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How to Sense Enoughness
A question that crops up frequently in therapy—because it’s so prevalent in life—is when something is enough. Clients usually reference the term around food, but we could apply it to any aspect of life. Although sufficiency and satisfaction are key to balanced living, many dysregulated eaters (many of us, period) have no idea how to determine what’s enough. They have what I jokingly call an “enough disorder.” To learn more about it, read chapter eight in my book, Starting Monday.
Enough is a felt sense–a physical or emotional sensation that draws attention to itself, a mind/body reaction to internal or external stimuli. An example of the former is how while noodling over what birthday gift to buy someone, say, your brother Joe, you say to yourself, “Well, that’s enough thinking about that.” This thought comes from a feeling of not wanting to continue putting attention on what to buy Joe. You may quit speculating because you’re not getting anywhere coming to a decision, because you have more pressing things to do, or because you resent spending time on what to buy Joe, who rarely remembers to even send you a birthday card.
Sometimes this felt sense pops up as discomfort or pain. If you’re just starting to exercise on a treadmill, you might experience soreness in your legs after only a brief while and see it as indicating that you’ve reached your limit for now. If you don’t take heed, soreness might develop into sharp cramps which assuredly will grab your attention as a way to say, “Get off the treadmill this minute!” Sometimes discomfort approaches gradually and sometimes we ignore it until it morphs into sudden pain.
Often external events demand a decision about what’s enough—how long to listen to a friend drone on about her latest romantic debacle, how far to drive when we’re lost before asking for directions, how much to eat, how late to go to bed or sleep in, and how much time to allow ourselves playing Candy Crush on our phones. In these instances, we experience physical or emotional discomfort that tells us we’ve reached our limit.
Beware of unproductive ways of sussing out enough. One is via guilt or shame. When asked how she determines when enough is enough, one of my clients said, “When my guilt about what I’m doing gets strong enough, I stop.” Guilt and shame work poorly to determine enoughness. Another ineffective strategy is driven by trying to prove that you can do something, which makes it difficult to assess when to stop. What constitutes proof and for whom—you or someone else? What if you’re hurting yourself by trying to prove something? Another unhelpful strategy is doing something until someone tells you
to stop. How will you ever learn what’s enough for you if you constantly depend on others to make this determination?
The goal is to develop an innate, mind/body sensitivity to alert yourself about what’s too much or too little or enough. To do that, ask yourself if you’re still feeling pleasure, satisfaction or enjoyment and, if not, stop. Pleasure usually peaks, and that peak is often a good indicator of enoughness. Surges or prickles of uneasiness (anger, disappointment, displeasure, etc.) may be trying to tell you something. Or, ask yourself if you’re experiencing discomfort or pain and, if so, stop. Check in with yourself frequently and ask, “Am I experiencing a sense of too much or little right now?” or “Have I had enough?” Remember that you carry around the answers to these questions 24/7. Think of it as having your own personal internal search engine for always knowing when enough is enough.
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