Friday, November 13, 2015

Overcoming Overwhelm

Life is full, there is no denying that.  There will always be times and circumstances that feel overwhelming. Yet for most people reading this article, it seems that overwhelm is a constant thing. Through years of coaching I have learned that just by beginning to understand what overwhelm really is, it loses much of its charge; our perception of it changes and so does its hold on us. 

It may come as a surprise to you that overwhelm is simply a habit. Overwhelm is also our paradigm attempting to shut us down. It is the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system that is being triggered.
Let’s take a deeper dive into these ideas and then a look at some solutions to overcome overwhelm.

Clients will often tell me that they are overwhelmed about money, or lack of time, or work. What I have noticed is that, if they are overwhelmed in one area, in reality they are overwhelmed in general and to some extent, in most or all areas of their lives. The area that is the heaviest for them, as individuals, is the one they happen to be most aware of and thus blame for the feelings of overwhelm.

Some people have been overwhelmed their entire life. It is a pattern or habit that may actually have been learned from your parents or other caregivers growing up. If they grew up among family members that felt overwhelmed, then they are accustomed to coping with that environment…essentially they are good at it and thus have attracted or perpetuated that state.

Other people for whom overwhelm is a habit are go-getters, overachievers that tend to take on too much and over time have become really good at managing ‘too much’. In the beginning it is exciting, they feel like they are achieving a lot, then that ‘too much’ becomes a habit that is tiring and now feels overwhelming.

Our paradigms, which are simply sets of habits, beliefs and thought patterns were developed from the time we were children or constructed by our life experiences. It is common to see people become overwhelmed when they have decided to make a major change in their lives; when they decide to change a paradigm that no longer serves them. That part of you that does not want to change…that paradigm that is comfortable with the status quo, will create overwhelm as a tactic to hold you back, to shut down your efforts to change. 

When we are in Fight or Flight mode we are in overwhelm. Fight or Flight served us well millenniums ago when Saber Tooth Tigers were lurking behind every bush. Today it serves us when a bus is coming right at us out of control (or other dire emergencies). The challenge is that our Fight or Flight mechanism is triggered by many everyday stressors that are not dire, sending us into a state of overwhelm when we are actually very capable of handling things. 

Keys to Overcoming Overwhelm

What Would You Love?

Frank Kern tells us that “Overwhelm appears when you have a lack of concrete goals and the absence of a simple yet effective plan to achieve them.” 

He’s right. And let’s take it a step further because if you are a go-getter, you will have so many goals that you will be overwhelmed by the goals regardless of a plan or not. Let’s be frank (no pun intended), goals can sometimes be unexciting, dry and, well, necessary drudgeries in order to get the bigger results. 

You must have a VISION, a dream of the life you would love to live…a purpose and passion. It may even seem like a fantasy at first. It is that life that absolutely makes you come alive when you think of it. It pulls you forward. IT is worth taking a look at all you do, really getting honest with yourself about what things move you in the direction of the vision and what things do not. Once you have decided for your dream you will muster the courage to sort; what gets eliminated, what gets calendared, what gets outsourced, what gets delegated. Now it is time to set goals, make a plan and put systems in place. 

Is your monkey brain screaming ‘yikes, you have to do it all, you can’t give stuff up, delegate, outsource”?  Don’t worry, your ‘monkey brain’ will settle down and  your friends and loved ones, who at first may be put out, will soon be admiring that you actually have a dream and that you are doggedly pursuing it.

Systems Equal Success

The use of systems, routines, procedures and practices may sound confining and restrictive but the reality is that they allow us to put many things on auto-pilot so we don’t have to think and manage every little detail. They create efficiency which means more accuracy and less time. Here are just a few of the things we can put in place so that we can ‘let-go’: fully utilize a calendaring system, calendar everything with time blocks including flex or free time; invest in bookkeeping/money management software like Quicken or Mint; commit to an exercise routine and calendar it; do your chores at the same time/day each week; set-up a tickler system for task and follow-ups; and possibly the most important…institute a daily personal growth practice in which you set your intentions for the day, jot down your wins and gratitudes, review your vision and goals, decide who you will ‘be’ this day.

Mind Your Minutes

We all have 24 hours in our day. Managing the activities within these hours is absolutely critical. Without a doubt you must fully utilize your calendar, block time and stick to it. It is impossible to get everything done however it is totally possible to get everything done that is important for you to do. This is where the vision comes in. Once you know where you are going you are able to determine of all the things that can be done, which serve your vision and which don’t. Some things will get eliminated, some will get scheduled and some will get outsourced. Now you can breathe!

But we are not done yet. I find that in a world where we have so many distractions, minding our minutes is equally important to blocking our time/calendar. We must stay laser focused on the task at hand. An email pops up, we take just a minute to reply; the wash cycle is complete, we take just a minute to start the dryer; a text comes it……you get the picture. It is now well documented that the multi-tasking (a skill many of us are proud to be good at) is highly inefficient. Mind your minutes!

Choose Your Words

“I AM _______” (fill in the blank) is a powerful statement. Use it wisely. When we say or think and “I am busy” or “I am overwhelmed” we are claiming that state. Other words that are disempowering and contribute to overwhelm are: ‘should’, ‘have to’, ‘need to’, ‘got to’, and ‘must’. Try replacing these words in this fashion:

Disempowering                          Empowering

Busy                                          Full
Need                                         Want
Must                                          Choose
Have to                                     Get to
Should                                       Choose
Got to                                       Get to

The ‘thing’ you must do, have to do, should do may really not be something you choose or want to do yet by exchanging these words you shift your energy, you have it, instead of it having you. You are more easily able to find the best in the situation. You feel expansive instead of contracted. You become empowered instead of overwhelmed.

Who Has Who?

I have big dogs that are well behaved and stay at a ‘heel’ most of the time and yet people often ask (out of habit), ‘who’s walking who?’ Circumstances that tend to overwhelm us are kind of like dogs…who’s walking who? The truth is that you are bigger than any circumstance you have. You have a choice; will it ‘have’ you or will you ‘have’ it?  One of my teachers and mentors, Dr. Michael Beckwith says it this way, “instead of telling your God how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your God is!” You get to choose what you do, how much you do, what you would love, what is important for you to do and how you feel about what is going on! Period.
Breaking the Habit

You absolutely can break the habit of overwhelm. How do I know? I have done it and my clients have done it too…using the tools and practices that I have outlined above. This is not one of the habits that we can go ‘cold-turkey’ on however. It will require the rigorous application of these tools over time. It will take persistence, especially when it seems you are not making progress. Create a vision, get your systems in place, be vigilant at minding your minutes, replace disempowering words, and when you feel overwhelmed, press the internal ‘pause button’ and remind yourself that you are far greater than your any circumstance you face.

Need some help with implementing these tools in your life?  Click here to schedule a complimentary strategy session with me.