The word "overwhelm" drives me a little crazy. Not just feeling it, but also thinking it.
I heard it in my head just this morning as I was getting out of bed: "What's on today's to-do list?" I could have listed 20 things easily... and right behind that thought, a feeling washed over me. I immediately named it: "Overwhelm."
And with that feeling and word, I felt stuck. Ugh! How am I supposed to move forward when I'm feeling this way?
(Is this a familiar scene? Have you been there as well?)
I realized a split second later where I had gone wrong. It occurred to me that I'd named that feeling incorrectly.
I wasn't feeling overwhelmed. I was feeling a lack of direction, which was making my world blurry, and so I was feeling confused and... lost. Ah-ha! That was a better word, I realized. I was feeling LOST!
And in the moment that I gave it that different word, I also saw a route forward. If I am lost, then I need a map! That will help me see how to get from where I am to where I want to be.
So, this is what I did about it:
First, I grabbed a stack of post-its and a marker, and I found a blank wall. I asked: "What are all the things I could do today?" and filled the wall with the possibilities.
Ten minutes later, I studied what I'm now calling my "wall of possibilities" (clearly, obvious works for me) and I asked: "Out of this list, what will get me from where I am to where I want to go?"
And suddenly, I didn't feel lost or overwhelmed. I felt focused and directed. I knew two things: (1) What to do next, and
(2) what to do after that.
The most interesting aspect about this is that I often carry the same mantra as many others: Focus on one thing... Just the one thing that you need to do next.
But I find it more helpful if I know what the next two or three things are that follow my one next thing.
Focusing on one thing is to do a task or activity.
Knowing what the next two or three things are that follow is to have a path or a map that gives us a sense of direction.
The former will help you get a thing done.
The latter will help you get where you want to go.
These are the key takeaways that I want to share with you:
- "Overwhelmed" is an overused and vague word. If you feel this, see if you can find a more useful word that gives you a better idea of what is really going on.
- Feeling stuck or overwhelmed is just that… a feeling. If you ever feel overrun by a negative emotion like that, I invite you to stop and see if you can get clearer on what is driving that feeling. When you dig deeper, you find the things that will get you unstuck.
- Getting ideas out of your head and out where you can see them can help create orientation. (I often leave the post-its up for weeks and revisit them daily.)
- To get clear on your path, don’t only focus on what’s next. Instead, orient towards where you want to end up and ask a more powerful question: "What do I need to do to get from here to there?"
- Don't just figure out the one thing you need to do next. Also figure out the step that will likely follow after it. A single next step is just a task or an activity. Two or three next steps bring a sense of direction and purpose.
I hope you find this useful, and that it helps you find your own sense of direction.
Do you have a tip for how you manage it when you feel overwhelmed? Please share it in the comments below!