How to Conquer Overwhelm

One of the reasons we struggle with making significant change is this thing called overwhelm. At least, overwhelm is one of my arch-enemies.

Photo Credit: rex dart: eskimo spy via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: rex dart: eskimo spy via Compfight cc

Why Overwhelm Is an Enemy

My garage oppresses me (the picture above isn’t mine, though).  Boxes of holiday decorations (from Easter to Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas). Out of place tools (because there’s no good place to put them). Toys, old toddler beds, bikes, bags of debris from a bathroom remodeling project.

It’s a big mass of ‘What do I do?’

That’s how we feel about making personal life change. We see where we are and have an idea of where we want to be, but the gap appears ridiculously huge. So we grind to a halt and don’t even start.

  • We have habits that need to be broken or established.
  • We have health, career, or other goals that we’ve been aiming at for years.
  • We have mindsets that need to be updated, changed, or completely rewired.
  • We have lies and false beliefs that we have to identify and replace with truth.
  • We have clutter in our physical surroundings that distracts us.

The combination of these elements plots against our desire for growth.

Consequently, we don’t start, or we do what I do in the garage: I walk around looking at things, picking items up and putting them down, and then just go back into the house and watch TV.

Just Start

The key to battling overwhelm, and to experience greater growth, is to have some sort of a plan. But even a plan can be overwhelming (if you want to walk through a planning process, try my 14 Day Starting Well Challenge).

Obviously, people experience growth without a plan. But many of us struggle because we hang out in the land of wishful thinking.

No amount of wishful thinking will clean my garage, anymore than it will change my health, my success at work, or my ability to be a better dad or husband.

So develop a plan if you can do so without procrastinating. The whole planning thing might be a source of overwhelm, so let’s simplify it further:

Pick the tiniest first step and take it.

That’s it. If it’s a project, what is the tiniest thing you can do to move the ball down the field? Do that one thing. Maybe it’ll give you momentum.

Having a plan is powerful. Being able to break the plan down into tiny, little bite-sized chunks enables action.

Back to my garage: If I look at it as a whole, I’m beaten. If I look at one surface or even one item, then I can win.

If I’m overwhelmed, I just need to create the little wins. One date with my spouse. One Lego construction with my child. One walk to the end of the street and back. One cold call.

Three Suggestions on Taking the First Step

I just have to take the first step and start. Let me leave you with three suggestions on how to take a first step and start, regardless of the type of change you’re going after (a home project, relationship work, personal/health improvement):

  1. Pick one thing: If this is a project, dumb it down to it’s most ridiculously tiny first step and do it. Then, perhaps, do another.
  2. Give yourself a time limit: Set a timer for 5, 10, 25 minutes and go for it.
  3. Schedule a time to eat the frog: This means to do the most difficult, uncomfortable thing to get the ball rolling. If the thing that overwhelms you is relational in nature or otherwise requires one bold step, schedule a time when you will eat the frog – or do it now. Make the call. Send the email. Write the letter.

Questions (Drop a Response in the Comments):

  • How does overwhelm prevent you from making progress?
  • What do you do to battle feeling overwhelmed by a key project or area in life that you want to see major change?

 

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