Have You Lost Your Marbles?

When I am stressed or overwhelmed, I can become forgetful or miss things that I would normally pick up on or catch. It can feel like I’m losing my mind or as some would say my marbles.

Several months ago, someone shared an analogy with me where they equated their energy with marbles. In doing some brief research (meaning a google search) I found that others also use a jar of marbles as measurement but for other conditions. Brene Brown used it when talking about trust in relationships. I saw another organization uses this same metaphor in its work with clients who experience chronic pain. In each instance, the image of marbles is used to gauge the amount of something you have (trust, pain, or energy). What was shared with me went something like this “You own a jar full of marbles and carry it with you everywhere you go. However, each time you interact with someone throughout your day, you give them a marble (or maybe if it’s someone special they get more than one). By the end of the day, depending on how many people you interacted with, you will either be running low on marbles or may not have any left. It can be the same with energy. Each person you encounter can take energy from you and leave you on low or empty”.

Now to be fair, there are some people in the world, who get more energy from interactions with people (I have a close friend like this). She does not do well on her own for extended periods of time. She needs to be with others. That’s how she rejuvenates. I’m not like that. I have learned for myself, I can maintain energy around people during shorter intervals and then I need some alone, quiet time to refuel and regroup. From my vantage point that approach seems to be more common. I truly enjoy people but can only “people” for so long, especially if the interactions are superficial. I know I do better when conversations are personal, deep, rich, and thought-provoking.

Using this marble analogy has proven useful to me on several occasions as of late.

Tapping into my self-awareness while knowing my limitations has helped me manage my self-care in social and professional settings. I try to pay attention to my energy levels and parcel out what I can afford to expend. Some of this also depends on the setting. In certain situations, I have to be energized and highly engaged, so in those circumstances I think about ways to reserve my marbles or store up extra ones, knowing I will have to give more. Looking ahead helps to make those determinations. It’s not fool-proof as we can’t always control or anticipate what awaits us in the future but attempting to prepare is not necessarily a bad thing.

It is also helpful when I communicate with those around me about how many marbles I have left to give. It serves as a heads up to them and a reminder to me to pace myself and establish expectations and boundaries for that setting. For example, I went to dinner one night after work with my “antsy pants” friend, (the one I alluded to above…she knows I call her that) as we were walking back to her place after dinner, she invited me in to listen to music and hang out. It was late (to me), and I said “No, I already gave you all my marbles for the day.” She laughed, knowing who I am and what I meant, and bounced into her house, as I made my way home to bed.

Similarly, I used this strategy during a two-day in person work retreat. The days were full and extended, trying to cram in all the topics that needed to be discussed while the group was together. It was necessary but exhausting. The end of the first night I shared the marble analogy with the group, and it stuck. The rest of our time together we would check in with each other on their “stash of marbles”. “How are you? Running low on marbles?” It was helpful to have a mutually understood/common language way to gauge how we were doing. One of my colleagues really adopted this metaphor so she received a new bag of marbles on her doorstep when she returned home from the retreat. She was grateful and tickled!

I want to encourage you to consider checking in with yourself. How are you doing on expending your marbles and then what can you do to build back up your supply? Have you lost your marbles? Do you need to be with other people? Or do you need some quiet alone time? Does exercise help or binge watching a show or reading a book? Find ways to recoup and refill your stock and try to parse them out sparingly.