Outwitting Overwhelm – from Frustration to Freedom
If you’ve been following my blog for the last few weeks, you may have noticed that many of the posts have been about getting unstuck, overcoming procrastination and overwhelm, and moving forward. That’s because these are challenges I’ve been working through lately. And one of the best ways I know to find answers and solutions to my challenges is, well, to write about them. I think it’s because writing about something requires you to hold a question in your mind that allows you to access answers. Sometimes my answers come through writing, and sometimes they come through in other ways.
One of the insights I received came through watching my nine year old son do his homework. There is a dynamic there that has both fascinated and frustrated me. The kid is really smart. And his homework is really not that hard. He could sit down and finish it in a matter of minutes. But the second he pulls it out of his backpack, something happens that literally freezes him in his tracks. It’s as if a huge mountain has suddenly erupted out of the page and grown into a formidable and intimidating barrier between what he needs to do and his ability to get it done.
He sits and stares at the paper. He complains about the work it requires him to do. He worries that he’s not going to be able to do it right (or at all). And then any little thing that captures his attention suddenly absorbs every ounce of energy and focus he has. A bug. A little drop of water on the counter. The way the numbers on the digital clock change with each minute. Thin air has even captivated him in this state. And hours can go by before he has mustered enough courage and motivation to even raise a pencil to paper.
“Ryan,” my husband and I tell him, “in the time you take to complain and fuss about it, you could have it finished!” “You can easily do this – you are so smart!” we tell him. Amazing. None of that seems to get through.
And then I realized that my son is a mirror image of me when I get overwhelmed.
It’s not that the tasks are all that hard or the obstacles too entirely difficult to overcome. It’s that somehow my mind enlarges them to several times their normal size so that it feels as though I am getting ready to tackle Mount Everest when in reality I only need to take a little stroll around the block. I tell myself stories (sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously) about how difficult things will be – especially things I’ve never done before. And I get sucked into the crazy fallacy I have battled my entire life that has me believing I need to get everything perfect. Before I even realize what’s going on, I feel totally fatigued – can’t even think straight. And then I need to just sit for awhile – or go find something to do that is easy, so I can check a box and feel as though I have accomplished something, anything.
So now I know where my son gets it. Instead of trying to teach him. I have decided to allow him to be my teacher. In addition to showing me what is standing in my way, he has reminded me that all the words in the world don’t make a difference when you are trying to teach someone to do something you have not yet mastered. Kids learn through action, not words. And so do adults.
So if I’m going to do even a lick of good for this kid, (and my other kids, and my clients, and anyone else I might want to help), I have got to get busy working on myself. But how do you overcome a lifetime of perfectionistic patterns that keep you from taking the action necessary to achieve your grandest visions and goals?
With this question at the top of my mind, I went for a run. As with just about any of my runs, the first fifteen minutes was hard. I was tired and stiff. It wasn’t fun. But I powered through it. And then I got into my zone. My legs felt lighter. My breathing evened out. My head began to clear. I started to enjoy myself. And I ran a little faster and a little harder. It felt good.
And then I had a second, equally powerful insight. To break out of the perfectionism trap – to get out of overwhelm, to free myself from my own self-created prison, I simply need to get into action. To take even one small step toward my desired goal – with the knowledge that at first it may be uncomfortable, stilted, far from pretty, less than perfect. And then to take another, and another and another. Until finally I reach my zone. I have a feeling the more diligence and effort I put into those initial steps, the more quickly I will get through that “warm up” period and into a place where I can actually make headway – and – dare I say it – even have some fun?!
So that’s my simple plan. And I’m sticking to it. And when I need a little more motivation and inspiration, I’m going to go hang out with my son for awhile.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
~ Albert Einstein
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