Every modern day car has one that is obvious to see and easy to read — every modern day parent has one that unfortunately, is difficult to see and even harder to read: An RPM gauge.
It is the dial on your dashboard that you see hitting the redline as you hammer your minivan towards the grocery store parking lot when you have exactly T-minus 11 minutes to buy one week’s worth of dinner, five days’ worth of lunches, two lbs. of diapers; and some tooth paste and floss in case you’re actually granted the luxury of flossing your teeth sometime this month.
Thankfully, you don’t need a mechanic’s license to understand the purpose of the RPM gauge. It tells you when your engine is revving too high.
Each of us has an RPM gauge in our lives, as well.
It tells you when your life engine is revving too high. The problem is, unlike the redlined dial on the dashboard of your car, life’s RPM gauge is not so obvious to read. But it is critical to learn how to see it to ensure your engine of life runs most optimally.
That is to say, in order for you to be the best version of you — the version of you that feels whole in many areas of your life, not just one or two. The version of you that is content, grateful, joyous, inspired and encouraged. The version that both loves and likes your spouse, that both loves and enjoys your children. The version that is happy with the physical activities your body can do, the mental places your mind can go to and the social and solo actives you can explore and thrive in. The version of you that is equal parts content and motivated for more greatness. That version, needs your engine to run at the optimal level, and at a sustainable level. Your life’s RPM gauge speaks to you directly and lets you know when you’re running sub-optimally.
Before we dive into figuring out what your RPM gauge for life is, and how to read it, let’s look a few key points about the gauge itself.
- It has less to do with speed and much more to do with effort. You can be going very fast while still keeping your RPM low; and conversely, you can be going very slow, yet still have your RPM too high.
- Different engines reach the redline at different RPMs. A diesel truck redlines at a much lower RPM than a Formula 1 race car.
- The RPM gauge serves a fundamental purpose to the operation of the engine. The redline ain’t there for decorations. It’s talking to you and telling you to change something. You may need to change gears. You may need to get rid of old oil for new. You may need a major tune-up.
Three Key Factors in Managing Life Well
These three components to the RPM gauge are critical to managing life well:
1. Speed is not the only dial you need to read.
Do not let busyness and productivity be the only guide you rely on. It may be an accurate reflection of how hard your engine is working but it may not be. If all things in your life are running smoothly, on all cylinders so to speak, you may be able to hold a very high rate of speed (i.e. productivity) while still maintaining a low RPM. Think of the times in your life when most things were going well (and let’s hope that there is a period of time that you can think of — if not, keep reading and let’s work on that). For example, relationships in your life were in a good place; you were enjoying your chosen vocation and passionate about your work or hobbies; you were stimulated socially and cerebrally; physically active; and you still had free time available in your schedule to enjoy some leisure time. It’s quite likely that you were getting a lot done in a week, without feeling overwhelmed by it. That is to say, your speed was high, your RPM was low.
The inverse is equally true. Consider a time when things weren’t running so smoothly. A relationship gone bad; a toxic atmosphere at work; a physical injury that sidelined you. During those periods, it’s likely that normal day-to-day activities seemed harder and more difficult. Your speed was slower, yet your RPM was higher.
2. Different Engines Have Different Thresholds.
Not only do different engines have different thresholds, but the same engine, under different conditions, can also have varying thresholds. The very same principle is true for us, as human beings — and in particular as parents. What may have been a benign event for you as a 20- year old single person, may elicit an entirely different response as a sleep deprived 40-year old. And likewise, what your mom or dad friend’s seem “okay to handle” may not be true for you.
Rather than being discouraged by that, take solace in the notion that a) what those people say they can handle may not actually be true (it’s all too often human nature to present better than we actually are — and parenting is no exception to this); and b) someone else’s threshold should not be the standard for yourself. The diesel truck engine should not be comparing itself to the Formula 1 car and vice versa. The Formula 1 vehicle is great for the track, and the truck is great off the road. They’re both valuable but they have different RPM gauges and they only run, at their best, when they read their own gauge, not others. This is the social version of keeping up with the Joneses. Not from a material standpoint, but with respect to threshold in life. Don’t fall prey to it.
