Have you ever been so overwhelmed by something that you can hardly see the forest for the trees? That burdened feeling makes you think you will never get through whatever you are dealing with. It may be a huge project at work, the kind that will make or break your career. It may be getting through a family crisis, the type where you can’t check out, not even for a moment . Or it might just be getting through an afternoon with sick kids - did I just hear someone scream mommmyyyy?
When you get to that place – the seriously overwrought, OMG I have so much to do I can hardly stand it, help me now place – remember this, you don’t have to figure it all out right this minute. You only have to identify the next action you need to take. That’s it. Don’t think about the end game. Don’t think about how much more you have to do. Just think about the very next step that you need to take related to whatever you’re working on or dealing with at that moment. Identify that single action and take it. Then repeat as needed. How simple is that? Incredibly.
Now to be clear, I am not saying this is necessarily easy, you actually have to take the action and continue taking action. But that’s exactly the reason this technique works. When you are involved in taking action, you are focusing on the action. This does two things – it interrupts the overwhelming thoughts (science shows us we really can’t be thinking about two things at once, so if you are focused on a task you have to stop, at least momentarily, thinking about your predicament) and it produces tangible results (you have something to show for your actions).
This is the complete opposite of big picture thinking. Here you are narrowing your focus so you can avoid the distraction that comes from a to-do list a mile long and all the siren calls for attention. You aren’t avoiding life though. You are just helping yourself move forward in a deliberate way. Sometimes blinders are necessary. When overwhelm sets in they can come on very handy. Why do you think horses wear them? So they don’t get distracted and scared. If that were to happen they would immediately go off course, losing their way and wind up in deep trouble.
I see this technique as a tricky little way to keep making progress even when I am feeling that I will never get it all done. By narrowing my focus to the present, I can avoid the crazy making that comes from being overwhelmed. Try it yourself the next time you feel paralyzed by all the things on your plate. I can practically guarantee you will feel better and see progress.