Solving Overwhelm is one of the least pleasant places to spin and one of my favorite topics to coach on!
I think what I love about this animal of a topic is that it is totally solvable. A lot of ambitious people find themselves, at times, feeling overwhelmed. However, once we solve for it, once we untangle the knots, your drive and ambition are free to run ahead at full speed again.
There are some different angles I want to look at when it comes to Solving Overwhelm. Understandably, the first is when you know you’re feeling overwhelmed about all of the things in your life. But that’s about the only thing you can pinpoint. This probably looks something like you running around like a chicken with your head cut off. You have high urgency on a million things, your energy for all of it is quickly depleting, and you start passing through the curtain from thriving to simply surviving your experiences.
If this is you, I want you to sloooooooooooow it way down and take a closer look.
I suspect, in many cases, that it isn’t the long list of things that have you overwhelmed. In addition to that: the associate who just quit, and the in-laws coming to stay with you, and the remodel taking twice as long as you’d planned…there’s a thought about it all. What is that thought? Because blaming the list items, or thinking that if only one or all of them were different, is not a high-value activity for you to spend your time on.
What is useful is discovering the thought those things are boiling down to in your mind. It may be something as simple as, “this is overwhelming,” or, “this will never work.”
Notice your thoughts and notice yourself. Because if you’re going to advance, if you’re going to maximize your potential. You cannot be stuck in a time sucker like overwhelm. I’m not suggesting that you’re choosing these thoughts on purpose that perpetuate your overwhelm. But I am recommending that you deliberately become aware of them and how they are impacting you. Thoughts always have an impact on the way you experience your life. Becoming aware of them – all of them – is the first step to advanced mind management. And managing your mind at the highest level is the highway to your greatest goals.
A few months ago a dentist hired a friend of mine to consult on his practice. At the end of their first day together the consultant, who had been assessing things, said, “Okay. I can see exactly what we need to do. It’s going to be a lot of work, we’re gonna get this practice in shape, but I need your commitment that for the duration of our contract there is no allowance for overwhelm.”
A couple of days later the dentist saw something I’d posted in a dental forum and we started working together that week. He’s doing amazing now, by the way – a complete success story who dove into the work. He grabbed every tool I’d hand him and is leading his life with a remarkably different energy than he had when we first met.
Here’s what I noticed with this client who is like many that I’ve worked with on this. He knew he wanted to implement whatever his consultant recommended. This dentist had sought out and was willingly paying for the recommendations, so wanting those changes and being willing to do the work involved with them was something he was clear on. He also knew, apparently as soon as he was told that overwhelm was not an option, that he was, already, overwhelmed and that that feeling was likely to increase if he remained without additional perspective. As we talked about his situation, it became clear that he had known had been overwhelmed for a long time. For him and for many of us, being overwhelmed had snuck into his life, and had become somewhat of a regular attendee in his daily experiences. It was dragging him down and holding him back.
If this sounds familiar, I know I don’t have to convince you that that’s not where you want to stay. Your time is far too valuable and there is so much life worth living, that allowing your mind to park in the stagnant pollution of overwhelm seems like a choice worth questioning. And if that’s not where you want to stay, if you’re done being overwhelmed, then I want to offer you some practical advice.
Recognize that the brain likes patterns. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed for some time now, it may be a default response to your situation. Figuring out the list – moving through the obstacles that are in front of you – requires energy and thinking power. And that’s okay because our brains are designed to think, and create, and evolve! We’re totally equipped to take on complex challenges and long lists. We’re equipped to do it without becoming completely overwhelmed.
Something that I find helps me a lot is to write down the list. That should come pretty easily. Because when I talk with you guys you’re able to quickly tell me what’s weighing heavy on your plate.
So make a list of those things and figure out which are the most time-sensitive. There may be one, there may be ten, but once you know the time-sensitive ones, you choose one. Quickly. This can be hard when there are a ton of things you need to do and they’re all important, but on the list of things that you are personally responsible for doing, pick the first one you’re going to focus on and get that in motion.
Require your brain to stay committed to thinking about the list item you’ve chosen. Be quick to redirect your mind if it offers you thoughts about any of the other items. You’ll get to those. Right now, you’re doing the first one. You are constraining. You’re gaining authority over your mind. And by the way, your mind would rather stay in the familiar discomfort of overwhelm than embark on something unfamiliar – even if the changes you’re making are beneficial. Know that about your brain and use that knowledge to empower yourself as you insist on moving through your list, one focused thing at a time.
When you’re finished with that, move onto the next item on your list. And this may sound overly simple compared to what you’re dealing with, and perhaps the list-making action is, but what I’m offering you is something powerful. I’m offering you the option to permit yourself to choose quickly, work on one thing at a time, and refuse to stay stuck in overwhelm. Give yourself the gift of functioning at a more productive level. One that requires more, keeps you moving and continues your personal growth.
The strength you will gain in holding yourself to a higher standard – where you’re not dwelling in overwhelm – will propel you as you work toward higher levels of living, leading, and producing. An inner strength that will carry you through the next set of things and increase your confidence in your ability to a lot of complex things in a timely manner. How would that feel? There’s a distinct contrast between the energy of an overwhelmed person and the energy of a confidently determined person who’s checking things off of their to-do list. Which one do you want to be? And how do you need to think about your list to be that version of yourself?
Notice your overwhelm, notice the thoughts driving it, make a list, choose quickly, and take action…without overwhelm. This works and it is totally worth it!!
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