Are you feeling particularly low on energy or stamina but can’t point to an exact reason? You may be low on spoons.
No, not the ones in your cabinet, the “spoons” you metaphorically hold. The Spoon Theory has been a frequently shared metaphor since Christine Miserandino introduced the concept in 2003 in her essay “The Spoon Theory”. Originally Miserandino spoke about “spoons” in terms of a disability or chronic illness metaphor, often one that is unseen and therefore overlooked by those who do not have said disability.
It’s now come to encompass willpower depletion, fatigue, depression, or other internal factors that are felt that can accept pacing or participation in activities ranging from simple conversation to an outing with friends or a partner.
One spoon, two spoon, blue spoon, no spoon
I didn’t know I had spoons until I didn’t have spoons. For the last decade as I’ve mentioned, I suffered from a mysterious “illness”. Many tests and appointments were had to solve the illness. Eventually, it was determined the illness was in fact stress and anxiety. This coupled with a lower back injury that flares up whenever it feels like, often throbbing throughout my entire right side, has caused me to take pause before agreeing to and when planning social and everyday activities. Physical and psychological conditions can be reason to start counting your spoons.
For the average person the meter on your energy state can go unnoticed. With clients I’ve noticed a shift in many of them feeling like they just can’t deal with the things they used to be able to easily handle. They may have previously experienced a few days where they don’t feel like cooking breakfast, but now they’re asking how they can take a shower and online grocery shop. They don’t have the energy for both and you might not either.
Do the dishes and monitor the children’s study time?
Take a bath and prep lunch for tomorrow?
Attend a video meeting and retrieve a package?
Getting out of bed and getting dressed?
You’re not being lazy, you’re running out of spoons. The COVID-19 pandemic may be intensifying or complicating your feelings and physical responses. You’re not alone. I suspect that all of us all along have only had a limited number of spoons, we just didn’t know how to universally verbalize it.
Consciously choosing spoons
Twelve spoons is the shared theory on how many spoons each person gets a day. However, you are a unique individual. You might not always have the same number of spoons each day. Sometimes you will have three, sometimes it will feel like none. Remember simple activities use spoons as well and depending on your personal perception, they won’t always equate the same.
A shower may take one spoon when the kids are already awake but on the weekend it may take three.
Making yourself dinner may be a two spoon activity but when you’ve used two spoons per business call that day it may feel like it takes five or more. You may even have an excess of spoons, but don’t count on them to be available the next day.
As to avoid the guilt that accompanies perceived unproductiveness or to help friends/family better understand my situation and not add to my stress I have a system. I start the day by visualizing how much energy I have in terms of “spoons”. Last week I had many, this week not so much. This can help you choose wisely how you want to focus your time and energy. This can allow you to be gentle on yourself when you feel you need more rest or to cancel plans.
My profession as a life coach and empowerment speaker means I use my spoons by simply doing my job, let alone meeting personal self care needs in addition to activities of daily living (ADL). Self-deluding myself into thinking that I didn’t have the luxury of running out of spoons (before I even knew what they were!) — thinking I had infinite energy, is what lead to physical responses that required medical attention. My various health issues were mostly chalked up to failing to account for my own spoon supply. Once your spoons are gone, they’re gone for the day.
Despite how much physical and mental energy you had previously to do the things you want, there may be shift with the current state of the world.
Attempt to strive for activities and people who replenish your spoons. This could look like a mix of self-care and alone time, or another outlet such as:
- Reading quietly*
- Eating healthy foods
- Working out (yoga, stretching, swimming, cardio, etc)
- Hanging with your pet
- Listening to music
- Enjoying nature
- Taking a bath
- Having a solo temper tantrum
- Playing games
- Cathartic purging by crying
- Laughing at YouTube videos
- Night driving*
- Engaging in any hobbies
Anything that makes you feel happy, at peace, relaxed, and recharged counts as something that personally helps you replenish your spoons. I’ve marked my favorite three (there’s a reason I call myself ‘The Nap Queen’). It’s important to remember we all have spoons and we all know when we’re running out. Don’t make someone feel guilty if they cancel last-minute or flake out on you by saying they don’t have energy to keep the commitment. It usually takes a lot of internal debating before the decision to conscious remove yourself from a planned activity — no need to add to their feelings of blame-ability. You might be in their position one day and would appreciate the calm compassion.
Sometimes I have friends who don’t text back for weeks, I know this is because they are low on spoons so I am mindful to not exacerbate whatever emotions they were experiencing when they do return my text, which they always do eventually. It’s made me more patient with people on a whole.
The best way I’ve found to get things done on the bad days (i.e. low spoon supply days) is to adjust accordingly but also practice some simple techniques:
- I have a very simple routine planned and keep my day simple
- I reach out for support and focus on positive affirmations
- I practice self-love and intentional forgiveness
You life looks different than mine, and both of ours different from someone else. What is an obstacle for me may be a simple speed bump for you. What takes no spoons for me may take several for you or just one for your friend. Apply the Spoon theory in whatever way works best for you but I dare you to try it out tomorrow and see how you’re investing your energy. Are you choosing wisely where you spend your time? Are you protecting your own sovereign strength and allowing time for recovery?
How many spoons have you already used today? And how many will you have tomorrow?