I’ve written before about the importance of finding balance for me to be mentally healthy, which means identifying the areas in which I want to focus my energy. Because I’m the person I am, this has manifest itself as a physical Venn diagram over my desk: four colored circles representing Mind, Body, World, Relationships (People). I’m happiest when I’m devoting time and energy to each of these things. Sometimes, life inflates one circle to the detriment of another, but I’m trying to find ways to identify when that happens, course correct or wait it out while giving myself the time and permission to feel a little off-balance for a while.
So, that’s one ratio I’ve thought about maintaining in my life: where energy goes.
The other has to do with the flow of energy and the direction it goes: in or out.
I’ve been attuned to my introverted need to recharge—find time alone to retreat into my own head. Knowing this is something I almost physically need, like food and water, has relieved a huge pressure for me: there’s not anything wrong with me that I sometimes need to hermit away. I think back to my childhood love of reading, sitting for hours in the recliner chair with a stack of books on the floor next to me, perfectly happy to be there rather than running around the neighborhood with the other kids. I didn’t really think there was anything special about this until some neighbor guy made a big deal about me being outside playing, that he couldn’t believe he’d never seen before, placing me on the spot with my tongue tied in my mouth suddenly feeling defensive about how I chose to spend my time. Was I weird, for sitting inside and reading? (Side note, that I am furious at this guy and need to tell my ten-year-old self that he’s insecure and out of line, he doesn’t even know you!)
The need to recharge is about the quantity of energy I have available. Getting back to the idea of which way the energy flows: it can flow either in or out, and I’m learning that the ratio of in:out seems to play a role in my stability and overall mood and level of happiness. If there is more in than out, I feel like something is missing, I feel more anxious and less grounded. If there is more out than in, I feel better but too much over time in this direction starts to drain me. Trying to keep the balance approximately equal is starting to help me structure my day, structure my work.
Input is anything external that I bring into myself. Obviously, the first thing to put in this category is news, social media, the constant barrage of information that is available at the click of a button, the swipe of a finger. It’s enough to make anyone anxious. Watching tv is another obvious input. At work, input is email, requests from others, information I take in even in the form of productive research and reading. It’s also reading for pleasure, listening to other people, using the internet for research and learning, eating (the most literal input I suppose there is), my general experiences out in the world: input isn’t about negativity, it’s about energy flow, so even pleasurable activities are in this category.
Output is anything internal that I put into the world. Writing is the number one way I can have a very discrete, tangible output: words that didn’t exist before come out of my head and into the world. For me, exercising is also a form of output, using energy contained in my body to move. At work, this is taking ideas and creating something from them that didn’t exist before, curating information to produce outputs. It’s also my contribution to conversations—not small talk but as a way to contribute to an idea or a problem, or as a way of expressing myself and showing my vulnerabilities. In this way, output isn’t about being comfortable or feeling pleasure, which is a bit of a surprise knowing my low limit for exchanges with people, but explains the energy burst I get after conversations or meetings where there is a true exchange of ideas and a contribution to the world in some way.
What I appreciate most about this in:out ratio is that it’s absolutely impossible to have one without the other. Without input, there would be nothing to roll around in my brain to feed creativity and output. Without output, I’d just be a sack of information taking up space in the universe without giving anything back.
I think we all have this need to put something back into the world, and we can choose if that’s negative or positive energy. We can choose what comes in, as well, and I think positive begets positive (and vice versa).
I’d be interested in more conversations with others to see if my hunch is true, so please comment or ping me if you also resonate with the idea of in:out.