July 25, 2023

Understanding Your Capacity

Everything and everyone has a limited capacity.

The world may try to tell us how much we should be able to handle and accomplish throughout the day. But, friend, no one can determine that except you.

If you are more concerned about maintaining your phone’s battery charge than your own, it’s time to focus on accepting the limits of your capacity.

If you want to avoid burnout and feel a sense of balanced accomplishment everyday, you won’t get there by pushing yourself to do more. 

In this week’s episode, I share how under-parenting could have caused those of us with ADHD to ignore our limitations. You’ll learn about the chronic pain “spoon theory” and how to know where to draw the line for yourself. 

Your capacity level is as unique as your fingerprint, and the sooner we can learn about it, the sooner we can manage our own expectations and channel our limited energy to where it’s needed the most.

If you’re a member of my group coaching program FOCUSED and are feeling drawn to become a coach like me to help others, check out and apply to my FOCUSED ADHD Coach Certification training.



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Kristen Carder

Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B.

Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you’re listening to the I have ADHD podcast. I am medicated. I am caffeinated. I’m regulated ish. And I’m ready to roll ready to roll.

When I say regulated ish. I mean, I’ve been trying to talk myself into recording this podcast for hours, hours upon hours. Why is it so hard to sit down and do the thing that you want to do? Why? Why is it so hard to make yourself do the thing that you know you want to do my good NES?

Oh, my goodness. So I’m just sitting with all of that discomfort, and really trying to breathe through it. But here I am. I’m actually speaking into a microphone right now, which is the biggest win ever like to actually be here to actually be recording big win for Kristen Carter. So reminder that the things that you want to do are going to feel terrible as you do them. I don’t know why. I wish it were different. I wish that that were not the case. But it is just going to feel terrible. But here we are. Do you know what feels good? Knowing that I’m able to help people do you know it feels good having a body of work of 220 plus podcast episodes, do you know it feels good. Having four and a half years of persistently putting out podcast that all feels really good. But when Wednesday rolls around, and it’s time for me to record, it don’t feel so good. That’s the part. That’s the part that doesn’t feel good. Having a podcast feels great. Having the body of work feels amazing. Being able to help people incredible, all of that feels so good. But the part that don’t feel so good is the doing of it the actual hard work of making yourself sit down in front of a microphone and kind of perform to nobody. I mean, obviously, you’re somebody. But right now, it’s like just a normal Wednesday. And I’m just sitting here with my microphone talking into it. But I am imagining you listener and that is what gets me through. I imagine you listening and resonating and nodding along and enjoying and changing your whole darn life just from like, you know, a simple podcast. So I really hope that that is the case because I am feeling the fields today. This is difficult.

It is a beautiful summer day here in eastern Pennsylvania. And so wherever you find yourself in the world, I hope it is a gorgeous day for you as well. I am itching to strap on my tacos, and go for a hike as I love to do in nice weather. But instead, what we’re going to do is talk about capacity. And I can’t wait to get all of this info out to you. There have been times recently where I’ve been like what am I going to talk about on the podcast, I’m not really sure. And it’s taken me a while to get there. But this one, I have been excited to record for quite some time because it is a concept that I have been developing and kind of mulling over and talking to my focused ADHD coaching group about and so I’m so excited to bring it to you the concept of limited capacity. I mean, it’s not new. It’s just like all obvious information that we just don’t talk about.

So we’re gonna talk about it today. Okay, before we get started here, I want to remind you that if you are interested in becoming an ADHD coach and you want more information about that there is still time. Next week you’re going to hear an episode from me with a couple of the coaches that have gone through my training this particular round. And I will be hosting an informational webinar all about the coach training program, and everything that I am offering to people who really feel called to coach and love the way that I coach and want to be trained by me. Make sure you go to I have adhd.com/coach to learn more and you can sign up for the webinar there.

Okay, it’s gonna give you all the info, you can ask all your questions, it’s going to be amazing. And if you’re listening to this at a later date, no problem, that info is still there for you. You can go to I have adhd.com/coach Find out all of the information.

