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Psychologist shares the No. 1 exercise highly successful people use to be happier

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Just like you wouldn't burn through your whole paycheck on payday, you shouldn't use all of your energy every day.

Yet most people constantly deplete their energy on a daily basis to the point of burnout, says Sarah Sarkis, a psychologist and senior director of performance psychology at Exos, a Phoenix-based performance coaching company.

Sarkis helps train NFL players, executives at Fortune 100 companies like Intel and Humana, and other professionals how to thrive in high-pressure environments. To her, the most common cause of burnout, even among the highly successful people she works with, is poor energy management.

"Energy, just like money, is finite," Sarkis says. "You have credits, and you have debits. Any time you do something that benefits your mental or physical health, like sleeping or exercising, you get a credit. But any activities that are a detriment to that, like working late or skipping a meal, are debits."

Run your account into the negatives, and you'll quickly deplete your energy supply or shut down completely, she adds.

According to Sarkis, the best strategy to stave off burnout and become a happier, more focused person is creating an "energy budget." Here's how to do it.

How to create your 'energy budget'

First, spend one to three days keeping track of all your activities, from commuting to scrolling on TikTok. How and where are you spending most of your time and attention? 

Categorize each action as an "energy credit" or "energy debit." Credits are the things that energize you, and debits are activities that feel draining.

Illustration by Gene Woo Kim

Once your energy audit is complete, identify patterns. Did you spend a lot of time on your phone? Did you get enough sleep? Such patterns could be "self-sabotage, undermining your efforts toward high performance," Sarkis says. 

Finally, think about what activities you can shift, stop or start in order to replenish your energy. 

You can't always control your schedule or responsibilities, but combining energy credits and debits can counteract a draining activity's harmful effects, Sarkis says. If you sit in traffic a lot, for example, you can listen to music, a podcast or an audiobook on a topic that excites you while you drive.

Or, develop a plan to recover from stressful activities. Try a therapeutic exercise like meditation, yoga, journaling or going for a walk outside. Schedule it in your calendar like you would a doctor's appointment or a meeting with your boss.

The small change can make a big difference in how you feel, and what you're able to accomplish, Sarkis says: "You'd be surprised how much energy we waste on things that don't matter."

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