by Brad Bollenbach


The people I most admire are total animals. They are intensely dedicated to their craft, and make the most of every moment to reach their goals. They are so focussed on what they want that they don’t have time for anything that isn’t aligned with their intentions. They are constantly creating, always choose to align with the positive side of things, and are able to appreciate the true genius in almost everyone they meet.

And then there are “energy vampires”. An energy vampire is a person who drains other people’s life force.

Actually, I’ll take this a step further and offer a more “inside-out” definition. To me, an energy vampire is any thought pattern, activity, or habit that drains your life force. Whether the external influence that leads to this negative energy flow is a person, place, or thing, the vampire can only strike if you take the bait.

Energy vampires are a primary threat to your happiness. They dilute your attention and drag you down. They’ll turn you from a star player into a benchwarmer. Sometimes energy vampires are so pervasive in our lives that we don’t even notice them. We spend so much time in the clutches of negative thought patterns and distractions, yet still wonder why we never seem to get where we want to go.

The following is a list of energy vampires that have affected me most at one time or another, with solutions I’ve used to fend them off and stay aligned with my purpose:

1. Polling

How many times have you checked your email today? How many IM conversations do you have going on right this minute? How many IRC windows do you have open? Do you know off the top of your head how many visitors your site has had so far today? (Be honest.)

Polling is the habit of constantly checking the status of something. It comes from the mistaken idea that information that is updated in real-time needs to be tracked in real-time. Polling is an energy vampire because it snaps you out of your artistic groove. It’s not just the 30 seconds it takes to check your email. It’s the 15-20 minutes you spend responding to a new message that kills your focus.

Solution: Set a time each day to do all your checking. I generally check my feed stats, website stats, email, and revenue stats once every day around 5:00 PM.

Uninstall applications that alert you of new email. For truly urgent messages, use urgent mediums like phone or a knock on the door. If you are absolutely required to use your Inbox for urgent communications, configure your email alerts to monitor only items that require immediate response.

If you spend a lot of time on IRC, AIM, or Facebook, measure the output of this investment. How would your life be different if you spent all that time in virtual reality on face-to-face connections?

2. Arguing and Internet “Flame Wars”

Have you ever seen a news anchor host a discussion panel with experts on each side of the issue? Do you EVER see one expert say to the other “Hm, you know what? I’m completely wrong. Now that I’ve heard your point of view, I think we should pull all our troops out of Iraq.”

Nobody ever wins an argument. People argue to make themselves heard, not to listen to and evaluate what the other person is saying. Internet flame wars are even worse. When two nameless, faceless opponents square off in the digital ring, the shit can really hit the fan.

Solution: The key to winning an argument is don’t argue in the first place. Not only will you definitely not “win”, the other side is probably not even listening. Stop trying to prove that you’re right and just live by the truths you’ve uncovered from your own experience. On the internet, stay out of holy wars, and avoid starting them. Don’t post questions like “Which is better, X or Y?” or “What is the best X?” The only opinion you need on such things is your own.

I’ll admit, it took me a couple of years to stop getting into internet geek brawls, but thankfully it is a breakable addiction.

3. Complaining

You’ll never hear someone described as the “World’s Most Accomplished Critic”. Complaining and inactionable criticism is the highest form of mental masturbation. While it’s incredibly difficult to build and do amazing things, almost anyone can point out flaws. But finding fault does not equal intelligence. There is no Nobel Criticism Prize. Action is the true nuclear weapon.

Whether it comes from you, or the people around you, complaining is the Count Dracula of energy vampires. It will gnaw at your soul and attract even more things to complain about in your life.

Solution: Three words: It’s your fault. For any situation you complain about, you have three options: leave it, change it, or don’t change it. By taking full responsibility, you can actually do something about your current life situation, instead of drowning in the victim mentality.

