Need to do more in a day? Multiply your spoons.

         I promised we’d talk a bit about spoon theory this week—you can read about the original version on Christine Miserandino’s blog.  She’s an award-winning writer, speaker and blogger who developed “spoon theory” at a diner when a good friend asked her what it’s like to live with Lupus.

Christine grabbed a bunch of spoons to illustrate that living with a chronic disease means that you have a limited amount of energy each day—in her original illustration this was represented by 12 spoons—and you have to make tough decisions about how to use it.  Make breakfast, 1 spoon gone.  Go to class across campus, that’s 3 spoons, grade 10 math tests, another spoon gone.  Pretty soon you’re out of spoons. 

          I imagine you can see how this idea is connected to what I talked to you about last week—about the unreasonable demands we make on ourselves, which is like giving away spoons we don’t have to give.  Christine says that sometimes even someone with Lupus can “borrow” a spoon from the future.  So it stands to reason that relatively healthy people can probably live with “spoon debt” for a while, maybe even years, but no one has an infinite amount of spoons. 

         Christine’s spoon theory pretty much has the spoons for the day arriving as you sleep, so you wake up with a certain number each morning (not a bad reminder of the importance of sleep!). But I was introduced to spoon theory through life coach Martha Beck’s October newsletter and she added a new idea to the concept—the idea that some activities can actually GIVE us spoons.  

So if you want to give more than what you actually have to those kids you care so much about, or to your roommate, or to the Black Lives Matter movement, you would do well to figure out which activities might help you to multiply your spoons. 

What the heck does that mean?

It means you pay close enough attention to your emotions, your energy and your body so that you notice what activities, people, ideas or images can pretty consistently give you a little lift, a boost in energy.  Notice what can start to shift you out of that low-energy, drained, semi-depressed state that hits when you’ve used up all your spoons just trying to get through the fourteenth kid meltdown of the morning on a rainy day when there won’t be outdoor recess.

Did you do your experiment last week?  Did you try adding in that one little extravagant thing that was just for you?  (If not, it’s NEVER too late, try it now!  And if you don’t know what I’m talking about you can see last week’s post HERE.) 

What happened?  Did you notice a little tiny burst of energy?  A tiny spark of hope? 

If not, try something else until you feel that spark.  It may not even be an obviously “fun” activity, according to anyone else’s definition.  For Martha Beck’s assistant, helping Martha with her email was a spoon-giver!  Sometimes, I get a spark from organizing my house. Giving to others by cooking for them?  I lose about 10 spoons.  For my husband, cooking is a spoon multiplier.  What matters is that you notice how YOU respond to what you're doing. 

One of the most effective tools I’ve found for figuring out my own spoon-producers is what I call a Joy-Time Diary. 

Lots of people suggest tracking your time to see how you spend it, and I think it’s a great process.  For one thing it helps you to avoid saying “I don’t have time” and instead to make conscious choices about how you use the time to have.  The way it works is that you keep track for a week or so of how you spend each half hour of the day.  Author Laura Vanderkam is a particularly well-known advocate of the practice. 

But when I started tracking my time, I didn’t just want to know how I spent it.  I wanted to know what tasks brought me joy and energized me and which ones mostly just drained me

At the time I was a professor and here’s what I found.  Writing almost always felt like joy/energy.  Grading ALWAYS drained me. I could work a 50-hour week if most of it was writing and find that I felt joyful and energized most of the time.  I could work 30 hours grading and you would need to scrape me off the floor. 

When I started working as a life coach I found that I could feel totally drained going into a session—it could feel like I had no spoons to give—but I consistently felt energized after the session, after I had been “giving” for an hour or so.  That kind of “giving” is a spoon multiplier for me. 

So here’s my suggestion for this week (an especially good one for you if you’re still in college and want to figure out what direction to head in when you start that all important search for your first job.)  Keep a joy-time diary.

It doesn’t need to be fancy.  And it doesn’t need to be perfect.  My current one is barely legibly scratched onto a legal notepad.  I don’t manage to record my emotions with every activity and now that I’m looking at it I’m thinking I’d like to record them more often than what I’ve been doing lately, but still it’s giving me good information.

It says things like: 

7:30-9:00 am           Writing blog post - in flow

10:30 am -2:00 pm    Website work - getting depressed

6:30-6:45 pm           Facebook – unsatisfying

9:00-10:00              TV - eh

 But if you like more structure you can make an excel spreadsheet or sign up for Laura Vanderkam’s newsletter and get her time sheet for free here.  Or down load a time tracking app – as long as it has space for you to note how you feel and not just what you do.  Make your own happy/sad face code.  Whatever works. 

The important thing is that you start to pay attention. And then start figuring out how to get more spoon-multiplying activities into your days.

Ready to try out joy-time tracking?  I’d love to hear about what you discover. 

Email me at or post a comment.

In the meantime, here’s to thriving!


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