Okay, so today we’re talking about capacity, what is capacity? Why does it matter? How does it affect you as an ADHD ear. So, capacity is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the maximum amount that something can contain, and the amount that something can produce. And Merriam Webster adds in a third definition, which is an individual’s mental or physical ability, maximum amount that something can contain the amount that something or someone can produce, and an individual’s mental or physical ability. Essentially, we’re going to define capacity as how much you can handle, and how much you can accomplish throughout a day.

Now, I’m going to make a point here, and we’re going to make it throughout this episode. Everything and everyone has a limited capacity. Hear me, everything has limited capacity, everything in nature, everything in life, everything around you has a limited capacity, even resources that are renewable, have to renew. Hello, Hello, can I get an A men, everything has limited capacity. Think of the technology that we use everyday cars run out of gas, they also break down and need repair grocery stores run out of food. It’s very annoying, but it does happen. And especially toilet paper. Oh, gosh, and flashbacks. Okay, phones run out of battery. And actually phones are a great example here. Phones are a great example, how many of us are more concerned about our phones battery life than our own battery life? How many of us are hyper vigilant about making sure our phone is plugged in making sure our phone is charged making sure our phone has what it needs to keep working. And yet, we don’t honor that we also have limited capacity.

Everything has limited capacity, everything in your life is going to have a limited capacity. And so do you. So why are you acting like you don’t? That’s the question that we’re going to wrestle with this whole episode. Everything has limited capacity, including you. So why are you acting like you don’t. Now, if this message isn’t for you, you can just dismiss it. But I think there are a lot of you that are going to resonate with it. So many of us are treating ourselves as if we don’t have any limits as if we don’t have any borders or edges or need renewal. So many of us are treating ourselves like we don’t have a limited capacity.

And so we’re really going to have a conversation about that today. Because one thing that I see with adults with ADHD is a lot of burnout, a lot of forcing ourselves to work beyond our limits. And a lot of like, not understanding what happens after we do that, which is we’re going to be hung over. And I don’t mean the alcohol kind, I mean, the kind of hungover where we cannot function because we’ve maxed out the day before or for the week before or the month before. Essentially, remember, we’re going to define capacity as how much you can handle, and how much you can accomplish throughout a day.

Now, the first point that I want to make here is that your capacity will ebb and flow. Some days, you’re gonna have more capacity than other days, we spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for this truth. I don’t know why I have suspicions. But I don’t know exactly why we do this. But we think that we should be exactly the same from one day to the next as if we are robotic machines. Which by the way, machines aren’t even the same one day to the next because sometimes they break. Am I right? Yes, I am. Right.

So we spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for the ebb and flow of our capacity. And what I would love to communicate here is that this is just a part of being human. The ebb and flow of our capacity, having more some days and less other days, is just a part of our humanity. And we don’t need to reject that about ourselves is something that we can accept. We can accept that capacity is going to ebb and flow that sometimes we’ll have more and other times we’ll have less If you run your battery all the way down to zero, that’s going to affect your ability to function. If your phone’s battery is all the way at zero, it’s going to affect your phone’s ability to function. And I know that all of us are very concerned about keeping our phones charged, because we want to be connected, we want to have access to work, we want to be able to scroll and do the fun things. And so we’re really careful most of us about making sure our phones aren’t charged.

And yet, we don’t notice when our own battery life is depleting, and going down to zero. Everything has limited capacity, so stop acting like you don’t. Now, another point that needs to be made is that capacity does vary from human to human. This should be obvious and normal. But I do think it’s something that is hard for us to accept about ourselves. adults with ADHD may have less capacity than a typical human. And that would be completely understandable. If it were the case, I’m not going to tell you what your capacity is, I’m not even going to say that you have less capacity than other people, because that might not actually be true. But if perhaps your ADHD affects your capacity, that would be very, very normal. So I will share how it affects my capacity.

