When I spoke to Orloff again to report on my progress, she said I was energetically tuning in to my body. Yet even with the slightly higher buzz from all my findings (that a sexy dress can tilt the energy scale in your favor, that confessing your jealousy to a good friend lightens an emotional load, that exhaustion isn't a thing to be beaten into submission), I still didn't have the energy I was hoping for.
But I had one more task to go: overcoming "I don't feel like it." So I called David Burns, MD, author of the cognitive therapy bible, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Cognitive therapy helps people change the self-defeating thoughts that lead to self-defeating behavior; "I don't feel like it" seemed ripe for such a change.
When I told Burns that I was looking for alternatives to the "exercise, eat right, get a good night's sleep" prescription, he had this to say about that advice: "That's garbage." The man was now officially my hero.
"Those solutions offer more of a placebo effect than anything else," he told me. "They don't get at what's really going on with people." Burns said the real enemies of energy are feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, anxiety, hopelessness. And he was willing to guide me through his method for dealing with those feelings.
When clients complain to Burns that they wish they had more energy, his response is always, "More energy to do what?" It's an obvious question, but when he turned it on me, I was stumped.
What would I do with more energy? Shower more often? Floss before bedtime? Hang the framed paintings that had been stashed in the corner of my living room for I'm ashamed to say how long? Scrub the coffee cup rings off my desk (which would first require digging out the desk itself from under the piles of junk that had accumulated all over it)? Shop for a new pair of ballet flats? Read The New York Times? Learn Spanish? Rejoin eHarmony (oh, but the thought of filling out that online questionnaire again—it had to be ten pages long!)?
I floated these ideas to Burns, who insisted that I choose one thing to start with. If I examined a single daunting task, he said, I could uncover what was making me avoid it. Dubious, I chose the desk.
Burns went to work, tossing out diagnostic questions: "Why would you bother cleaning your desk?" (Oh, I don't know—maybe because stuff is starting to stick to the coffee cup rings?) "What negative thoughts come to mind when you consider the task?" (Only disorganized losers, with little hope of ever making sense of their lives, have desks that look like mine.) "On a scale of one to 100, how angry, hopeless, frustrated, inadequate, or guilty do those thoughts make you feel?" (85.)
I could almost feel the dots connecting. No wonder I rarely felt like doing anything: The mere thought of the attempt detonated a smoke bomb of negative self-opinions. Emotionally, it was easier to avoid the tasks altogether.