Home Education, Other Thoughts

The Poetry of Limitations: Beating Decision Fatigue Through Submission

May 2, 2016 by Brandy Vencel
Be patient in affliction.
Romans 12:12

So, we’ve made our peace with the life God has given us. Good. The next step to thriving as a low-energy homeschool mom, then, is to accept our limitations. Now, before I go on, I don’t want you to think I’m not a fighter. Quite the opposite — researching this stuff could be my side hustle if I let it. I could go down that rabbit hole for hours. I try new things all. the. time. And I’m glad I do, because over time I’ve found some things that really help me (which, yes, I plan to share in future posts).

But.

I don’t think we start with fighting, because we need to thrive right now. We don’t say, “Oh, someday, I’m going to build a livable life … someday when I have the energy to really live out my ideals.”

No. That’s not how it works. In fact, learning to live well within our limitations is doing ourselves a favor because there will always be limitations.

Planning your days and weeks and months is a lot like writing a sonnet. First, you learn the rules. Within these limitations, write the poem of your life.

I have used the analogy of the poet before when talking about school planning. It applies here as well.

Sonnets are awesome. They are also very strictly defined. An English sonnet is a poem of 14 lines, 10 syllables per line. Within this tightly defined form, there is still room for creativity — you can choose your own rhyme, for example — but still, you have to stick to the 14 lines of 10 syllables each.

Are there 15 lines? 13 syllables? It’s not a sonnet.

Earlier this year, my oldest son wrote his first sonnet. He chose as his topic our traditional Thanksgiving family gathering at my parents’ house. He’s written a number of poems I have found touching, but it was his sonnet that brought me nearest to tears. I don’t think it was only the subject matter or the way he chose his words. I mean — yes — of course that was a big factor. But the form of the sonnet itself is particularly moving in a way that other poetry is not.

Some women have a lot of energy. They can do one million project-based-learning adventures in a day and still have the internal resources required to do the laundry and make the dinner. Good for them.

This person is not us.

We can either channel our inner two-year-olds and get petulant about this, or we can decide that we get to be sonnets. Free verse poetry has its own charms, so I’m not knocking it, but I love sonnets, and it really shouldn’t bother me that I get to be one. Don’t let it bother you, either.

What does all this have to do with being a low-energy homeschool mom? It’s simple, really. Accepting our limits is a big part of being patient in affliction. We are sonnets in the sense that our lives have to be more strictly defined. Don’t think: this is a bummer. Instead, think: I am a sonnet.

Doesn’t that feel way better?

Okay, so the question is, What does this have to do with decision fatigue? Lots!

But first: What is decision fatigue?

I’m glad you asked.

Decision fatigue is the energy drain caused by making decisions. It’s the opposite of doing something by habit. Think about it. When we do something by habit, the only energy expended is in the doing of the thing, and even that is easy like riding a bike — no decisions have to be made about it because everything is done by muscle memory. Conversely, when things are not done by habit, we have to expend energy in the doing, and also in the thinking about all the aspects of the doing, and also in the debating about whether or not to do the thing in the first place.

It’s an exhausting world out there, folks.

Understanding our limitations eliminates decision fatigue by eliminating many of the decisions.

Let’s use money as an example. If I’m trying to decide what sort of education to give my child, and the local private school costs 25% of my income and would plunge my family into poverty in order to pay for it, that school is not an option. I do not need to spend a whole bunch of time discussing the pros and cons, praying, and asking advice from people I trust. It would be an irresponsible financial decision, therefore it’s not an option.

The End.

Notice the total lack of decision fatigue?

The key here is not only knowing your limits, but submitting to them. If you know, for example, that you can only handle one activity per week outside of  homeschooling, you never have to spend any time debating over whether to add a second or third. If you know you cannot stay up past 9:00 pm (or you and everyone around you will have to pay for it tomorrow), you don’t even have to consider going to an event that starts at 8:30 pm.

