I sat down to write, and my eyes began to cross. My neck ached and I could barely keep my shoulders up. I’m done, I thought. I have nothing left. And I went back to bed.
This was the state of my writing practice for a number of years. Overwhelmed by to-do lists and feeling like if I just had enough energy and a lot more time, I could get my writing done.
Little did I know, my life was riddled with energy vampires. It wasn’t until I hunted them down and managed them that I started to see growth not only in my writing practice, but in my wellbeing as well.
What are energy vampires?
Energy vampires are activities and people that suck the life outta you. They drain your energy.
Instead of feeding on your blood, energy vampires live on a diet of glucose. Glucose is fuel the brain and body uses for energy. It’s our gasoline. Decision-making, good and bad stress, deep focus, and other mentally or emotionally taxing activities deplete the brain’s fuel.
Research shows that our willpower, self-discipline, and problem-solving skills are a depletable resource. When we’re mentally or emotionally drained, those reserves plummet.
In one study that will make you hungry, researchers asked human subjects to fast for three hours. When the hungry folks showed up, the researchers had prepared freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and chocolate candies. On the table next to the tasty treats was a bowl of radishes.
Some subjects were invited to indulge in the cookies and candy. Others were told, “You’ve been assigned the radishes. Enjoy your delicious root veg! You can’t eat the cookies or candy.” And the radish group mustered up the self-control to eat the radishes and avoid the sweets.
Next, they asked the subjects to complete a difficult puzzle. Unbeknownst to the radish and cookie eaters, the puzzle was unsolvable. The researchers measured how long the subjects tried to solve the unsolvable puzzle.
Unsurprising to any of us who have given up sugar, the radish-eaters gave up after eight minutes, and the cookie eaters kept at the puzzle for 19 minutes. More than twice as long as the poor root veg folks!
Why? Because willpower and focus are depletable resources.
When we wake up in the morning, our willpower, self-discipline, and focusing reserves are at a peak. As we move through the day, that finite supply (fueled by glucose) is drained.
When you interact with an energy vampire, like a choice between radishes or chocolate, your brain puts the pedal to the metal and drains that glucose tank.
How to hunt energy vampires.
You may already know some of the vamps in your life. Just fill in the blank:
I always crash on the couch after ____.
I need a strong coffee break after ____.
I need to psych myself up to do ____.
I need the rest of the day OFF after _____.
STEP 1: When you wake up, set an alarm for every 90 minutes.
STEP 2: When the alarm goes off, log what you’re doing, who you’re with, what you’re eating, and how you feel in the worksheet. Repeat for three days, preferably a week, to track what’s draining your lifeforce.
STEP 3: Analyze your results. Notice consistent dips in energy or mood? Look at the entries that came before. What could have caused the drop? Notice patterns?
Notice energetic jumps? Woohoo! You’ve found an energy booster! Try to do more of what lifts you up and spend less time with energy vampires.
Two Types of Energy Vampires
Energy vampires often take the form of people and display these symptoms:
Lack of boundaries
Overly dramatic and sensitive
Negative attitude or chronic complainer
Always looking for an argument; contrary
Have trouble accepting “no”
Lots of drama/complaining on social media
Blame others for the negative situations in life
Truth is, we’ve all fallen into at least ONE of these categories before: When going through a breakup, a setback, a big life change––or worse, recovering from trauma.
Sometimes people need grace. If everyone in your life dipped out when you hit a bump, it would feel… well, like a stake through the heart. We all need to borrow energy and light on occasion.
Other folks who hit more than three bullets and are unwilling to change…it may be time to vaporize an energy vampire––metaphorically, of course. Or to use a different metaphor: cut ✂️ the ✂️ cord.
Energy vampire activities are things you do that drain your energy, willpower, and self-discipline. These are my activity energy vampires:
Taking a test
Writing a “shitty first draft”
Scrolling through social media
Replying to emails or social media comments
Calling my bank/utilities company/any help line
Many of these are necessary, and putting them off can cause serious issues. Some of them are good for me and enjoyable, like reading lit theory or writing a painful, crapful first draft.
Others are not so great. I could do less TV bingeing and social media scrolling. They’re sneaky because it feels like rest. But have you ever felt energized and focused after 30 minutes of Instagram lurking? Yeah, me neither.
Hunt your vamps!
Now that you have an idea of what you’re looking for, download the Energy Vampire Hunter’s Worksheet and get to trackin’!
How to befriend or vaporize your vamps.
Befriend Transient Vampires
Once you’ve tracked your energy vampires with the worksheet, it’s time to take back control.
As we’ve learned, not all energy vampires are evil. Some are loved ones who are going through a hard time and need extra support. I call these “Transient Energy Vampires,” meaning they’re not always going to be sucking on energy.
With TEV’s, set clear boundaries and expectations. Instead of hiding and waiting for the transient vampire to appear, be proactive. Schedule dedicated time with this person––even if it’s a 10-minute phone call. It does NOT have to be big. A handwritten note or compliment is huge for someone going through a rough patch.
Most of the time, TEV’s want to know you care and have their back. Scheduled check-ins with clear start and end times are a win-win. You’re prepared to share your light and your vampire feels supported.
During scheduled times (or when the vamps sneak up on you), remember your role in the relationship.
You are there to lend energy, wise counsel, and support. You’re not there to fix them or their problems.
Focus on encouragement and empowerment. When going through a hard time, the answer usually lies within. We need to come to it on our own.
When someone’s having a hard time, they’re honestly wondering if they’re going to make it through. The most powerful thing you can do is let them know you’re not worried about them because you know they’re strong, smart, and creative enough to get through it.
Stick to this formula:
”I’m sorry you’re going through this. It must be really hard.”
