My energy comes and goes in waves. Some days I get up early and get SO MUCH DONE. Some days I spend in a bleary haze. It’s always been this way, to my frustration.
My pattern up until fairly recently was to see the peak-energy times as a minimum baseline. The valleys? Anomalies, embarrassing outliers that I tried to shame or bully myself out of.
If I wake up early, exercise, do a ferocious amount of chores, work all day, and make dinner – well, that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. Feeling groggy, sad, unmotivated, or tired is a red flag that Something is Wrong and Needs to Be Fixed. Plus, whatever state I’m in at the moment feels like it will last forever.
Working for myself has really highlighted this aspect of my functioning. In the structured work and academic environments I was used to, I was very good at overcoming my natural rhythms in order to meet others’ expectations. Without a boss looking over my shoulder, it’s been harder and harder to force myself to work when I’m tired and uninspired. I used to think this was a weakness, but now I’m not so sure.
(This, to me, is one of the amazing things about my culture: I have an ingrained directive to work and I feel guilty when I don’t. Even when there’s nobody to see if I’m working or not, even when working’s not productive, even when doing nothing is the most productive thing. I feel weird just writing about this – it seems so subversive to talk about working when I feel inspired and resting when I don’t.)
Thanks to all the freaking work (ha) I’ve done on myself, I’m finally beginning to realize that my energy fluctuations aren’t something to fix. It’s just the way I am. Judging my energy state at any given time as positive or negative isn’t especially useful or helpful, especially when I’m using it as a way to beat myself up.
There is nothing wrong with me. (Or you! You’re doing just fine.)
It helps me to think of my energy fluctuations as a roller coaster. The first thing that happens when you get on is that you get towed up an enormous hill. The energy you build up going down the hill helps you get up to the top of the next one. The steeper the hill (the deeper the valley) the easier it is to get up the next hill. If the roller coaster were able to put on the brakes while it was going downhill, it would lose all of that momentum and would have a much harder time getting up the next slope.
Well, I’ve been putting on the brakes. When I notice a loss in energy altitude, my normal response is “Nooo! I don’t want to go down! I want to stay up here!” By slowing my descent, I make my climb back up to the next peak so much harder.
So this past week, I’ve been experimenting with leaning into the valleys. It feels uncomfortable to let myself rest. It feels even more awkward to do it without the usual negativity. But there is something so delicious and comforting about surrendering to where I am right now, without judgment or self-recrimination.
It’s hard to say for sure, but I feel like I’m getting about the same amount of work done as I would in a “typical” week where I try to power through regardless of my energy level. I actually enjoy getting things done when I’m on a peak and I enjoy resting when I’m in a valley. And I’m not wasting a lot of energy wishing things (or I) were different.
The main reason I love thinking about my energy as a roller coaster, though, is that the deeper and more completely I surrender to resting (the more I can take off the brakes), the more momentum I’m building up towards the next hill. It may feel like I’m sitting still, but really…I’m flying faster than ever.
The hilarious thing? I don’t even like roller coasters.
Photo credit: stock.xchg