Sunday, 6 September 2015

The cost of emotions on our spoons

Before reading further, if the term 'Spoon Theory' is unfamiliar, please read this post by Christine Miserandino!

I use the Spoon Theory personally to help me think about what I do each day and how I use my energy. I also share it as a resource in my role as a self-management coach with the people with long term health conditions who I support.

Recent personal experience and that of the people who I support has made me see that I need to consider more broadly how I use my spoons. This has been a very interesting thing for me to be aware of - seeing as I spend so much of my time talking about (in less theoretical terms) the biopsychosocial model. Managing my health is about the physical things, but equally, the emotional and social (or day to day) impact that my health has.

When using the Spoon Theory myself, I think about tasks that 'use' spoons, like doing physio exercises, tidying my room, going to a meeting or cooking a meal.
But I am often finding that counting all the physical 'spoons', I can still feel like I am caught short of spoons because I am emotionally drained.

I love reading Oliver Burkeman's column in the Guardian each week, sarcastically called "This column will change your life". A few weeks ago, I read this one, "what exactly is an emotion", which helped crystallise my thoughts on this whole challenge.

Do I need to start allocating spoons to emotions? Although often harder to predict and plan for such emotionally draining events, like a difficult day at work, emotional conversation or bad news from a friend or family member, they unarguably 'use up' a number of spoons! (I think its important to note here that excitement and joy also 'use up' spoons, but typically my examples constitute more challenging emotions!).

Thinking in this way has helped me 'let go' of some of these 'spoon wasting' emotions. I thought to myself "how many spoons have I used up on feeling angry or upset about that particular situation?"
The honest answer is often a lot... a good proportion of my precious energy. I can then think to myself, how many more spoons to I want to use on that emotion. That can give me permission to let go a bit more easily and focus on setting goals to use those spoons in more productive ways.

The value of the Spoon theory is the way that it quantifies the unquantifiable. Giving a number of spoons to our emotions for people with a limited number of spoons to start with is a very strong opening to working towards changing our response to those emotions into a more spoon-savy approach!

Being emotional isn't bad - it is what makes us human. The challenge is when those emotion get in the way of things we want to do. I'd be really interested to hear from other #spoonies if these questions are helpful?

How many spoons have I used on that emotion about that situation in the last few days?Does that feel helpful or appropriate? If not, what can I do to help myself use less spoons on that emotion from that situation? 

Comments below are most welcome!


  1. You've made me think about how emotions use up 'spoons' which I've not considered before. Also made me think about how when struggling with an illness, not related to my LTC, I've not considered the drain on the total number of spoons available to me when not functioning well.

    I've tended to only consider 'tasks' and not really weighing the tasks for their complexity or intensity of emotion or even considering how well I feel before I start tackling tasks.

    Hmm.. more to think about now - thanks of the prompt.

  2. I realized the other day I lost the summer stressing about family and thinking my feelings were being hurt intentionally. Realized how much it took out of me, using up spoons on useless emotions, and thinking about using up my spoons unreasonably will be a reminder, I can't control others, only the way I deal with them.

  3. Nathan Preston25 July 2016 at 07:17

    We never ever realize our inner skills and strategies. Inner strength is very crucial and it helps to improve our success percentage. Spoon theory is a complete new concept for me never before I have personally experience this spoon theory and therefore while go through this article I learn some basic facts about spoon theory. Thanks for such a wonderful article.
    Emotional Intelligence