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6 Simple Life Lessons To Be Learned From Spoon Theory

6 Simple Life Lessons To Be Learned From Spoon Theory

If you’re like most people you’ve probably found yourself repeating that there aren’t enough hours in the day. But what if when you woke up every morning you had fewer to work with than everyone else? What if instead of 24 hours you had only 12 Or 16? How would you compartmentalize your day? What would you prioritize and what would you set aside?

What if time wasn’t an issue but the time-saving tools available to you were? I’m not talking about smartphones, tablets, and the other electronic devices that simplify tasks, I’m talking about your own body. Imagine going about your day—cooking breakfast, driving to work, sending emails—with only one hand or without the ability to see or hear. There might be as many hours in the day for you as for everyone else but you suddenly feel like you need twice as many, because every task you complete (major or minor) takes twice as long.

As impossible as it might seem, millions of people living with chronic illness or disability cope with these challenges every day. As a person with a visual impairment I often find myself struggling to explain the daily challenges that living with a disability present in a way that doesn’t evoke pity. Instead I aim to educate and motivate others to face their own challenges, because to suggest that so-called able-bodied, healthy people don’t face challenges is unfair. However the key I’ve learned is perspective. It could be worse: you could be dead.

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Recently several friends and I were discussing the day-to-day challenges of living with a disability or chronic illness: from the minor inconvenience of asking a friend to drive you to the grocery store, to the sometimes incapacitating exhaustion that can make getting out of bed and brushing your teeth seem insurmountable. In reflecting on how to articulate these challenges, a friend helpfully directed me to Kristine Miserandino’s “Spoon Theory” article. Miserandino (who has Lupus) created Spoon Theory to describe the way that people with chronic illness or disability have to measure out the energy it takes for them to function. The idea struck her one night while at a diner with a college friend, when her friend suddenly asked her what it was really like to live with Lupus. Miserandino grabbed up all of the spoons on the table, handed them to her friend and directed her to imagine beginning the day with a certain number of spoons (twelve in this case). As she listed the tasks she performed each day (from dressing for work to cooking dinner) Miserandino took away one spoon. The game became a useful way for Miserandino to walk people through the myriad of obstacles she faces daily. Spoon Theory has become shorthand in the discourse to express the overwhelming exhaustion and frustration of running low on energy. “I don’t have enough spoons” can mean anything from “I’m too tired to cook” to “do I really have to get out of bed today?”

As I read Miserandino’s article I started thinking about how transferable Spoon Theory can be for anyone because it speaks to the importance of prioritizing life’s responsibilities and placing things in a practical perspective when the to-do list seems intimidatingly long. Here are six simple things Spoon Theory can teach us about the role that mindfulness plays in taking each day as it comes.

1. You can’t do everything: deal with it

In a world where smartphones, tablets, and digital assistants allow us to schedule every moment of our days, we’ve created an illusion of endless opportunity. Nothing gives me a thrill more than ticking off an item in my iPhone’s to-do list – but more often than not, I’m still left lying in bed frowning at the boxes still unticked. Part of this has to do with the practical reality of living with a disability; certain things just take twice as long. A fifteen-minute run to the grocery store might turn into a two-hour long adventure depending on public transit, cabs, and friends with licenses. This doesn’t stop me from filling my daily diary with a list of items that would make even Wonder Woman run for the nearest mountain retreat. I always wake up thinking I’ll have time to clean my house, run errands, work both of my jobs, solve the problem of world hunger, cure Ebola, and cook a meatloaf. The truth is even the most active, able-bodied, time-efficient person still winds up with the same number of hours in a day as anyone, and everyone needs to pause and recharge occasionally when we run out of spoons. Learn a lesson from T.S. Eliot: Measure your life in coffee spoons, not ice-cream scoops. Take time for yourself and
accept your limitations.

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2. Accept help when you need it

We’re not meant to journey through life alone and sometimes we make our lives more complicated when we pretend we have superpowers. This is actually one of the hardest lessons for people with disabilities and chronic illness to learn, because we live each day trying to prove to the world that we can achieve independence. When I feel overwhelmed my friends will point out that I’d make my life a lot easier if I’d stop being stubborn and accept help will ease my burdens rather than be an admission of defeat. It’s a lot easier to cart a sick guide dog to the vet in a friend’s car than in a cab. When someone offers to help you, let them. You’re not being weak. You’re being human.

3. Celebrate your body

As Baz Lurhman tells us in Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen, “It’s the only one you have.” Be grateful it works. Just pausing to admire a sunset or jogging on a crisp, autumn morning might seem mundane, but it’s a luxury that many with chronic illness or disability don’t have. You won’t always have the energy to revel in your body, because you’re not a superhero. Just as you need to learn to accept your limitations, you must also learn to see your strengths for the gifts they are.

4. Help others when you can

Sometimes there’s nothing quite as frustrating as looking for help and finding none. Even something as simple as holding the door for someone whose arms are full of packages is a gesture that acknowledges the fact that we all need a hand sometimes. If you find at some point during the day that you have a spoon to spare, share it with someone who could use another one.

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When I was in college, I lived on the top floor of a walk-up apartment and I used to walk to the grocery store regularly with my guide dog. While I enjoyed the independence, I sometimes forgot that I could only buy as much as I could carry. Plus, what I could carry was limited to one hand since the other was a full keeping a hold on my eager-to-please Labrador. One afternoon I returned to my apartment (weighed down with bags) to cook dinner for myself and my roommate, and It only occurred to me as I approached the stairway that I wasn’t going to make it safely up three flights of stairs unless I made several trips. I needed the exercise, but I’d already walked home. I was sweaty, my dog needed water, and my shoulders were aching. After resignedly setting down several packages, I made my first trip upstairs only to discover on my way back down that one of my neighbors was on his way upstairs with the rest of my groceries. “You looked like you could use a hand,” he said simply. It might seem insignificant, but he gave me back fifteen minutes of my life that I could spend casually sipping my wine and chatting with my roommate while I chopped vegetables – and I’ve never forgotten that.

5. Make time for loved ones

Miserandino points out in her article that sometimes the simple pleasure of going out to dinner with friends after a long day will cost her a spoon. A spoon she might need to clean her house or go to the store. She writes that Spoon Theory forces you to think about everything you do. Relating the story of her first use of Spoon Theory with her best friend, she recalls saying “I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted spoons, and I chose to spend this time with you.” We all have to make choices about how we spend our time. A wasted spoon is a wasted opportunity. Choose your spoons wisely and if you have the time and the energy for others, take advantage of it.

6. Do at least one thing every day that makes you smile

In the same way that our hours are numbered, so are our days. The difference is that we know how many hours we have left in a day but we don’t know how many days we have left of our lives. Whether it’s sending your best friend a selfie you took of yourself in a silly hat, reading your favorite book on your morning commute, or pausing in your work to give your dog a five-minute belly rub, take the time to make yourself smile. Every time you smile or laugh, your brain releases endorphins which are basically the body’s natural opiate for reducing stress and pain. This is how we recharge our batteries. Watch a hilarious movie. Have a chat with a friend. Click through pictures of cats on Instagram. Ultimately, do whatever it takes to replenish your supply of spoons.

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Featured photo credit: Colorful Spoons via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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