Christine Laperriere is the Executive Director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre and author of the bestselling Too Busy To Be Happy: Using Emotional Real Estate to Grow Your Work-Life Wisdom. She’s also experienced burnout first hand — and learned from her own mistakes (and plenty of research and education) to develop an antidote to a cluttered mind and high-stress mentality. Here’s how Emotional Real Estate works, and how you can learn to manage it.
By Christine Laperriere
At the start of my career, if you had told me that learning to slow down and manage my ambitious energy would be one of the most important skills needed to advance my career — I would have told you that you were out to lunch.
I believed that the harder I worked, the longer the hours, and the higher the expectations I set for myself, the more that would lead to my personal success, and ultimately create a happy life. But after suffering through a very serious bout of burnout — that I was too embarrassed to share with anyone, as it felt like the ultimate sign of weakness — my mind, body and heart finally said enough is enough, forcing me to take a break from my career and do some serious soul searching.
That burnout inspired me to chase years of education to help me really understand human behavior, and one day it finally all became clear to me: your mental, emotional, and physical energy are all finite, and they are inclusive of each other and connected to how you feel in each moment. Hence the term I’ve created, Emotional Real Estate — the total amount of available energy you have in those three areas.
In the past, I had always believed that I had unlimited amounts of mental, physical, and emotional energy, so I created the perfect environment for burnout to occur. The moment I finally grasped the concept that I had a fixed amount of emotional real estate, everything changed. I began to rethink the way I allocate energy just as closely as I budget my time and money. When I think about devoting energy to something, I ask myself if it’s a good investment of that limited emotional real estate.
Emotional real estate goes like this: picture your front yard. Your literal front yard, right outside the front door of your house. You can probably see a certain amount of space to plant trees and grass, to build a deck or a pathway, to have a sitting area or a garden. No matter how much you’d like to do in that yard, you’ve only got a finite amount of property available. You can use it any way you want to, as long as it fits in the space that belongs to you. That’s your available real estate. It doesn’t grow or shrink every day, but there’s a lot that you can do to optimize it to make it something you enjoy. You have choices about what you can do with that space and how you can respond to things outside of your control, like the weather and nature.
If emotional real estate is the front yard, just beyond it is what’s happening in the present moment. Whatever is filling up our emotional real estate stands between us and being present.
If you had nothing on your emotional real estate at all, you’d simply be fully present each moment of each day without any thought of the past or future moments.
Maybe you’ve had this experience for a few seconds when you tried out a new yoga class or when you were enjoying nature on a beautiful day. But we are looking at it from a broader perspective — not just moment by moment, but day by day, and week by week.
And if we’re going to start cleaning up our front yard, we have to start paying attention to whether we’ve littered our lawn with trash on purpose — because sometimes keeping lots of thoughts and worries and drama on our lawn is a bit addictive.
Managing our Emotional Real Estate can help to declutter our minds, reduce our stress, and lead a happy and successful life — and the first step is growing awareness. Here’s how it’s done:
The moment you start to ask yourself what you are using up emotional real estate on, you can more effectively become conscious of making decisions and building practices to help you manage and ultimately reduce your daily stress levels. It’s a practice, not a destination — but regularly checking in each day can help you catch your breath when life feels overwhelming. I suggest a building a seven-minute routine for yourself (you can also check out the one highlighted in my book, Too Busy To Be Happy).
Sometimes it’s important to capture the piles of thoughts using up emotional real estate and time stamp them. Every thought that you are encountering in any moment is either related to a past situation, the present moment, or a future moment in time. To grow present moment awareness — which will lead to reduced stress — we need to grow awareness of those present moment thoughts, and allow them to expand.
One of the quickest ways to help declutter a busy mind is to acknowledge which thoughts can inspire useful action and which thoughts don’t. Sometimes, a thought that is using up a lot of emotional real estate needs to be marked for “removal” in order to increase enjoyment in the present moment.
Christine Laperriere is the Executive Director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.