In today's issue, I'm introducing a concept that helps identify and address the invisible and insidious culprits behind chronic, unmanaged stress--a condition known as burnout.
Burnout among business owners is high. Nearly half of small business owners polled in a recent national survey said they've experienced burnout in the past month, and nearly a quarter of respondents reported they are currently experiencing burnout.
Part 1 introduces the concept of "energy vampires", a few of the most common types, and some hard truths about them.
Part 2 includes self-coaching questions and a 4-step process to help you identify what energy vampires are zapping your mojo and start unplugging them.
Part 1: Introducing Energy Vampires
I've borrowed the term “energy vampire” from the lexicon of electricity and electrical power management which defines energy vampires as devices which consume energy when they are plugged in but not actively in use.
When I use the term energy vampires, I'm referring to the things that literally drain your energy, usually without your awareness and nearly always without your permission.
In short, energy vampires suck.
Energy vampires prey on more than just your physical energy. They leech on your mental attention, your mood, and your motivation.
I think of these resources like cash. If you're burning through cash, one remedy to your impending cash shortage is to generate new sales. To create new cash inflows.
A far simpler remedy is to stop the money burn.
Rather than attempt to generate more time by introducing yet another productivity hack, why not stop the drain of your time?
Rather than rely on caffeine to boost our energy, why not unplug things that draw it down?
It's a no-brainer to find your energy vampires and unplug them!
It can be difficult to spot what’s sucking on your energy since you don’t have a literal power strip to inspect, but you’re likely familiar with your symptoms. The most common symptoms my clients experience are:
- Resentment toward your business, your team, and/or yourself
- Denial of emerging problems or deferring when you’ll address them
- Unable to focus and/or low productivity
- Fatigue which is unresolved by sleep, if/when you can get it
Owners who run very successful businesses are just as susceptible to energy vampires as entrepreneurs whose businesses are struggling.
Similarly, even if you're not experiencing burnout or symptoms of unmanaged stress, energy vampires are likely sucking on your power strip.
Let’s identify some of the energy vampires zapping your mojo and start unplugging them.
[The last issue of TOM was about one of the most common energy vampires, lack of clarity. If you've not read it, you may find that doing so and using the tools provided help you get some of your energy back!]
Types of Energy Vampires
Vampire people are the ones you tolerate or avoid.
They are people who:
- aggravate and frustrate you
- induce you to temporarily forget your manners or withhold kindnesses
- make you feel bad about yourself
- give unsolicited, unhelpful advice
- steal your joy—and all the credit
- inform you that how you’re feeling is wrong
You can’t talk with them about the good things that are happening, because they will point out how the good things aren’t actually all that good. Or if the things that are happening really are good, they are unlikely to last.
You can’t talk with them about the tough stuff either, because they are pretty sure they had it tougher. Or they interrupt to tell you how to fix it, or why you are at fault for it happening.
Vampire people are the folks around whom you dull your shineand:
- describe things about your business and life more like a marketer than a journalist, because the truth isn’t safe with them
- suffer quietly, because they’re the “gatekeepers” to the people you really enjoy or who are part of a “package deal” when doing business with a treasured colleague
In short, vampire people are the ones who had you strangely grateful for the pandemic, because it’s been an airtight excuse to avoid them.
Vampire things are the things you try to avoid or wish that you could.
Similar to vampire people, the most obvious vampire things wear you out like swimming laps fully clothed. (We practiced this in Navy flight school, and I can tell you it’s exhausting!)
- infuriate, aggravate, and frustrate you
- inconvenience or bore you
- insult your intelligence or abuse your patience
- induce reflexive eye rolling so fierce you might hyperextend an ocular muscle
- threaten your sense of belonging and diminish your self-efficacy
(Self-efficacy refers to your beliefs about your ability to influence events in your life. When your self-efficacy is high, you believe you can achieve what you set out to do, and you’re more likely to remain motivated and committed to your goals in the midst of adversity.)
Vampire things include things like:
- Unfinished projects and tasks, which take up precious mind space and that you likely use as proof that you’re terrible at time or people management
- Decision fatigue that could be eradicated with clearer communication, simple operational systems, effective delegation, and personal routines
- Circumstances at home or at work which activate your brain’s threat response system and literally diminish your ability to think clearly
- Social media posts that siphon your sense of self worth, like a certain someone’s posts about their #perfect life on Instagram
- Clothes in your closet that used to fit before you gained those pandemic pounds
- Lack of clarity about what you’re working toward or exactly how to get there
- Seemingly innocuous annoyances like your right windshield wiper’s tiny tear that has it missing a wee arc of glass with each swipe (argh!)
All energy vampires degrade your ability to engage with your life and work. The most obvious energy vampire things suck your will to live. The less obvious ones make you doubt yourself and insidiously draw down your energy reserves.
Business owners are starters.
We initiate change. We launch products and programs. We create things that never existed before. We innovate to make things better than they were. We orient ourselves toward what we are building.
It seems fitting that we tend to forget–and often intentionally bypass–endings. We throw ourselves into the next thing before we’ve fully completed what preceded it.
Because you have not ended things or closed them down, it’s like the browser of your brain has 437 tabs open. And these tabs continue to tax your processor and demand bandwidth on your internet connection, even though they’re not actively contributing to your business and life. These are textbook definition energy vampires!
