It seems like ages since I used cash in real life – the pandemic has made many of us much more dependent on tapping our debit cards in stores. Mentally though, I use coins (little virtual modules of energy, effort and attention) all the time. I don’t know who originally came up with the idea but I’d love to thank them because it is brilliant; such a visual way to reflect on how we allocate our energy and efforts. There is a similar idea called ‘Spoon Theory’ that is often used within the chronic illness community substituting coins for spoons!

The concept directs us to think about how, if we wake up well rested, we have 100 coins to spend that day. The way we allocate our coins will change each day depending on our requirements, the environment around us, the other people we interact with. Sometimes the amount of coins required for an activity changes too: a difficult meeting with someone senior to you that you don’t trust will use up far more coins than the same length meeting with a colleague you enjoy working with.

How we then spend our coins becomes important and purposeful because we are being proactive about their usage. What uses up a significant amount of our coins? Which of those things needs prioritising and which might be better left undone? Is there a way to add more coins? Do we need to save any?

For that last question I would suggest yes. We ideally wouldn’t go to bed totally exhausted each night so we need to build up a bank of a few coins left over for safety. Perhaps giving us 95 coins to spend each day.

Think about tomorrow…

What do you absolutely have to do? How many coins is that likely to use up?

What is something difficult you could do today that would be good to get off your plate?

Do you need some coins put aside for the unexpected things that might happen; an urgent work request, a child that is poorly, your washing machine breaking down. These annoyances all use up coins and if we are depleted tend to push us into emotional exhaustion territory.

How many coins do you have left over?

It is possible to add some coins into your mental wallet through brilliant self-care. What self-care elements could you do that might top up your coin allowance; a walk with a friend, a dance class, a couple of episodes of your current Netflix craving, stroking your dog. What helps the most though is sleep. Really good quality sleep is what tops up your coins to give you 100 for the next day.  

It is much better, if we can, to plan ahead. If, before you switch off each day, you think about the next day and roughly share out your coins as you plan (leaving a small budget for unplanned issues) you can get the harder (and most coin draining) things done early (to reduce anticipatory anxiety) and get that dopamine buzz from doing the hardest things which makes you feel good for the rest of the day. This also reduces your risk of ruminating at night when you try to sleep because you have a plan in place for the next day.

Coins is an especially helpful concept when you are feeling burnt out.

With burnout you have probably been spending 120 coins a day for months and you are in overdraft with your brain bank so you are not starting each day with 100 coins. Think of yourself as starting with 80 because you are having to pay down your debt. You also need to invest in your recovery so ideally you end the day with 10 coins left over. This means with burnout you can either totally stop and sleep and have a very low coin usage for few months to build back your health more quickly or slow down (spending no more that 70 coins a day) and build up your health more slowly – but still be able to carry on with some priorities.

When you start thinking in this way you protect your mental and physical health better and have fewer days that you dread.

For example: using the coins concept I can think very differently about my work day:

  • A client session or meeting = 10.
  • A difficult exercise session = 10.
  • Getting my daughter up and ready in the morning = 5.
  • Work admin = 5.
  • House and life admin = 5.
  • Writing an article where I feel knowledgeable on the subject = 5.
  • Writing an article where I’m learning as I go = 10.
  • A networking event where I don’t know anyone = 20
  • A face-to-face speech or a workshop = 30

As a result I now max out my diary at five meetings or client sessions in a day. More than that and my coins have been used up and the client who gets that final session doesn’t get the best support. I will never book in more than 2 workshops or speeches in a day either – because I know it takes too much out of me to do a brilliant job.

I have also identified three things that top up my coin wallet: an easy swim or pilates class, reading to my daughter, a mug of coffee and an audiobook. If I drop one of these into the day I’ll have more energy and attention available for the trickier bits.

So, to reflect on…

What tends to use lots of your coins?

What self-care earns you back coins?

Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash