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Stress and overwhelm

Overwhelm? What to do and why you should

The Problem

 I’ve been lazy and procrastinated for the majority of my adult life. I have barely achieved half of what I could have achieved but on the upside I have an intimate knowledge of American television box sets. 

My behaviour and the effects it was having on me, finally came to my attention one Saturday morning when I unconsciously walked past a mirror. I glanced up, and saw the real me. I had forgotten to put on my rose tinted spectacles saw the whole unvarnished truth.

A few days later, once I had got over the horror of what I’d seen and I’d accepted that I needed to do something about my life choices, shape, attitude, well actually pretty much everything. I started devising a plan of action.

I began to list all the things that I wanted to change. My shape or perhaps more accurately the fact that I wanted to have a shape other than circular. My procrastination, my lack of motivation, my inability to stay on task and persist — why don’t I have any ‘grit’? The list continued on and on and on.

Now I was on a roll. I’d looked at the problems, lets look at the solutions.

Solutions to the problems

1. Start The Lazy Man’s Guides to help other people with procrastination and motivation issues — excellent.

2. Write a monthly newsletter — obviously.

3. Set up and design a website and fill it with relevant, well written content — it’ll look fantastic.

4. Write a book, or perhaps a series of books — a whole library of books.

5.  Design write a course on how to stop procrastinating — this could be the first of many courses.

6. Go to the gym every other day — maybe everyday…

7. Continue my part-time Open University degree.

8. Oh God, help, I can’t manage all of this. I can’t even start to do all of this. What’s on Netflix’s?

Overwhelm

Just by writing the list I’d hit overwhelm.

Why had I set myself so many tasks, so many aspirational projects, things I really wanted to do, ways I felt I’d be able to genuinely help?

The enormity of what I was planning hit me and I was paralysed.

Recognising this feeling from the half finished projects that were scattered through the previous two or three decades and the resultant failure to move forward on anything was uncomfortable. 

I always reverted to type — hide from anything difficult, normally in the depths of a box set and stay there until the danger of having to actually do anything had past. ⁠

This time I had to make it work to prove to myself that I could  see something through and to prove to my family that I wasn’t just the flaky dreamer that they’d been living with for years.

What everyone else does

I began reading and researching, what else can you do when you have absolutely no idea? I discovered some interesting facts and imaginative solutions.

John Grisham’s first book A Time to Kill, was written in blocks of 30 minutes each day. Whenever he had a few moments to spare time he would retreat to a law library and hiding amongst the shelves, he would write a little bit of his novel each day.

That’s how it is when you want to beat overwhelm — do the bare minimum everyday, it adds up and adds up until, remarkably you have something to be proud of.

Baby steps work

So how could I incorporate this into my aspirational plan? Baby steps.

Baby steps are how I am learning to manage all the disparate parts of what seems to have become a complicated life.

Exercise — Go to the gym for an hour every other day. So it doesn’t eat a large chunk of time when I want to be working, get up a little earlier and go before breakfast.

Newsletter — Write one article per week. Plan on day one, outline on day two and write on day three. Four weeks equals four articles. I have to be honest, this hasn’t worked this month as I’ve let myself get sidetracked too often. Next month I’ll do better.

Website — Write one article a week following the steps above.

Book — Planning at the moment then the aim is to write one chapter per week

Course — Still in the planning stages

Degree — Use the evenings for reading and essay planning - 2 hours and all of the course books come as digital files so I can read anywhere on my phone or iPad.

Now I have a system. I know what I have to do each week and it now doesn’t look as daunting and overwhelming.

By starting with baby steps and just doing the bare minimum I can begin to build habits.

Now, I write everyday, little and often.

Initially, the goals I set were unrealistic. I wanted to go from zero to five thousand words per day and couldn’t understand why I wrote nothing, not a single word.

The paralysis caused by my unreasonable expectations only got worse because the work I hadn’t done on day one rolled into day two and so on. At the end of the week I promised myself I would make up the slack next week, and so the weeks rolled on without a word written.

Habits also work

Writing has become a habit. I don’t set myself any unreasonable goals, all I have to do is write a little, a paragraph or two maybe each day and write everyday. Easy.

Most days I write considerably more than a couple of paragraphs but if I don’t that’s fine, I’m building the habit by repetition. Baby steps.

The feeling of overwhelm has disappeared because I have a system, I am building habits that will make these tasks automatic, something I just do without thinking. 

Habits work. Did you brush your teeth this morning? Did it cause you stress or anxiety? No, of course not, because it’s something you do everyday without thinking — it’s a habit.

Using triggers to help build positive habits can help. 

Let’s say you want to get into the habit of taking a daily walk but life often gets in the way. How can we fix the habit of going for a walk? 

Setting a reminder won’t work as you may be busy when the reminder pops up and it will be dismissed and forgotten.

Using a flexible trigger like breakfast or lunch is more effective because even though the time may change they will still happen. So, going for a walk after lunch as a habit is achievable irrespective of whether lunch is 12, 1 or 2 pm. 

Summary

  1. If overwhelm strikes, take a step back and look at why you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Don’t become paralysed by the enormity of a goal, break it down into achievable baby steps.
  3. Do the bare minimum to achieve the goal and initially take small steps, baby steps, towards the goal.
  4. Baby steps quickly add up to a significant achievement - remember John Grisham.
  5. Small realistic goals that are easily achievable and repeatable will become habits.
  6. Habits take time to become automatic but it can help to use flexible triggers as a reminder to do something — take a walk, read, exercise or anything that you want to become a long term part of life.
  7. Habits form over time and with repetition. The most important step is to get started, don’t delay, take the first baby step.

Words of inspiration from Charles Duhigg - Journalist


'You have to actually believe in your capacity to change for habits to permanently change.'

and

'You can't suddenly say, 'I want a brand new habit tomorrow,' and expect it to be easy and effortless.'

Suggested Reading

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Four things you have to do to live a motivated and Happy life!