Running on Empty?

Did you ever have a teacher in High School make the class do the exercise “if so and so were and animal, flower or car what would they be?”

I remember my classmates and I doing this once in 10th grade psychology class. My friend decided that I was a Mercedes convertible (I forgot which one exactly) classy, sporty and fun. It fit me. I loved convertibles, especially in sunny southern California.

Of course, my convertible was a sporty FIAT spider,  which eventually broke down beyond repair.

This was in part, because it was a FIAT (fix it again Tony) and in part, because I wasn’t the greatest with routine maintenance. Not horrible, mind you; my dad taught me the basics and I cajoled my male friends into changing my oil and other basic tasks. But, I definitely pushed the limits, arriving to work on empty and such things.

This is a common phenomenon among high school and college students. They call me to say they are running a “little late” for our appointment, because they “just realized” they need to get gas. I smile every time remembering my own adventures running on fumes, putting the car in neutral down the winding hills, so I would make it to the station! Sometimes I think that angels must have pushed me along because I always “just” made it.

It’s not just teenagers that push the limits and run on fumes.

Often we carry these adrenaline driven habits into adulthood just transferring the specific details. We might not ever run out of gas again in the car, but how many times do we run out of patience? Or energy? Kindness? Respect?

When our reserves are low – our levels of back up emergency “funds” – it is very easy to lose out in living our ideal self, living out the person God made us to be.

Maybe your basic physical needs are met. You have plenty of food, clothing and shelter, but your emotional account is empty from constant giving out and never refilling. I know that when I want to give someone “the bird” for cutting me off in traffic, that my emotional reserves are low! (Someone with “road rage” or anger management issues wouldn’t benefit from the above example.)

How do you keep your tanks full enough so that you can choose to respond to a situation, instead of simply reacting out of habit or desperation? What do we need in our lives so that we are free to choose?

One important element is making sure our needs are met and that our reserve tanks are full. One reason I hardly ever ran out of gas in the car I bought when I was 19 was because I knew I had a 2.2 gallon reserve tank. I drove and drove until the light flashed on. When that light flashed on I knew I had entered the “I better watch it” zone. Many times I used up my reserve tank within that .2 of the gallon, but I was intent on really pushing the limits counting on the accuracy of my readings of the mileage.

Not only do you need that reserve, you need an awareness of it, where you are within it, and the perspective to read it accurately. If you are used to reading the odometer in kilometers, but are driving a car with mileage reading only, you will misjudge the distance. How many times have you said “I thought I had more      “  (time, money, patience, whatever). We misjudge the reality of a situation when our perspective is out of whack.

What can throw our perspective out?

  • Fatigue
  • Hunger (low blood sugar)
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Illness
  • What we are ingesting mentally (movies, TV, books, radio and newspapers)
  • Relationships
  • Stress

The list continues. The important fact is to know what your triggers are, so that you prepare a “perspective intervention” for yourself! This isn’t as radical as it sounds. Actually a shift in perspective can happen in a moment.

Some things to experiment with:

  •  Call your “pick me up” person. This could be anyone that can talk you out of your craziness; your friend, mentor, coach.
  • Ask your friends how they shift their perspective and borrow or brainstorm techniques.
  • Go outside and walk around in nature; take time to notice the colors and sounds around you; get out of your head!
  • Off to the gym with you. Stop whining and get moving!
  • Do some Brain Gym (www.braingym.org)

What works for you? I want to hear about it!

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