Of course, there are some things you can’t change. For example, you can’t just decide that your girlfriend didn’t dump you. You have no control over what other people do, but you can choose how you react. If you have no choice but to accept a situation, then complaining about it is wasted energy.

4. Partial Commitments

A partial commitment is an activity that you enjoy, and may have even taken seriously at one point, but are now in “commitment limbo” about. You can’t make up your mind about how far you want to go with this. You dabble without going too deep. You might spend a couple hours a day practicing your instrument while watching TV, but you never get up on stage. Instead of giving 100% of your energy to your primary focus, you end up giving 50% of your energy to your primary focus, 25% to this sort-of-hobby, and the other 25% wondering which one you like more.

Solution: If you find yourself juggling a few interests, but always holding back on how much you commit, the first thing to do is decide which interest to treat as primary, and which ones are merely partial commitments.

Of course, the same “analysis paralysis” that got you into this state of indecision can make it hard to make up your mind. Instead of trying to think your way to an ideal solution, start with action. Pick a passion and run with it for 30 days, and see how it feels. Organize your environment in such a way that engaging in the other, partial commitments would not be easy.

For example, I was torn between making a run at professional Poker and becoming an entrepreneur. Fortunately, I had the bankroll to be able to walk each path and decide which one I liked most.

I started out with Poker. For one month, I committed to spending eight hours per day, five days per week playing online to see how it went. I needed only about four days to know that this was not for me. The variance was painful and I realized that my true purpose in life required a more engaging presence in the world and the ability to build cool stuff.

Then I gave entrepreneurship a try for 30 days, and out popped 30 sleeps. Strangely enough, it’s a site built around the concept of 30-day challenges. :) The moment I launched the site and saw people start signing up, I was hooked. I factored Poker out of my life by cashing out my online bankroll and uninstalling all my Poker-related software.

5. Television

A few years ago when I started working with Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, my first assignment was to be part of a development sprint in Mark’s London flat. One of my first few days on the job, I was literally pair programming with the CEO at his kitchen table.

He had about five or six flat screen TVs on different walls in his flat, though they were never turned on. During one meeting, we decided to use one of them to do an app demo. We turned it on, and there was a DVD movie on the screen.

It was paused.

For the last two months.

Living your life on purpose leaves little time for the boob tube. Unfortunately, millions of man hours are swallowed up every day by this brainwashing machine.

Solution: The best way to give up TV is to cancel your cable subscription. It takes a mere five minute phone call to set the wheels in motion, and when all is said and done, you can still buy or rent the shows you really like on DVD.

My appointment with the cable guy is September 24th. When’s yours?

It’s important to identify thoughts or actions that cause you to leak energy away from pursuing your purpose. Sometimes these bad habits are so much a part of your life that you don’t even notice them, but they eat away at your time and emotional well-being all the same. An important question to ask yourself at regular intervals throughout the day is “Is this the best possible use of my time?” If not, you may have found an energy vampire.

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  1. mohamed kamel says:

    you need to have more specified information about vampires

  2. [...] Energy Vampires – Brad from 30sleeps calls people who drain your motivation, “energy vampires”. Avoid these people like the plague. Having people who can deliver bad news is important, but [...]

  3. Sangrail says:

    I followed the link from, and this was a much more interesting article than I’d have guessed from the bit that got mentioned – I’m glad I came!

    The only thing I’d differentiate a little more clearly, is the partial commitments thing. I’ve realised I really enjoy having something I just noodle at, and that I’m still in the beginner stage and so the rate of improvement is still fantastic.
    For example, it used to be drawing – going from not being able to draw at all (well, stick figures made of wobbly lines) to being able to do a decent sketch, still feels like a great accomplishment.
    If I’d had a long day, where my ‘bigger’ projects were just grinding on, it was great to sit down for 5-10 minutes and see the improvement I’d made, feel like I’d actually accomplished something concrete. Having that was a great mood lifter and stress reliever.

