• KK

Spoon Conservation Theory

There’s a concept about holding space that really resonates with me, but probably not for the reason it’s supposed to.


Holding space for someone means you are being present for another person. You are walking with them in their journey, supporting them, but at the same time, offering more than just support. You are giving of your attention and letting go of your own importance, so that the other person can heal and transform.


Most importantly, when you are holding space for someone, you aren’t trying to fix them.


Holding space is important. It’s something that, if you can do it for someone, is really meaningful for that person – whether they realize it or not.


I’m not talking today about that kind of holding space. What resonates for me about holding space is that we (or at least, most of us as far as I can tell), hold space for all sorts of things, and in the wrong way. I’m not necessarily talking about people, although for sure we hold space incorrectly for people too. But what I’m talking about today specifically is that space we hold, in our minds, in our lives, for things, events, and stuff.


Let me give you an example. Let’s say (please imagine we're in pre-Covid times) you have a dinner party coming up, something you’re not looking forward to. But by not looking forward to it, you hold a space in your mind, where you insert dread, anger, anxiety, trepidation, and whatever else you can muster up. You continue to store those emotions in that space, packing it up tight, and you keep adding to that storage space every single day leading up to the dinner party. While you’ve been busy storing away those thoughts, you’ve been using up valuable energy that could be better used somewhere else in your life. You’ve held space for something that hasn’t even happened yet, and you’ve let it take control of your energy.


We do the same thing for moments that have already passed. You may have had a conversation that didn’t go so well with your partner before leaving for work one morning. Throughout your work day, you continue to pack that space in your mind with what-ifs and I-could-haves and why-didn’t-he thinking. That whole day, you let it occupy valuable space, and take up valuable energy. Maybe you needed that energy for something else, like work, or your kids, or [insert anything important to you here].


Playing out scenarios in your head is not an efficient use of your energy. I’m a bit of a pro when it comes to the use of energy. But I'd be a liar if I didn't also admit to being a pro at overthinking things. Now that I don’t have as much as I used to, I have to be pretty cautious in how I spend my energy. I’m on an energy budget, so to speak. Overthinking is how I overspend.


There’s a theory in the world of people with chronic illness called “The Spoon Theory”. You can read about it here. I’ll summarize it for you though: people who struggle with chronic illness only have a limited number of spoons of energy in a day. Getting up and getting showered, for example, may take up 2 spoons. Meeting a friend for lunch in a busy restaurant may take up 4 spoons. Someone with chronic illness may only have 10 spoons for a day, and when those spoons are used up, they’re gone. The day has to end, the person has to go to bed, and that’s it for them until the spoons are fully recharged. They don’t get to dip into the next day’s spoons, and spoons don’t generally carry forward if they aren’t used up the previous day. I totally get this. My energy budget has a finite number of spoons. What most people may not appreciate is that a spoon can be used up by mental or emotional energy, not just physical activity. For example, being in a noisy restaurant for me uses up way more energy than eating a meal at my kitchen table. Why? Because noisy places are hard on my brain. It takes more brain energy for me to carry on a conversation in a noisy room than in a quiet one. Getting to and from the restaurant is sometimes a challenge in and of itself. Similarly I get exhausted and overwhelmed when I'm talking to more than one person at a time. Some of you have witnessed this at the end of class when we're chatting.


But what I want to say today is that we all have a finite number of spoons, whether we are chronic illness warriors or not. The theory applies to everyone. And it applies to not just physical activities, but emotional and cognitive activities as well. While the average person may have more spoons than I do, has a spoon credit card that lets them go into spoon debt, and they may be able to recharge those spoons faster and more efficiently, they still have spoons. Maybe they can go several days without running out of them, maybe they can go years, but the fact of the matter is, the spoons are gonna run out at some point unless you learn to use them efficiently.


Our day isn’t just about getting out of bed and doing the things. Our day is about our interactions with others, our emotional responses to things that happen to, because of, and around us, and our day is about working our way through the stuff that happens in it.

So then, when we are holding space for things that are largely out of our control, we are using up spoons.


Take a few minutes to think about your spoon inventory. Maybe you have a bus load of spoons at the ready for you – and that’s great – but how are you using them? When you are deciding what to hang on to emotionally, and what you might be able to let go of, consider what might be a more efficient use of your spoons.


When you hold space in your head for things that haven’t happened yet, or may not happen, are you using spoons to commiserate? Are you exhausting yourself unnecessarily? The argument with your partner this morning, it isn’t going anywhere for right now, while you’re at the office trying to get stuff done. That dinner party you’re dreading is going to happen whether you run worst-case scenarios in your head or not. Is there value to you and to your energy in using up your spoons this way?


I’m advocating for a spoon conservation strategy. Take a look at that spoon inventory of yours. Now, take a few minutes and make a list of things that use up your spoons. On that list, I would expect to see the following kind of stuff:


Friend drama

Overthinking something someone said to you five years ago (#truth)

Working out

Making dinner for your family

Thinking about how much you need to clean your house

Cleaning your house


Obviously this list is not exhaustive. But on that list, there are three things that are a relatively good use of spoons, and three things that most certainly are not. Can you implement a spoon conservation program for yourself?


If you want to try, I’d love to talk to you about it.



spoons and lemons on a countertop
Spoon Theory


#spoonies #spoontheory #chronicillness #disability #motivation #wellness #healthyliving #charmschoolfitness #movementculture #theresanapforthat #lupus #cf #braininjury #tbi #loveyourbrain


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