An electrical circuit is a path or line through which an electrical current flows. We are warned by electricians and the electric company not to overload a circuit. Why? An overload would cause the circuit to overheat which could lead to a power outage or melt the wire insulation and lead to a fire. In my first home we had a fuse box instead of a breaker box and if we overloaded a circuit I would have to go place a fuse….and then invariably remind myself and my family about the limits of the circuitry. Similarly, I’m sure you’ve experienced having a breaker trip because a circuit was overloaded.
Overloading happens in our lives, as well. We max our circuitry when we have difficult emotional experiences, a full calendar/schedule (time commitments), and potential involvements (activities). As long as we keep all of these in balance, we don’t overload our circuits. When do we get in trouble? When we try to do too much at one time – we trip a breaker, we blow a fuse.
The critical point is the relationship between the number of things on a circuit and the use of the things plugged into the circuit. You can, for example, have six things plugged into a single circuit….as long as you don’t have all six items on at once!
How can we apply this to our lives? It is possible to take on fourteen commitments as long as they don’t overlap (as long as they aren’t all “on” at the same time). If one of the commitments requires that you take power from the others, you’ll trip a breaker. If several of the commitments require simultaneous energy, you’ll trip a breaker. Each commitment or activity pulls a different amount of power for physical, emotional and mental output. We need to understand well the demands of each commitment, measuring carefully the energy each will require and how it will interplay with other aspects of our life.
A real life example: The person who seems to have a never ending supply of energy to commit to volunteering, raising a family, and working. They’re on multiple Boards, the volunteer at numerous events, and yet they remain full of energy and are happy. We think to ourselves “How can they possibly manage all of that?” We put ourselves (our circuit board) in their shoes and mistakenly believe that they have all of these activities plugged into one circuit and that all of these activities are turned on all on at once. As we understand and apply these rules we can understand how this person can accomplish this feat.
To avoid overload, we must reach equilibrium. We must reach a point where we maintain sufficient energy to supply power to each of our commitments, activities, and emotional experiences and carefully manage the flow of that energy.
Remember: Circuits will overload! Breakers will trip! Fuses will blow! It is inevitable. Just when we believe we have everything in balance, an emotional experience will trip our breaker. This experience is important! It allows us to learn and understand the limits of our circuits. How else would we know our own limitations if we don’t trip a breaker every once in a while? This experience helps us learn to leave room (energy) for the unexpected things that can plug into our circuit.
Remember, it’s not the number of tasks but the energy required that determines the point of overload.