When I started my blog as a personal mental health blog, I often came across other bloggers talking about spoons, which confused me. But I soon came to learn what they meant by spoons. Since those early days, my blog has grown to include invisible disabilities. It also has less personal mental health stuff, so I could focus on information sharing. Now I want to share what I learnt about spoon theory with you, my readers. I hope you find it enlightening.
What Is Spoon Theory?
The spoon theory I’m talking about isn’t the spoon theory of being born with a silver spoon, which classifies people by their inherited privilege (Kim, 2017). Spoon theory has a rather unusual beginning, but makes sense given the name. While out with a friend for dinner, Christine Miserandino was trying to explain what it was like to live with Lupus. To help explain her experience, she used the closest thing to hand, which happened to be spoons, using them to convey her energy, willpower, and motivation levels (Miserandino, 2013, April 26).
What started as a metaphor has become a useful tool for discussing the experiences of people with other chronic health conditions (Barker, 2019). The majority of people don’t give it a second thought about the energy it takes to get ready in the morning and do other daily tasks (Hope Cristol and WebMD). However, if you have a chronic health condition, this nonchalant approach to life doesn’t always work.
The theory goes that energy is a resource (University of Greenwich), a resource we use like currency. We spend these spoons (currency) on tasks throughout the day. A person with a chronic health condition may only have 18 spoons a day to expend on doing things. Although this can change depending on if they’re having a worse or better day than usual. Simple activities might require just one spoon to do, but others might require several spoons to complete. Because the spoons are finite, there’s only so many things they can do in a day.
Spoon Theory And Mental Health
Since spoon theory was created while eating with a friend, it has even been used for mental health conditions, such as anxiety. An example provided by Happiful, helps show how this would work. In their example, someone with depression might have a lack of energy, motivation, and willpower. Thus, they too have a limited number of spoons to use each day, because of the symptoms their depression is causing them.
Spoon Theory And Chronic Health Conditions
If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, then you’ll know I have problems with my heart. One of my symptoms they can’t seem to find a cause or a treatment for is my exercise intolerance. Previously, they thought it was because of my inappropriate sinus tachycardia. Then they tested me for postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), and now they’re been testing me for epilepsy. Whatever the cause is, it can be a great drain on my spoon resources. As can my inappropriate sinus tachycardia, if I don’t take my medication.
A study by Rich, Vas, Boyette, and Hollingsworth (2022) explored how 958 people with PoTS described their daily life challenges and their coping strategies. This is because PoTS can cause decreased energy, fatigue, and low endurance. Which is why I was investigated for it. The participants in the study reported that they had to conserve energy to function throughout their days, tapping into their spoon theory.
My reactive hypoglycaemia can also be a drain on my spoons. Fortunately, I can restore some of my spoons by eating regularly. Although I’d be better at spoon management if I didn’t have this condition to begin with.
Spoon Theory And Neurodivergent People
What do I mean by neurodivergent people? It is a term for people whose brains function differently to what is considered typical (Verywell Mind): they’re atypical. An example of this would be someone on the autism spectrum (ASD).
People with autism can also find themselves with a limited amount of spoons to use each day. This is especially true with children. Depending where a person is on the spectrum, will determine how many spoons they might have to use. Everything they do will require giving up some of their spoons. Therefore, you may find that an autistic child starts off the day coping well, but soon struggles later on. No amount of additional structure or teaching of social skills will help if they have no spoons left (EdPsychEd).
Remember, someone with ASD can feel overwhelmed with basic tasks, even simple communication and taking in information through their senses (Verywell Health).
As someone with dyslexia, I can find it very difficult to take in information through typical teaching methods. I can also read pages of information and then realise I’ve taken nothing in from what I’ve read, and will have to start again. But the worst, by far, is my inability to spell. I spend so much time trying to figure out how to spell words correctly, and if I can’t, what I can replace them with instead to convey the same meaning. All This makes studying for exams very difficult, to the point that I’ve rarely revised. It’s also why I don’t prep for interviews, instead choosing to do it on the fly.
How To Hoard More Spoons In Your Spoon Drawer
One well-known way to save energy is to rely on routines. Routines are energy short cuts for the brains, so the more habits you can turn into routines, the more spoons you can preserve. Then it’s just a matter of sticking to and maintaining these routines (Rich, Vas, Boyette, and Hollingsworth, 2022).
