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I’ve learned to pay attention to my little clues.
I wake up feeling unrested. I’m in a conversation, yet my mind is wandering. I’m easily irritated. An hour just passed, and for the life of me, I’m not sure what occurred.
I feel foggy, tight-chested, and an overall discontentedness I can’t seem to shake.
I know what this is. I’ve seen it before. I know what will happen if I ignore the signs. My impatience will worsen, and I’ll lash out at those around me. My restless nights will lead to physical breakdowns. I’ll compensate with coffee, but eventually, it will lose its power. I’ll be angry, unhealthy, and unproductive. I’ll end up sedentary for a lengthy stretch, and without the relief that physical exercise provides, I’ll grow weaker.
Before long, I’ll be sick — the final message from my body that my emotional gas tank is empty and shut down is necessary for recovery.
What’s my emotional gas tank? It’s where I keep the fuel I need to show up as the best version of myself. When full, I’m kind to myself and others. I’m patient. I have empathy. I can focus, and life’s little stresses effortlessly slide off of me.
When my gas tank is full, I get to lead the life I want. When it’s empty, I’m at the mercy of my worst impulses.
Keeping my gas tank well stocked is paramount. But how? Everyone has their own rituals. Mine are not remarkable.
5 simple rituals, and my engine runs well.
This is different for everyone. There are some famous examples of people who need far less sleep than I do. Some people seemed to have trained themselves beyond anything I could dream of. For me — 7 hours is the target. Anything less than 7, and I begin to deplete my tank. One night of low sleep is not a big deal. Even two or three of suboptimal shuteye won’t be the end of the world. But my tank will slowly deplete each time I miss my mark.
I’m an extrovert — seeing those I love fills my tank like little else in life. A short walk, a meal, or even a phone call. No responsibilities, no work, and no goal to be achieved — just a relaxed connection with my wife, puppy, family, or friends, and I’m as good as new.
The quality of what I consume each day directly depletes or replenishes my tank. If, instead of salads or rice bowls, I gorge on pizza and dessert, my tank will suffer. If I give in to the worst of the processed crap that I occasionally crave (see Haribo gummy bears), there will be a reckoning. I’m generally not fanatical about what I consume, but if the majority of what goes down my throat comes from the produce, fish, or poultry sections of a grocery store, I’m in good shape.
I work a lot. Beyond that I fill my calendar with social activities. I enjoy it and (see #2) it does help me fill my tank. But I also need the occasional window of absolute nothingness. I want to sit on the couch, with the television on or the computer in my lap, and talk to no one. It lets my mind quiet down, and my body relax. “Me time” should not be taken for granted.
I’ve gone through different exercises in love affairs. I’ve weight lifted for long stretches. I had two years where a healthy portion of my income went to Soul Cycle. Across 2011–2012, nearly every day, you could find me jogging on Ocean Beach. The last year though — I’m bouldering every chance I get. I’m not attempting to free solo El Cap anytime soon; it’s mostly pretty reasonable routes involving fake rocks on a fake wall. But I love it, and currently, it is the most rapid means of filling my tank when my schedule is tight. All I need to do is fall a few times from 20 feet (I’m not that good at this yet), and I’ll have a smile on my face and an engine that’s running smoothly.
What are your refueling rituals? Meditation, snake charming, video games? How do you know that your tank is getting low; what are the signs?