I love getting up early in the morning. Being a morning person, I’m happy to be awake, and even happier if I’m awake before everyone else. But I know something else about myself: if I get up before the sun, I will eventually get sick. This is a weird thing, and I don’t know why it happens. I can get up easily at 5:30 am. But if I do that during a time of year when it is still dark outside, I will do this for only few days before catching a cold. I will sleep in while sick, try getting up super early again, only to end up back in bed. It’s a vicious cycle. In the summer months, however, I can get up at 5:30 am or even earlier and never catch anything.

Because I know this is my limit, I simply do not get up before the sun ever. It doesn’t matter if I read an article about how much more productive my life would be if I would just get up earlier. It doesn’t matter if someone tells me that the Proverbs 31 woman got up while it was still dark. I don’t need to make a decision about when to get up because I get up shortly after the sun rises.

For me, getting up before the sun would be like adding a 15th line to my sonnet. It would mess everything up.

Planning your days and weeks and months is a lot like writing a sonnet. First, you learn the rules. I encourage you to sit down with a piece of paper or a journal and write down all of your known limitations. Maybe you can’t eat peanuts. Maybe you can’t jog. Maybe you can’t get less than x hours of sleep. Within these limitations, you can write the poem of your life — you can create a work of art that glorifies God while still getting dinner on the table.

It’s true that, if you manage to get yourself even somewhat better, you move the goal posts. Your limitations will change. Maybe you won’t need nine hours of sleep anymore; maybe you’ll only need eight. No matter. You can adjust as you go. The point is to be realistic right now and then work within that form.

You’ll be glad you did.


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49 Comments

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  • Reply Mignon May 12, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Brandy, This piece is just lovely. I can’t thank you enough. What an extraordinary way of thinking of limitations—- in terms of form. I am reminded of an essay by Allen Tate, the title of which escapes me at the moment, in which he delves into the importance of the limitations of form. He was a poet and a New Critic. Anyway, the essay starts off by talking about form in terms of courtship, and the ways that form is a kind of indirect way of getting at something, seeming inefficient and ineffective. But it turns out, of course, to be the best way, the most beautiful, and the most respectful of the other.

    In your piece here, I think you are doing the same thing, demonstrating the power of the form, its seeming ineffectiveness in a world obsessing with GTD (“Getting Things Done”) and going at everything with a kind of steam-powered intensity.

    But form is important. Margins are important, for that matter! Leisure! Contemplation! One does not only have to be a Low Energy Mom to recognize the value in what you’ve written here.

    Blessings to you, and Happy Mother’s Day!

  • Reply Jen March 22, 2019 at 3:51 am

    This post is a blessing. Thanks!

  • Reply Kara March 7, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    Wow, I sat here and read this with tears streaming down my face. I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 13 years and have three young kids. My husband is active duty military, so I’m on my own quite a bit. I go in cycles of just being thankful for what I can do, back to being frustrated by all I can’t! I needed this!

  • Reply Steph VG July 19, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    This is brilliant and I absolutely, *absolutely* needed this. Thank you.

  • Reply Thoughtworthy | Afterthoughts May 4, 2018 at 1:46 am

    […] For some of us, life is a sonnet, and that’s okay. […]

  • Reply Carly December 14, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Just as you encouraged, today I sat down and listed all of my known limitations. I also included needs that aren’t currently being met. Then I wrote down an idea or two for how to bridge them and help prevent decision fatigue. You were right – I do feel soooo much better now! It was extremely worthwhile, and I appreciate the wisdom you shared in this post. Thank you!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 15, 2017 at 10:37 am

      Oh, Carly! I’m so glad you found this process helpful! ♥

  • Reply The Poetry of Limitations: Beating Decision Fatigue Through Submission | Afterthoughts | The Treasure Trove June 12, 2016 at 11:52 am

    […] Source: The Poetry of Limitations: Beating Decision Fatigue Through Submission | Afterthoughts […]

  • Reply Lindsay May 31, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    I love what you said about getting up before the sun. I am really LEARNING my boundaries, AGAIN, because we added another baby who finally sleeps through the night. So, when I was getting up to feed him, I wanted to sleep until 7 am, or 8. But now that he is sleeping through the night, and it is SUMMER, I can get up about 6 or a little before and be FINE! (I’m annoying myself with the CAPS, but bear with me!) But I know this will not be the case when it is not this light out that early. I am not a morning person, or a night time person. I am a daytime person. I like the sunlight. 🙂

  • Reply Kim D. May 28, 2016 at 5:31 am

    I don’t have any words to add to your lovely thoughts and the beautiful comments others have made, except thank you again! I re read the article and tears fell again. How timely! Reworking our schedule for summer and thinking of my part in that as poetry…so different than the world wants us to think.

