Are you feeding the energy vampire?
If only I had more time." How often have you experienced this thought at the start, during or at the end of a busy day?
The reality of life is that each day we all have a finite amount of time (24 hours, 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds) to accomplish our "to-do" list related to our families, professional activities and community service. Likewise, each day we all have a certain amount of energy available to accomplish these goals. Whether or not we "find" the time to accomplish our goals is significantly influenced by how we choose to use our energy.
So what does this have to do with feeding vampires?The energy vampire symbolizes unproductive expenditure of energy and loss of time that occur when we choose to think and then react negatively to seen and unforeseen circumstances that invariably affect each and every one of us each and every day. What can we do to change the effect negative circumstances have on us? What can we do to minimize the mental and emotional baggage that tends to drag us down? Adapted from a commentary published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, Vol. 36, pages 13-105, 2000, this column will provide some fodder for thought.
Causes and effects of negative thinking
Between a stimulus (or an event) and our response to the stimulus, there is a space. In that space is our opportunity to choose how we will respond. Once an adverse event affects us, we cannot change that event. So, if negative situations develop, what typically happens if we think negatively and then respond negatively? The principle of cause and effect predicts that if we respond in a negative way, the consequence will be unproductive use of our energy and time. Once used, that energy and time are gone. In context of the theme of this essay, when we choose to think and react in a negative rather than positive fashion, we empower the energy vampire to suck away our productivity, our morale and our happiness. Why? Because negative thoughts (e.g. anger, frustration, defensiveness, resentfulness, distrust, fear, guilt, impatience, blaming, selfishness) foster negative results (e.g. indifference, irritability, apathy, anger, withholding, pouting, dislike, hostility, litigation, etc.). In addition, by unproductively using our time and energy, we are at high risk of becoming even more frustrated and angry, which in turn will result in further loss of time and energy. In this context, negative thoughts are not only non-productive; they are counter-productive. I have found that the consequences of impulsive outbursts of angry responses often exceed the frustration that initially prompted my anger.
This situation is a classic example of a vicious cycle of events sustained by self-defeating negative behavior. In other words, making the choice to think and then react negatively about the negative results, which were the consequence of our initial choice to react negatively, fosters the habit of negativity. Why? Because, all of us are creatures of habit even when the habit is self-destructive. For some, negative thinking can even become an addiction. Recall that an addiction has control over us; we do not have control over it.
Caught up in negative energy?
Consider the following example. When I become frustrated with events or the actions of others, I must overcome a tendency to negatively react in terms of my initial thoughts of frustration, disappointment or anger. Especially when I am tired, my initial negative thoughts fed by negative emotions tend to block out my ability to choose a positive course of action based on knowledge and experience.
But I have learned the tough lesson that when I react in a negative way, my clients, colleagues, family and friends often become frustrated and, in turn, may react negatively. Why? Emotions can be contagious. The moment either of us over-reacts and returns the unkind treatment we perceive we are receiving, we become caught up in the exchange of negative energy. My experience on occasions too numerous to count has been that these unpleasant exchanges fueled by negative emotions have escalated into energy-draining, unproductive arguments. Then, when I have subsequently replayed these conflicts in my mind over and over again, in a symbolic way, I have allowed my negative thoughts to further drain my batteries, leaving me without enough positive energy to accomplish worthwhile goals.