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The Spoon Theory – my understanding

The spoon theory came to us thanks to Christine Miserandino, and you can read more about her on her page at

I would like to share my understanding of it, and how knowledge of this has helped me, and might help you.

Imagine you have an actual, physical representation of your energy, cognitive functioning, emotional availability, etc, in this case, we use spoons. Now... imagine you have a maximum amount of spoons you can start with each day. This does not mean you start with the same amount every day, as losing some sleep, feeling unwell, forgetting your meds, having Autism or ADHD, and so many other situations reduce the amount of spoons you start with each day. So, for every task you have to do, you have to hand over at least one of your spoons, often more, depending on the task at hand.

How quickly would you run out of spoons?

When those spoons run out; when you’ve used all of them, can you magically summon more spoons? No, you cannot! Your energy is depleted, your cognitive function drops, and potentially your emotions start to rise and make everything feel even harder. How do you manage to do anything else that might need doing, or how do you acquiesce to someone wanting something from you?

In everyday life, without extras being thrown in, we use our spoons very quickly. If you have a demanding job, have to travel each day, and all the other life stuff you need to do, this doesn’t just stop when you get home. You then have to do all the home stuff, maybe look after children, or give energy to a partner, all of which need spoons. As already mentioned, you can’t just magic more spoons from thin air.

It can also feel unfair as neurotypical people appear to start each day with more spoons than us neurodivergents. So when we are explaining why something is so hard, or why we choose to crawl into bed early rather than cooking a proper dinner, it might be difficult for others to understand as they still have a pocketful of spoons.

When I learned this theory, it suddenly made a lot of sense to me regarding “simple” things that others manage and I struggle with. I had always seen myself as lazy, incompetent, unorganised, and a list of other negative words I would use to describe myself. Once I understood where I was using my spoons, I could start to do some things differently, and I stopped beating myself up for the things I struggled with.

Once you really start to see where you use your spoons, you can then start to decide if that’s where you want to use them. Are there areas where you are doing more than you need to, are you taking on too many responsibilities, are you wasting your spoons doing things you don’t need to?

I was also able to recognise the days when I only woke up with 10 spoons instead of 12. I could see other factors that robbed me of my precious spoons, and sometimes I could bring in small changes to improve this. It helped me see where other factors played their parts, things I could not control, and allowed me to be kinder to myself on those days.

I also discovered that now and then I could earn back an extra spoon or 2. I found ways that I could sometimes bring a bit of a dopamine hit, which would help me last a little bit longer. This could be listening to my happy music and dancing around, getting out on my motorbike on a sunny day, time with the right friends, and so on. Now and then, this feels good enough that my spoons get topped up a little and I can find the resources to do that last little job, or to push myself a little further that day. This is not guaranteed though, so I have learned to appreciate and treasure those days and moments.

Take a look at the diagram (above) and see if you can start to identify where all your spoons go. Are there some you can keep for yourself? Are there ways you might be able to earn more? Are you using your spoons the best way for you?

If you can identify other areas where you use, or earn spoons, I would love to hear about them. The image gives you a bit of a start and can hopefully help you to be kinder to yourself, to recognise why some days are harder than others, and hopefully help you on the way to making better decisions for yourself.

Let me know if you'd like to discuss this further. I'm always open to talk. It's good to talk.


Hello there! My name is Julie and I'm a counsellor. I provide a non-judgemental safe space for you. I offer accessible and flexible online therapy sessions so you have the freedom to be in a place that is more comfortable for you.

Please get in touch if you'd like to learn more or arrange an initial consultation. As always, I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.

Remember... It's good to talk. Talk helps.


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