Overwhelm: A Bad Habit You Want to Break

I’m tired of overwhelm. Aren’t you? Nothing sucks the joy out of your coaching business like that over-burdened feeling – a burgeoning to do list, an overflowing inbox, too many learning curves to traverse.

If we are truly committed to our own success, then surely success includes keeping our sanity while we get there! After all, the freedom of working for ourselves is part of why we’re doing this, right? So when are we going to start acting like we’re free?

The truth is, overwhelm is most often just a bad habit wanting to be broken. Whatever the reasons, we choose to feel overwhelmed. Like the boy who cried “wolf”, we’ve trained our brains and bodies to perceive challenges as emergencies. We’re actually OK, but don’t know that we are.

So how about making a different choice? I agree with David Risley’s smack-you-upside-the-head post about overwhelm. It’s time the vogue went out of our crazy busy lifestyles.

Overwhelm is caused by:

  • Non-stop stimulation
  • Procrastination and chronic disorganization
  • Scarcity consciousness, and
  • Not knowing how to resource

This is Your Brain in Rehab

It’s no wonder we’re all over-stimulated. There’s so much coming into our psychic space all the time — we’re never without connection to global media and entertainment (much of it anxiety-ridden).

The New York Times reports there’s a neurological reason that all that digital input doesn’t seem to make us any smarter. It turns out, when people keep their brains constantly stimulated with input, they miss the mental downtime they need to effectively learn from all that incoming information.

Think of your brain like a basin. Information coming in is like the flow coming from a faucet. If you leave the flow on full, your brain is soon overflowing and you’re in overwhelm.

Do you find yourself signing up for ever more expert newsletters, attending lots of free teleclasses, purchasing more ebooks? How often are you actually implementing what you “learn” from those sources? Most coaches cannot possibly take action on the amount of how-to information they access.

I think most of us secretly imagine it’s easier to go get more information than to implement what we’ve learned already. Taking in information is passive and seems risk-free. Taking action requires taking risk. But taking action is like the drain of the basin. It’s what makes the space for more useful information to come in.

The cure for the info-junkie:

  • Develop the habit of mining your own wisdom, experience and knowledge first.
  • Reach only for information you need right now to inspire or take the next immediate step.
  • Integrate and implement what you learn. Commit to doing this before reaching for more information.

Move Forward

Taking action is also the key to beating those twin progress killers – disorganization and procrastination.

It’s not hard to find out how to overcome disorganization. Advice on how to get organized and “get things done” is one of the fattest info faucets out there. (Ironic, isn’t it?)

The key is to focus on one step at a time. Clear the decks. Block out your time. As David Risley puts it, bring one thing at a time under your control. Then move to the next.

Procrastination at bottom is a reluctance to make decisions. There may be a place for delaying a decision in your personal life, but when you are faced with a decision in your coaching business, make it. Postponing decisions creates clutter.

Of course, there is a risk of leaping before you have really looked. But the risk of doing nothing is far greater.

Here’s a confession. I make half-baked decisions in my business all the time. Mistakes, too. It can be embarrassing, but you have to be big enough to take a bit of embarrassment. And in the end, the mistakes either don’t matter, or they teach me something I wouldn’t have learned any other way. Plus – and here’s the real payoff – my business keeps moving forward.

It’s All in Your Mind

Taoists say that wherever your attention goes, that’s where your life energy goes. Whatever you focus on expands.

Modern life trains us to focus on what is missing, what is not going right. Building a business just redoubles that training, demanding that we fill the gaps and fix the problems in order to get results.

But if you allow your mind to become fixated on what is wrong, then overwhelm has you in its grip. Maybe you don’t believe you are enough (not good enough, not up to it). Maybe you believe you don’t have enough resources. My favorite version is “It will take so much time to do this.” This is overwhelm as a form of scarcity consciousness.

If you find yourself running this racket, the most important thing is to catch yourself in these thoughts, and consciously choose the beliefs you will hold instead. No one is the master of their thoughts all the time, so be willing to repeat this process over and over. Often it helps to write it down:

  • the old tape you’re running, and
  • the powerful statement you are choosing in its place.

Then (again), move into action – one deliberate step at a time.

5 Minute Resourcing

The long term cure for overwhelm is to cultivate a more contemplative life. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Check out this brief guide to life on Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog.

But don’t wait till you’ve achieved enlightenment. Begin by tracking your state of mind every day. When overwhelm starts brewing, take a five minute break from whatever you’re doing, and move away from as many sources of stimulation as you can. Do nothing else but move and breathe. You’ll quickly come back to center, refreshed and resourced.

Have you broken the overwhelm habit? How do you do it?

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3 thoughts on “Overwhelm: A Bad Habit You Want to Break

  1. Dear Rhonda,
    As always the information and ideas posted on your Blog are useful and inspiring. With regard to the “Habit of Overwhelm”, I would like to share a couple of things. First, the reality is that if we do not manage the realm of our minds it will manage us. Second, it important for everyone in the helping profession to realize that we are always forming our minds. It is therefore necessary to develop both vigilance and and detachment— in order to break any habit we must pay attention to our internal dialogues and learn to do so without the self deprecating judgements that frequently accompany self observation. As you point out, when we experience a self defeating thought we must take the opportunity to redirect our attention to a positive, productive alternative. In this way we are retraining our minds to be our ally in our quest for fulfillment and peace. Thanks again Rhonda for all the support you provide to the coaching community! Ron Capocelli, CPCC

    1. Well said, Ron. You know, it's so easy to get caught up in the doing and let it drive us. If we're instead guided by intention and helpful practices, the doing becomes so much easier and more effective. This is especially true of getting clients and earning a great income as a coach. Many thanks for your contributions! And thanks again for directing your CTI colleagues my way as well!

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