As physical beings, we have finite capacities. There are limits to our bodies and abilities. Apart from altering our bodies, thereby increasing our abilities, we are limited.
For example, there is a certain amount of weight that I can lift. If I were to lay down on a bench press I could probably lift somewhere between 150 and 200 pounds. (I give a broad estimate because I haven’t been in a bench press in 20 years or so.) That amount is my limit. If I really was bothered by that limit, I could increase it. I could work at it every day and exercise focusing my energies on how much I bench. But in the end there would be a structural limit, and dietary limit, etc. There are physical boundaries to what this body can do. And within those boundaries my personal ability is limited by how much focus I put into that area.
As an aside, I want to clarify, I am a strong advocate of thinking outside of our limits so that we don’t artificially limit ourselves. We have a tendency as humans and more specifically as westerners to undersell ourselves. We have many capabilities far beyond the limits we hold ourselves to in our minds. But this article isn’t about releasing artificial limits, it’s actually about being aware of real limits when it comes to our emotional energies.
The Olympics have just ended. They were a big deal in my household. We record every highlights show and watch the sports we are excited about. It’s amazing to see people performing at their physical limits. After spending years training to become the best in their sport, they gather as a group of ‘excellent peers’ to compete for that bright shining moment of glory. As they show themselves to be the best of that day. As a performer I am sure it is nerve racking, stressful and overwhelming. Their lifetime of training, performing and repeating will forever, or as long as people remember, be summed up in the actions they perform in those few short minutes of stage/screen time.
As a spectator it can be feel much worse. If you allow yourself to invest in each event, picking a hopeful that you want to win, and then tying your joy or sadness to their performance, it can be quite draining. Then you add to it the wonders of modern television and a DVR. You’re being whisked away to a new sport every 3-5 minutes. Picking a new winner, hoping for the best, moving to the next… And on and on.
I enjoyed the Olympics very much, and I plan to watch summer Olympics again in 2 years… However, there was a lot of emotional energy and angst tied into the experience and thinking about that gave me pause. What are the limits of our emotional energies? And where do we spend those energies? When my energies shift to something like the Olympics does another area of my life suffer from the void generated by the redirection? Or do I spread myself too thin giving emotion to all the usual recipients but lacking in quality of quantity?
I don’t have answers to all these questions. It’s not as simple to measure my emotional boundaries. Saying I can bench 150 pounds does not equate to, I can care about 20 people or things. It can not be measured in exact terms. Like illness, it is usually best acknowledged by the symptoms as opposed to seeing the illness.
When I am fighting a cold, I don’t see the virus or my immune system waging war. But I do get a fever and I do have a running nose and a sore throat.
Likewise when the Olympics end there is a sense of loss and some sadness. Oddly this is often accompanied by a sense of relief as well.
But enough about me. Over to you:
Where do you send your emotional energies?
How do you sense your boundaries?
When do you know you’re spread too far?
Lastly, and most importantly, how do you make sure the people that need you and depend on you get the quality of your emotion they need? Instead of just sharing the leftovers?