What is it?
When you have paid all our bills at the end of the month and put aside the money you need for living expenses and bigger purchases, ideally there is some left over to spend how you like, if you are among the lucky ones. Holidays, gifts, hobbies, creative pursuits, or you save for a rainy day. This is the money you really enjoy spending, which gives you experiences which most often do you good, bring you pleasure and help you to grow, relax and be yourself. This investment is often called discretionary spending.
You can think in the same terms about your energy – the physical, emotional and spiritual resources you have through which you live your life. Discretionary energy is what is left over when work, chores, essential care of family, self and friends is done, and all our commitments are fulfilled. It is what we get to invest freely in experiences of our choosing. It is also what is left not just after you have done everything you need to do, it’s what is left after you have stopped worrying about it all too.
That is not to say that the commitments we have are not a priority of choice and don’t do us any good. The difference is between what we have to do, and what we simply choose to do. Discretionary energy is vital, light, creative – it comes with spirit and passion, from our heart and not from our head.
Why do you need it?
It is very difficult to change anything in your life without discretionary energy. When you are stressed, exhausted or worried you can’t think straight and your creativity is almost non-existent – that is a physiological fact. On the other hand, if you have discretionary energy available to you and can invest that energy in experiences which help you to grow, be well and develop your ideas – nothing seems hard and your thinking expands to often unexpected dimensions.
This is the challenge which faces you whether you are grappling to develop your organisation, develop your own skills, change your role or your career, improve your personal happiness, or cope with unforeseen events in your life. If you have been locked into a high-pressure role and long hours as well as looking after your family for many years it is most likely that your energy bank is significantly in debit rather than credit. You may already be burnt out and running on empty. It is no wonder you find it hard to step out of the constraints of your life.
The challenge for organisations
The same applies when change is needed on an organisational level. If burnout and battle-weariness prevail, and discretionary energy is hard to find, it is going to be very difficult for people to change their behaviours, leadership style, way of working or attitudes to their colleagues.
Look after your energy and your energy will look after the rest
At a time in my life when I was at rock bottom and struggling to find a way forwards – after an intense period of personal losses and professional bombshells – I was given some advice by a wise man. “Pam” he said “Just stop worrying about everything, if you look after your energy, then that will take care of the rest.” I trusted in his words immediately, although it took me a while to learn how to do what he had advised. But when I did, that was when I was able to shape a new kind of life and career for myself.
This belief now forms one of the foundations for the transformational coaching and leadership and team development work which Equest does with organisations and individuals. We don’t just help you to change, we help you to build your discretionary energy so that the change becomes easy to find.
How can you build discretionary energy?
The first thing you need is time – to switch off from the pressures of your life and commit to activities which will start helping you to build your energy bank. Bold decisions may be needed to achieve this: working less hours, more time out of the workplace, reorganising things at home. Consistently when organisations come to spend time with us – the two days out of the workplace when discretionary energy is accessed – reap dividends in improving performance back at work.
It might also be a case of learning to create small pockets of time during your busy schedule, if it’s not possible to take larger amounts out. Tiny doses of pure relaxation, whether it is through mindfulness, meditation, physical activity or creative pursuits – can do a lot to start feeding your pool of discretionary energy.
It is important to be clear about what kinds of things you personally can do to build your resources. For some it is about peaceful, meditative activities, others find it more nourishing to take a long walk or follow a course of study on a subject of passionate interest. Find out what you need and do it.
Learning presence, mindfulness and how to quieten your mind is also key and one of the things we value as part of our work with clients. Much of our daily energy is not lost in what we do, it is wasted on worrying about what we have done or are about to do. So developing a more calm, grounded and pragmatic approach to your dilemmas and challenges is of great benefit.
Be really clear on where your energy is going. Spend it as wisely as you spend your money. Take stock often, notice where you are getting low returns on your investment and if you can save some for a rainy day.