The OWL Scale
Better navigate changes in your Capacity and Overwhelm in the most difficult moments.
“How am I doing? How much am I stretching in this moment? Am I overwhelmed?
I ask myself this often during the day, before a challenge, and during a challenge. I’ll even ask a version of this when I’m making a plan/commitment for the future. E.g. “When I imagine doing this in a future where I’m handling just as much as I’m handling now, how stretched do I feel?” I outline a few ways to use the scale below; however, I'm regularly impressed by my clients' new uses of it.
A numerical scale helps me gain more awareness of how my capacity changes moment to moment:
1–2 At Ease/Recovery Zone: I am enjoying myself; I am Relaxing, Resting
3–5 Workable/Flow Zone: This is not super easy and I could stretch more without pain
6–7 Stretched/Growth Zone: This is hard, I got this, and I can change the situation
8–9 Overwhelmed/Burn out Zone: this is not working... I am not sure what to do
10 Completely Overwhelmed/Danger Zone: I have no sense of choice in what’s happening and am having some form of out-of-body or black-out experience
This is playfully named the OWL (OverWhelm Level) for the Harry Potter superfan that helped develop it.
Use OWL Immediately in Difficult Convos
Set a capacity care container (for you and a person or people you are in difficult conversation with)
Agree to discuss the topic for a limited amount of time OR if either person goes above a certain level of overwhelm
Set a timer (e.g. 10 minutes)
Set a plan for what you’ll do to transition/stop when you’re done
Involve some care for each other to “close the container”: e.g. name what needs of yours were nourished, what you like about each other, or why it was meaningful to do this work together
- Plan to do some gentle & easeful & kind activity together afterward (maybe walk, maybe a game, whatever you enjoy together)
- Leave the choice to not do the plans as you close out if one of you was overly triggered
Set a 2nd regular timer (maybe every 5 or 10 minutes) during the conversation to check in & share each person’s capacity/overwhelm level. Hold awareness of how everyone’s overwhelm might be increasing during the time and stay mindful of the original agreement on when to stop the conversation
- Schedule three alarms for every day (morning, afternoon, evening).
- Whenever the alarm goes off, write down the context of the moment, the time, date, and what your current capacity/overwhelm level is. E.g. "Writing an email to my boss, 6:30pm, 11/5, 7.5 OWL"
- After 1-2 weeks of tracking this, see if you can spot any patterns around what in your life helps you rest, where you find flow, what stretches you, and what overwhelms you.
When you have an hour of free time, what typically decreases your overwhelm level? How do you restore yourself?
Are there any habits you have during your free time that do not restore you? Any habits that are meant for your enjoyment, but actually make you more stressed, sick, or tired that you wish you did not practice? How can you let go of these habits?
When you are in the middle of a difficult conversation, what small activities can you try doing that will help decrease your overwhelm level?
What does the OverWhelm Level scale miss? Are there things that are important for you to pay attention to that are not captured in the list?
How do you want to navigate out of conversations and/or activities that you are unwilling to participate in?
- Looking to Go Deeper?
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