A Beginner’s Guide to Energy Drains and Fillers

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You are not a machine.

You know you’re not a computer, right?

I’m sure you know that you can’t just plug in somewhere or get a new set of batteries when you start to feel tired. I’m sure you know that rationally, but many of us live as though we are machines – machines that can get by on empty calories, caffeine, and the drive to just…keep…going.

The American Catholic theologian, poet, author and activist Thomas Merton wrote:

“To allow ourselves to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism…destroys the fruitfulness of our own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful [emphasis added].”

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How much fuel is in your tank right now?

Many of us have allowed ourselves to be carried away by frenzied activity and disregard our own energy levels throughout the day. If you envision your energy reserves like a gas tank, chances are that you hover near a quarter of a tank to empty most of your working days – many of us do.

Living a life that is integrated and healthy doesn’t mean that you’re just doing what’s easy all of the time.

People who seem to “have it together” and who live authentically aren’t avoiding difficulties at all costs, they’ve simply figured out how to balance their energy reserves. They prioritize the things that fill them up so that they can better deal with the things that empty them back out. There’s an ebb and flow to their lives that is natural and primitive and beautiful.

We all know, deep down, how to care for ourselves; it’s in our nature to live in rhythm and balance, but our modern ways of being have cut many of us off from our own inner knowing. Peter Levine writes, “No matter how highly evolved humans become in terms of our abilities to reason, feel, plan, build, synthesize, analyze, experience, and create, there is no substitute for the subtle, instinctual healing forces we share with our primitive past.”

One of those instinctual healing forces is knowing how to recharge after we expend energy – whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual energy. The way I’ve come to understand this concept is through energy drains and fillers.

In the past year, I’ve started to pay attention to the things in my life that zap me of energy (drains) and the things that re-invigorate me (fillers).

This is such a pivotal thing for us to know about ourselves, but many of us aren’t really aware of what drains or fills us on a daily basis, which makes it very easy to constantly run on “empty.” Apart from the basic things our bodies need to re-charge, such as sleep, nutritious food, and a sense of safety, we each have our own sets of drains and fillers, and it’s imperative that we understand what those are.

I’ll give you some examples from my own life. Things that I know drain my energy: administrative work, managing emails, public speaking (love it, but yowza, does it wipe me out), and social media (thanks to my fast this month, I have one less thing sapping my energy).

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What makes you feel full and expansive? Being around nature is one sure-fire way that I refuel.

Things that I know fill my tank back up: coffee dates with good friends, hiking or nature walks, meditating each morning, and being absorbed by a good book.

The things that drain your energy are not necessarily bad things; like I said above, I enjoy presenting to groups, but I know that afterward I’ll need to do something to recharge.

The things that drain your energy and refuel you are unique to you.

For example, if you’re highly extroverted but are in a job that forces you to enter data into spreadsheets alone all day, you probably leave the office feeling really drained. Maybe you grew up around women who knit and find that hobby extremely rejuvenating. The point isn’t to find the “right” fillers, it’s simply to understand what does it for you.

When you’re able to understand what fills you up and what drains you, then you can begin to live in a way that supports your natural energetic rhythms.

When you’re aligned with your natural rhythms, you’re much more able to care for yourself when the waters of life get choppy. In her book, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky writes, “The more deeply we can connect with ourselves, the more likely we are to find what we need to do our work joyfully and well, even in the face of significant hardship and obstacles.”

Do yourself a favor and connect to what fills you up today. When was the last time you felt like your energy tank was at “Full”? When do you feel revitalized? What are the things in your life that feel like a total slog? Begin to pay attention to the ways that you try to balance your energy – how are they working for you?

flock-of-birds-350290_640We do not have to live our lives hovering at “Empty.”

We can have days, and lives, that are balanced between energy expenditure and regeneration, we just have to choose to prioritize our own sense of balance over our addiction to productivity.

We have to value learning how to be instead of succumbing to the violence of constantly doing.

As I prepared to write this post, the beautiful and famous poem by Mary Oliver, Wild Geese, came to mind. I want to share that with you in closing (if you’d like to hear Mary Oliver read this work, click here):

“You do not have to be good. 

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”


Know someone who could use some help balancing their energy? Consider passing this post along to them!

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