Surfing the Exhaustion Funnel

Surfing the Funnel

How are your energy levels today? I personally find it takes more energy to do routine activities in the current dark UK mornings and cold weather, than when it’s brighter and warmer. These are seasonal, physical factors. What we need to be more aware of, and to watch out for, are more insidious factors that creep up on us, and conspire to drain away our energy leaving us flat and jaded.

Here’s a bad case scenario. The graphic below is from Professor Marie Asberg professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. It’s called The Exhaustian Funnel, and shows us the spiralling effect of factors that drain away our energy and life.


The circle at the top represents the breadth we feel to life when its full and balanced. The more stressed we get, the more our life seems to narrow. We give up more and more of the richness of life and just focus on what we deem to be essential. The danger is that the “essentials” end up being activities that serve only to drain us rather than energise us. We are left with “stressors” and “depleters” and cut out life giving and nourishing activities.

Where are you on the funnel?

So what are the warning signs that you’re starting to slide down the funnel? We all have our own personal indicators, but here are some common ones:

  • You devote most of your time to solving immediate problems;
  • You’re more irritable than usual;
  • You keep putting off routine tasks like returning calls or opening the post;
  • You give up exercising;
  • You start eating more or less than when you’re more relaxed;
  • You’re sleeping more or less than usual.

Professor Asberg suggests that those who find it hardest to put brakes on when they hit the funnel, are those who are the most conscientious and who are keen to be seen to be good workers, parents and active citizens rather than slackers.

Coaching in action

So what’s to do be done? Whilst we go through peaks and troughs of business there are steps we can take to manage the effects – to surf the funnel rather than get sucked into it and spat out the other end.

A simple first step is to make a list of ten things you normally do in a day and rate them as ‘E’ for ‘energiser’ (they make you feel good) or ’D’ for de-energiser (they drain you). Have a go and see how your list looks. You should be aiming for five of each, and if you’ve got a surfeit of ’D’s this is a good moment to take stock and think about how to redress the balance. One way of doing that is to think of all the energising activities you did when you felt most relaxed and at ease with yourself, and find one you can re-introduce to your week. Or it may just be as simple as taking 15 minutes a day (or as many days as you can manage) to go for a walk. Or how about calling that person who, after you’ve spoken to them, always makes you feel like the world’s a better place for having spent the time with them. The key point is that you notice what’s going on, and take straightforward, realistic steps to redressing the balance.

And if you make a start and miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, just start again tomorrow.

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