Running out of mental energy always seems to happen at the worst time; in the middle of a meeting, while trying to get that last “thing” done before the end of the day, in the middle of a family gathering.
You’ve probably even had the experience where your neurologist told you to “pace yourself” or your neuropsychologist said to “prioritize” with little guidance on next steps and less consideration for your capacity, or lack of, to follow through on their suggestions. All the while you’re silently screaming, “You don’t understand! HOW?!!”
I attended a virtual “support group” (quotes intentional) last fall in which this very conversation came up. The facilitator, a clinical psychologist/brain injury specialist, told us, “You can do it if you put your mind to it.” We just couldn’t get the facilitator to understand that it isn’t as easy as they wanted to believe. Nor is a dismissive comment such as the one they offered helpful. It was a frustrating and disappointing experience. I think you can guess that I haven’t returned to that group.
The truth is that prioritization, organization, and the ability to manage our energy for any given task or set of tasks is difficult for many with a brain injury. From time to time we really do expend more energy than we have. That can mean we get overwhelmed and shut down. At best we’re out of commission for a day or two. Worst case we have a seizure.
So how do we manage our limited energy in the moment? Brain Bucks.
Brain Bucks is a method of energy conservation we teach those who participate in our support groups and BEST programs. Brain Bucks is an easy way to measure how much mental energy you have to give something or someone. By checking the “balance” of your Brain Bucks “account” throughout the day you’ll know how much you’ve already withdrawn and how much you have left to spend.
Periodically ask yourself, “How many brain bucks do I have left?” (It doesn’t have to be a specific number.) You might find you have plenty of brain bucks for the next task, meeting, or activity. On the other hand, you may realize you are low on brain bucks and need a break so that you can refresh yourself. By taking a break and allowing your mental energy to recharge you are “depositing” Brain Bucks back into your account for later use.
This is a great way of remaining mindful of your energy level at any point during the day and potentially averting that dreaded meltdown.
Carrying a representation of Brain Bucks can be helpful in reminding you about how much mental energy you have left and the best way to manage that energy.
I carry slips of paper in my wallet. It helps me see what I’m spending and what I have left because too often I think I have more mental energy than I really do and then I pay for it. As I determine how many brain bucks something “cost” me I move them to the back of my wallet. Another way you can do this is by moving brain bucks from one pocket to the other (just remember which pocket has the available bucks and which has the spent bucks).
We even designed a Brain Buck you can print and carry with you. There are 10 brain bucks on the sheet. Print as many as you need and cut the sheets into individual Brain Bucks.
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Gloria's career as an independent nonprofit consultant, trainer, and writer spans over 30 years giving her lots to talk about. She has a deep passion for sustainability, both environmentally and organizationally. Enjoy her perspectives on community, development, and tales from her virtual world travels.