How to end overwhelm the second it starts.

Updated: Mar 29

I needed new bar-stools.


I’m a big fan of online shopping, so I visited my usual haunts. When I typed ‘bar-stools’ into the search function of the first website, I was presented with close to ten thousand options!


My heart sank.


Then I noticed the filters. I could narrow my choices by height, adjustability, material, colour, frame, seat-type, and shape.


My heart sank even deeper.


I was consumed by thoughts such as, “I can’t do this!”, and “That’s too many choices. I just can’t narrow it down!”, and “Urgh, not now. I’ll do it later.” I felt a little panicky, my chest felt heavy, and my skin started to tingle.


That’s a lot of angst over a few bar-stools!


Knowing what was going on inside my mind, I gave up on my online search and headed to the store where I was presented with four options. Within five minutes, my bar-stools were in the car.


While this was just a couple of bar-stools, people experience the same thing – day in and day out – in their businesses. You know the feeling: your mind races as you make a mental list of the many jobs you need to do, and you make rapid-fire calculations only to discover that the number of jobs and the time you have don’t quite compute.


Overwhelm ensues. Stress follows. Paralysis sets in.


Now, allow me to share a little-known fact with you. For some, this is liberating. Others need a little more time to take on board what I’m about to say. So here goes.


Overwhelm isn't real. It's in your head.


Overwhelm is caused not by the numerous things going on in your life, but by your reaction to them.


Overwhelm is simply an emotion.


Before you stop reading because you’ve decided I’m certifiably insane and have no idea what I’m talking about, read on. I promise, I'm not nuts.


Overwhelm is a relatively new emotion. Years ago when we lived in caves, our choices were binary. Survive or don’t. Eat or don’t. And when things got really complex, we may have had to choose between grain or berries. Modern society, however, dishes up daily doses of too many choices. Just walk into any Starbucks and order a coffee and you’ll know exactly what I mean! It confuses our brains, and the mind knee-jerks into overwhelm. So many choices create chaos inside a mind that thrives on order and structure. Our minds respond with confusion, panic and drama; overwhelm. Simply, our brains haven’t yet evolved to a place where numerous choices are the norm.


So until the brain catches up, how do you head-off overwhelm?


Fortunately, it’s not too complicated and with a little practice, you can teach your brain how to narrow the options, make a decision, and take action.


Here’s how.


1. First, when you feel overwhelmed, remember it’s a feeling created by the chaos and drama inside your mind. Consciously separate the facts (what you know), versus the drama (what you think about what you know). Stick with what you know and focus there. Anything else is noise.

2. Choose your words carefully. When you feel overwhelmed, there are words and phrases flying around in your mind that serve only to feed the chaos and drama. Avoid using the word ‘overwhelm’ inside your mind. Use ‘choices’ instead. It’s far more factual, less dramatic, and it won’t cause the uncomfortable feelings usually associated with overwhelm.

3. When faced with multiple options, conflicting priorities, too much to do in too short a time, train your brain to consider fewer options. Narrow it down to a choice of three or four things. Then choose one.

4. Once you’ve chosen your ‘thing’ begin working on it. Just start. Do something, anything, and it will unlock the chaos inside your mind and bring about calm and order. From there, you can think more clearly and rationally and base your decisions on fact and not drama.


Overwhelm is nothing more than the brains’ response to too many options. By slowing down, gaining perspective, and denying overwhelm the fuel it needs, you can very quickly bring situations under control. Remember, the brain is designed to think new thoughts and learn new things, so it can handle this.


Overwhelm is your opportunity to speed up the process of evolution. Do it well, and you’ll make life easier for yourself and generations to follow.


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