By Jocelyn Lovelle

Outward: Capacity and rest

When we’re at or beyond capacity – to take on more work, to parent our children with grace, to sit with our partners and talk deeply, to feed ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically – which most of us are, how do we regain balance?

How do we unwind those habits of overcommitting, and begin to practice living and working, the majority of the time, under capacity, so that we have space for rest and play, to say yes to the unexpected or even something impulsive? 

Learning to create balance in our capacity helps us show up for ourselves and therefore our clients with more energy, efficiency and grace. It allows us to lead from the soul of our brand, rather than the to-dos of our role.

We often confuse capacity with bandwidth. We think we can take on more because we want to, because we should, because it’s for a good cause, or because we’re people pleasers, but we misjudge how much time (bandwidth) we will need. This leaves us overcommitted physically, mentally and emotionally. 


Capacity is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as:

the potential or suitability for holding, storing, or accommodating

the maximum amount or number that can be contained or accommodated

the faculty or potential for treating, experiencing, or appreciating

an individual’s mental or physical ability

the facility or power to produce, perform, or deploy 

maximum output

The preciousness of our time and energy

As humans, we are built for holding, storing, accommodating: love, knowledge, joy, grief, stress, play. In the western world, we have confused being at our maximum capacity, of idolizing busyness, with being valuable. We do this at the loss of our potential to experience and appreciate the preciousness of our time and energy. We push ourselves to the edges of our mental and physical abilities without recognizing the beauty (and strain) of how much our minds and bodies conform to our will. We run at maximum output to produce and perform. 

This serves no one. Not ourselves, not our businesses and not our clients.

We are all tired. And what we need most is rest. Not forever, maybe not even a lot of it. But we need to incorporate rest into the cacophony of our business and personal lives. 

When I think about capacity, I think about overwhelm, about emptiness and volume.

Many years ago, when I first started to take my mental, emotional and physical wellness seriously, as something I could manage and have a healthy relationship with, I was told by someone, “Your bucket isn’t just full, it’s overflowing. You can’t process what’s already in there, much less take on more right now.” 

Most of us, in this post(ish)-pandemic, pre-election, intra-war moment are beyond capacity. Our buckets are overflowing, and there’s a hose on full blast, pouring more water in. We try to collect all that is spilling out, but it runs through our fingers. We need to turn off the hose, to let the water in the bucket settle and still. We need to lower the level enough that we can carry that bucket without sloshing water all over our just-mopped floor.

Writer, broadcaster and podcaster, Emma Gannon, described what a well-balanced bucket looks like for her when she said, “I know that I’m in a good place mentally when I have capacity. Capacity for others, for myself, for a friend in need, for my work. I can respond to a text, or take an unexpected call, or take an impromptu walk without feeling like something is being taken from me.”

How do we go from overflowing to having room for more?

Boundaries and rest.

Boundaries are the key to cultivating capacity, for work, for play, for relationships, for humaning. And rest is the key to sustaining a working capacity so we can include in our work and our play all the things that are most important to us.

The term boundaries has become a catchphrase for influencers and meme makers, but that doesn’t dilute the power behind the word, the power of being clear on what you can and cannot take on – as a human and as a leader in your space.

Three steps to setting boundaries:

1. Know your why. What do you value most? What are your non-negotiables? Where must you spend your time and energy? And don’t confuse must with should. Must is internal, soul level. Should is external, other-based. As Elle Luna puts it, “Must is what you believe, what you know to be true, when you are alone with your truest, most authentic self.”

2. Start saying no. This isn’t limited to saying no to things other people ask of you. It includes saying no to things that don’t feed you like social media, overuse of screen time, relationships that drain your energy.

3. Practice. Choose a phrase that works for you and practice it when no one is watching. Some of our favorites:

  • My schedule doesn’t allow for that currently, but I’m happy to talk about it in (x) months.
  • I’m honored you asked, but my plate is full.
  • In order to fully show up for my current commitments, I cannot take anything else on.

Once we start setting boundaries, we can also start devoting that extra bandwidth to rest. We often resist the idea of rest, imagining a forced nap from toddlerhood. Rest encompasses a vast array of activities and inactivities. Yes, maybe rest means a nap now and then. But rest is not sleep. Rest is what we do when we listen to our bodies. Do we need a walk, a swim, low physical exertion or high? Do we need to just sit and watch the clouds? Do we need to talk with a friend? Anything that is restorative to our souls, that isn’t measured in KPIs, is rest. 

Rest is not a reward, it’s not the carrot we dangle to our overproducing selves. Rest is a key ingredient to having both more bandwidth and more capacity. It’s like the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” The same goes for rest. 

As the overflow of our buckets lessens, as we start to incorporate rest into our daily lives, we start to notice, like Gannon says, that we can take on small, joyful things without feeling like we’re failing to do something else. 

We are no longer working at maximum output, but have found the balance between input and output. We have found our sustainable capacity, where we feel full and rested and able to hold, store, and accommodate. 

We see that our plate has room for one more thing, but we leave that space empty for ourselves.  

Let’s Talk!