First, I do tend to get overstimulated. And so if I’m in an environment where there’s a lot of people a lot of talking a lot of socializing, I will burn out eventually and need to recharge. Now that is like a is that because of introversion? Or is that because of overstimulation? I don’t know. And it doesn’t actually matter. But what is true for me is that after I’ve spent a lot of time with people, and I’ve had a lot of conversations, and we’ve done a lot of things, I will need to recharge. Another way that happens is at work, when I have a day that has a lot of output, my brain gets tired is that because of ADHD or just being human, I’m not sure, it doesn’t actually matter. Because what’s true, is that I get very, very tired because of the work that I do.

Additionally, if I’m in a very loud environment, so an example of this is I took my kids to the roller skating rink, there is so much visual and auditory stimulation in that environment, there’s lights flashing, there’s music, there’s kids, there’s like people everywhere, just being existing in that environment is depleting to me. And so I have learned that after situations like that, I’m going to need some time to recuperate and recharge, is that because of ADHD, or is that because of just being human? I don’t know. Again, it doesn’t matter because it is just the truth.

If you are someone with chronic illness, if you are someone with multiple mental health diagnoses, if you are someone who is maybe not able bodied, your capacity might very well be lower than someone else’s capacity. And that would be completely understandable.

I wanted to share with you a concept called Spoon Theory, and many of you have probably heard about it before, it’s actually was developed in relation to chronic pain. And it is used to speak of people who live with chronic pain. But I think it also really applies very well to people with any kind of mental health issue in addition to maybe chronic pain.

There’s a lot out there on Spoon Theory, I’m going to read directly from Cleveland clinic’s website. But if you want to do a little Google you can find a lot of information about it but I thought Cleveland Clinic really narrowed it down in a very concise way. Again, they’re talking about it in terms of chronic pain, but I want you to maybe translate it for you know ADHD, depression, anxiety, any of the mental health conditions that you might struggle with.

So here’s a quote from Cleveland clinic’s article on Spoon Theory, they say being in pain is exhausting. And if you live with chronic pain, you may find yourself having to carefully manage your daily activity levels to accommodate and anticipate your pain levels. That pain and the logistics of managing it can have an impact on your mental and physical bandwidth. Enters Spoon Theory, developed in 2003 by writer Christine Musa and Darrow to explain how having lupus impacts her ability to perform daily tasks. Mr. And Dino created an analogy about having a limited number of daily spoons People with chronic pain she says start each day with a set number of proverbial spoons, each one representing the physical and mental energy it takes to complete a task or activity. Smaller tasks like showering or getting dressed, may cost only one spoon, while larger tasks like cooking, or vacuuming may take three or four spoons. On days with increased pain. Even smaller tasks may require multiple spoons. The Spoon Theory is a self pacing strategy that emphasizes the need for chronic pain patients to work a certain quota. Patients have to be economical and how they spread the use of their spoons and their daily activity.

Okay? Are you being economical with how you’re using your spoons. So even if we take this out of the category of chronic pain, let’s say you don’t necessarily struggle with chronic pain, but you do have ADHD, which affects your executive function which makes every part of adulting harder for you, then for most people, meaning that every task is going to require from you more spoons than it would require from a typical human being. So completing the laundry for a typical brained person is going to be easier for them. Maybe it will require two spoons for a typical person. However, someone with ADHD who struggles with executive dysfunction, who struggles to remember to prioritize, to plan to organize, to follow through and to have motivation, it is going to require many more spoons than just to and so completing the laundry might deplete your capacity in a way that it does not deplete the capacity of a typical brand human. Are you with me?

I’ll go back to this Cleveland Clinic article. Because I really liked this example. Imagine a mother who lives with chronic pain. If she uses all of her spoons on daytime tasks, she’s left with no spoons to attend to her children at night. But she has to take care of her kids. So she pushes beyond her limits, borrowing spoons from tomorrow’s set amount to make it through the day. She’ll have to pay for it tomorrow, though, when she starts out with fewer spoons for all of that day’s activities and tasks. Today’s over exertion will result in tomorrow’s pain, fatigue, and inactivity.

