Mental Energy vs. Physical Energy

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about laziness.

I’ve been accused of laziness on more than one occasion in my lifetime. And when I don’t accomplish my goals (which all involve physical exertion–like cleaning house), I mentally berate myself for my laziness.

Yet, when I examine what I do on a “lazy” day, I begin to question the assumption that I’m lazy. I don’t spend much time playing games or watching TV or movies. These days, when I read, it’s either to study the way other people write in my genre, or research for a writing project, or it’s to improve me mentally and/or spiritually. I don’t spend a lot of time on the internet when I’m at home because we only have dial-up, and it’s annoyingly slow; if I’m online, it’s specifically to do research or something else which needs to be done at that moment.

I spend most of my free time working on my writing. With my publication deadline looming, I’m trying to finish up my edits and formatting, I had to make my cover, and I’m still debating the blurb for the back cover. Plus I’m trying to market my blog ahead of my book’s publication in order to generate some interest in it. So I am spending a lot of time studying blog marketing (A-List Blogging Bootcamp has some really good information for free), checking out other people’s sites, and trying to improve my site. Oh, and I’m also working on building my website and I’m moving information from here to the new site.

I do a lot–it’s just not physical work.

Coming to that realization has made me think that perhaps all people have two types of energy–mental and physical–and they’re not interchangeable.

Mental vs. Physical

Think about people who are introverted versus extroverted. You can try to force yourself to be your opposite, but you will be unhappy doing do, and the longer you do it, the more likely you are to end up depressed. (Susan Cain has an excellent 20 minute lecture on why it’s okay to be an introvert.)

Some people have excessive amounts of physical energy. They’re known as “hyperactive.” Some people (like me) have excessive amounts of mental energy. We tend to be called “lazy.” Most everyone else has a balance between the two (“average”), although some people have excessive amounts of both (Benjamin Franklin comes to mind); these people with endless ideas and the energy to accomplish them are called “geniuses.” (Of course, it’s possible to be a genius with only one type of energy, but most of the people who truly become epic and go down in history have huge amounts of both.)

I think the number of people who have almost unlimited amounts of both physical and mental energy are a rarity. And yet, I think our society (American, in particular), expects everyone to strive for that ideal.

Do All the Things!

Take, for instance, Ivy League colleges. You are not only expected to have perfect grades (which require a lot of mental energy to achieve), but you’re also expected to play a sport, and/or a musical instrument, and/or do volunteer work or otherwise be active in your community (which requires a lot of physical energy). In short, they require you to have lots of energy to do very opposite things: sit and think, and be on your feet and busy. Is it any wonder that so many kids, when pressured into doing both, rebel, get addicted to drugs, have nervous breakdowns, or commit suicide?

Even when parents aren’t aiming for Ivy League, many kids find themselves pressed into sports when they’d just as soon sit on the sidelines and read for fun. We want our children to be “well-rounded,” never giving any consideration to the fact that they may not be cut-out for sports (or higher education).

What if we thought of our energy type as a personality type–something which really can’t be altered? What if we identified this in children before high school and shaped their educations and extra-curricular activities appropriately? What if we stopped medicating hyper children and stopped shaming the “lazy” ones–in short, stopped trying to force people into a balance which doesn’t naturally exist in them–and instead worked with it?

Work With, Not Against

Here’s a crazy idea: divide the class into hyper and sedentary children. (Children who are somewhere in the middle can choose where they want to go, can be rotated between the two, or there can be a third group for them. Most schools have multiple classes per grade level, so restructuring the kids in the classes shouldn’t be a problem or cost money.)

For the hyper children, they start their day off with sports; the sedentary children start with lessons. Once the hyper children have some of their physical energy drained off, they can come in and have lessons. Another break for sports/gym/outside playtime will be necessary in the afternoon. The sedentary children will get the minimum amount of daily physical activity after lunch (yoga, tai chi, or other activities which are done slowly and individually should be preferred over things like kickball or running), then they go back to study. They can spend their late afternoon (while the hyper children are still learning lessons) in activities like chess club, debate club,independent reading, etc.

Imagine high school where hyper teens spend more time learning those subjects which are more likely to be a benefit to their future careers such as science–with a focus on invention rather than long-term research–technology (again, focusing on innovation rather than something sedentary and tedious like programming), business, government, communications, performance art, and trades (like carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, farming, etc.). Teens who like to spend their time reading and thinking would have more time in static arts, music, literature, scientific research, computer programming, etc.

How much less wailing and gnashing of teeth would there be if parents stopped trying to make their hyper child sit down and have piano lessons and didn’t push their bookworm to play football?

Telling people to find an area and concentrate in it might sound odd coming from me, the aspiring polymath, but there’s a difference between knowing things and doing things. I am fascinated with frontier/self-sufficient skills: gardening, raising chickens, cooking from scratch, making everything by hand, etc., but while I like to read about these things and admire the people who do them, I’ve never managed to muster the physical energy required to do them–just like I like a clean house, but I hate doing anything remotely related to cleaning. But I spent about 2.5 months sewing something like 14,000 beads onto my wedding dress, one at a time. Can you imagine a physically-active person sitting down to do that?


The simple truth of the matter is that I’m a chair jockey. I conquer all things which require much ass time. And when I have a story or idea in my head, I’m mentally hyper; I have trouble concentrating on other tasks until I complete my idea. Sometimes it feels like my brain is just brimming-full and I have to spend time siphoning things off of it. To hell with mopping the kitchen floor. I can no more stand to waste time doing some physical labor that than a hyper person–who is feeling full of pep–can sit down for a 3 hour lecture¬† on global economics. (Okay, so I don’t know anyone who would want to sit through that, but you get the idea.)

That isn’t to say I never get off my ass and do stuff. I have had some legendary marathon cleaning sessions–even entire cleaning weekends!–where I’m full of physical energy and have to get it out reorganizing the entire garage. Of course, I’m sure there are hyper people who can recall the time they sat peacefully through a 3-hour movie or managed to write an entire term paper all in one sitting. It’s not that these tasks are physically impossible, it’s just that the energy to do them is lacking most of the time.

So, I think the best thing for me is to throw all of my energy into writing and long for the day when I will make enough money writing that I can hire someone to come clean my house.