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Overcoming Overwhelm

October 12th, 2010 · No Comments · Personal Leadership, Productivity

Fall is here – that exciting, dynamic time of year when we harvest all the good we’ve been working toward this year. However, it’s also a time when the pace of our lives can suddenly ramp up uncontrollably. For many of us, the pace of fall can push our already busy lives over the top and we feel overwhelmed.

Overwhelm is a major obstacle to living our passion and making our unique contribution in our business. When we’re overbooked, overcommitted and overstretched, it’s almost impossible to experience joy. If your life has started to feel like a herd of runaway horses, this month’s article will give you steps to help you take charge of your pace, whatever opportunities or demands come your way this month.

“According to a recent study from Families and Work Institute,
about one third of employees feel overwhelmed
by the amount of work they have to do”
Dr. Edward Hallowell, CrazyBusy

It happens to all of us from time to time. Overwhelm. Whether we’re juggling an impossible work load or dealing with an overbooked schedule, we all know the feeling of having just too many spinning plates on the go.

We describe it many ways. For me, overwhelm feels like standing in front of a fire hose trying to take a drink. One client says that she feels “slammed.” Another depicts it as “trying to breathe underwater.” However we describe it, even when it’s our passion, too much is still too much.

No matter how hectic your life feels, you can do something about it. In fact, it’s vitally important that you do. Overwhelm kills your passion. You need breathing space in your life to feel joie de vivre, hear your intuition and be open to grace. Here are five tips to help you take charge in the midst of overwhelming circumstances and restore your well-being, productivity and joy.

First, stop.

When we face an overwhelming onslaught, usually we knee jerk into automatic reactions to take care of ourselves. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I speed up. I try to do more, faster, but I just slide into frenetic busy-ness and still don’t catch up.”
  • “I freeze. I suddenly go mentally blank and have no idea about what to do first.”
  • “I try to fight off feeling overwhelmed, but I just start to fume and feel sorry for myself.”
  • “I rebel. I turn into an angry little kid and just ignore my commitments.”

However you attempt to cope, these patterns take you on a downward spiral to frustration, stress and ineffectiveness. Next time, as soon as you realize you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop.

Recognize that you’ve crossed the line. The act of naming and embracing overwhelm for what it is can be like finding a clearing in the midst of a dense woods. It opens breathing space and you can start to look for the path out. Then ask…

What’s going on, really?

Too much to do. Not enough time. A creeping sense of stress. Though the symptoms of overwhelm always seem the same, the reasons can be dramatically different. There are two very different causes: task and emotion.

It could be that you simply underestimated the length of time a task, and you’re suffering from task overload. The way out is to step back and re-think your timeline, and make changes to your game plan.

However, it amazes me how often the real culprit isn’t an excessively large to do list. It’s fear.

We’re out of our comfortable zone and our inner protector is just doing it’s best to save us by flooding us with emotions. If so, moving faster or getting more organized won’t bring relief.

Though it might seem like the last thing you’d do, the real solution is to stand back, take time to feel your fear, listen to its message, and nurture yourself. It’s the key to restoring your creative flow. Then, check…

“Can I or can’t I?”

No matter how out of control the situation may feel, the surefire way to put yourself back in the driver’s seat is to ask:

“What can I change here?” “What can’t I change?”

These basic questions are remarkably powerful. One of the greatest wasters of your time, creativity and energy is focusing on what you can’t do. These questions cut through the fog and put your feet on firm ground. Now ask…

“What is the 20% that will make the biggest difference now?”

We’ve probably all heard Pareto’s Law, that 80% of the results are produced by 20% of the actions. I don’t exactly know how that works, but I do know that the law gives us a great tool to use when we feel swamped.

When we’re overwhelmed, we can’t do everything. We can’t do everything. I know, I hate facing that too. But, here’s the thing. It just can’t all be done. We need to let go of the illusion that it can.

Ask yourself, “What’s the 20% I can do?” This question will help you find the hidden opportunity buried in your feelings of overwhelm. Life is challenging you to get very clear about what matters most. What’s most important now? The pivotal point in turning around your overwhelm is to honestly identify the 20% that matters most, and boldly adopt this, and only this, with simplicity of focus.

“Is there a driving motivator at play?”

Now, I want to take this one step further. It’s a hard question, but I have to ask. Do you feel over run by life often? Has it become a chronic pattern? If so, this could be a signal that there’s and underlying hidden driver and it’s keeping you trapped.

I know this question can feel unfair because the pace of our world these days just keeps speeding up, and speeding up. Cell phones. Email. Blueberries or Greenberries. It all adds up to a faster and faster “normal.”

Here’s the tough truth. Taking charge of the pace of our life will never come from the outside. It won’t come from a boss, or the company, a spouse or even a coach. Living and working at a life enriching pace can only come from you. The secret to this is getting a handle on the hidden driving motivator.

Could your driver be the people-pleasing dance? Trying to do it right, or perfectly? Attempting to be the super hero and save the day? Trying to prove you’re good enough?

When we attempt to get our emotional needs met through our performance, it locks us into an engulfing pace. Get the support to unhook from these drivers and regain the freedom to choose.

This fall, if you start to feel overpowered by the pace of your life, I invite you to use these questions to take charge. You deserve to have the breathing space you need to flourish in your passion business and feel soul-level fulfillment.



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