The Spoon Theory, Expanded

A useful analogy that’s helped me to understand—and manage—difficult situations.

Stephen P. Anderson
3 min readMar 22, 2023
Photo of a handful of spoons


I try every day to be the best version of myself.

Some days — many days — this is easy.

Other days, it takes a lot of hard work.

While there is certainly an internal component to all this, my energy reserve (ahem, patience!) is largely challenged by external circumstances and interactions (the whole “things you can’t control but you can control how you respond” idea). Read on…

On most days, I feel pretty good about who I am—and how I react to difficult situations.

And then there are days like today when I’m just completely depleted. Drained of all mental energy.

Days when I know…

  • I am on edge about most things.
  • A remark that can be construed as a personal attack — will be.
  • The slightest provocation will unleash torrent of unwarranted vitriol.

Not. My. Best. Self.

I try to reign it in, but there’s nothing to try with. No wind in the sails. No gas in the tank. I really can’t control how I respond. I’m far past empty.

On days like this, I’m grateful for the short hand expression “I am out of spoons.” (If you haven’t already, do read the original “Spoon Theory” post by Christine Miserandino!)

The “Spoon Theory” is a great analogy created to describe living with a chronic illness (Lupus), and how every little task that is normal for most folks takes away a spoon (energy) until there’s nothing left. I think it’s caught on because it’s (1) a simple metaphor, but also (2) applicable to other things, like mental health and wellness.

On days like today, simply being able to say “I’m out of spoons” is a great code to signal that: ‘I need space. I need to retreat. I need to be left alone. I need to rest and recharge.’

But where’d the spoons go?


The beauty of the spoon analogy is that you learn to recognize, and share, those things that take spoons away — those things that consume huge swathes of your energy.

Most interactions take a spoon here, or a spoon there — sometimes a couple of spoons.


There are those abnormal (and hopefully infrequent) interactions that reach in and grab a whole handful of spoons at a time. Two minutes in a sharp exchange can drain you in a way that hours of other activities and interactions do not. Or maybe it’s a certain person (I’ve latched onto the term ‘energy vampire’) whose incessant droning sucks your energy at an exponential rate. These moments leave you suddenly and inexplicably drained, unsure why. It can be 10 AM and you find yourself with no more energy for the rest of the day. Like, exhausted.

At these times, simply recognizing that I probably don’t have what it takes to be the best version of myself, that it’s not an issue of willpower and perseverance, but one of needing to retreat and recharge (and avoid an interaction I’ll regret), that’s… liberating? In these instances, controlling how I respond means leaving. And that’s ok. Tomorrow is a new day.

Anyway, I love having this spoon metaphor; it’s a simple and brilliant shorthand for what is otherwise a quite complex tangle of difficult feelings. Maybe you’ll find it useful, too?



Stephen P. Anderson

Speaker, educator, and design leader. On a mission to make learning the hard stuff fun, by creating ‘things to think with’ and ‘spaces’ for generative play.