'How many miles are you from empty?' (or something to that effect).
The effect it had on me was huge. 'How useful is that?', I thought: to ask yourself each and every day (or when it occurs to you): 'How many miles am I from empty right now?', and to adjust your expectations for yourself and for the day accordingly.
I was reminded of it yesterday lying in the bath and listening to my little boy having a meltdown outside the door and my husband dealing with him. I reflected on how exhausted I was feeling, how tired I knew my little boy was after an 'up and down' night, and how tired I knew my husband was from dealing with it (and us) all.
It occurred to me to wonder 'how many miles from empty are we all right now'...?
Answer: About 0.5....! And then to wonder how best we might arrange our day to accommodate for that deficit.
As it turns out we even had to downsize (what we had thought was) a gentle, manageable plan of a visit to the cafe in the forest and a play on the play park there. Things began to spiral downhill as soon as we arrived (over tired three year old/ very busy cafe/ no hope of food or drink anytime soon). My husband and I looked at each other questioningly and mouthed 'abort?', and made a quick ( or not so quick with two screaming toddlers in tow) exit.
What I find handy about this is that so often we have our plans, our expectations, our ideas about what we should get done today; how the day should be. We are setting ourselves up for a major fall if the reality of the situation is that we don't actually have enough miles in the tank to cover all that ground.
When I don't acknowledge my tank is getting low, I struggle: I push to get things done when I'm not in the right frame of mind; I push to have conversations when I or the other person are not in the right frame of mind; I expect things of myself and of other people which just aren't possible right now, or if they or I can muster just enough physical energy to get the things done, they'll be done without love; out of a grudgingness, or an effortingness, that doesn't feel good, doesn't get the best results, and which leaves me and or them, even closer to the really serious business of the big red warning light.
Some of us operate close to empty for years, steering just clear of acknowledging that emptiness by reaching for caffeine, alcohol, adrenaline to keeps us artificially fuelled. I know I did, and the result: an eventual burn out.
I know I'll never get close to that now, but even on a day to day basis, the, 'How close am I to empty?', or 'How close are they to empty?', question makes for a much nicer experience: it's handy for keeping myself grounded, for staying realistic about what's possible, keeping my expectations in check; for keeping this (sometimes a bit clapped out, and in need of a service) car on the road.