Marbles and budgets

How would you describe your mind?

For what amounts to little more than a collection of protein and electrical impulses we all give them very emotive descriptions depending on how we’re feeling.​

If he’s tired or ill my father often refers to his mind as being full of ‘mental chewing gum’. Similarly he imagines it packed with cotton wool if he’s struggling to grasp something. Mine in contrast is often ‘fried’, ‘mashed’, ‘messed up’ or any number of other monosyllabic analogies I use when I’m having a bad day.

‘I’m losing my marbles’ is one most of us have used in periods of high stress, anger or even depression. The term conveys a sense that the little glass balls representing our consciousness are slipping through our fingers or becoming mixed up.

Today however the metaphorical marbles were very real ones. Their use during self-build was thought provoking and I think worthy of sharing.

In the past during work related training courses I’ve heard the term stress budget. I’ve never really liked it as it conjures up a financial institution or corporate workplace. It feels too specific to the daily grind and less connected with real life.

The idea behind it is that we all have an budget or upper limit to how much stress we can manage and the more we add events like weddings and funerals or moving home the more we use up our budget. The theory went as far as assigning a ‘cost’ to events – which personally I disagreed with in most cases.

However the point was that if you spend too much then you end up in debt and therefore trouble.

The analogy works, but I still never got on board with it primarily because of the terminology.

Today however we looked at ‘should’s and could’s’. The principle was the same – but in this case seemed appropriate to anyone.

Should’ in this context was used as an attacking word. This is one that we often use against ourselves. It has a tendency to have built in elements of self-recrimination, and is a great way of beating ourselves up for perceived failure. Other people can give us ‘should’s’ as well, but in my case they mostly come from within.

Common ‘should’s’ I use are:

I should lose weight, I should be more active, I should get out more, I should be a better person, I should be able to do things other people do etc etc etc.

The list goes on and on. If I don’t accomplish things I feel I should do then I become convinced I’m a failure.

I’m less likely however to use ‘could’s’. These are evidence of more positive thought, concerned with possibilities rather than obligation and guilt.

Things I don’t readily say to myself (which are less damaging) are:

I could lose weight, I could be more active, I could get out more, I could be a better person, I could do things that other people do…..

While the first instantly makes me feel hemmed in with tasks the latter doesn’t. I don’t feel the same about could – and think that’s because it’s very nearly ‘CAN’.

The visual representation of this came as we were all given a box of marbles and sat in a circle around a table with a bowl of water in the middle. As we went clockwise around the group we shared our ‘should’s’ with eachother.


For each ‘should’ we dropped one or a handful of marbles into a bowl of water, depending on how big the problem was. The bowl was ¾ full already, but with each marble of personal baggage we dumped into the water the surface rose closer to the top and eventually it overflowed onto the plastic tray underneath.

It’s an effective way to demonstrate what happens if we continually overload ourselves with guilt and pressure and I really like it. This is not just because of the obvious consequence of putting too much pressure on ourselves and burying whats REALLY important at the bottom of the bowl, but because of the impact it has on others.

Initially when I looked at the stress budget and the could’s and should’s I considered them both in a very much ‘me centric’ way, but as I looked at the bowl full of marbles and water overflowing everywhere I realised just how much shit gets poured down on the people around us when we don’t handle this aspect of our lives very well.

I’m pretty sure I’ve done this to my brother and other people in the past.

I’m not an angry person normally, but I have withdrawn myself regularly from contact with people I care about when I overload, and inevitably become depressed.

It’s my version of rage. If I don’t have anything good to say then I often say nothing at all and turn it all inward. I’ve got better at not doing this – but I can still hibernate (and did aaaaaaaallllllll day long on Monday).

I’m sure my friends and family need me as much as I need them – and doing this simply does not help. I’m resolving from this point on to fill my head with as many ‘could’s’ as I can.

In other news I looked in the mirror today and not only did I look smaller but my eyes are pearly white.

I realised that I looked different because I didn’t have hangover eyeballs and that was a nice thing to be surprised by.

Normally I dislike the face that looks back from mirrors – but at the moment I’m beginning to change my mind. Maybe it does have a future after all and won’t go before its time.



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