The Super Simple Secret to Outwitting Overwhelm
Not all that long ago, I went through a period where I felt overwhelmed and stuck. Beneath my frustration was curiosity about where it was coming from and what was the best way to move beyond it.
One day, as I was watching my young son do his homework, I had a fascinating and frustrating insight.
This kid is really smart. And his homework is just not that hard for him. He could finish it in the time it takes to make a peanut butter sandwich. But seconds after he would pull it from his backpack a whole new dynamic came into play. It was as though a huge brick wall suddenly erupted from the page and grew a hundred feet tall.
He’d sit and stare at his paper. He’d complain about all the work he had to do. He’d worry that he wouldn’t be able to do it right (or at all). And then he’d become completely fixated on any little thing that captured his attention. A bug. A drop of water on the counter. The way the numbers on the digital clock change with each minute. And hours could go by before he had even touched his pencil to paper.
After watching for a while, I heard myself telling him, “In the time it takes you to moan and complain about it, you could have it done! You can get through this easily – you are so smart!” But nothing I said was getting through.
And then I realized that my son was a mirror image of me when I get overwhelmed.
It’s not that what must get done is all that difficult.
It’s that my mind had a way of magnifying things several times their normal size so that it felt like I must tackle Mount Everest when in reality I only needed to take a little walk around the block. I told myself stories (sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously) about how hard things will be or how long they would take – especially things that were new to me.
And then I’d fall into my old, familiar pitfall of trying to make everything perfect. Before I even realized what was going on, I felt totally exhausted and depleted. And then I needed relief—even just doing something that’s easy—so I could check a box and feel like I had accomplished something, anything.
Once I realized where my son got it, I decided to stop trying to teach him and let him teach me.
In addition to showing me what was standing in my way, he 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.
I knew that to help my son (or anyone else for that matter) in even the smallest way, I had to get busy working on myself. And then a new question arose: how can I overcome a lifetime of perfectionistic patterns that keep me from doing what’s necessary to achieve my grandest visions and goals?
With that question at the top of my mind, I went for a run. As with just about any of my runs, the first few minutes were tough. I was tired and stiff. It wasn’t fun. But I just kept going. And then I fell into my zone. My legs felt lighter. My breathing evened out. My head started to clear. I was actually enjoying myself. 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-imposed prison—I simply needed to get into action. Even one tiny step toward my desired goal would help – though at first it may be uncomfortable, messy, and far from perfect. And then I could take another, and another and another, until l finally I reach my zone.
Over the last several months, I have found that the more diligence and effort I put into those first few steps, the more quickly I get through that “warm up” period and into a place where I can make some real headway – and even have some fun in the process.
So that’s my simple plan for getting and staying unstuck. And when I need a little more motivation and inspiration, I just go hang out with my son for awhile.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein
Overwhelm is just one of the many states that keep us from taking action toward our goals and visions and doing our best work. If you are interested in learning more about how to find your optimal zone of performance so that your work becomes less cumbersome and more enjoyable, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.