  • Reply Angela May 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I like how you write known limitations instead of weaknesses as they are just apart of us and weakness is usually something to feel guiltu about. My levels of energy come and go and I find I usually make overly ambitious goals when my energy is “normal” for others or high for me and end up paying for it when I get back to the average or low for me. I’ve already made peace with who I am in regards to curriculum, but it’s the extra activities I usually have to cancel and feel guilty about. I’m definitely going to write down my limitations.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 12, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      It really is a hard balance, isn’t it? We want to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak, but then we can’t be totally depleted at the end of it, or it has to be paid for…

  • Reply Morgan May 12, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    This post is so good. Thank you!!

  • Reply Kathryn May 8, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you for this post. I only have low energy and health issues some of the time, so I find it difficult to accept my limitations on those days when I was able to do so much the day before. Throw in a high needs toddler and I never know when it will be a calm day or one filled with lots of crying and clinging, which can derail all our plans and exhaust me even further.
    I love what you said about writing the poem of our life within our own limitations, and that it glorifies God. I constantly have to remember that He will fill in the gaps, and that my calling is only to be faithful with what He has given me.

  • Reply Maggie May 8, 2016 at 4:01 am

    Thank you for this post! It is exactly what I needed to read.

  • Reply JBrown May 7, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    So beautifully written Brandy! Thank you so much for your openness.

  • Reply Limitations | Our Year In India May 6, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    […] morning I read a blog post about homeschooling in which the blogger used poetry as a metaphor for life: some of the most […]

  • Reply Congetta May 6, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    That was beautiful. I am a sonnet. Thank you.

    (Actually I’m more a haiku sometimes, but it is the same thing, just different boundaries.)

  • Reply Shelley May 6, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you! I recently read Essentialism and your post is so in line with it. What is essential for me right now? Nothing else gets to get in my way or sneak in through pressure!

  • Reply Tanai May 6, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    I have been enjoying your low energy series and this was the best post yet. I have 3 children 4 & under and wish I could have energy to do it all. I still wonder how I will manage homeschooling. I feel like you do about the sun- it’s such a struggle for me to get up in the dark. Where we live the sun rises past 9am in the depths of winter so it’s a difficult time of year.

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol May 4, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Such a good post, Brandy! And I really like the analogy you used here.

    One thing that has been amazing to me as I’ve gotten older is how much difference practice makes too. For example, having people over for a meal used to be a huge, energy sucking endeavor for me, but with practice it has become something that isn’t that big of a deal at all. I was thinking about this recently when I had 24 people over for lunch and I hardly batted an eye – but if I had tried to do that ten years ago (or even just a few years ago!) it would have been a meltdown. It is heartening for me to see how the limits can gradually be pushed a little further out, not just through improvements in my overall health, but also by slowly trying to become better at doing things that I want to do.

  • Reply Jenny May 3, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Beautiful. Freeing. Pondering.

  • Reply Raquel May 3, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I may only experience low energy due to periods of lack of movement, but I really appreciated this post. We all have limitations, and our kids have limitations, and how good it would be to accept the life that God has given us, and then allow our kids to see what we do with that. I have one daughter with ADD, who is very active, and this has made us learn to deal with her limits. The other daughter has poor muscle memory, which leads her to want to be more inactive, and visual & auditory issues. I must help them to learn to work within their limitations, and treat them as “persons” so that they can give the glory to God and serve with what He has given them. Thank you for this perspective! 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 3, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      Oh, Raquel! Such a good point that we can also apply this to our children. ♥

  • Reply Amanda May 3, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Such good stuff, Brandy! Decision fatigue is one of my major time-wasting issues. 😛 I do NOT make decisions quickly. Must. Weigh. Every. Option. And having my good habits interrupted by schedule changes totally throws me off.