Now, whether or not you struggle with chronic pain is not the point. The point is that if we’re all given a set amount of spoons at the beginning of a day, and we have to spend more spoons on little activities, that means that our capacity is depleting faster than that of a neurotypical. I think that this concept makes a lot of sense. So doing something like cleaning out my car is going to require a lot of my energy and brainpower. Whereas my husband, just Well, first of all, he just keeps his car clean. But if he were to clean it out, it wouldn’t be as tiring for him.

And so I want you to think about yourself, your own capacity, and how many spoons so to speak, each task will take because we all have limited capacity. That’s the idea that we’re going to come back to over and over and over. Everything has limited capacity, everything and everyone, so stop acting like you don’t begin to notice the limits of your capacity, and begin to honor those limits. And what that means is to pay attention to it, to protect it and to set some limits for yourself so that you’re not overextending yourself, day after day after day. An important point that needs to be made is that capacity can only be defined by the individual. No one can tell you what your capacity is. It’s yours. No one can hop into your body. No one can hop into your brain and know what you’re capable of know what your capacity is, okay?

You are the only one who can know and who can define your own capacity. You’re the only one who knows what your specific capacity is. So you’re the one who needs to understand when you’re overstimulated. You’re the one who needs to understand when you’ve been processing things a lot and that your capacity is depleting because of that you’re the one that needs to honor and accept when you are using your brain for difficult work and your capacity is depleting. You’re the one who needs to begin to understand. Am I in grief? Right now? Is there something that I’m grieving? Do I have little tiny kids are like what in my life is perhaps affecting my capacity, circling back to capacity ebbing and flowing, your capacity is going to be affected by your real life circumstances. So a couple of weeks ago, I shared that there was some stuff happening in my extended family that affected my capacity, I had to use my spoons that were designated for work and for my family, for my kids for just like my real life, those spoons were allotted, they were allocated over here to what was going on in my extended family. Does that make sense? And so then I had fewer spoons for what was happening in my work life with my kids with my husband, and that’s okay. Sometimes we allocate spoons in the direction of things that need our attention. That’s okay.

But what we need to acknowledge is that we don’t just have unlimited capacity to give, give give in every area of our life. If we are saying yes to focusing our time, emotional energy, spiritual energy, mental energy in a new direction, that means it’s going to be taken away from something else are you with me? Here, your capacity is limited, it is a renewable resource. But renewing that capacity takes time, it takes effort, it takes rest, it takes detaching, it takes plugging in to a power source. Okay? Are you with me.

So I want to really make sure that you understand that even if you have 10 spoons at the start of the day, your capacity for your actual work may vary, because some of those spoons might need to be spent on solving an argument with your child, or some of those spoons might need to be spent solving something in your extended family or some of those spoons might need to be spent in other areas. And so one of the things that I hear from clients a lot is like, why can’t I just show up and be the same every day at work? It seems like things change a lot for me. And it’s like, yeah, no doubt, it’s because a lot of your capacity is going to things outside of your work. And so when you get to work, you’re kind of depleted, or you’re maybe already dysregulated, you’re not able to really focus and function because your capacity is limited. It’s really important that you understand that your capacity is only defined by you. And that someone else thinking that you should have the you should have the capacity for things doesn’t mean that you do like just because someone thinks that you should be able to do it doesn’t mean you’re actually able to do it.

Just because someone thinks that you should be able to go to this thing with no problem. And like, what’s the big deal? It they don’t get to define your capacity, you’re the one who defines your capacity. Okay. And another really important thing to discuss is capacity comparison.

When I look at my husband, and I say It’s no fair that he can just do the dishes, do the laundry, like do a bunch of cleaning, and then like sit down and work. I’m just like, how do you do that?

Another really good example is at night, in order to wind down, I know that my limit is after 9pm I need to really not do much. If I do a lot, what will happen is I will get wired, I will miss my window for falling asleep. And I will really struggle to sleep that night.

Greg doesn’t have the same his capacity is just different. He can do a bunch of stuff before bed and then just decide like, Okay, it’s time for bed and then just goes to bed and I’m just like, I don’t understand what’s happening is completely different.

That’s okay, I don’t need to wish that I were like him. What I need to do is accept who I am. Accept my own capacity accepts my own tolerance for certain activities and understand what I need.

