When Capacity is Low: Learn How and Why to Fix It

When Capacity is Low: Learn How and Why to Fix It

Blog Post Written By Annika McGivern, Sport and Exercise Psychology Consultant

After twelve months of COVID-19 we all know a little something about resilience and adaptability. We’ve pivoted, re-strategized, re-framed, and re-motivated ourselves again and again. We have learned we are stronger and more creative than perhaps we knew, and that is something to celebrate. However, what I’m hearing over and over now through the industry (and experiencing in no uncertain terms myself) is that we are tired. Collectively, our energy and our focus are down and it’s no wonder. The last twelve months have been a rollercoaster, with many of us taking on the challenge of not just getting ourselves through stronger, but leading our communities through as well.

So, as we look ahead to the next part of this ride it will benefit all of us to figure out how to re-charge the batteries. We might be feeling unmotivated, but that is the symptom not the cause. We must look deeper than motivation for the answer to our problem. We need to consider our capacity.

What is capacity?

In this context, capacity refers to our ability to manage the normal stresses of a busy, growth- filled life. When our capacity is high, we can look at a crazy week or an enormous challenge and think – yeah, bring it on.  Low capacity causes us to look at the same week or challenge and think – help, I can’t do this. So, what strengthens and diminishes our capacity? One powerful influencer is how often we engage with negative emotion.

I like to imagine negative emotions as big pool that I can choose to swim around in or step out of. Usually, we fall into this pool because of a misalignment between what we feel should be happening and what actually happens. If we see ourselves as needing to be someone who is always motivated, and then we have a day of low or no motivation, the misalignment tips us into the emotion pool and we likely feel frustrated, disappointed with ourselves, or guilty. If we expect that a great personal trainer or coach is someone who never looses a client, and then a client walks away from us, we fall into the negative emotion pool and swim around in self-doubt or anxiety. Negative emotions drain our energy and reduce our ability to think creatively to find solutions. They influence us to interpret challenges as threats and result in serious self-doubt. The formula is simple. The more time we spend swimming around in negative emotions, the less able we are to manage the normal stresses and challenges of a busy and fulfilling life. High negative emotion equals lower capacity.   

We all have an inner voice that tells us if we slow down, we will end up on the couch with a tub of ice-cream, our business in shambles. That voice, let’s call it the inner critic, tells us that if we don’t strive for perfection we will end up as a failure. It’s the same voice that beats us up when we aren’t living up to our own expectation. Here’s the thing. That voice is lying to you, coaxing you into the negative emotion pool simply to feed its own ego. That voice wants to believe that you need guilt, anger, and self-doubt to motivate yourself. It also tells you that you can be the person who never messes up and never fails. That’s all very tempting, but completely impossible. Listening to that voice results in constant misalignment between expectation and reality and lots of swimming in the negative emotion pool.

How to manage your capacity

If any of this is sounding familiar, then make sure you action the following steps. There is a solution, and it takes practice.

1. Notice when you are feeling any kind of negative emotion and ask yourself what misalignment has tipped you into the pool.

2. Listen for the voice of your inner critic and ask yourself if what they are saying is really 100% true.

3. Exercise your self-control muscle and step out of the negative emotion pool.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Focus on your breathing for 3-5 breaths.
  • Actively look for a different, more useful perspective.
  • Ask yourself - where is the lesson here? How can I use this to make myself 1% stronger?
  • Consider that there is another, far wiser, voice inside your mind that, once activated, will assist you in growing through any challenge. What would that voice say?

The only way to keep ourselves intentionally growing, enjoying the challenges that come our way, and showing up for ourselves, our families, and our clients is to ensure that we are pro-actively managing our capacity. One of the best ways to do this is to recognise negative emotions and choose to spend less time swimming in them. When we step out of the pool and get curious about our challenges, we optimize our creativity, presence, and energy. When our capacity is high, motivation is easy.

About the author

Annika McGivern is a Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology Coach. She helps people get their mind working for them, and in doing so, take control of their motivation, confidence, and performance.