It requires a lot of energy to engage in the process of thought suppression. When you have a limited number of spoons due to mental health conditions, chronic health conditions, or because you’re neurodivergent, such a process is best avoided. Dealing with the issues that you’re trying to suppress will help conserve your spoons in the future. Think of it as an investment in your future energy levels.
Check lists and to-do lists can help prioritise tasks, tracks tasks that need to be done, and allow you to plan when to do tasks (Rich, Vas, Boyette, and Hollingsworth, 2022). These simple list strategies will help converse your spoons by allowing you to use them more effectively.
In a pinch, you can borrow spoons from the next day, but that’s not a great thing to do. Much like a loan, you not only have to pay it back, but pay it back with interest. Meaning, the following day, your new reserve of spoons is going to be less, less so than you may have thought. Like compound interest, this can add up, causing more pain, fatigue, and exacerbation of chronic health symptoms (University of Greenwich).
Simply put, pacing (or planning) is where you manage your spoons so you remain within your daily limit so you can avoid over-exertion (MEpedia). This is an approach that is taught to people with chronic health conditions like myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS).
Planning your day in advance and being able to say no to invitations will help you get through the day with enough spoons remaining (Rich, Vas, Boyette, and Hollingsworth, 2022).
Accept that you don’t have an infinite amount of spoons to use as you see fit. Denying that you have limits to your number of spoons will cause you to feel exhausted and in pain all the time. There’s nothing wrong with adapting to your reality so you can live the best quality of life you can.
Be kind to yourself
I’m not sure I need to write something for this one, as you just need to do what it says on the tin. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. The condition(s) you’re dealing with aren’t your fault. So don’t beat yourself up over the fact you can’t do things like you used to. Treat yourself with respect and kindness, like you would do if it was happening to a friend.
Spoon theory is a simple way to explain how much motivation, energy, and willpower you have to use each day. Because it’s simple, it’s easy to explain and easy for people to understand. Being a spooine (someone that uses spoon theory) will help you improve your quality of life so you can live the best version of you, regardless of your circumstances. So look after your spoons and your spoons will look after you.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with spoon theory and being a spoonie in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, you can make a donation of any size below. Until next time,
Unwanted Life readers.
Barker, D. (2019). The Mighty Spoon: Representing characters with chronic health conditions in videogames. Thesis. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/download/61568070/The-Mighty-Spoon-v1620191220-69015-1s63ewv.pdf and https://www.academia.edu/41370436/The_Mighty_Spoon_Representing_characters_with_chronic_health_conditions_in_videogames.
Kim, H. (2017). “Spoon Theory” and the fall of a populist princess in Seoul. The Journal of Asian Studies, 76(4), 839-849. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies/article/spoon-theory-and-the-fall-of-a-populist-princess-in-seoul/38B71815A0529A8619B85E7CF78CB1E3.
Miserandino, C. (2013, April 26). The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino. But You Dont Look Sick? Support for Those with Invisible Illness or Chronic Illness. Retrieved August 13, 2022, from https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory, https://balanceanddizziness.org/pdf/TheSpoonTheory.pdf, and https://lymphoma-action.org.uk/sites/default/files/media/documents/2020-05/Spoon%20theory%20by%20Christine%20Miserandino.pdf.
Rich, E. M., Vas, A., Boyette, V., & Hollingsworth, C. (2022). Daily life experiences: Challenges, strategies, and implications for therapy in postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 36(3), 306-323. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Asha-Vas/publication/344408345_Daily_Life_Experiences_Challenges_Strategies_and_Implications_for_Therapy_in_Postural_Tachycardia_Syndrome_POTS/links/605c0b7f92851cd8ce65e8df/Daily-Life-Experiences-Challenges-Strategies-and-Implications-for-Therapy-in-Postural-Tachycardia-Syndrome-POTS.pdf, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07380577.2020.1824303, and https://doi.org/10.1080/07380577.2020.1824303.
39 thoughts on “Spoon Theory: A Simple Explanation Of Energy Usage”
I first learnt about spoon theory from a podcast, and the guest was talking about the difficulties of being autistic. He said very similar things to what your blog post says, and it’s interesting how it can be used to describe so many disabilities and issues.
It’s a really versatile theory that’s easy to understand. Thanks for commenting
Waa, this is interesting and I didn’t even know about the silver spoon. I learn a lot of new things from your posts. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for commenting
I had no idea what spoon theory was until reading this post so I was very intrigued. Using spoons to relate how various health conditions affect your motivation, energy, and willpower makes it easier to express your experience in a more tangible way. Having a visual and countable reference makes a difference in describing your life to others. I’m glad I learned this theory today. Thanks for sharing.