Understanding what I need is my job.

Understanding what you need is your job.

Now why do we suck at this? Why do we suck at this? I have theories. One of the theories is that people with to ADHD, were under parented. Many of us with ADHD were under parented. Meaning, if that’s the case for you, if you identify as someone who was probably under parented as a child and teen, what that probably means is that your autonomy around your own capacity was constantly questioned, dismissed and squelched. You might not recognize your capacity now, at all. Because when you were a kid, and you said, I don’t want to do that, or this doesn’t feel good, or I’m too tired, you weren’t listened to. That wasn’t validated. You were dismissed, you’re told you you’re being dramatic, you just need to do it. What’s wrong with you? Come on, let’s just go. Everybody else can do it. What’s What’s the hold up with you? And so what we have done, I think, is ignored our capacity for decades. I think.

I think we’ve ignored our capacity for decades, and so we’re not in tune with it. And so what this podcast is an invitation for you to begin to tune in with your own capacity.

What makes you tired?

What part of the day?

Do you need a break?

When you are really busy?

What happens the next day?

How much sleep do you personally need?

How can you set yourself up for success?

With getting that sleep?

What types of people energize you, who in your life depletes you?

These are important questions to be able to answer? Like, I want you to have direct answers for each of those questions. Because what that will show you is that you are beginning to understand your own capacity, you are beginning to understand your limits, you are beginning to understand what gives you life and what depletes you, okay? And so, this is a very big part of growing self trust. Many of us who were under parented whose needs were dismissed, whose capacity was denied. Many of us don’t actually trust ourselves. Because when we’re tired, we’re like,

Am I just trying to get out of this?

Am I just trying to avoid this?

Am I just trying to be dramatic?

Am I too much?

Am I the problem here?

And what I want you to start to do, what I’m inviting you to start to do is begin to tune in and trust yourself. I know when I’m tired. I know and I need a break. I know when I’m just trying to avoid and get out of something. I know. I know, when I actually do need a nap and I need to rest I trust myself. This is the work of our lives, my friend this, this beginning to listen to ourselves and develop that self trust is the work of our lives. You may not have been taught to listen to your body cues. And that’s okay, you can begin to learn it now begin to tune in to what your body is telling you and trust it, I invite you to trust it.

Another part is that working outside of your capacity might have been modeled for you as a kid.

So overworking was modeled for me as a kid. And so that is something that I thought was admirable. That was something that I kind of strived for. So like not sleeping working late into the night. Yeah, that was that was modeled for me, it may also have been modeled for you, not setting boundaries may have been modeled for you. People pleasing may have been modeled for you. And so this is the part where we start to notice, like, oh, it makes sense that I don’t honor my capacity because it was never taught to me and it was also never modeled but that’s okay, because now I am a grown adult. And I’m going to teach myself how to do this. And so the way that you do that is you begin to live in reality, and I talk about this a lot on this podcast.

Living in reality is like the best thing ever. Because what that allows us to do is to be honest, to be truthful, to be grounded and to to really begin to build that self trust, live in the reality of your limited capacity. Remember that everything in life has limited capacity, including you. So stop acting like you don’t Okay, So, you’re going to begin to get to know yourself if you want to understand your capacity and honor your capacity and and kind of ride the wave of the ebb and flow where you’re really, really great and productive during the flow. And then you’re restful and cautious and gentle and supportive to yourself in the EB, you’re gonna have to get to know yourself begin to just kind of notice your patterns, which I know is so hard for people with ADHD, but building a tiny bit of self awareness around what depletes you? what energizes you? When are you most productive? When are you the least productive? What drains your energy? What people in your life? Do you notice that you’re really like, triggered by or that your energy is drained by? And when you’re tired? What do you do? Do you lay down? Or do you push yourself past your limit? Do you have a stop time for your work? Or do you force yourself to work around the clock? Do you ever take that vacation? Or do you just kind of put it off and put it off and put it off.