Incomplete endings and things that need closure include:
- Projects you need to finish, but haven’t
- Decisions you need to make, but haven’t
- Projects and decisions you need to abandon, but haven’t
- Acknowledging and celebrating your team (and yourself!) for what you’ve accomplished
- Capturing what you and your team have learned, whether you’ve completed the project/discontinued the offering or you’re abandoning it
- Sorting the literal and figurative drawers, file folders, and stacks of stuff
- Apologies you’ve not given, including to yourself
- Forgiveness you’ve not extended, including self-forgiveness
- Gratitude you’ve not expressed or allowed yourself to feel
- Betrayal, injustice, or other transgression that’s been hidden or unacknowledged
When we commit to too many people and too many things, we often find ourselves unable to fully enjoy or fulfill those commitments.
Commitments create obligations. For example, if you choose to commit to a mastermind, you accept the obligations of showing up for the meetings and contributing to the group. But if you lose interest in the group, these obligations morph into energy vampires that zap your energy.
Similarly, there are obligations associated with roles you have (e.g. owner, boss, parent) and the relationships you’re in (e.g. friendship, partnership). There are times when your obligations exceed your capacity to fulfill them, and that mismatch is a severe power suck. It creates a gap between 1) the values you have & the standards you hold yourself to, and 2) how you are behaving.
Renegotiating or completely withdrawing from commitments you’ve made will immediately boost your energy. But be aware if you have a pattern of over-committing. It’s likely that at least some of the energy you’ve just recovered will be lost to new commitments, unless you make the internal shifts necessary to change your over-commitment pattern.
Covert contracts are the “secret” agreements you have with other people that they’ve not explicitly agreed to, and the agreements to which you’re a party but have no awareness. Covert contracts are energy vampires, because they breed toxic resentment and self-loathing, which are exhausting!
You know you have created a convert contract when:
- People disappoint you, even though you never directly asked for what you want (subtle hints don’t count) or received their commitment to give it to you
- People hurt your feelings, but you’ve not clearly explained or agreed to what’s okay and what’s not okay in your relationship
- People seem to be choosing to withhold what you need or want, but you’ve actually not disclosed what your needs or desires are
The reverse of these is true when someone has obligated you via a covert contract without your consent:
- They are disappointed with you or with what you did or did not do, even though they never openly or directly asked for what they want (nor did you commit to it)
- They are hurt or upset with you or by what you did or did not do, but they’ve not clearly explained what’s okay and what’s not okay for them in your relationship
- When you ask what’s wrong, they tell you that “you should know”
We humans create covert contracts when we’re scared of losing someone. Cultivating the courage and skills to have open, direct, and honest communication is the most durable means of avoiding and unplugging covert contract vampires.
Some Hard Truths About Energy Vampires
Limiting Beliefs Are at the Root
Underpinning all energy vampire loads are our beliefs and our narratives about who we are. You’ve likely read the term “limiting beliefs” in countless articles by now. Every belief is inherently limiting, but it can be useful to distinguish which beliefs inhibit you from functioning at your fullest potential. These are your limiting beliefs.
If you’re familiar with some of your limiting beliefs–that’s great! If you’re not, identifying the vampires that are sucking your energy will help you expose some of your limiting beliefs.
Housekeeping Is Required
Energy vampires are like dust. They exist even in the tidiest of spaces. It’s also true that once they’re removed, it’s relatively simple (but not necessarily easy) to keep them at bay with a little (but frequent) effort.
Energy vampires return when you’re not paying attention and plug back in. When your defenses are down. When you’re unrested, unfed, or unfocused. When you have an unprotected, open plug on your power strip.
Vigilance is your best defense. When you do regular energy sweeps, you can find and eradicate those sneaky intruders.
Some Energy Vampires Are Squatters
Some energy vampires are a bit more challenging to address. They’re the intractable ones. The ones that somehow end up plugged back in almost immediately after you’ve pulled them out.
Some energy vampires demand that you go deeper to find them and negotiate new ways of being, believing, and behaving in order to unplug and eradicate them. It’s hard work, but so worth it...and much easier with the help of a skilled coach.
Part 2: Reclaim Your Power
1. Make a list of your energy vampires.
You may have an excess of vampires in one category and very few in another. It doesn’t matter. What matters is noticing as many energy vampires as you can and writing them down--without judgment.
Some people find it helpful to pick a category, pull out a blank piece of paper, set a timer for 3 minutes, and list all the energy vampires they can think of in that category using the questions as prompts before moving onto the next one. Then they add energy vampires that come to mind to their lists throughout the upcoming week(s).
Scribbling on a piece of scratch paper or junk mail works great, too. Go with whatever setup affords you the greatest ease and joy!
- Who am I tolerating or avoiding?
- Who aggravates or frustrates me?
- Who makes me feel bad about myself?
- With whom is it unsafe for me to be truthful?
- Who literally sucks the life out of me?
- What am I tolerating or avoiding?
- What annoys, aggravates, or frustrates me?
- What is making me doubt myself?
- What is literally draining me?
- What is clogging up my headspace?
- What projects are unfinished?
- What decisions are unmade?
- What conversations have I been avoiding?
- Unexpressed emotions, e.g. forgiveness, gratitude, apology
- Interrupted, hidden, or unacknowledged experiences (likely involving shame, betrayal, loss, or some other painful emotion)
- What commitments do you dread or delay fulfilling?
- For which obligations/responsibilities are you falling short?
- Where are there gaps between the standards you hold yourself to and how you are behaving?
- Who disappoints you on a regular basis?
- Who frequently hurts your feelings or fails to come through for you?
- In which relationships do you feel inadequate or unable to please the other person?
- In which relationships do you chronically feel wrong or blamed?
2. Review your answers.
Circle which vampires really snag you when you read them.
3. Identify which one you will "unplug" today.
You’ll get a boost no matter which one you choose, but often the best one to select is the one you’re able to unplug with the greatest ease.
4. Decide how you will unplug it and when.
Commit. Do it. Now! Reclaim your power!And enjoy how it feels when you have open plugs on your personal power strip.