I remember coming home from a particularly tough day at the office and sitting down to work even more on my dream. I stared at the screen trying to force something out, but I had nothing left.
This is how you build dreams though right? You work when you’re spent. You create when you’re out of energy. You HUSTLE 24 − 7.
Despite dedicating over an hour or more to my dream, I accomplished next to nothing that night. I scanned my Twitter feed, I checked my email again, hoping for something easy to accomplish.
“Why can’t I focus? Does this mean I’m not cut out to build Life Stoked? Do I not want it badly enough?”
Deep down I knew I had what it takes to crush my life goals, but I couldn’t understand why I was failing in that moment. Working on Life Stoked was supposed to be the work I’m most excited about, yet here I sit – flat.
What the world tells you about HUSTLE
The world will tell you you’ve got to be on all the time. It tells you if you’re not hustling day and night, then you just don’t want it badly enough. You just don’t have what it takes.
The world’s wisdom leads to two outcomes:
1) Burning out.
2) Giving up.
If you’ve experienced either of these while building your dream, it’s not your fault (and I can prove it)!
The simple fact is we’re biologically engineered to wear out. There’s wrong with it. It’s not a negative indicator if you’re feeling flat, or tired, or like you just don’t have what it takes to build your dream.
In fact, there’s a perfectly good science behind why you feel like that. Hint: it’s not because your dream is not in line with your true calling as a sweatshop worker.
Where your thoughts live
I think the best way to understand how to get the most out of ourselves is to take things all the way back to the starting line: our brains.
Our brains are the single most amazing and complex thing we know about. The speed and efficiency with which we can solve problems, remember, and recognize things is astounding.
I want to focus on one particularly interesting part of your brain: the prefrontal cortex. This is the region of the brain responsible for all your higher level thinking. More specifically, the prefrontal cortex is activated to decide, understand, recall, memorize, and inhibit (stay on task and avoid distractions).
Here’s a quick example. Answer this question: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
To find the answer to that question you’re activating your prefrontal cortex. You’re recalling information from the past.
Although you may not have noticed, you spent some of your hard earned energy to find the answer.
Try this one: What did you have for lunch exactly two weeks ago?
That was probably more difficult to remember, and as a result you spent a little more energy trying to find the answer.
How mental energy works
The prefrontal cortex that is responsible for all the higher level thinking you do every day is an incredible resource hog. Solving a difficult problem requires a ton of energy. Prioritizing tasks takes a ton of energy. Even keeping yourself on task takes a ton of energy.
Like it or not, the energy you have to power your brain is limited. Each time you fire up the ol’ brain and solve a problem, recall information, avoid distraction, understand something, or any other higher level thinking task, you’re spending your limited supply of mental energy.
Wrestle with a difficult problem for a while, and you’ll likely blow through most of your mental energy! You’ll hit a wall. Your thinking will slow down.
You know at the end of a tough day of work when you’re physically exhausted? It’s not just laziness. Your brain has been burning your energy all day long, and you’re spent!
How to work smarter, not harder
Not everything you do costs the same amount of mental energy. When I asked you what you had for breakfast this morning you hardly had to think. When I asked you about lunch two weeks ago you likely had to dig up some older memories to find the answer (which costs more energy).
Prioritizing your tasks for the day, for example, is one of the most energy intensive tasks you can do. On the other hand, processing email typically uses much less energy.
The key to working smarter is to be aware of your current mental energy level, and match your tasks to those levels as best you can.
If I wake up with a full tank and I’m at my peak for writing (an energy intensive task), then I shouldn’t waste that energy processing emails.
At the end of a long day of work I just don’t feel like I have the capacity to craft an article for Life Stoked, then I’m better served finding a low energy task to do rather than trying to force it. After all, it wouldn’t be my best work anyway because I my brain isn’t able to operate at maximum capacity.
Being able to gauge my mental energy levels and choose the right task to work on has made a huge impact on my productivity. Not only that, but it’s helped combat the nagging voices that used to tell me I didn’t have what it takes.
Want to really geek-out on this stuff? Check out David Rock’s book Your Brain At Work (affiliate link).
Do you ever hit a mental wall while building your dream?