“That is so frustrating. I bet you’re really frustrated.”
“I think you’re an incredibly strong, resilient person.”
“I love you, and I’m not worried about you at all. You’ll get through this.”
“What do you think you should do?”
“What are your options now, and which one seems best?”
“I know you can get through this.”
“I know you’ll bounce back.”
“You won’t always feel like this. You’re strong and will overcome.”
“I know you’ll figure it out.” “I believe in you.”
Vaporize Eternal Energy Vampires
Sometimes, a person is so toxic that you need to cut the energetic cord. Here are signs it’s time to end it:
Your pre-scheduling tactics don’t work, and they impose on you unannounced
They stir up drama between you and other friends
They insult, belittle, or put you down
You no longer share the same values
If this person has no intention to shift out of Energy Transylvania, it’s time for a hard boundary.
For family members, this takes serious soul searching. I’m not qualified to offer advice on how to distance from family. I do, however, believe that if someone, even a family member, is toxic, abusive, and draining, it’s time to cut the cord. This article from Sherry Campbell, PhD goes a bit deeper into how to disconnect from abusive family members.
Eternal Energy Vampires can be friends or close acquaintances. The slow-fade can work if you’re both moving in different directions. But the most mature solution is to have the uncomfortable conversation, in person, and part ways. Here’s an article that explores how to move on when you outgrow a friendship (or if you’re given the boot!).
Managing the energy vampires is half the slayer’s battle. Set boundaries. Block out time in your schedule and be realistic about how long you can spend on a draining activity.
Research tells us that strong bursts of focus can be sustained for about 50-90 minutes. Aim to spend about three to five hours a day in the heart of Energy Transylvania.
Use a calendar and chunk out your time. Notice when you’re most productive. Go back to your worksheet and plan your vampiric activities around those peak times.
Use your calendar or a to-do list with time stamps to make appointments with your energy vampires AND energy boosters. Remember, schedule only 3-5 hours per day of Transylvania time. After that, our brains are drained of glucose, our productivity plummets, our margin for error skyrockets, and it’s time to recover.
One technique that has worked wonders in my life is the Pomodoro technique. When I approach a daunting task, I schedule it on my calendar, and when the time comes, I set a timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, I get a five-minute break.
A five-minute break has significant restorative effects. After four “poms,” I take a longer break and move on to something else, since I’m usually depleted after two hours in Energy Transylvania.
For energy vampires that are both unnecessary and draining, find ways to vaporize them completely or limit your time.
Again, timers are my best ally when managing addictive activities like TV and social media. When I hop on Instagram, I set a timer for 10 minutes and then log off. For TV, I set a timer for one episode, and click it off after that.
Another trick that has kept social media scrolling in check is going grayscale. (How to Change Your Screen to Grayscale) Social media apps use color to attract your attention and keep it. Instagram’s logo is a bright pinkish-red, exactly the shade of a delicious berry or candy. Your brain is trained to crave it. Yup, we’re as gullible as moths.
When I switched my phone to grayscale, scrolling through IG was boring. I put down my phone after five minutes and got back to work.
Are YOU your biggest Energy Vampire? 🤔🧛🏻♀️
Read this out loud.
I can accomplish all my goals even if they’re really big.
I mean it. READ IT OUT LOUD:
I can accomplish all my goals even if they’re really big.
Without thinking, do you AGREE OR DISAGREE with that statement? What was your first impulse?
Most of us feel awkward speaking affirmation out loud. But if you felt like you were lying, if your initial thought was DISAGREE ALL THE WAY!, it’s possible you’re your own biggest Energy Vamp.
The research proved the woo-woo gurus right. Positivity has a measurable effect on mood, willpower, and mental energy levels.
In 2015, the Journal of Applied Psychology published a study examining “promotive and prohibitive voice” of employees at work and how that affected mental depletion.
And whaddya know? The study found that promotive (positive) and prohibitive (negative) voice were associated with respective increases and decreases in depletion.
“What’s the story you’re telling yourself?” The verdict is in, and our internal dialogue matters a lot when it comes to mental energy, focus, and reaching our goals.
Are you telling yourself a prohibitive story? I’m too tired to write. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough energy. My family takes up all of my focus.
Notice the next time you have a thought about your writing practice. Is it a mindset of growth? Or, are you prohibiting yourself, thus draining more precious glucose from the brain?
Get to vampire huntin’!
You’ve made it to the end of this post which means… you’re an official Vampire Hunter!
Start hunting with the Energy Vampire Hunter’s Worksheet and tell me how it goes in the comments.
PS – You’re my hero. Get out there and slay. 🧛🏻♀️
Get the “Energy Vampire Hunter's Worksheet”
Sources & Resources
Baumeister, R. (2012). Willpower: Self-control, decision fatigue, and energy. [Video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vefDeoXCBbk
Duckworth, A. (2013). Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth. [Video] https://youtu.be/H14bBuluwB8
Dweck, C. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck. [Video] https://youtu.be/hiiEeMN7vbQ
Graham, B. (n.d) Is It Time to End That Friendship? Oprah.com. http://www.oprah.com/relationships/how-to-end-a-friendship-cutting-off-a-friend/all
Kirsch, M. (2017). Change Your Screen to Grayscale to Combat Phone Addiction. Lifehacker. https://lifehacker.com/change-your-screen-to-grayscale-to-combat-phone-addicti-1795821843
Lin, S.-H. (J.), & Johnson, R. E. (2015). A suggestion to improve a day keeps your depletion away: Examining promotive and prohibitive voice behaviors within a regulatory focus and ego depletion framework. Journal of Applied Psychology. http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2015-07276-001
Thompson, D. (2014). A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/science-tells-you-how-many-minutes-should-you-take-a-break-for-work-17/380369/