A Coaching Power Tool Created by Sarah Anna Fiorina
(Performance Coach, SWITZERLAND)
This paper intends to describe my power tool “inertia” vs. “energy”.
In Cambridge Dictionary (2020), energy is defined as the power and the ability to be physically and mentally active. This means that energy is the force that not only allows us to get the basic tasks done of our life, such as getting up, brush our teeth, get a shower, eat, etc. It is also the prerequisite of working on ourselves, stretching our comfort zone, overcome obstacles, follow through the actions towards our goals, etc. With energy, growth will happen, and put it quite drastically, something that does not grow, will never achieve its full potential.
On the contrary to energy, inertia is defined as “lack of activity or interest, or unwillingness to make an effort to do anything” (Cambridge Dictionary: 2020). Synonyms of inertia are such as “apathy”, “inactivity” and “disinterest”. These words all describe a state of a person who has no control over his/her life and sees life from a passive perspective as if life happened to him/her instead of him/her.
Both, energy as well as inertia, describe a mood (O’Connor: 2006). The former is what brings us any further and that allows us to progress – the latter is slowing us down and almost makes us stop.
Energy has a lot of positive impacts on our life. It not only to allows us to boost our willingness to work on our goals, but it also increases our motivation. Energy helps us to focus on the task that needs to be done and can enhance our productivity (Faison: 2020).
The relationship between energy and its positive impact can be seen as a virtuous cycle. For example, if the energy level of somebody is high, he or she might feel more motivated. Higher motivation, in turn, leads the person to feel more energetic. This works not only with the motivation but also with other aspects, such as “commitment”, “willingness to stretch or stepping out of the comfort zone” or “creativity”.The more energy we have, the more present, grateful, joyful, and happy we can be because we can create the life that we want. The opposite happens instead with inertia, which can trigger a vicious cycle with a lack of energy that leads to a lower willingness to follow through. This lower willingness could lead to no/fewer results and could lead to even more inertia. We all know that kind of mood when we cannot motivate ourselves to get something done.
Perceiving energy levels and inertia levels are highly subjective to every individual, so it is not something that can be measured and defined in absolute terms. But as we are speaking of different levels, we know that we have a certain “storage” of energy that can also be tapped into at some point. When it comes to a specific task that people are required to perform, they usually evaluate the necessary energy against the expected outcome, meaning that if a task is not rewarding, energy can soon shift to inertia (Boksem: 2008) or vice versa.
Although we do not know, what is the maximum amount of energy every individual can have, we know that we need to take care to keep our energy levels high to get things done. Similarly, to the concept of a battery, there are things in life that charge our battery, hence we get more energy, and things that instead can drain it.
Besides the basic human needs to charge one’s battery, such as getting sleep, eating, or even the very basic need of breathing, we know that were to gain energy from could vary heavily from person to person.
In coaching, before we work with clients, it is crucial to know our own personal sources of energy to be able to keep our energy levels high. Without energy, we could not even offer the service of coaching, or we would deliver a poor service. Applying the same concepts that we use in our practice is one of the best ways to support and serve the client in finding his/her own sources of energy.
To get energy, one of the first and very crucial steps is to gain awareness of the current situation. Clients might refer to tiredness or lack of motivation when they are in a low state of energy, or inertia. As coaches, it is great to look out for these hints during the conversation that the client places regarding energy. By asking the right questions, reflecting, or feeding back we serve the client in gaining awareness that his/her energy levels might be low. Once there is an awareness, it is also important to work with the client on how much energy he/she would like to have in general or for certain aspects of their lives. One way to work on that is to use the wheel of life concept and ask our client the question: How much energy do you want in these aspects of your life?
Once the starting point and the desired endpoint are known, the next step would involve closing any gap: this is done by firstly recognizing where are the energy sources and what are the things that are energy draining. Asking the client might already create very useful insight to understand better what is giving him/her energy and what is more exhausting and leads to inertia. If the client (or during the self-application also the coach) does not know, a simple exercise could help to shed some light: the client can be invited to observe him-/herself for one day or a whole week and note down what activities and/or thoughts have been energy consuming and which have been energy generating.
Here is an excerpt of an example, how this list might look like:
With this list, the client has a great overview of activities or thoughts that increase the energy levels and therefore could get more of and which activities or thoughts are leading towards inertia. It is crucial to mention here that the focus should not only be on specific actions but also thoughts and ideas.
Having gained such awareness, the client can come up with a specific action plan of what to do to not only increase the energy one time but also how to increase the level in the long-term. Some activities cannot be eliminated but having the awareness supports the client in planning an energy-increasing activity after a draining one to do a fast recharge. The coach supports the client by getting this action plan as specific as possible and setting up structures and accountability so that the client can follow through.
Reflection on a case
The event I am describing occurred at my workplace and involved a project that I was working on for several months. There was a phase that the negotiations with different stakeholders were either difficult or set on hold from external colleagues, meaning that my project was delayed several times due to others not wanting this project to be successful. At first, I felt quite disappointed by that behavior and the initial excitement about the project soon faded away. I started to feel inertia and it felt as it would be very hard to finish the project. I could not motivate myself to do some tasks, others I did but not to a satisfactory standard. The inertia was also affecting other projects at work or in my life in general. I came home from work and did not have the energy to have conversations with my partner, to meet up with friends, or to exercise. So, I was really trapped in this vicious cycle and the longer it took the lower became my energy levels.
At one point I faced the situation that one person came to me and recommended me to argue for a project stop in front of my management team. I was feeling very upset at the beginning because I felt that I have fought so hard for this project and arguing for a stop would mean that I would give up. Plus, I knew that he also had a hidden agenda, and stopping the project would have been beneficial for him and his business.
This was the moment that made me reflect on what was happening. I knew that I felt this inertia and very soon I decided to get my energy level back up where it was before, or even increase it to a higher level than before. The first step, hence, was to become aware, and soon after that, I decided that I was not going to give up on that project no matter what the external stakeholders were saying. This conscious decision to committing to the project was the basis for me to gain a little more energy as I looked at the different tasks that I had to do.
I analyzed the tasks and divided them into tasks that helped me gain energy and those that were draining. I knew that after a draining activity I would need to recharge, I started to plan the tasks as such, that at the end, I included an activity that would push up my energy. For some tasks, it meant that I simply would not do them, which unfortunately were not many, but still, I had some minor things that I did not consider anymore. Some tasks I planned specifically before the lunch break as I knew that after the lunch break, I would not be able to motivate myself to do it. With every task that I ticked off and the conscious monitoring of my monitoring levels, I was able to at the beginning slowly and at the end quite fast, change my energy level. It was getting higher and higher with each obstacle that I faced so in the end, I managed to finish the project.
The learnings from this project up until today very important to me as I know that I need to take care of my energy levels to stay in the virtuous cycle.
Boksem, M., 2008. Mental fatigue: costs and benefits. Brain Research Reviews, [online]. 59/1, 125-139. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165017308000714 [Accessed 4 May 2020].
Cambridge Dictionary. 2020. energy. [online] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/energy. [Accessed 4 May 2020].
Cambridge Dictionary. 2020. inertia. [online] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/inertia. [Accessed 4 May 2020].
Faison. 2020. Boost mental energy levels. [online] Available at: . [Accessed 4 May 2020].
O’Connor, P., 2006. Mental Energy: Assessing the Mood Dimension. Nutrition Reviews, [online]. 64/3, 7-9. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/64/suppl_3/S7/1843510 [Accessed 4 May 2020].
Wheel of Life. 2015. How Balanced Is Your Life? [online] Available at: <https://wheeloflife.noomii.com/> [Accessed 10 November 2020].