Conserving Mental Energy

February 19th, 2014 by Steve Pavlina

In a Vanity Fair profile piece from 2012, writer Michael Lewis shared some of President Obama’s productivity habits.

One of those habits involved routinizing mundane daily decisions. Since Obama has to make many difficult high-level decisions each day, he doesn’t want to waste his mental energy on smaller decisions. So he puts the mundane choices on autopilot.

For instance, the article states that Obama only wears blue and gray suits. He keeps his wardrobe choices simple, so he doesn’t bleed off mental energy fussing over what to wear.

Obama follows the same structured daily routine when he’s in the White House: Get up at 7am, go to the gym and exercise for 45 minutes, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, glance through the newspapers, review the daily security briefing, and then head to the Oval Office. In the evenings his family goes to bed around 10pm, but he stays up till 1am working solo, including preparing for the next day.

Much of his actual work involves making decisions. The easy decisions are made by others, so the ones that reach him are usually the tough ones; they’re the types of decisions that don’t have obvious correct answers. Such decisions require careful thought and often involve difficult trade-offs and significant risk. Making these decisions is a key responsibility.

So as to conserve his mental energy for thoughtfully considering options and making decisions, Obama does his best to avoid wasting this energy on low-impact decisions like what to eat or what to wear. He either lets other people make those simpler decisions for them, or he makes those decisions once and puts them on autopilot, so he doesn’t have to think about them repeatedly.

How much mental energy do you squander on low-priority decisions each day? Could you make those decisions once and put them on autopilot?

Here are some examples of mundane decisions you could routinize:

  • Sort your clothes into reasonable, pre-determined outfits, and wear them in the same order again and again. When an outfit wears out, replace it with something virtually identical.
  • Eat the same meals every day, such as having the same formulaic breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This simplifies your shopping list too.
  • Pay all of your bills on the same day each month.
  • Always listen to audiobooks while driving, thereby putting some of your self-education on autopilot. Purchase new audiobooks once a month on the same day.
  • Exercise every day at the same time and for the same duration.
  • Run your errands at the same time on the same day each week. Weekday evenings are often great for shopping errands, while most people are at home watching TV.
  • Pick a brand of phones, computers, or tablets that you’ll stick with, and decide in advance how often you’ll upgrade. Only investigate and purchase a new model when your upgrade appointment appears on your calendar.
  • Always repurchase the same soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc.
  • Do your dishes at the same time every day.
  • Decide in advance how often you ought to clean your home and in which order you should do the cleaning steps; stick with that recurring appointment.
  • Always use the same hairdresser and get the same haircut you did before.
  • Always tip the same percentage.
  • Begin each workday at the same time every day.

I’m sure you can come up with plenty of other ideas along these lines as well.

Now this may sound like a very boring, uncreative approach. No argument there. That’s the point. When you avoid investing your creative energy in low-impact decisions, you free up that creative energy to be put to good use elsewhere.

If you observe that you lack the drive and focus to consistently invest in high-level creative work, one reason may be that you’re wasting too much of your best creative energy on low-level decisions like what to eat, what to wear, and how to spend your time each day.

It’s well established that your daily mental resources are limited and fatigable. Relative to other parts of your body, your brain is a resource hog. Parts of your brain tire easily, and as their fatigue level rises, your access to their associated mental resources diminishes significantly. So it makes sense to be conservative in your use of such resources.

Routinize your mundane daily decisions, so you can wisely invest more of your precious mental energy in your high-impact goals and projects. Don’t drain your focus, concentration, and creativity on small, low-impact choices. Hold yourself to a higher standard, and adopt a more intelligent use of your mental resources.


Steve Recommends
Here are my recommendations for products and services I've reviewed that can improve your results. This is a short list since it only includes my top picks.

Food Revolution Summit (Free) - Adopt a healthy, energizing lifestyle
Spring Forest Healingfest (Free) - Learn to heal yourself with qi gong
Site Build It! - Use SBI to start your own money-making website
Getting Rich with Ebooks - Earn passive income from ebooks
Lefkoe Method - Permanently eliminate a limiting belief in 20 minutes
PhotoReading - Read books 3 times faster
Paraliminals - Condition your mind for positive thinking and success
The Journal - Record your life lessons in a secure private journal
Sedona Method (FREE audios) - Release your blocks in a few minutes
Life on Purpose - A step-by-step process to discover your life purpose

If you've found Steve's work helpful, please donate to show your support.

Get Steve's Free Newsletter to stay in touch and receive the newest updates

Speed Up!

February 17th, 2014 by Steve Pavlina

Don’t use the “enjoy the process” mantra to justify slogging along even more slowly and watching your goals die. It’s a huge limiting belief to assume that going faster means you’re doing something wrong and creating too much stress.

Making goals happen faster is often a LOT more fun. Fast tempo is HOW you enjoy the process. And some goals cannot be achieved slowly at all, so in many cases faster means success while slower means failure.

If going faster makes the process of achieving your goals less enjoyable for you, you’ve probably chosen the wrong goals to begin with. If you don’t want them sooner, you probably don’t want them.

On my first attempt at college, I tried going at the normal student pacing towards graduation. I found my classes boring and uninspiring. The goal of graduating in four years seemed distant and too much out of my control. The whole experience was pretty depressing, despite the fact that I was attending the #1 school in the nation for my major at the time. I did my best to enjoy the process by having more fun outside of class — getting drunk twice a week, shoplifting like crazy, and playing a lot of poker. That helped — I certainly enjoyed the process more, but it didn’t help me on my path towards graduation. After three semesters I was expelled, and rightly so.

