Hands up if you ever get that feeling of “it’s all too much” or “I don’t know where to start”, or even “I REALLY don’t want to do this – but I have to”?
If you don’t, please write to me, because I will need to verify that you are human!
It’s extremely normal to feel overwhelmed by life, especially in this day and age when there seem to be so many demands on our time and attention. It’s part of everyday life for most of us, facing up to things we’d rather run away from. If you never feel a sense of overwhelm, I’d guess that you are either an exceptionally robust individual who can handle absolutely anything, or you’ve chosen (consciously or not) to stay well within your comfort zone (see my article on extending your comfort zone).
I am all too familiar with the feeling of overwhelm – every morning on my rowboat. I’d wake up after a night of ocean-disturbed sleep, often having dreamed of family, friends, and invariably food, and as consciousness dawned my first thought would be, “Where am I?”. Then I would remember, and I couldn’t help but sigh as I realised I had another day of rowing ahead of me. For a non-athletic, landlubbing person, the prospect of 12 hours of rowing was not top of my list of fun ways to spend my day.
Now, I know, I know. I’d volunteered to be there, so I had nobody to blame but myself, and also there are much worse things in life than rowing. Other people have to face financial difficulties (actually I’ve had my share of those too), illness (either their own or that of someone close to them), bereavement, legal problems, work problems, loss of reputation etc etc. So when they say “worse things happen at sea” I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.
Anyhow, the point is, we all have crosses to bear. How to lighten the load a bit? I found a few techniques that help.
1. Begin before you think about it too much.
A job begun is a job half done. How often have you found that you’ve procrastinated on a particular task, already anticipating the overwhelm, but when you get started you find it’s actually not as bad as you thought it was? (And then there are the other tasks, the ones you thought would be really simple and straightforward, but rapidly turn into a nightmare – but that we’ll come to those some other time!) So leap before you look. JFDI (Just … Do It!).
2. Find a routine
When you are facing a huge task (like rowing an ocean, for example), it’s a good idea just to chip away at it, a little at a time, day after day. Even if you only spend 15 minutes a day working on something, you’ll get there a lot faster than spending 0 minutes a day on it. Set an alarm, and do your daily dose. Who knows, you might even find yourself enjoying the sense of progress and want to carry on for a while after the alarm has gone off? And how good will that feel?!
3. Hold a vision of finishing
Virtue may be its own reward, but sometimes we want a bit more than that! We need a big vision of the happiness and sense of achievement that will accompany the completion of the task. When I was rowing the Atlantic, I held a vision of a gorgeous tropical hotel room, with a big soft bed with crisp white sheets, muslin curtains billowing at the shuttered windows, a bathroom full of white fluffy towels. That was what I was rowing towards, my ultimate reward, and strangely, when I walked into my room at the Admiral’s Inn in English Harbour, that is exactly what my room looked like. You might want to visualise a crowd cheering you as you complete your task, or plan to treat yourself to a shopping spree/day off/ice cream sundae when you finish. In my experience, self-bribery is an entirely valid way to keep your motivation high!
So, don’t be daunted. Be determined – and good luck!
[Featured image: The Scream, by Edvard Munch]