    I love your sonnet analogy… even as I mourn certain changes and losses ahead, the limitations really can be a blessing in disguise.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 3, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      My advice, Amanda, is that if you are doing to waste time and energy, do it on Facebook and not on making decisions. Cat videos are way better. 😉

      More seriously, though, I know you have a hard year ahead so … obviously we need to do coffee. ♥

  • Reply Rachel May 3, 2016 at 8:07 am

    thank you so much for this!

  • Reply Claire May 2, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    This is just beautiful, Brandy

  • Reply Meghan May 2, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Your definition of decision fatigue is spot-on. I am a Perceiver in Myers-Briggs-speak and find the process of making a concrete decision very challenging. Add on to that: making decisions all day long for three more little people and a home school AND being low energy…no wonder I get depressed (or exhausted, it’s hard for me to tell the difference). I really want more habits in my life and am praying that the Holy Spirit will help me with this over the summer. This series is helping!

    • Reply Meghan May 2, 2016 at 4:47 pm

      I totally typed my website wrong on the above comment. Oops.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 3, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      Yes! Depression and exhaustion can be confused, I think — or one can cause the other, and vice versa.

      Glad you find the series helpful. 🙂

  • Reply SarahD May 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Laughed at the picture of channeling my inward 2 year old in protest of my limitations. Haha!

    I too finally got over guilt for not getting up early. I tried over and over and it never turns out well–gave up on trying.

    Thanks for the sonnet metaphor for our lives. That does frame it nicely.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 3, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Isn’t it freeing to know you don’t have to get up before dawn? 🙂

  • Reply Heather F May 2, 2016 at 11:13 am

    This was so wonderful! I feel very encouraged to look at my limitations in a new light, and with a new peace.
    Thank you!

  • Reply Leah May 2, 2016 at 9:18 am

    So good! What lovely calming thoughts to set the “I’m not doing enough” monster back in its hole. Thank you!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 2, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Yes! Exactly! Instead of “not enough” we’re just working within our limitations. It’s all perspective. Or, at least, mostly perspective. 🙂

  • Reply Kelly May 2, 2016 at 8:15 am

    This is wonderful. I’m already accustomed to think of myself as God’s poem (after all, “We are his poiema,” Eph 2:10) and you know my whole goal is “to make our lives an art,” but I’d never thought of that art as being something very specific like a sonnet.

    Great idea. Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 2, 2016 at 9:12 am

      I still remember the first time you taught me that — that the root word is connected to poetry. It’s one of my favorite thoughts, still. ♥

  • Reply Mama Rachael May 2, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Wow. Yes, this is good. I feel like what I can do keeps changing, but I do have the big idea of what needs to happen and not happen for me to keep up with life. And I see the value of habits. I’m working on those. Thank you for working/writing on this topic.

  • Reply Harmony Moore May 2, 2016 at 6:56 am

    I loved this so, so much. This sentence was just beautiful: “Within these limitations, you can write the poem of your life — you can create a work of art that glorifies God while still getting dinner on the table.” I am thankful for your gift of simplifying difficult concepts into something lovely and encouraging, something that we can handle and apply in our lives.

  • Reply Jen Snow May 2, 2016 at 5:48 am

    I love this way of looking at it!

  • Reply Anne May 2, 2016 at 4:51 am

    I don’t know if I qualify as a low-energy mom or not, but I am loving these posts and getting much from them! I love the idea of how much our attitude and perspective changes things. Mystie talks about that a lot too. “I am a sonnet.” That’s a really cool idea!

  • Reply Rondalyn Ohrenberg May 2, 2016 at 4:14 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I do not consider myself a low-energy person, and I wasn’t even planning on reading this series. But your titles always catch my attention, and I have never been sorry I spent the time reading the posts. I really appreciate your “sonnet” analogy. All of us need to recognize our limitations and accept that God is aware of them . . . that God made us as we are, and that He delights in showing His strength to us and through us in our weakness. And the advice to “avoid decision-making fatigue” is so good. How many times have I fretted over something, weighing the pros and cons, when I could have saved myself the stress by just accepting my limits. I need to remember the “sonnet.”

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