The elastic limit

Our high school science teacher passed out rubber bands to the class and asked us to slowly stretch them between our fingers.  A little more.  A little more.  Each of us stopped when we knew it was about to snap.  He was illustrating the concept of the elastic limit, that point where an elastic substance will either break or lose its ability to snap back.

It’s pretty easy to understand.  Look at that old pair of blue dress socks or the bungee cord you still have in your camping supplies bag.  They got stretched over a sustained period of time and got worn out, and every elastic material seems to have that point of no return.  Even the magically elastic Stretch Armstrong reached its limit when we pulled his wingspan out to 5 feet (for the record, his left armpit gave way.)

I think people have an elastic limit too – when we are stretched out under stress.  Our physical bodies may be amazing self-healing machines, but the mind is much more complicated.  Your patience, emotional state and mental endurance can also be stretched to the limit, but not as easy to diagnose as knee pain.

It would be nice if the universe would only throw challenges at us one at a time, with room to recover between each one.  In my experience, stress seems to come in waves, with multiple things piling up all at once.  And if you are the one who takes care of everyone else first, you may reach your elastic limit before you are able to take care of yourself.

I’m not a doctor or a therapist, but I can share with you one thing I do when I realize I am being stretched.  Very simply, I do something for myself.  When is the last time you did one thing that gives you personal joy, without asking anyone else’s permission, and without dwelling on the guilt you usually feel for doing something so unproductive?

In fact, the more “unproductive,” the better.  It could be reading that fiction book which has been staring at you from the shelf, or watching a cornball movie no one else wants to watch, or buying something you really want (not need), or flying to see an old friend in person. 

If you can force yourself to do this occasionally, it will take some stress off that rubber band and help preserve your ability to return to your original shape.  A little wasted time could be the most important thing you do today.

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5 Comments on “The elastic limit”

  1. Rich Hopkins Says:

    In my life, what is fact for me comes from the Bible – that we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear. I believe that means what we can bear “with God” – which exponentially expands what we can bear.

  2. akashkaria Says:

    I agree. Do one thing each day that makes you happy – read a book, meditate, watch a movie…anything that will reward your efforts.
    http://www.public-speaking-hong-kong.blogspot.com

  3. Neil Ryall Says:

    David
    You are absolutely right. Over the years, there have been a couple of times, fortunately, that I went beyond “the limit”; when one pushed beyond physical/emotional ability. The consequence is not recommended and the healing period long and difficult. Like you, it was in the belief that others needed to come first. The true fact is that if you are not in good shape you are useless to others and moreover, the stress on you carries with it worry and stress for those you are intent upon.

    Living within Gratitude now and awareness of that offers a different viewpoint. Desire and good intent are better than striving, worry and the stress it brings. Take time to smell the flowers on the way and find lots of thjings to smile about. You are blessed, always.

    Neil

  4. LeAnne Says:

    My triathlon training schedule is one thing that keeps me sane and happy. In 2006 I was in a horrible car crash and when a workout is going to be hard and I start to find myself dreading it, I think of how fortunate I am to even be able to walk, let alone run! The best thing, though, is hanging out with my kids.

  5. Drake Stone Says:

    I thought this post was going to be about rubber band tricks. I still enjoyed this post and can agree. We sometimes get so caught up with projects and daily lives, that we forget we all have a breakig point. Thanks for this post, it just reminded again, to pace myself. After all life is a marathon and not a sprint.


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