I took a year off, then tried again. This time I tweaked the goal to make it more fun and inspiring — to start over as a freshman and earn my 4-year computer science degree in 1.5 years. All I really needed to tweak was the speed. That brought many other inspiring elements to the table — the full engagement of my mind, motivation, focus, curiosity, different ways of thinking about education, a sense of control over the process, higher self-esteem, access to deeper resourcefulness, a powerful vision of myself as being more productive than ever, and so on. This was the inspired path. The energy I felt upon considering a serious speed increase was a clear sign that I was onto something.

It also worked. Speed made the goal fun and meaningful. It brought interesting challenges. I revelled in the time management aspect. Finally I had a goal that felt worthy of me, not the mind-numbing snail’s pace of my first attempt at a college education. After all, if 15 semester units equates to 15 hours per week of classroom work (the average for a full-time student), then where is all the extra time going? A serious full-time student can invest a lot more than 15 hours a week in classes. Homework alone isn’t enough to fill in all the other hours of a week.

Instead of making the goal more terrifying and stressful, the faster pacing made the goal so much more fun. I loved the experience!

What I love about speed is that it pushes me not just to achieve the goal but also to become a better person along the way. In order to achieve a goal faster, I have to change myself. I have to release more limiting beliefs. I have to become more organized. I have to focus better. I have let go of more fluff. I have to cultivate new relationships with like-minded achievers. I have to get better at avoiding distractions. Since I love personal growth, goals that challenge me in this way are so much more fun than goals that don’t. The speed aspect is what helps me enjoy the process. Without sufficient speed the enjoyment just isn’t there.

Imagine playing your favorite game at 1/10th the speed. Does that help you enjoy the game more or less? For some, maybe it does help. Chess can be enjoyable at a very slow pacing. I’m not suggesting that all goals need to be sped up.

Just don’t rule out speed as being negatively stressful. Not all stress is bad. A fast tempo can create a lot of eustress — positive, beneficial stress. It can also mean the difference between achieving a goal and failing to achieve it. Going so slowly that you fail to achieve your desired outcome usually isn’t much fun. You can always justify such failure in retrospect with a “well, at least I learned something” or “I still enjoyed the process” mindset, and that can help, but wouldn’t it have been even better to gain the lessons AND to achieve the goal as well?

How much faster is better? I’m not talking incremental speed increases in most cases. I’m suggesting that you consider a 2x increase in speed at least. Even think about a 10x increase. Look at one of your goals and ask yourself, “How could I achieve this goal 2x, 5x, or even 10x faster?” I love the 10x question because it really gets me thinking in new directions.

Going fast is one of the things I love about writing. It’s why I’ve written so much. If I wrote as slowly as many other writers do, I’d be underground with a bullet in my decaying skull by now. Going too slowly is a creativity killer for me. I have to write fast to enjoy the process.

These days I can write a 2500-word article in about 2 hours flat. That includes the time from when I get the initial idea to when it’s fully written, edited, and published on my website. Many writers I’ve talked to consider that very fast. I consider it fun.

This morning I got up at 5am. I got an idea for a new article at 5:20am. And now this 1100+ word article is published a little after 6am — less than 45 minutes from idea to publication. That pacing is fun. I enjoyed those 40-odd minutes. I could have taken all morning to write this piece, but why go so slow? Fast is fun!

At a higher speed, I’ll make more mistakes. I may not be as elegant or polished, but so what? I can be blunt instead. I’ll get the ideas shared and moving. Some people will benefit from them. That’s what matters. Keep the energy moving and flowing at a pacing that feels exciting. Go too slow, and the ideas shrivel and die.

Today I decided to take on the challenge of writing for about 12 hours straight — fast — just to see how much content I can create and how quickly I can create it. I intend to keep writing throughout the day with only brief breaks for meals and mental rest as needed. I’ll publish the articles produced over some weeks, not all at once. A challenge like this is a way for me to enjoy the process of writing even more.

Note that going faster doesn’t mean working crazy long hours necessarily. It means thinking differently about your work, focusing yourself, and having MORE FUN.

Would you enjoy the process of achieving your goals even more if you doubled, tripled, or 10x’d your pacing? Pick a goal and ask yourself, how can I 10x the speed? See what fresh ideas bubble up from your subconscious. See if you feel any added energy or excitement from the speed. Then go!


Steve Recommends
Here are my recommendations for products and services I've reviewed that can improve your results. This is a short list since it only includes my top picks.

Food Revolution Summit (Free) - Adopt a healthy, energizing lifestyle
Spring Forest Healingfest (Free) - Learn to heal yourself with qi gong
Site Build It! - Use SBI to start your own money-making website
Getting Rich with Ebooks - Earn passive income from ebooks
Lefkoe Method - Permanently eliminate a limiting belief in 20 minutes
PhotoReading - Read books 3 times faster
Paraliminals - Condition your mind for positive thinking and success
The Journal - Record your life lessons in a secure private journal
Sedona Method (FREE audios) - Release your blocks in a few minutes
Life on Purpose - A step-by-step process to discover your life purpose

If you've found Steve's work helpful, please donate to show your support.

Get Steve's Free Newsletter to stay in touch and receive the newest updates

Free Personal Development Insights Newsletter

Get Steve's Free Newsletter

Sign up below to receive my free email newsletter, which is sent about once a month. It includes original and insightful bonus material to help you grow. No spam. No sharing of your email address. Easily unsubscribe at any time.