There are two types of people when it comes to how they use their energy. One type gains more energy while socializing with others and drains their energy while spending time alone with themselves. The other type is the opposite. I happen to be the second.
Don’t get me wrong. I love people and I not only enjoy spending time with all the amazing folks, but I also need it very much for my own sanity. I believe we as human beings are wired for connection. It is our intrinsic need but we need it at different levels – some people need more of it while others need less. As I am more and more self-aware and gaining more clarity in life, I have come to understand that I am one of those who need it more than most people.
The tricky part is that, because I love people and spending time with the ones I care about or those that inspire me, I either intentionally pay a lot of attention when I get to spend time with them or I unintentionally get myself too involved because of my empathetic and compassionate nature. Unfortunately, it is just too intense for me and as much as I wish I could keep going, in both scenarios I drain my energy very fast and burn out after a short while. If it takes me one hour of very concentrated work to feel tired, it probably only takes me twenty minutes of a one-on-one conversation to reach the same level of tiredness. I will quickly start losing my capacity to focus or process information. I can literally feel my brain slowing down and my ability to speak in my second language English fading away. Those are some signs of me needing some time alone.
I used to think it might be a personality thing. I’ve heard people say that extroverts generally enjoy spending time with others while introverts prefer to be with themselves. But having shifted my personality so many times in my life, I now understand that it is not about being an introvert or extrovert in this case.
I don’t know exactly how it works but I have gradually developed my own theory on this matter. The way I see it, my willpower or the mental capacity I need to function is like a battery bank. It has a limit and it can be charged to the full or drained to zero percent. Different activities take a different amount of battery to process. Spending time with others happens to be one of the activities that take a lot of processing power and thus drain the battery bank faster. Once it causes the system to enter the power saving mode, it automatically shuts down certain activities and lowers the quality of other activities to protect the system from a complete power-off until it gets charged again.
Finally understanding this pattern has helped me a lot. I know that as long as I can keep a good balance between staying social and recharging my battery in solitude, I am safe. The real challenge is, however, to find the balance and maintain it. Occasionally, I enter the emergency mode and may need some serious repairs instead of a simple recharge. But in general, I have been in much better control… until recently.
Being an entrepreneur has challenged me in many ways, among which is the way I control my willpower battery bank. There are so many times when I just have to keep going and endure the discomfort of not being able to get the battery recharged on time. Different from when I had a regular corporate job in which I had a fixed schedule and clear expectations of how much energy I would need to get specified tasks done for the day, I now have to train my body and mind to deal with uncertainties and all sorts of unexpected situations, including sometimes long hours of socializing and other times long hours of isolation.
For quite some time, my willpower battery bank was clearly not ready for that change. I was experiencing headaches and exhaustion when I didn’t get enough time with myself, but anxiety and loneliness when I didn’t get enough time with people other than myself.
I found myself once again having to find the balance. While I was learning to schedule my days in a way that I get enough time working in a co-working space and also enough time working alone at home, something interesting happened.
I hired an assistant recently due to the overwhelming workload, and immediately my balance was broken again because I suddenly had to spend whole days with my assistant together in the co-working space which also forced me to be more social than what my battery bank knew how to handle. But after just a few days of such practice, I noticed something remarkable. I no longer feel drained just because I’ve spent too much time socializing. At the end of the day, I do not feel like a walking dead anymore. I can concentrate deeper for longer without feeling burnt out, at least not as easily as I used to.
Then something hit me. Yes, there is a limit to how much energy my willpower battery bank contains, but it doesn’t mean that the capacity is fixed. There has always been a way to upgrade it. If its current capacity is 12,000 mAh, it may not be possible to change it directly to 20,000 mAh, but it is definitely possible to change it to 12,800 mAh first and then gradually go up to 20,000 mAh or even higher.
Instead of a battery bank with a default factory setting, I realized that willpower is actually more like a muscle that only gets stronger and stronger with practice. The deceiving part is that it gets worse before it gets better. Just like a muscle that first feels sore due to the destruction and then naturally grows by repairing itself with a stronger structure, the willpower upgrades itself through painful practices that seem unbearable at first. The reason is that it is always uncomfortable to be pushed beyond your limitations but to bear with it and hold on just a bit longer is what it takes to break through.
I did not realize that how I perceive my willpower created a barrier for me to challenge myself and stretch my boundary. Whenever I felt like I was reaching the limit of my willpower, I chose to go home because I thought it was a battery bank with a fixed capacity limit and thus I needed to protect it from reaching the limit. I’ve always been retreating to my safety zone whenever the situation gets uncomfortable, which also means that I’ve always been missing my opportunities to train my willpower muscle.
It is interesting how sometimes the most effective way to grow is just to be thrown into a battlefield with no choice of protecting yourself anymore but to face the situation and fight with all you have.
It is an accidental discovery that my willpower is more like a muscle rather than a battery bank. Imagine the potential growth that I can achieve if I make it a habit to treat all kinds of abilities like muscles, intentionally put myself into difficult situations, push myself out of my perceived boundary, and train myself to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
With all muscles constantly under development, I will be closer each day to becoming my version of Wonder Woman!