How to Genuinely Overcome Overwhelm + Breakthrough the Fog
If you're a person who:
logs on each day and scans through dozens or hundreds of emails
sees text messages coming in every five minutes
has a backlog on your to do list
wants to make a difference, not just in a better-mousetrap kind of way, but in a transformative way
feels deep down how important it is to create positive change
...then it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
We set such a high bar for ourselves, and we have to filter through a lot of noise to get to what really matters.
I know that feeling. I know that place.
What I want to do right now is talk about exactly what you can do when you're feeling just that way.
The first thing is to set boundaries.
Setting boundaries instantly reduces your stress.
You can do it immediately. When you're feeling not collected. Or when you're feeling overwhelmed. Even when you are in a panic.
Maybe you need to turn off the news, or only listen to it when you're commuting.
Maybe you need to decide the number of phone calls you'll make per day, or when you'll check email.
You can make the choice about how much is too much, for you, right now.
Recognize that your choice doesn't mean that you're giving up or giving in.
It means you're making sure that you are well enough to contribute.
When we're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, and we’re all tied up inside - from that place, it's not possible to take effective action. It's hard to even ponder what effective action is.
So the first thing is to set great, healthy boundaries.
Look at the areas that are causing the kind of stress that isn't helping you to step into the world the way you want to. Think through (in advance) the boundaries you want to set in each of those areas.
Think through what you want to say “no” to, or let go of. It could be an activity, or an opportunity that doesn’t line up with your goals - it could even be a mindset, or a way you have of talking to yourself. If there’s someone you’ll need to speak to, you may want to practice how you’ll say “no” or reset the boundaries in a careful way.
You can also set boundaries in a moment at the turn of a dime ...
by letting someone know I can't talk about that right now,
by telling someone at the beginning of the conversation, I would love to talk. I have five minutes right now. (Which is different, by the way, than saying, “I only have five minutes,”)
by turning off,
taking a breath.
Once you're feeling clear-headed and clear-hearted, it's much easier to listen to what it is that's really calling you, and to see what the best next step is.
At this point, you may have heard that it’s helpful to get yourself into a good state, and then just think positive.
Here’s a surprising finding:
Research has shown that positive thinking alone can actually make your results worse.
Instead, switch back and forth between thinking positively about your goal (more on that in a moment) and thinking realistically about the steps you can take to get there.
This process of switching between your vision and the process of getting there is called Mental Contrasting, and it was developed by the Motivational Psychologist and NYU Professor Gabrielle Oettingen. This method has been proven to help people achieve everything from better grades to more exercise.
From a focused place, you can use mental contrasting to pull yourself into action.
First conjure up a vivid vision of the future, after your goal has already been achieved.
What it would be like?
Pretend you are already there.
How do you feel?
What you are doing and seeing?
Draw it out in your mind (and on paper, if you want!) as precisely as you can.
This picture of what it is that you're moving towards can compel you forward into action.
The power of seeing what it is we want to create is in the present moment. It is about how that picture motivates us and brings us into action.
Second, think realistically about the steps it will take to reach your goal
What are the things that stand between you and your goal?
If it’s a big and new goal, one of them might that you don’t know all the steps involved. You need to do some research - that’s your first obstacle!
If it’s something you’ve been thinking about or working on for a while, you’ll probably have a good sense of what it takes to get there.
When we can see that future much more clearly, then we can come back to right now and encourage ourselves to take the very next step.
Switch back and forth between your vision and the path to get there
What do you notice?
(You might even discover that the goal isn’t right for you - that by looking at what it would really take, you realize you are not committed, and want to focus elsewhere - what a relief! You get to focus your energy in places that are more alive for you.)
If you become very clear that, yes, this is what you do want to do, then…
Take the very next step right away
The very next step might be to brainstorm 10 things.
It might be to pick up the phone and make a call.
It might be to draw a mind map or read an article.
The thing is, you already know what the next steps are. Somewhere inside yourself you know.
Ask yourself: what is it that I can do right now?
Do it! (seriously, stop reading and go do it.)
There's a huge place for analysis and research (hey, maybe that's even your next step), but when it comes to making sure that you are moving forward towards your vision, the most important thing is that you move.