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Don’t let my cuteness fool you… You don’t want to be like me! (Photo by Sandra Donoso, https://flic.kr/p/5so3Fg)

Thanks to a text autocorrect fail, a colleague of mine affectionately calls me “Hamsta.” I hate this nickname, because it’s too close to hamster, a creature with three highly undesirable habits:

 

  1. Running endlessly on treadmills, burning energy and getting nowhere
  2. Constantly seeking food, and when not eating, believing they’re starving
  3. Scanning for threats every waking moment, making them nervous wrecks

They have a fourth undesirable habit that cannot be described in words, but must be seen (click here).

Hamsters have evolved these traits to stay alive, but humans do not require such behaviors for survival, and if we mimic hamsters, we lose. We need anti-hamster qualities to thrive.

Step Off That Treadmill

Energy management involves a straightforward formula: increase the elements that energize you, reduce or eliminate the ones that deplete you, and channel your energy in ways that produce the greatest impact or benefit without burning you out. I ask the following questions to help transform this formula into action:

When you are operating at peak energy,

  • how do you view yourself, and how do you feel?
  • what tasks are you performing, how engaged are you with these tasks, and what makes them significant or purposeful to you?
  • with whom are you collaborating, and how do these collaborative relationships affect your energy level?
  • to what extent are you using your strengths?
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This is my kind of treadmill

When your energy is low,

  • how do you view yourself, and how do you feel?
  • what tasks are you performing, how are they draining your energy, and what can you do to either make them more meaningful or escape them?
  • with whom are you collaborating, how do these people leech your energy, and what can you do to stop the bleeding, improve those relationships, or avoid/ replace those people?
  • how can you apply more of your strengths?

Using actions like self-appraisal, evaluation of tasks, management of interpersonal relationships, and increased application of strengths, you can step off that treadmill and quickly optimize your energy level.

Push Away

Due to their insane metabolisms, hamsters want to eat every waking moment. In human terms, once you stop burning energy and start managing it, then constant “eating”—the endless pursuit of new tasks, achievement, approval, or comfort —is no longer necessary. At the point people report they are sustaining energy, I ask:

  • How satisfied do you feel right now?
  • Do you still experience periods of feeling restless, like you need something extra or need to be doing more?
  • If you had that “something extra” or were doing more, how do you imagine that would affect your sense of satisfaction and your energy level?

Reflecting on “eating,” and how it impacts the balance of energy and mood, can help you know when you are doing—and being—enough.

The Sky Is Not Falling

How many situations do you encounter that can honestly be considered life and death? Perhaps I’m lucky, because in the past year, I can only identify three: a large dog chasing (and eventually biting) me, a driver swerving into my lane at high speed, and exiting the subway at night in a high crime area. During those moments, my body was appropriately pumped with adrenaline, ready to flee, evade, or fight, which helped me in two of the three circumstances (note to self: always carry dog treats, everywhere, no exceptions).

Cupcake licks 2

Not all attacks require a survival response

What happens when our survival isn’t threatened, but we still perceive the situation as life and death? That’s right—we instantly turn into hamsters! For hamsters, every moment is potentially life threatening, because so many animals and birds consider them a lunch special. For humans, running late, arguing with a spouse, making a mistake at work, failing to complete a task on time, or even losing a job may feel like an imminent threat to existence, but they’re not, and they certainly don’t require hamster-level vigilance. To help differentiate stressful from life threatening, I ask:

  • Can you recall situations you experienced that were not true threats to your survival, yet you and your body reacted to them like matters of life and death?
  • What impact did that survival response have on you?
  • If you could plan the ideal reaction to a circumstance that was concerning—but short of life threatening—what would that reaction look like? How much alarm would you need to cope with that challenge?


Every time we distinguish a concerning situation from a life-threatening one, we avoid the health consequences of stress hormone overdose, save energy, learn to see the world more accurately, and put ourselves far above hamsters on the evolutionary scale—where we belong.

11231_1097512297457_4124294_nby Jason Sackett, LCSW, PCC
Professional Staff at CWFL

jsackett@usc.edu

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