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How to Use Your Spoons

Nadeen Mustafa, Consultant
May 14, 2020

One of my mentors, an HR executive and super mom, taught me a lesson that we could all use in these uncertain times. “How are you using your spoons?” she would ask me over lunch as I explained how sometimes I felt drained trying to balance motherhood, work and other responsibilities; trying to do it all. “You have six spoons.” She explained, “Six spoons full of energy; some days you use four at work and you only have two left. You come home pretty tired already. Are you going to use one spoon on your kid’s bath time and one on some self-care? Maybe you do not have any spoons left for the dishes. Be kind to yourself. We only have a limited amount of energy to spend, and you need to control and understand how much you spent on that particular day. Was work two spoons today or five? Were the kids four spoons this morning before you even got out of the house? Evaluate. Allocate. Day by day.”

Though “Spoon theory” is not completely new – it comes from Christine Miserandino’s writing on mental health, chronic illness and anxiety – as an economist, this concept resonated with me. The idea that we have limited resources and each action and decision has its opportunity cost or sunk cost. In these times of COVID-19, I find myself asking those around me, “How many spoons do you have for this today?” It is relative, but it also reminds us that we are not endless fountains of energy. Sometimes we need to recharge, check in, and ask ourselves, “What is important right now, today?” I also ask my clients, “What can you do, with your capacity, right now? And, how many spoons do we need to get to the next step?”

Try it. Mix it up. Your spoons will thank you.