Running on empty – five energy tanks to fuel your work - Veterinary Practice
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Running on empty – five energy tanks to fuel your work

“Being aware of the five different ‘energy tanks’ we have at our disposal means we can gauge which ones are running low and which are nicely filled up”

Do you ever feel that you’re not refreshed enough to go back to work and get stuck in all over again after sleep or even after a weekend? Do you ever feel that your balance sheet of energy doesn’t balance because work depletes your reserves more than time away from work restores them? Do you ever feel that a holiday from work just about gets you back to an even keel, rather than building up your reserves before needing them at work?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, it may be that you aren’t yet aware of how best to build up all of your reserves. Or maybe you’re filling one tank of energy to the brim, but you’re unaware of the other tanks which need your attention, too.

A story of running on empty

I first met Frank, a CEO of a large corporate, when he was on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder beside me. He was ambitious and full of charisma and energy. Everyone who met him liked him and wanted to be his friend – the clients loved him, the team loved him and management loved him. Before long, Frank was gone. Off to climb the ladder, leaving us behind, and we, and the clients, missed him desperately.

Several years later, I met up with Frank again at a veterinary conference. He was now a CEO: exhausted, burnt out and running on empty. What could have happened to the vivacious, bubbly power bank I’d worked with only eight years ago?

Well, Frank explained, it’s maths.

Maintaining that energy and charisma, and all the social interactions, had depleted his battery to such a degree that he simply had nothing left to give. He had energised others to do a great job, actively charmed his way to the top and spent vast amounts of time chatting inside and outside of meetings to such a degree that he was now a shadow of his former self. He was bewildered, too! He had taken time off, worked out three times a week, gone on holidays with his family, eaten well and drunk very little – it just didn’t make sense.

I hear this story time and time again, and I was that person, too. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and a lot of psychology training, I know there’s more to regaining energy than going to the gym, becoming vegetarian and going to bed for eight hours a night.

The five energy tanks

Being aware of the five different “energy tanks” we have at our disposal means we can gauge which ones are running low and which are nicely filled up. It’s also a way of “checking in” with yourself, to best choose how to refill each one in a way that works for you as an individual.

1. Our physical tank

The physical tank is probably the one we’re most aware of and the one that gets the most attention. It relates to our physical health, physical strength and alertness. Exercise, eating well and sleeping fill this tank up.

Being sedentary, eating unhealthily, consuming alcohol, vaping, getting poor sleep, bad hygiene, etc drain this tank very rapidly. All of the above is our choice – though it is crucial to remain non-judgemental. Also, all work and no play makes Frank a dull CEO. Being aware and noticing the ins and outs of this tank involves the skill of self-awareness.

2. Our mental tank

The mental tank involves not only how much information we’ve taken in and how clever we are, but also how we can use that knowledge.

When our mental tank is full, our focus and our ability to apply knowledge in real-time and have pinpoint concentration despite interruptions and busy surroundings are all running at full throttle. It can be especially exhausting to pay attention when everybody around you is noisily fulfilling their own tasks.

Our mental tank can be topped up with continuing professional development, studying and clinical discussions. We can also train our focus to be laser-sharp using simple meditations such as body scan and breath meditations or, even better, pinpoint concentration on nothingness meditations. However, all these exercises need to be done regularly.

3. Our emotional tank

How positive are you feeling? You might be full of physical energy and comfortable with your skill set at work today. How’s your mood? Are you smiling, or are you a bit “meh”? Are you a bit down but aren’t sure why? Our emotional tank usually gets ignored because we’re unsure what it is or where it’s located under the bonnet.

Our emotional tank usually gets ignored because we’re unsure what it is or where it’s located under the bonnet

Remember that our emotional intelligence is made up of our self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Emotional batteries run on emotional intelligence and give us the skills and energy to navigate pretty much any of life’s hurdles, challenges and catastrophes without losing the plot or becoming overwhelmed.

The great thing about this battery is that it’s self-charging. In other words, the more we become aware of our emotions and the more we regulate our reactions to those emotions, the better we get at noticing and regulating. It becomes second nature to us. It may start out time-consuming and slow, but with a small amount of time practising, it takes no time at all, and this massive skill becomes part of us.

The more we become aware of our emotions and the more we regulate our reactions to those emotions, the better we get at noticing and regulating

4. Our spiritual tank

Spirituality is not about religion; it’s about morals, kindness, self-compassion and relationships. Filling this tank feeds into all the other tanks, and you can never overfill it. Any surplus will help fill the others, and very importantly, it will spill out towards all those you come into contact with.

How do I recognise low levels in this tank? Maybe you’re a bit impatient or snappy? Maybe you are only focusing on the negative episodes of your day and making them bigger than the day itself? Maybe you have an underlying sense of anger about something or someone near you?

Paradoxically, we often fill this tank by giving something of ourselves to others. Volunteering is a well-known method of boosting your sense of purpose and common humanity. It’s a vital skill of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award undertaken by many teenagers in the UK because of its enormous benefits to the individual as well as to society.

Other great ways to top up this tank are spending time in nature without your phone, breathing in fresh air and noticing nature with wide, curious, fresh eyes. Forest bathing springs to mind. Also, meditations, such as a loving-kindness meditation, are particularly good at turbo-charging this tank when they are done first thing in the morning.

5. Our social tank

We know that our social connection is as accurate a predictor of our mortality as smoking, obesity or hypertension. This tank is depleted by spending large swathes of time alone because of apathy, exhaustion or low self-esteem. It’s also depleted surprisingly rapidly by spending lots of time in the company of people who:

  1. Don’t appreciate us
  2. We dislike or don’t get along well with
  3. Want something for themselves from your interactions

Our social tank is refuelled when we spend time with the people we care about and those who genuinely care about us. It can be filled by meeting new people and being inquisitive about them, caring for loved ones and sharing physical intimacy with people who are genuine.

Our social tank is refuelled when we spend time with the people we care about and those who genuinely care about us

Back to Frank…

When I met Frank at that conference, his physical tank was quite full because of his healthy lifestyle, good food and exercise.

His mental tank, however, was half full. While he was enjoying learning about management on the job, his gregarious, charismatic ways meant that everyone wanted a bit of him. He was constantly interrupted by colleagues, people he had to network with and others who felt he could “fix” everything by his presence.

His emotional tank was barely recognisable at this stage. He found himself being short with people who interrupted him, which was not in keeping with the nice guy he was always trying to be. He was reacting reflexively instead of reflectively and often with impatience or anger. His motivation was at an all-time low, and he wanted to leave his job.

Spiritually, Frank had had no time in the previous eight years to be alone in nature, to meditate, to just be. His job was all-consuming, so volunteering or caring for others was out of the question. This tank was dry as a bone.

Surprisingly, after the myriad social interactions he’d been having for years, Frank’s social tank was not proving the life-saver he knew it could be. This is because he was spending his valuable time with negative influences in his life, with people who abused his good nature instead of his long-term friends who knew him inside out and who loved him.


Happiness is not ready made. It comes from your own actions

Dalai Lama

The morals of this story are: check in with yourself first and last thing in the day! Get used to quickly going through your different energy tanks like a checklist to gauge their level. Act to replenish them in whatever way works for you – don’t forget to make it personal!

Laura Woodward

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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