Tea Bags and Toilet Paper..!

Jun 1, 2010   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon, Articles  //  No Comments

IN SHORT: No matter what our life is like, we all need to watch for signs we’re running low on fuel, and take steps to recharge. But first of all we need to know what we’re watching for…!

“Real difficulties can be overcome,
it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.”
[Theodore N. Vail, 19th/20th century US Telephone Industrialist]

(1181 words, approx. 6-10 mins to read)

Have you ever, like my unfortunate self a few days ago, experienced the frustration of going to make a much-needed cuppa and found the cupboard totally bereft of tea bags..?

Or maybe you’ve faced the predicament of running out of toilet paper at a crucial moment (!) and found that there were no more rolls in the house bathroom..?

Perhaps you’ve taken a chance and driven somewhere important in your car even though the petrol warning light was on..?

For whatever reason, you’ve ignored the fuel gauge dipping into the red and the warning light, left it ‘til later to re-stock when you pulled the last roll out of the cupboard, or forgot to call in at the shop on the way home when you noted that morning that you’d used the last bag. Whether by conscious decision, forgetfulness or just simple laziness, you’ve taken one of the most common and yet potentially frustrating routes in life –

Running on empty.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that running on empty can a dangerous thing to do, but we do it all too often – I know I’ve done it more times than was sensible.

Let’s stick with the ‘fuel warning light on’ scenario for example – what if I took the chance but then forgot something important and had to return for it, or there were an accident or road-works on the way that required a significant detour? I run the increasing risk of not making it to my destination.

And if I was supposed to get there for an important appointment or event, the consequences of choosing to run on empty could be multiplied even further.

But as well as literally running on, or close to, empty, we can often let ourselves do the same in a metaphorical sense – physically, emotionally and mentally.

For example, have you ever had several late nights in a row even though you had to be up early and on form for work or something even more important the next day..?

Or bought something large that you knew you couldn’t really afford but you decided you wanted anyway..?

What about staying in a relationship that, no matter how much you seemed to give of yourself, gave very little or nothing in return..?

Or turned up to a sporting event having done little or no training and hope you can still finish in a competitive time..?

Then there’s perhaps the most common of all in my circle of contacts and clients – finding yourself working longer hours, not eating well and sleeping less, still hoping in vain that you can ‘work hard, play hard’ but instead finding yourself getting more and more tired, stressed and your performance dropping..?

All these are examples of situations that can get you running on, or close to, empty in a mental and emotional sense. I’m sure you could think of other examples too if you take a moment or two…

In each case the risk is the same, metaphorically speaking, of driving with the petrol warning light on – you can’t handle anything extra or unforeseen that comes your way. On top of that, the longer you do it, the more you chance not being able to handle your usual routine effectively either.

You’ll find general tiredness hits first, accompanied by an increasing difficulty in focusing your attention or thinking clearly. This is followed by irritability, lethargy and frustration. If you still ignore the warning signs, as I’ve seen far too many clients do, inevitable physical and emotional exhaustion follow, and even illness and depression.

In a moment I’m going to ask you two questions.

However, as you’re pondering your answers, it’s worth reminding you that although there are some common symptoms to chronic stress, many of which I’ve already mentioned, there are other subtle clues that are more unique to you. These clues begin to emerge as you enter the ‘red zone’ – that bit of the fuel gauge the needle passes through before the warning light goes on.

The problem is that we often don’t spot these little signals and we wait until the warning light goes on – we wait until things have gotten more serious than they needed to. That’s what the first question is about. The second is about what you do next…

So, here are the questions:

1. How do you spot when you’re in the ‘red zone’ – before your fuel warning light goes on..?

Think back and remember the last time your ‘fuel warning light’ started flashing – what was changing before then – how had your usual routines begun to shift, your normal patterns of behaviour begun to change..?

For example, perhaps it was several sleepless nights in a row, or your appetite was affected? Perhaps you found yourself needing a drink at the end of the day more frequently, or losing interest in thing that you used to be enthusiastic about? Maybe you found yourself losing interest in things that you’re usually enthusiastic about, or finding yourself getting easily distracted? Or, like some people, you find it harder to concentrate or think clearly? Perhaps things that you usually aren’t too bothered about begin to niggle more than normal? Or you begin to let your usual routines slip?

Whatever it is, whether it’s on that list, or something else, these shifts in normality are the ‘red zone’ indicators – signs that it’s time to do something before you’re running on empty.

2. What do you find recharges your batteries – makes you feel truly refreshed, centred and ready to go..?

Now think back to times that you felt focused, motivated, engaged in your work or personal life – what had you been doing before then..?

The reason for asking this question is that, even if we’re doing something that might normally engage or interest us, when we’re running on empty even those activities seem to drain us.

For example, it may be that (like me..!) you need time alone without interruption to recharge. Others may need the relaxed company of friends or family. It may be that exercise helps you clear your head, or reading something totally unrelated to your work. Perhaps you enjoy other activities such as walking, or a long soak in the bath.

When you begin to spot those things that you realise refuel you in a mental and emotional sense, you need to do one more thing…

PROMISE YOURSELF that you’ll schedule time for those activities on a regular basis, rather that wait until you absolutely have to do them.

Just as we should top up the petrol in the car, stock the cupboard shelves and charge your phone before we need to, the same is true for ourselves. Ultimately, however, we need to decide whether those situations which make it tricky for us to schedule recharging time in, or constantly ask more of us than they give back, are worth remaining in at all…

And next time we’ll discuss the psychological games people play to get others to meet their emotional needs…

Until then,

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