EMOTIONAL ECONOMICS: 4 Ways to Manage Our Inner Resources

Emotional Economics

As many of us learned in Econ 101, economics analyzes the allocation of resources. It addresses the reality that resources are scarce, and seeks to organize society so that it most efficiently utilizes those resources.

In economics, choosing to allocate resources toward a given activity creates an opportunity cost – the loss of an alternative. This means that we select one opportunity at the expense of another. This is why it is very important to allocate scarce resources toward the best opportunities, because once expended, we forgo the alternate opportunities.

Limited Inner Resources

Whether we realize it or not, our daily interactions consist of an expenditure of internal resources. Those resources exist in the form of energy – physical, mental and emotional. We are constantly managing the expenditure and replenishment of those resources, and if we aren’t careful we can end up in a state of deficit.

Interestingly, the word “economics” is derived from the ancient Greek word “oikonomia,” which translates as “household management.” When we consider the allocation of inner resources, household becomes analogous to the self.

Mental resources are those that contribute to planning, problem solving and other cognitive functions. Emotional resources refer to our emotional reactions to external events, as well as emotional well-being. Physical resources encompass our physiological systems and overall bodily health.

It is important to note that these resources do not exist in isolation; they are holistically interconnected. Therefore, over-expenditure in one area can negatively affect the other two areas. For example, over-expenditure of emotional resources can negatively affect mental resources. Once we experience a negative emotional event, an overall mood emerges which can disrupt other mental activities.

Biologically, research has shown that emotional upset can disrupt our cognitive processing. Consequently, when driven by emotion, our perceptions, judgment and concentration are negatively affected, and if the heightened emotional state persists, the body will become stressed. The physical stress response can cause detrimental changes and, over time, can manifest as exhaustion and illness.

We experience many competing interests which place demands on our internal resources. To stay healthy, we must acknowledge that our resources are limited, and take great care not to deplete them.

How Do We Accomplish This?

One way is to shift our perspective to one of emotional economy, focusing on the allocation of limited inner resources, and consciously considering opportunity costs. In other words, it’s the management of supply and demand.

Since we can’t really create more supply, one of the best ways to manage our inner resources is through conservation – preventing waste. Carefully considering opportunity costs will allow us to consciously choose the most effective expenditures, thus allowing us to conserve our efforts for the highest pursuits.

There are four ways to conserve our inner resources:

1. Employ Selective Engagement

Selective engagement means consciously selecting our activities and personal interactions. In other words, we can selectively engage in the interactions and activities that will provide the most benefit. Additionally, when it comes to managing conflict, it means choosing which battles to fight, rather than fighting them all.

Example: The night before a final exam, a college student learns that her roommate has been spreading rumors about her. Understandingly, she is upset by this violation of trust. At this point, there are two external demands which she must consider. She can confront her roommate, which carries the risk of a heightened emotional event, which could affect her ability to concentrate. Or she can study for her exam which will facilitate her accomplishment of a higher goal. Both choices involve an opportunity cost. However, considering economy, she should select the option that provides the greater benefit – which is studying for the exam.

Demands that involve negative interactions will drain our inner resources without offering a benefit. We should therefore look for ways to minimize or eliminate the time we spend interacting with negative people.

2. Practice Verbal Restraint

During conflict, take time to collect your thoughts. Don’t be provoked into emotional responses. Think before you speak, and say only what is necessary. The goal of any discussion or argument should be resolution, so if you see that things are not moving toward resolution, or communication is devolving into an emotional shouting match, conserve your resources by disengaging.

Additionally, when it comes to communication, consider the fact that sometimes less is more. At times, it is better to listen and consider, versus providing a rebuttal or having the last word.

“Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.”
~Dalai Lama~

3. Stop

At times, it becomes important to focus on allowing instead of controlling. You will expend much less energy when you allow things to unfold naturally (i.e. patience and acceptance) than attempting to micromanage each and every detail.

If something isn’t working – i.e., a relationship or goal-oriented activity – simply stop. Allow the situation to exist as it is without trying to force it to happen. You can’t control anything (or anyone) outside of yourself, so it is a waste of inner resources to continue your efforts.

4. Replenish

When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, take time to slow things down. Think of the cache (temporary memory) of a computer. As you browse the internet, the cache saves each new page so that it can be quickly accessed once you visit again. However, as the cache reaches capacity, the browser speed slows down. The only way to remedy this situation is to clear the cache. As we go about our daily activities, we add more and more items to our inner cache. In the same way that the computer’s browser speed is affected, we also can become overloaded. Taking a time-out for meditation, deep breathing, or even a power nap, will help us to clear our mental cache.

See the following video for a quick, effective meditation technique:

Conscious awareness of emotional economy can help us to manage our interactions more effectively. Through selective engagement, verbal restraint, ceased control, and replenishment, we can conserve our resources for the most beneficial pursuits, and potentially enjoy increased focused (due to more energy) while doing them.

Personal Reflections:

  • Do you often feel a sense of emotional overload due to competing demands?
  • How do you think the strategies above would change your situation?

*Image: Dusit Panyakhom 

Published by A. Irvin

Dr. Angela Irvin is a clinical psychologist and mental health educator. Her clinical specialties include forensics, trauma, and personality-related issues. She is also an expert on cultural facets of mental health relating to race, gender, and class. As a mental health educator and writer, she emphasizes research-based information that promotes holistic wellness.