Consider the thinking process as our “consumer” of “mental energy.” Although our mental energy is a renewable resource, and we can always tap into it without fear or running out, we have a finite number of hours in each day (month, year, lifetime) during which we can deliberately access it and use it for our own creative purposes, deciding how much of it to spend on what quality of thinking.We are confronted with the same hard choices about how to conserve and wisely use mental energy as we are with how to conserve and wisely use electrical energy.
As electricity flows into our homes, we make a series of decisions about how to use it. Turn off the lights when we leave a room, or not. Set the thermostat variably, depending on who is home and what is going on, or not. Buy energy efficient appliances as we replace things, or not. Turn off things we’re not using or paying attention to, or not. The electricity is “there” and will keep on flowing, regardless of whether it’s being wasted, put to foolish uses, misused, or conserved and put to wise use. It is a neutral force.
As mental energy flows through us, we also make a series of decisions about how to use it. Ruminate and worry about things over which we have no control, or not. Engage in negative upsetting emotions and discuss them with others at length, or not. Analyze problems until we’re caught in a spiral of circular thinking, or not. Clear our heads and open our minds to fresh thoughts, or not. Our mental energy is always “there” and will keep flowing, regardless of whether it is being wasted, put to pointless uses, misused, or conserved and put to wise use. It, too, is a neutral force.
The most precious resource we have as human beings is our ability to think for ourselves and take our thinking more or less seriously, using our state of mind as a guide (just as we use our electric bill as a guide to how well we’re doing at home).
The question we face, each day, as individuals, is “What price are we willing to pay for dysfunctional uses of mental energy? Stress, and stress-related illnesses? Spreading ill will and bad feelings? Missing the moment?” We have a very effective feedback mechanism, just as reliable as our electric bill, that tells us when we are squandering our mental energy. It is always innocent; we all do it. The goal in life is to do it less, and to recognize more quickly when are doing it.
As we reflect on how we are using the energy of our lives to create our thinking and our perception of reality moment-to-moment, it becomes clearer and clearer that we are the authors of our own “mental energy policy.” Where do we set the bar?