understanding burnout & exhaustion with a 2 tank model
We all know what it feels like to be tired and wishing that we had more energy.
As I laid there on the couch in the fog of exhaustion, I longed for a way to explain what I was feeling but how do you quantify something as ethereal as energy levels.
Can we measure tiredness & quantify exhaustion? Can we use it to explain burnout?
Yes & Yes again! I call it the 2 tank model.
The two tank model provided me with a framework to understand what was happening to me during burnout and a means to monitor my daily energy usage. Now that I could track my behavior, I could start to adjust my behavior to heal.
This post introduces the 2 tank model and the Daily Energy Quick Check for measuring and monitoring your daily energy usage.
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Daily Energy Tank
Every person has a finite amount of energy to give in a day. This energy can be visualized in many ways – spoons is very common approach in the mental health world. Personally I imagine energy as a liquid that exists within 2 tanks: my daily allotment & reserve tank.
The amount of energy we have each day depends on LOTs of factors and is definitely not the same for everyone.
your daily tank is refilled while you sleep
However I have found it can simplified as this … the amount of energy we start the day with is proportional to the amount of energy in our reserve tank.
For example, when you are just back from vacation you feel refreshed and energized in the morning because your reserve tank is overflowing. On the the other hand when you are struggling with stress, lack of recovery time, and/or illnesses you will have a much lower amount of energy in your reserve tank and wake up already tired.
One of the most important lessons I have learned during my struggles with daily exhaustion is to accept the level of energy you have for that day. You can not increase your daily energy if you keep using your reserves.
By monitoring my daily energy consumption over time, I can see if I the patterns and habits in my life are hurting or healing me.
Daily Energy Quick Check
You can quickly check the level of energy you have at a given moment by asking yourself one question & responding with a simple OK/NOK response.
How much energy do I have right now?
Energy Positive [+] I have energy remaining
Energy Neutral 
I have used all my energy but I didn’t need more
Energy Negative [-]
I have depleted all of my energy and needed additional energy to make it through the day
By recording your energy level [ + / 0 / – ] at the end of each day you can begin to see the pattern of how you use your energy each day. You can take this one step further and track your energy usage during the day, but I will save that thought for another day.
Now let’s take a closer look at the reserve tank.
The reserve tank is a representation of my life force. When my reserve tank is full – I have the energy to connect with people and explore new ideas. I am free of stress and trust the world. When the reserve tank is empty I lose motivation, am anxious, and struggle engage with the world around me.
How easily I am able to refill my reserve tank is a symptom of my total energy levels. For many of us taking a long weekend or vacation can be enough to significantly increase the amount of energy in our reserve tank. Which in turns increases our daily energy, enabling you to refill the tank quicker.
It is easy to slip into a cycle of accumulating stress and exhaustion by constantly having negative energy days and depleting our reserves.
Burnout occurs when energy no longer remains in the reserve tank but leaks out through the cracks that have developed by attempting to pull energy from an empty tank for too long. This is where energy management becomes a critical enabler to reclaiming out life outside the office.
Energy Recovery Exercise
Take a moment to visualize your energy for the today. Think about it anyway you like – a fuel tank, spoons, numbers, or words. Now ask yourself …
How much energy did I start with this morning? How much energy have I already used today?
Record your daily energy levels at end the of day for the next week using the simple [+/0/-] values of the Daily Energy Quick Check
At the end of the week look back on your data and ask yourself …
How did my week go? Did I refill, deplete, or remain neutral this week?
Every day you start with a certain amount of energy. If the day requires more than you start with, then additional energy is pulled from the reserve tank. When your reserve tank is empty and cracked you have reached burnout.
- Every person has a finite amount of energy to give in a day.
- The amount of energy you start with in a day is proportional to the amount of energy in your reserve tank
- The secret to increasing your energy is accepting the amount you start with each day
- By monitoring daily energy consumption over time, we can detect which habits are hurting or healing us.
- The reserve tank is a representation of our life force.
- It is easy to slip into a cycle of accumulating stress and exhaustion by constantly having negative energy days and depleting our reserves.
- Burnout occurs when energy no longer remains in the reserve tank.