to suffer, you begin to slow down, until you get to the point when you literally just can't do any more. Your muscles become fatigued to the point of complete exhaustion and failure.
But we don't always realize that in this way, our minds function exactly like a muscle. When you're fresh and well rested, you're quick, sharp, efficient. But every single thing you think about or consider, every decision you make -- even the mundane ones like should I order the salad or the burger -- depletes your mental energy. And then at a certain point you literally just can't. That's why many executives like Mark Zuckerberg wear the same outfit every day. They are reducing decision fatigue.
This last month I have been stretched to the point that my mind was daily pushed to complete failure. My clients often come to me for coaching when their own minds are at this point. When our brains are reaching total depletion on a regular basis, it's time to go into survival mode. This is the process I go through myself and that I lead my clients through.
First, identify the three or four priorities you still want to focus on. For me these have been serving my family, serving my existing clients, and serving in my church calling. Everything else -- even things really important to me like friends and community service and self-care beyond what I need for mental and physical health -- have had to take a back seat. Actually, they've had to completely get out of the car.
Next, we whittle down anything extra that zaps mental energy. Chief among those are information and communication overload.
If you're like me, you're on a million text threads. There's the running group text thread, the pickleball text thread, the old roommate thread, the family thread, the in-law thread, the neighborhood thread, and I could go on. Rather than making a decision about whether to reply or what to say about every single message, I just make one single decision that I'm completely ignoring them. I don't read them; I don't answer them; I just let them pass by. I decide that when I have more mental energy that the group will let me jump back in without any hard feelings. I have always found this to be true, and if it wasn't, that is a text thread I would want to disengage from permanently anyway.
I delete all email other than the ones that are essential to my top three or four priorities. If my favorite store is having a sale, I pay no attention. If my high school is having a reunion -- delete. If they're looking for volunteers at the bake sale, I don't give it a thought.
I throw all mail away with the exception of bills that need to be paid and invitations where I need to decline and jump onto Amazon to order a wrapped gift from a registry. I let small billing errors go. I just paid a bill to a doctor I didn't owe because it just wasn't worth my mental energy to call and fight it.
I drop social media. I may browse it every few days when I'm in the pickup line at school for two minutes, but no liking anything, no comments, no reading anything that requires processing. We don't realize how much energy we spend wondering -- should I give this a thumbs up or a heart? What exactly do I say to reply to this post? Just say no to all of it. I appeared as a guest on a podcast that aired a couple of weeks ago (it was recorded months ago). I haven't even listened to it yet because it isn't directly connected to the three priorities I decided I can devote my energy to this month -- serving existing clients, serving my family, and serving in my church calling. I will listen to that podcast when I have more mental energy to give. Also, this is my first blog post in weeks. Blog posts fall under the category of serving the general public and potential clients. Since that doesn't fall under my priorities, I've had to take a blog hiatus.
And I avoid the news like the plague.
For everything else, I simplify wherever I can -- like ordering my groceries for delivery instead of pickup -- and I ask for help from friends and family when I need it.
Survival periods will come and go, but they're much easier to endure if you focus on what really matters and avoid mental energy drains. My survival period is coming to an end, and I'm rejoining the world feeling pretty good. I did the things that were most important to me, and because I reserved my energy for those things, I did them well. I still have a lot going on and will continue to avoid somethings -- most social media is one of those -- but it's time to welcome a lot of the world back. I'm pretty sure they'll take me with open arms.