It really does help to bring an abstract subjective concept, into an easily understandable visual metaphor to get people to get what you’re saying. Thanks for commenting
While I would describe myself as neurotypical, I think the spoons analogy can apply to all sorts of situations. I sat in a meeting this afternoon, my fourth in 2 hours with the knowledge that I had 2 more hour long sessions to go. My colleague asked me how I was and I replied that I had so much switching and changing all afternoon that I knew I’d be in a right foul mood by this evening. I had enough spoons to do all the work stuff, but barely and then there were none left to cope with life stuff afterwards. Fun. Or not. And not for my family either.
That is very true. A real world example for everyone I’ve noticed is travel. Traveling seems like you shouldn’t get tired because most of the time you’re not doing anything, but I always find the traveling part the most exhausting. My partner now takes the day off after travelling, like I do, so I can rest from being on holiday. Thanks for sharing your thoughts
Oh I love having the day off after or getting home at lunchtime. Just to decompress and get the washing done!
I had never heard of spoon theory before. Thanks again for another interesting and informative post.
Thanks for reading it
What an interesting article! I really like how the spoon theory helps us better understand some of these disorders which can be very complex. As someone who runs out of energy very quickly throughout the day, I agree that planning your day and exercising self-compassion and kindness are key to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
We could all do with being kinder to ourselves. Thanks for sharing your thoughts
I love this metaphor! I’d never heard of Spoon theory before, but it makes a lot of sense. And it really helps illustrate the idea of having a certain amount of mental energy for various tasks during the day. Thanks for sharing this.
Indeed it does. Thanks for commenting
I am new to Spoon Theory, and it makes total sense. Thank you. This is something I need to think about as I am overwhelmed a lot, which is one reason I fly in and out of blogging and social media, it all becomes too much and then after a break I tend to dive right back in and it is too much again. I love this approach, and I’ll also suggest it to my partner who has ADD.
It’s a versatile theory that pretty much anyone can use. Thanks for commenting
Interesting article. I’ve never heard of this theory before
I’m glad I was able to introduce you to something new
I would see a lot of people online saying spoonie but never really understand the idea. This makes a lot of sense. Your suggestions about pacing, is something I learned in the pain clinic and that actually pacing is quite difficult to grasp because I was such an active person before my work accident. I am still learning and still over do it sometimes. It is a learning process for sure. Thank you for sharing this post and being so open and honest about your health.
Because of my exercise intolerance, I should pace myself too. But I know I can do more, go harder, it’s just this one symptom that screams a hard no. It’s so frustrating. Thanks for sharing your experience
I’ve heard about the spoon theory and I know several people who refer to themselves as spoonies, but I wasn’t fully aware of what the spoon theory encompassed, so thank you for sharing more on the topic with me.
I’m glad I helped expand your knowledge on the subject
Sounds like an interesting way to keep motivation throughout the day.
Thanks for commenting
I have heard about the spoon theory a little, but this helps me understand it. I definitely relate, with endometriosis sometimes I feel out of spoons before the day has begun, but I think having a realisitc view and pacing yourself would help. Thank you
I’m glad this article has been of use to you. Thanks for commenting
When I read the title and saw the kettle pic I thought this would be something about the energy crisis and spoons. Great read, I learnt a lot from this post.
Thanks for commenting
I have never heard of this! Thanks for sharing. Very interesting indeed. 🙂
Thanks for commenting
Very interesting theory. Pacing and routines are very useful ways to avoid burning out
Indeed they are
This is the first time I’ve heard of spoon theory, but it makes perfect sense to me. The examples you give how different people can have different ways how they might use their spoons and how many they have is very interesting. It’s also great that you provide some ways to replenish the spoons. I’ve noticed that my social spoons aren’t as plentiful as I thought before. They run out faster depending on the people who I interact with. And once they are gone, I’m exhausted. I’ll use this theory in these situations. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
I know what you mean. Certain people do use up more spoons than others. For me, that would be my mum. I hope this theory helps you better manage this moving forward
Thank you for sharing this. I teach children with autism and I am always looking to learn more/understand them better.
I hope this proves useful to you and your ASD students
Spoon theory is an interesting way of showing how energy levels can affect people in different situations. Once I read it, I realized that this applies to my social interactions. Sometimes I run out of spoons faster and I noticed that I don’t have as many as I thought
It’s easily done. Hopefully this visual representation will help you manage this issue in the future