Plenty of things are technically a good idea, easy enough to execute. In isolation, and in a perfect world, sure. I could do 20 different tasks in deep focus. But in reality, not quite.
Let me give you the most mundane example that I’ve been thinking about a lot when it comes to cost. When I was a child, I wanted to push the two beds against the wall. It’d be cosy, and feel more like an alcove. But my mother and maid protested, saying it was hard to clean in Dust Trap Singapore. “What’s so hard?”, I thought. All you have to do is pull the beds out everytime, vacuum, and then push them back. Years later, I finally understand.
I am the person who won’t put hand cream on her moulting fingers unless the hand cream cover is 24-7 off. Because that cognitive cost of that one extra step tires my brain out.
Then I remember Ness telling me how she wouldn’t go to potluck gatherings because the idea of having to scout for food — which might be technically easy — was cognitively depleting for her.
And that taught me so much, that it isn’t a moral judgment on what’s exhausting or easy for you, as compared to other people. Everything has a price, and it’s whether you are okay to keep paying it. Otherwise, it’s a compound interest that works against you— if the resentment builds up, that will chew up your energy. Ain’t no badge of honour to keep doing something you think you’re executed to do, at the cost of resentment.
Across the years, here are some day-to-day decision benchmarks which I’ve worked around with clients in how they can design their lives to give them the most energy, once they factor in how much they’re willing to keep paying.
1. Physical space
Whilst it can be tempting to think you want as much physical space as possible, it isn’t just in terms of the mortgage or rental payments you are continuously paying. Some people enjoy spending plenty of time outside, limiting their need for physical space at home. Others don’t automatically subscribe to the idea of ‘when we have kids, we can’t bring them up in the city… and therefore we need plenty of square footage outside the city’. These are lifestyle or philosophical assumptions to examine first, before committing to the daily physical space you are in. And then there comes maintenance — the more physical space you have, the likelier you are to have more things, which can end up becoming messy or feeling like a drag. Otherwise, this may tie in with one’s need to hire help — another recurring cost.
It’s so easy to just click on every subscription. A few dollars here and there. But they do add up; this isn’t a matter of affording it, but rather a matter of whether you like the state of how much you’re subscribing to. Let’s put in streaming services, for instance. In an ideal world, I’d love to have all the channels available as and when I feel like watching something. But in the real world, I’m barely gonna touch any of those; and I end up feeling I’m not making use of my subscription. So I’ve come to peace with the fact that I won’t subscribe to any of these. And instead, I go to someone’s house when I want to watch any of these shows. But when it comes to things I actually actively use, like Duolingo for languages and ClassPass for fitness? Take my money, please.
We’ve all heard of the toxic relationship, where you have high amounts of negative interactions but low amounts of positive interactions. But then there’s also the ambivalent relationship, where you get about equally-high amounts of positive and negative interactions, so you’re left confused— it’s not a bad thing, so why do I want out? The truth is, our relationships impact us before, during and after. Think about the person whose phone call or coffee meeting you dread, it puts you in a bad state already. Then you feel tainted after the interaction— whether in terms of overthinking, feeling wrong-footed, or just plain exhausted. But because it’s not *that* bad, you may find reasons why you had fun. After all, the mind can justify anything. The mind is the world’s best Photoshopper. So the cost of an interaction isn’t just in that interaction, it’s how it replenishes or steals your energy. And some of these have lasting consequences.
I remember knowing a very emotionally-needy person who was always in victim mode. Our time together had some fun bits, and with our shared history, I was drawn back. But I also remember how exhausted I’d be. My eyes would look tired, and others would remark, “Hey you seem pretty pessimistic” and that was a very big marker to me on how I was paying the price for being around certain types of people.
4. Healthy and unhealthy habits
With my ADHD wiring, I can get obsessive. When you add that with vanity, the motivation is Hulk-sized. So I can rattle off macros, biochemistry of health, and all sorts of fitness stats with you. But I also know that if I get way too obsessive, the price I’d pay would be. . I would have no more social life. Social life requires that sometimes I eat chocolate cake, feast on focaccia, sip a few glasses of Blanc du Blanc champagne; and these are things I enjoy thoroughly. So these keep me in-check, away from simply being obsessive with health.
On the flipside, I’m also aware of how the YOLO attitude when it comes to bingeing is something you pay beyond the monetary amount or the guilt the next morning. These have cumulative effects on your physical and mental health; and that everytime you slip, it’s easier to keep slipping.
5. Not saying no
Some of us are phenomenally bad at saying no. Technically, it’s easy to ‘step up’ and do something someone asks you to do. It’s even easier to find a reason why someone may be outsourcing responsibility to you. But the cost of resentment adds up over time, because you are doing something against your will, and it also becomes easier for others to impinge upon your boundaries. Put simply, everytime you say yes when you mean no, you are teaching your body to say yes more easily.
Examples of such boundaries can be: Not wanting to be touched (even a hug!) when others automatically do so; taking on someone else’s duties because they asked you to; not saying it’s unacceptable when someone makes a passive-aggressive joke and then calls you ‘sensitive’.
Reading these, I then invite you to reflect:
- What are the things that exhaust you to handle?
- How does this exhaustion change you, for instance, the way you make decisions or your energy levels with the people you care about?
- How do you judge yourself for being exhausted by these things?
- Reading this article, do you see yourself any differently? Or perhaps, judge yourself less harshly.
- What will you do differently going forward?
- How will you remember to implement these?