A few years ago I read an essay which is quite influential, about a person’s explanation for dealing with chronic fatigue. It is endearingly referred to as ‘The Spoon Theory’, I recommend reading it. Go on, I’ll wait.
I’ve thought about this idea of the Spoon theory, having a limited but quantifiable amount of energy, or attention or time to dedicate to all the things you want to do. Some days you can do more, others you might do less, on more other days still you might do less. Much of my life seems to be fragmented across so many different circles and interests. There’s my training partner friend who I have lately been doing a lot of weight training with; there’s my badminton buddies (which includes my brother) who lately fill my phone with irrelevant Whatsapp messages (which I check about every 6 hours and find 200 messages); there’s the garden group that I’m involved with and that’s just off the top of my head of the kinds of things taking my time at the moment.
Whatever people consider as their spoons, there’s only so much one can handle in a day. I’ve been thinking about this in a large variety of contexts.
I read quite a bit, however I’m about 3 weeks behind on my comics and the pile builds up. I like to read in my spare time, and at the moment academic reading and blog writing is not a paying job (my CV is available on request by the way!). I have a lot of books that I have planned to read and often the pile grows even more whenever Librivox releases a new volume of Hume’s History of England, or when the next bit of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica comes out. I estimate that I’ll probably read all the things I have currently listed by the time I’m in my late 40s. Which is a little bit depressing. Then there are days when I’m just too tired to read. Learning is about finding out about old knowledge, and keeping your ear to the ground about new patterns and things going on. I’m struggling to do both, and the Theory of Spoons is very relevant to me. I do miss the old days when I would sit and read Kant for 10 hours straight and write 20,000 words in notes. It’s nice to idealise the past. Especially when it involved longer hair.
One of the things I learned from Spoon theory is that sometimes you need to keep your spoons for other things. This involves saying no to some opportunities. Sometimes I get book reviews or I’m asked to look at manuscripts or essays (also, my fees are available on request!) but I must turn them down as I have other things that have earmarked my time. Sometimes I hear about gigs that I would really love to go to, or a new activity that I’d like to do. In the background of the metaphorical spoons in my not so metaphorical hand, I must think about balancing my resolution to try new things and expand myself, against what i can find I am able to do in terms of my time, and my energy. The spoons have been helpful to me, although in this context it is within a wider context.
Adopting new behaviours
In the past I’ve talked a little about my scheduling system, and how I’ve set it in a way where I review behaviours and whether they are useful to keep patterns or to amend or delete how I do things. One thing that often surprises me is how many people think that I am ahead of the curve in terms of technology, apps or certain trends. In honesty I really am not, and I consider myself a bit of a luddite.
I’ve had numerous conversations with people about the kinds of apps we use as part of our everyday life, and whether they are for things like leisure or more helpful tools that keep records, remind one of impending meetings or how much they want to run today. One of the most general responses I’ve heard is that they only have a certain amount of attention and things like mobile phone apps, or another social networking website oriented around their interest in say, making ships in bottles is just not for them right now because all of their time is already full up with commitments from elsewhere.
We are in an age where so many things can demand our time, whether its serious, career relevant, personally fulfilling or frivolous. I’m reminded of Adorno’s essay on hobbies and how the notion of the hobby is disparaging and effectively supports the status quo. There’s so many fun and important things to do but such little time and ability. I realise the tension between adopting new behaviours or trying out new things when there are so many other objects in our inventory of life to deal with. It also makes it all the more special when we break routine. I am beginning to realise the role of the spoons when developing new habits or trying something new, as well as how our ‘spoons’ can be a barrier.
On reflection I find the spoon metaphor very useful. It does a lot of work and the more I’ve thought about it in my life the more it has been useful in framing my time management and activities, as well as my limitations. To put it in terms of David Lewis’ Modal Realism thesis: it does a lot of work to justify its worth as a theory.