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Using "Follow the energy" to refine your personal development experiments

As I continue exploring the field of personal productivity (and a possible new career in it), I'm pursing a number of possibilities (i.e., experiments), each of which requires time and energy to move ahead. However, they all have varying probabilities of success, none of which I know. So the question is: How much effort should I put into each one? [1]

One popular answer I've come across is to Follow the energy, the concept of letting nature itself tell us which experiments are promising. Here are two great descriptions I've found:

In Follow The Energy to Mine the Gold in Life, Dale Dauten says
As I talked to Orloff, I realized that the old advice to "follow the money" had led most of us astray, and the newer advice, "follow your passion," is distracting, for most people confuse amusements with passions. The better formula is "follow the energy." Follow it far enough, and you may even find your way to the lap of the gods.
Fred Gratzon gives us a different perspective; in Which Passion Should I Pursue?, he says
My advice would be to pursue them ALL until one starts to show a little promise. At that time, feed that new sprout with more attention. In other words, where there’s smoke, pour gasoline. [...] If it has potential, then that potentiality will show itself soon. If it doesn't, then you know you need to make a course correction.
So how do we know which efforts are expanding, and which are contracting? Or, as Gratzon might put it, "Where do I pour the gas?"

My initial thought is we know when either a) the energy received exceeds the energy given (resonance), or b) when the effort comes back in novel and surprising ways (transformation). Here are a few examples:
  • Your network and reputation grow - people voluntarily and happily tell others about you and your work.
  • Responses to your inquiries are excited and helpful - people listen to you, offer suggestions, and help set your direction.
  • Your ideas connect into (and stimulate) others - people relate your ideas into the culture, and other projects.


I can see a few areas to be concerned about when following the energy. First, there's a risk of ignoring an area that isn't initially promising, but that has hidden potential. In this case I'd suggest keeping an eye on it, and being ready to put more into it if it re-awakens.

Second, I would be concerned about blindly following something without giving some thought to why things are going this way. For example, I would hate for a lack of communication or other skills to artificially contract opportunities. In other words, I would want to learn from the "failures" - maybe there's something deeper going on that needs my attention.

However, in spite of the issues I think following the energy is a nice idea. I'd love to hear your ideas and stories about this.


[1] Note that this is different from the question of which direction(s) to pursue. I've heard the latter called "Following your bliss/passion." Gratzon has a nice article on it in Finding Your Calling. The bliss idea comes from Joseph Campbell.

Reader Comments (5)

This idea is entirely consistent with the basic tenets of "strengths psychology." Essentially, you should find an area that is a strength (usually an area in which you find yourself energized, enthusiastic, which you find not to be "work", and for which you seem to have a knack), and focus your energy on growing that strength.

Our culture has us focusing primarily on addressing our shortcomings -- at best, even with extraordinary effort, we'll be adequate at these things. If we invested the same energy in our strengths, the return would be much greater.

January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDon

Funny, I was just thinking about this subject myself recently, although in the smaller context of simply getting action items completed; namely, I found myself this weekend with eight or ten things still left to do before my next weekly review, Sunday evening. And I wasn't sure how exactly to proceed, since none of the items had external deadlines of their own, so instead "followed the energy," like you suggested - started working on my huge email list for awhile, kept doing it until I felt my energy and attention span for emails dropping, then looked at my list and again picked an item that just felt naturally appealing at that moment (or, if my energy level was feeling particularly high, I would pick one of the things I would simply never *feel* like doing, but that needed done nonetheless). And since I knew that all the items needed to be completed by Sunday evening, I was able to gauge myself effectively while still primarily spending my time working on just the projects that most appealed to me that particular second. It was a nice and very productive way to get through a weekend of chores, and I could see how such a thing could be of big benefit within a larger scope as well.

January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJason Pettus

Thanks very much for the analysis, Don, and for the pointer to "strengths psychology". I found the book [ How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life | http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1595620036/qid=1136834845/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/002-7792279-6248857?s=books&v=glance&n=283155 ] by by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton. Is this a good introduction to the idea?

January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Jason - thanks very much for your story. I think it's an excellent description of how to intuitively use the four characteristics David Allen talks about: 1. Context, 2. Time, 3. Energy, 4. Priority.

Your comment also reminds me of this article: [ Kick procrastination’s ass: Run a dash | http://www.43folders.com/2005/09/08/kick-procrastinations-ass-run-a-dash/ ]. Thanks again!

January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Thank you for the additional detail and references, don. I do like Seligman's work quite a bit - inside my planner I have his three characteristics of learned optimism:

Temporary <- Permanent
Isolated <- Pervasive
External <- Personal

In other words, I try to look at events from the perspective of the left side, rather than (my more typical) right one.

January 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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