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Soul-Talk: Are You Using Your Life's Energy to Expand or Contract?

This week, I want to examine an apparently-small pebble that is actually the biggest rock you have in your rock pile -- the energy you have with which to live your life.
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Last week's article asked if you are shortchanging yourself by ignoring life's big rocks while focusing on all the little pebbles instead. This week, I want to examine an apparently-small pebble that is actually the biggest rock you have in your rock pile -- the energy you have with which to live your life. What you do with your energy is probably one of the most overlooked areas for personal improvement there is.

The big rocks in life (your health, your relationships, your personal or spiritual growth, your values, etc.) all require you to focus and make choices about what you are going to do next. That part may be obvious in the saying, but in reality, doesn't it seem that a whole lot of people spend a whole lot of time on the pebbles of life instead? You know the drill: tweeting about breakfast, bad hair days, or the commute to work. How about spending an hour or two on Facebook, cruising around pictures, posts, and other proxies for communication and relationship?

Fundamentally, the question comes down to how you are choosing to use your energy as life shows up. You can use your mental, emotional or physical energy to create positive experience or negative experience, much like you can use a hammer to drive a nail or pound your thumb. The hammer doesn't care, and your energy doesn't care, but you do!

How's your experience going so far today? Are you growing or cowering in the face of whatever lies in front of you? Are you using your energy to expand or to contract? If you haven't already, you will most likely bump into one of life's challenges in the not-too-distant future. Today, tomorrow, later this week -- when may be unknown, but you can pretty much bet something is going to show up that will challenge you.

How you experience those challenges will be dependent on where you choose to put your focus.

How to Direct Your Energy

Here's an oversimplified way of looking at this, something that many of us have experienced. This may seem trivial, and it is in one way of looking. However, I encourage you to find the element of power contained in something as seemingly minor as the difference between being excited or nervous.

While your body can't tell the difference between nervous and excited, you sure can. Both nervous and excited states cause adrenaline to be released into your system, which in turn sets in motion a series of physical effects and feelings. How you experience those effects and feelings is simply a matter of choice or focus. If you name the experience nervous or fear, you will wind up experiencing the contraction that typically accompanies nervous or fearful states of mind; if, instead, you call the experience excitement or anticipation, you will find that you have an expanding sense of possibility and perhaps even fun.

In either state, you are likely to enter into a heightened state of awareness. In the fearful or nervous state, your awareness starts looking for what could go wrong. In the expanded state of excited or anticipation, your awareness starts looking for the positive possibilities. Curiously, if you start looking for what could go wrong, you will probably find something, while if you start looking for the positive, you will likely find that as well.

What you experience as a result of what you observe is dependent on what you tell yourself. I know when I was a kid taking diving lessons, I was nervous one time and excited the next whenever I climbed the high dive. Nervous showed up when I told myself that being 30 feet off the pool surface was scary, and excited showed up when I told myself that I was about to experience all kinds of fun doing twists and turns in 30 feet. Nervous depended on how vividly I could make up potential negative scenarios in my head (OMG, I'll go splat), while excited showed up as I imagined the fun I'd have flying through the air.

The adrenaline was the same either way. In one instance, I used the adrenaline to paralyze myself, while in the other, I used the adrenaline to propel myself off the platform. So the question isn't whether or not you have the adrenaline -- it's what you do when you notice.

After all, it's just energy being released. You get to choose what you do with the energy. You can paralyze yourself or you can expand. It's all the same energy, but you get to be the one directing it. So, how would you like to direct your energy?

You won't be able to answer that question very well until you are clear on what kind of experience you want to have. I know that later this week I will wind up having a difficult conversation with someone I have known and cared for over the years. When I think about the downside possibilities -- he could react badly, I could wind up with my own feelings hurt, one of us could break off our relationship, etc. -- I wind up shutting down inside, and my thoughts turn toward protection or defensiveness, both of which are forms of contraction. Neither feels particularly good, and not surprisingly, the more I direct my energy into these kinds of thoughts or fears, the more negative my thoughts become as well.

The other option is to focus on the good and goodwill that has been built up over the years, and in so doing remind myself that he is a good person, a soul having a human experience. And so am I.

Regardless of where he chooses to place his energy, I know that I'm the one who will determine my experience. If I can use my energy to focus on the soul-centered possibilities in our relationship, I'm certain that good things will come. That certainly has been my experience over the years. Maybe not right away, but certainly over time.

Of course, these are oversimplified generalizations, but as Mark Twain was fond of pointing out, "All generalizations are false, including this one." So, again, there really is only one energy, and it's neutral. What would you like to do with yours?

What big rocks will you face this week? If you paid more attention to the quality of experience you would prefer, how might you direct your energy and focus in ways that could help you expand and be beneficial, both for you and for those with whom you interact?

I'd love to hear your take on this subject. What have you found to be most helpful? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)

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