3. Read the Redline and Listen to its Commands. It’s Trying to Help You.
Finally, it’s critical to understand why the redline is there. It’s telling you to make a change. Your engine’s not running at the optimal level — and much more importantly — this level is not sustainable. Change or implode.
Finding Your Life’s RPM Gauge
So, what are some RPM gauges in life, and how do you know when you’re redlining?
It’s taken me a while to really figure mine out and distill it down, but I’ve realized that for me it isn’t fatigue, loss of motivation, or even stress.
My RPM gauge redlines when I find myself changing from gracious to pugnacious.
When I walk into a room like Bodacious the Bull walks into an arena, I know I’m redlining. It’s just not who I normally am…and that is telling me something.
Normally, I consistently idle at a content spot. I’m very intense, to be sure. But I’m a happy-intense-guy — not an angry-intense-guy (there’s a significant difference), except when I’m redlining. When my RPM gauge hits the redline, I find myself getting toxic. I think toxic things and I want to say toxic words.
When I’m standing in line waiting for a coffee and the person in front of me is a 108-year old man who wants to pay for his coffee with a combination of coins from countries that no longer exist and buttons from sweaters he no longer wears, I sense my vitriol rise, and toxic, impatient anger, setting in. Instead of being amused and cheered by the comical scene in front of me — or better yet, reflecting in the extra 90 seconds I had to spend in line that day, I get pugnasty instead.
Before I understood that I had my own RPM gauge in life, I used to stay at that redline point far too long.
In fact, my remedy for it, would be to push further into it.
“Pugnasty Paul” would stick around far too long, looking for fights. The net result was often much less than ideal. Understanding what my redline is and being able to read it, has really helped me adjust to it much sooner and more efficiently.
Other people’s redlines may be much different and perhaps more objective:
Missing your favourite yoga class three weeks in a row may be a sign that you’re redlining and not setting aside the requisite “me” time you need to run optimally.
Recognizing that you’ve gone weeks without laughter;
A loss of intimacy with your lover;
Being short tempered with your children;
It can be as serious as a noticeable reduction in your drive and will to succeed; or as seemingly benign as noticing that that it’s been six weeks since you actually just sat down for a night to veg out, watching your favourite show.
Regardless of what your RPM gauge is, the message is always the same: You’re not the best version of you; your engine is redlining — make a change.
Two more things before I wrap this bad boy up:
On a very personal note, I wrote this article this month at a time when I was redlining beyond belief. A short while ago, I received a less than ideal health diagnosis about someone I love dearly. I proceeded to bottle-up my emotions deep in the belly of the beast. Rather than processing them, I avoided them.
Sadly, they didn’t go away. Burying myself in busyness and business, led to great productivity in my life, but my soul was becoming an increasingly tortured one. And to my shame, I didn’t instantly follow the very advice I’m advocating in this article (I know, I know, awful — but hey, sometimes even accountants let their books get unbalanced!) I saw my RPM redline, but I didn’t immediately make the changes that were necessary to lower them. That decision had consequences. The manifestation of mismanaging my redline only caused more damage to my engine. They began to make their way into my work life and my personal life. Even my Sun-seeking activities became Kryptonic. Thankfully, I eventually owned-up, and read my gauge and made the necessary changes.
Final point. You’ll read this article today and a plethora of others as well. That’s great. I’m glad you’ve chosen to read this one amidst the host of others.
And I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. “Damn, this article is good. Insightful and humorous. Wow. And this author, actually is so bull-necked.” Thank you. I appreciate the kind words. But that’s not what I actually want you to think (I mean, I’m not troubled by you thinking that)…but it will be disappointing to me if you only read this article, rather than actually taking something from it.
Think about it this way: you’ve already spent the time to read this, so get a reward for it. Challenge yourself today to actually think about, and find your RPM gauge. It’s worth the effort. Start your engines.