When it comes to achieving life satisfaction, we often overlook one crucial mindfulness skill: energy. Yes, you read that right. Energy plays a vital role in creating a fulfilling and rewarding life. Don’t believe me? Let’s dig into the science.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs, we explored the impact of various mindfulness skills on life satisfaction. Surprisingly, energy emerged as the top contributor, followed closely by gratitude and self-compassion. It turns out that cultivating energy is a game-changer when it comes to finding true contentment.
“But wait,” you may be thinking, “what exactly is mindful energy?”
Well, energy is one of the eight essential mindfulness skills that empower us to see clearly and act intentionally in the real world. These skills include awareness, compassion, curiosity, energy, gratitude, inner calm, focus, and discernment. While all these skills are valuable, today we’ll focus on the often-neglected powerhouse: energy.
We’ve all experienced days where we’re so low on energy that it feels almost impossible to do anything. It can be hard enough to get out of bed, let alone tackle a project, go to the gym, or attend a community event. But have you ever stopped to consider what would happen if you stepped outside your comfort zone and took on the activity, despite feeling low on energy? How would that feel?
When our energy is flagging, it can be tempting to take the easy route and take a break. After all, who doesn’t want the compassionate solution of taking time out for self-care? But should we always listen to that voice when it tells us to rest? Let me share a personal experience: I had only two days left to complete one of my least favorite tasks as a business owner—accounting for taxes! As soon as I started working on it, I felt a heaviness in my body and a sense of sluggishness creeping in. Every part of me screamed, Take a short nap! While that might have been the easier choice, doing so could have caused me to miss the deadline. So, what’s the best course of action here—rest or push through despite the fatigue?
It’s tempting to give in to what our mind is telling us. At the other end of the continuum, we may ignore our fatigue and forge ahead with the task at hand. Instead of these extreme choices, it’s important to pause and inquire within with compassionate curiosity. So, I asked myself, “Are my mind and body really feeling tired? Did I get enough sleep last night? What activities have I engaged in that would cause me to feel tired?” My inquiry revealed that my inclination to sleep was actually a way of avoiding a tedious task, like dealing with tax returns. When I let go of my resistance, I was able to tap into my inner reserves of energy and got the job done. I realized that when I didn’t give in to the temptation to rest (even though it sounded enjoyable) and finished my taxes instead, the relief afterward was incredibly freeing. I felt energized after completing the task!
Chop Wood, Carry Water
It’s clear that reaching our goals requires commitment, hard work, and dedication; however, it is not enough to simply rely on willpower and self-control to get there. Research shows that our brain can only handle so much before we run out of energy completely. This phenomenon, known as “ego depletion” in the field of social psychology, explains why we’re less likely to work out or meditate at the end of a full day. Our daily decisions and activities deplete our brain resources. This leaves us with little energy at the end of the day to engage in activities we don’t consider fun and thus require effort.
This is where returning to mindfulness with mindful energy comes in. You may have heard the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” What’s different before and after enlightenment is the quality of mind of the person implementing the ordinary tasks. What we’re aspiring for with practice is to shift the mindset with which we approach what needs to be done. Letting go of our resistance to any task empowers us to draw from our field of inner knowing and energy. In fact, the more we chop wood, carry water without resistance, the more energy we will have for other purposeful tasks. However, at first, when we’re still building a habit of returning to mindfulness, we will need mindful energy to disrupt our resistance to discomfort of any kind.
Mindful Energy: Transforming Resistance into Right Effort
“With passion, work. With passion, love. With passion, play. . . . Why look like a dead fish in the ocean of the divine?”
Rumi’s thought-provoking question, Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of the divine?, urges us to reflect on how we’re living our lives. This metaphor invites us to consider whether we are truly embracing the richness and vitality of life. That spark of spirit we experience when feeling alive? Psychologists call it “energy.” As a mindfulness skill, energy overlaps with its psychological connotations of vigor and vitality. On the flip side, when we don’t have enough energy, we feel “depleted” or “drained.”
The most straightforward meaning of energy is the capacity for activity and accomplishment. Energy disrupts the tendency to avoid the discomfort of any kind of change, also known as status quo bias, by realigning with intentions that are beneficial to all involved.
When it comes to life satisfaction, energy plays a pivotal role. It is the mindfulness skill that empowers us to break free from our reluctance to start new habits, step out of our comfort zones, and take actions that align with our values and aspirations. Personally, I have experienced the transformative effects of mindful energy in my own journey, whether it was starting a running habit, completing a book, or facing daunting challenges.
In my upcoming book, I delve into the topic of mindful energy and provide a dedicated practice along with six reminders to nurture this essential skill. Today, I want to share one of these reminders with you—a daily practice that you can incorporate into your life, especially when faced with resistance in mundane activities.
Mantra for the Day: Chop Wood, Carry Water
Mindful energy in mundane activities
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
Daily tasks can often feel monotonous and unremarkable. However, what if we consciously introduced a sense of purpose into these seemingly mundane moments? By tapping into what’s important and fulfilling about the task, we can discover joy even in ordinary activities. Each action we take can be an opportunity to let go of our resistance and move in the world with more ease. As the Zen proverb says, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Who knows? Maybe your next household chore could be an enlightening experience!
Return. When cleaning the house, cooking, working, or doing other mundane tasks, return to your body for three deep breaths. Soften any resistance to the task.
Listen. Reconnect with your intention for the task—how might it serve you, your loved ones, team members, or the community? Listen within. Feel the energy that arises when you connect with what’s meaningful at this moment.
Begin. Before you begin any mundane activity today, remind yourself, “Chop wood, carry water.” Proceed with purpose and ease.
Return to this mantra when you feel resistance to undertake tedious tasks and enjoy a boost of energy when you drop your resistance and connect with what matters at that moment.
Other Resources to Support You
– Take the free mindfulness assessment to reflect on your eight mindfulness skills
– Attend my free mindfulness masterclasses on zoom (Check out the two coming up on Sep 12 and Sep 13 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm est)
– Download the 48 daily reminders for the eight mindfulness skills on the Deckible app for just $11.99
– Read the published article and in case you can’t access it, pleae email me.
The article includes excerpts from my upcoming, Return to Mindfulness: Disrupting Default Habits for Personal Fulfillment, Effective Leadership, and Global Impact.