    Now I’m doing it with guitar – I couldn’t play at all, but now I can sit down, look up some easy-looking tune from a guitar tab site and feel like I’ve learned something new.
    The actual time commitment is only about 5-10 minutes a day, so the cost/benefit ratio is pretty fantastic.

    While it is that jack-of-all-trades thing, if you are wanting to be truly expert at something, you’ll hit plateaus where you don’t feel like you’re improving much. Having a no commitment (partial commitment?) thing you’re playing with can provide you some accomplishment in other life areas to help you continue steaming onwards.

    Where it turns into the negative partial commitment, is when you’ve hit a significant plateau, and really, this isn’t that high up in your overall life goals or ambitions. If it’s just a stress reliever and mood lifter, but isn’t doing that, or it’s taking up too much of your time – dump it! And find something else to do. Commit deeply to the things you really care about, and feel free to play with and drop the things you don’t.

    Or at least, that’s how it works for me. ;)

  4. @Sangrail:

    From what I can tell, drawing and guitar don’t sound like partial commitments for you, because you aren’t in “commitment limbo” about them, so you don’t get that gnawing, energy vamping feeling of wondering how far you want to go.

    An example of that for me might be skateboarding. I’m intentionally not trying to be Tony Hawk, I just enjoy commuting on a surfboard.

    Thanks for your comments!

  5. wajid says:

    i love vampires n wanna 2b one ov them

  6. wajid says:

    i luv vampires n wanna 2b one ov them………!

  7. Terrah-lee Cann says:

    You did a really good job on this article and hope to read more in the future.

  8. [...] conversation that we had was an energy vampire, classified as the Count Dracula of energy vampires. You’ll never hear someone described as the “World’s Most Accomplished Critic”. Complaining [...]

  9. Siuyan says:

    Hi! Was reading the Macleans dated May 12th. Vampire in the next change room
    “… says Rickard. Prom girls can be energy vampires. Some need us the whole time. “

  10. DIzmolical says:

    Hey there.
    I Noticed I have a serious case of Partial Commitment and Complaining. I Shall really try my best to incorporate all your tactical solutions to these issues into my everyday life as I try your 30 day Alcohol Free Challenge that I am very determined to accomplish. I have also decided to try your Social Skydiving challenge As well.
    I think your articles are great thanks so much Brad!

  11. jake says:

    Maybe I don’t understand your concept on complaining but I was just wondering about this:
    You say you have three choices for complaining “leave it, change it, or don’t change it”.
    If for example you have a bad meal most people would complain. Doing this might get them money off maybe a free desert, i wouldn’t say that was wasted energy. This also wouldn’t be your fault.
    I am interested what you have to say to this please contact me
    Thanks in advance
    Jake :)

  12. rajbgood says:

    Brad absolutely right.
    I threw away my television..literally. I used to work for a TV station..broadcast for 14 yrs…may be that did it…..what goes on in The TV
    world is unbelievable. Thanks for the wisdom

  13. [...] loves drama? In a twisted way they love the feelings of conflict and sadness. That drama-fiend, or Energy Vampire, will try to always look at things [...]

  14. Ria says:

    Hello everyone I think these articles and challenges are fab. I have recently given up smoking and I am looking to self improve different areas of my life. Thanks for your honest approach Brad! Will post again soon to let you know how I get on.

  15. Dee says:

    Just ran across this article today, looking for an energy vampire type poster (because I have one in my life I need to get rid of). I got the the partial commitment part, and that really struck a cord with me. I have a serious partial commitment, a business venture I’ve been playing at for about ten years now. It really only generates enough to pay for Christmas each year, so no big after Christmas bills for me. But I’ve stopped making new products, I don’t promote it, and I actually dread when the phone rings for fear it might be a customer wanting something custom made. I’m thinking it might be time to give up this business idea and find something that can bring the pleasure back into my life. I think I’ll expand on my computer coding knowledge instead. Thanks for the eye opener!

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