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There’s only so much you can handle.

Like any kind of container, each of us has our capacity. You can keep pouring things in, but unless there’s an outlet, eventually there will be an overflow. There are two things we need to know in order to effectively understand and respect our human capacity: 1) How much we truly can handle, and 2) How to determine whether any given commitment that is presented to us will keep us below our max fill line or overflow our capacity.

It’s tricky to know what your capacity truly is. Yours is not the same as mine, and mine is not the same as anyone else’s. We cannot get sucked into the belief that we should be able to handle a certain number or assortment of things because it appears others are able to do so. Emphasis on appears! There’s no telling for sure—especially not judging by social media highlight reels or select stories shared during a casual coffee chat—what things really look and feel like for others beneath the surface. Our capacity is our capacity, and there’s nothing we can do to increase it—the container is already built. What we can do is spend time getting to know ourselves to understand how much is too much and what signs indicate we’re on the verge of an overflow.

I do a quick mental assessment that I like to call the “Pasta or Egg?” check. Here’s the idea:

You can cook both pasta and eggs in boiling water, but they must be treated very differently if you want to get the best result out of each ingredient. Pasta has a very specific cooking time, after which it gets gummy and gross and no one will want to eat it. What’s more, as pasta boils, it slowly breaks down and changes the consistency and properties of the water that it’s cooking in. (That’s why we can use pasta water to thicken up sauces. Mental health and cooking tips for the win!)

Eggs, on the other hand, can handle a little bit more cook time. They don’t break down or get mushy if they’re boiled too long—they stay in-tact, and so does their environment. But, after a while, too much boiling will give them a bitter taste, so while the water will still be fine, the eggs can’t stay in the hot water forever.

The point is this: When we pile on commitments—our “yeses”—we’re putting ourselves in that pot of hot water. The deadlines, pressure to perform well, and overall mental and physical taxation that result from the responsibilities we choose to take on boil our brains after a while. We have to decide when and what we say yes to and determine if saying yes will make us more like pasta or an egg. Is the commitment one that will turn we have to manage carefully to avoid our brains turning to mush and us tainting the work environment or relationship we’re in, or will we be able to handle the pressure and keep ourselves and our environment in-tact and in good taste?

Once we determine whether we’re in a pasta or egg state and have a better understanding of how much we can handle, we must then carefully consider each individual commitment and the affect it will have on our capacity. We choose how to respond to presented commitments by evaluating them against our “why”—our overarching mission and purpose. Once we know how something will support or subtract from our why, we can respond appropriately. We have three responses to choose from: no, yes, and our best yes.

I love the book “The Best Yes” by Lysa Terkeurst and highly recommend it to my Superheroes. I learned that my “best yes” is an acceptance that gives me the opportunity to do more of what I love while furthering my “why”. My “yes” allows things into my life that will give me room to grow. My “no” allows me to decline those things that will take away capacity from things to which I can and should give my “yes” or “best yes”. “No” is a powerful tool that can be hard to use; but when I think of it as the lifeline for my “best yes”, it is empowering!

I love this video by Michael Jr. that explains the significance of our “why.” Defining our “why” isn’t just limited to our business or brand—it informs the way we want to live, the definition of our character, the prevalence of our purpose and the architecture of our goals. Develop a system for what gets your “best yes”, “yes”, and “no” and always ask, “Why?”

When we say yes to things that will take us beyond our capacity—to overflow—one of two things will happen: either we’ll experience a pebble-in-water moment, or a Mentos-in-Coke moment. When you drop a pebble in water, it causes a bit of a splash and some of the water gets displaced, but everything settles fairly quickly and smoothly. But have you ever seen what happens when you drop Mentos in Coke? (Don’t try this at home near the furniture or light-colored carpet!) The Coke fizzes and foams to the point of explosion. Internally and externally, everything is a mess, and there’s very little left in the Coke bottle that’s of any use to anyone.

We’re no good when we overcommit ourselves to the point of explosion. How much better will we be able to serve our “why” when we learn how to properly evaluate, accept and decline each individual opportunity that arises? It’s a mental shift that has the power to preserve our capacity and propel us forward in our purpose.

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