So begin to observe your own limits. Really, the only time that you know, your limit is when you’ve crossed it, and I talked about this recently, in the episode on when you’ve overscheduled yourself, I realized that I crossed my own limit. I didn’t know it until it was already done. And so what I did was I recognized it, I honored it. And I set some boundaries for myself where I was like, I need to create limits here. Okay. So starting to speak up about what you can and cannot do what you will and will not participate in who you’re willing to be around and who you’re not, that is going to be the most honoring to your capacity. I know that brings up like, so much. And you might want to work with a therapist or coach on that. But being able to recognize your capacity and speak up about it is going to change your life. So when you recognize, like I did a couple of weeks ago that you’re at the edges of your capacity that You’ve overdone it that you are like past the point of being able to function, your job is to create space and breathing room and limits and say no, that is your job. No one else can do that for you. That is solely your job. Even if you have a high demanding job, which some of you do. Some of you are doctors and lawyers and teachers and you know some of you have like high output, demanding jobs. What’s important is for you to figure out how to exist and operate within that job without taking on more than you have to without people pleasing and saying yes to things that you shouldn’t and don’t need to say yes to, without making it harder for yourself than it needs to be. Are you hearing me making sure that you’re taking the PTO that you’re given, making sure that you’re taking time off. For vacations, like taking the vacation time that you’re given, making sure that you’re not expanding beyond the limits of your job description, because so many of you are saying yes to things outside of your job description just to please the people around you. And that is a huge depletion of your own capacity.

One of the things that I do is I make sure when I know that I’m going to be in a very high output season, I make sure to carve out a lot of rest time for myself. So maybe that means that you know, if if I have a really busy season at work, I make sure that my home time can be really, really restful. This is why it was so hard for me a couple of weeks ago in that podcast, you know when you’ve overscheduled yourself because my work life and my home life were so so busy and there was no space for me to recharge. I don’t think you and I are probably that difference. Making sure you have space to recharge is crucial. So understand that capacity is a thing. limited capacity is something that we all deal with. That’s very normal, it’s natural, it’s beautiful. Recognize it, your capacity is limited. If you love spoon theory like some people do you have a set number of spoons and understand that your mental health impacts how many As boons each task requires, okay, understand that it’s your job and your job alone to get to know your own capacity.

Nobody can define it for you, and no one can protect it for you. So often we look to other people in our lives, we try to get them to set limits for us, we try to get them to honor our capacity for us, we try to get other people to say you don’t have to do that. Don’t worry about it. But it’s really our job to set those limits. It’s really our job to manage our capacity. Understand that the only way to know that you’ve done too much is to do too much. Are you hearing me? That’s okay. The only way to know that you’ve crossed the line is to cross the line. And then you say, Oh, I’ve crossed the line, I’ve learned something about myself, I have a limit here, I need to set a new boundary for myself, and not let myself cross that limit. Again. This applies to like working late, staying up late, too much peopling in your life, saying yes to certain projects, maybe being away from your house for for longer than what your body wants or being around people for longer than what your body wants.

Get to know that limit for yourself. And understand that setting those limits doesn’t usually feel good. The results is amazing. And that’s what we’re looking at, we’re looking at the result that works really well. Because when we honor our capacity, we don’t burn out. When we honor our capacity, we are much more consistent in our lives, it doesn’t seem like we would be but I am telling you, we are much more consistent because we don’t have that period of time where we need to go into the cave. Instead, we can just have a limit and recharge and come back and it’s all good. It doesn’t really feel great to set a limit. But it gives us a result that is much more beneficial to us. So remember, everyone’s capacity is limited. Stop acting like yours isn’t begin to get to know yourself and begin to set limits so that you are not depleting yourself. Get to know yourself and honor your own capacity.

I can’t wait to talk to you next week. If you’re being treated for your ADHD, but you still don’t feel like you’re reaching your potential you’ve got to join focused. It’s my monthly coaching membership where I teach you how to tame your wild thoughts and create the life that you’ve always wanted. No matter what season of life you’re in or where you are in the world focused is for you. All materials and call recordings are stored in the site for you to access at your convenience. Go to Ihaveadhd.com/focused for all the info

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