How to Focus When You’re Spent and Overwhelmed
“Take control of your habits. Take control of your life.” — Anonymous
We all fall into habits we would rather not repeat, but when overwhelm leaves you feeling spent, they’re difficult to avoid.
It’s easy – habits are the shortcuts of life.
In my house there’s a habit of pulling the clothes out of the dryer and onto the laundry room floor to quickly grab of the one thing that’s needed.
It’s totally my responsibility since I started it!
When I was in the midst of recovering from cancer treatment and so incredibly tired with two young children this is what happened most of the time. It was like I treated the space as one big chaotic closet.
And yet, the bright side was that at least we had clean clothes, if not a little wrinkled!
Habits help you to know what to expect, even when it’s something you don’t want.
We do this in all areas of our lives.
Most of our relationships run on some form of habit. We create patterns that help us predict what’s next, so we’re less stressed with new dynamics.
I’m sure you’ve experienced those times when you know how your partner or co-worker will react.
When they do what they normally do and you say to yourself, ‘I kind of thought it would go that way.’
We do this with ourselves too – all the time! And it’s a big part of what leads to overwhelm and exhaustion. When the habit is a thought or expectation that things are the way, they are it can quickly lead to overwhelm.
Thought habits are also some of the most exhausting habits to change.
How many times have you told yourself you’re going to change the habit and there you are again, like on autopilot, you’re at it again?
Even when you don’t want the habit, it’s less effort and takes less energy to change the habit to something more helpful.
Aligned Positive Self Talk Relieves Overwhelm
When one of my new coaching clients begins their journey to work life balance one of their top goals is to be less critical, especially of their selves.
This shows up most of the time in the way they speak to themselves.
Often what helps the most isn’t to simply replace the negative thought with a positive one. Instead, a recalibration to shift the energy from overwhelm to alignment is what makes a sustainable change.
All that said, it’s also important to acknowledge that there are certain points in the year when we have more to do. Sometimes overwhelm doesn’t start with emotional stress it starts with the sheer volume of tasks in short period of time.
For parents with school age children typically September and May are very busy with lots of extra commitments as the school year begins and ends. And as always there’s the holiday season with work, school, social and religious commitments. These months of the year are a little different, but the same skill of focus helps to prioritize competing needs.
During the busy months it’s helpful to go into them with a plan for recalibration that’s based on your need for alignment – to live in harmony with your goals and values.
So how do you make this happen? When you focus on changing the way you talk to yourself, in your own head, real change happens.
Thought Habits Help You Focus
This is because most of the thoughts are habits.
They’re locked inside, never spoken, so you don’t have the opportunity to challenge them.
Here are some examples from real life…
Take a common statement many women say a lot,
‘I’m going to be good and pass on dessert.’
You’ve probably heard this from the time you were little or maybe you even say it now!
The message becomes ingrained, that eating dessert is somehow tied to morality.
The implication is that you’re a bad person if you eat dessert.
At best it says that you lack strength and willpower if you do indulge.
Avoiding dessert becomes a habit, be good and don’t eat it. (Does this also make a statement about women who enjoy sensual pleasures? Hmmm…)
If you do break the habit and eat dessert then a cascade of guilt and shame begins — the next default habit – an expectation of judgement and more guilty that reinforce the judgement.
Changing this habit is definitely possible, with an intentional process that cuts through all of the expectations. When you’re in the experience of enjoying dessert and focused on non-judgment you’re building a new perspective. A new habit is born and it replaces the overwhelming habit of food guilt as you focus on the process and repeat the new habit.
Non-judgmental focus helps to change overwhelming habits with aligned ways of thinking.
Creating and using alternative statements that you have at the ready helps you to focus on what you want – freedom from overwhelm. Moving toward what you do want is infinitely easier than pushing back against what you don’t want.
Here’s an example of what I mean using the dessert example:
‘I’m bad if I eat dessert’ becomes –
‘Food doesn’t hold moral value, only nutritional value. I can choose to eat dessert or not and I am morally the same person no matter which choice I make.’
Or it could also be one of these statements,
‘I’m experiencing one of the simple pleasures in life!’
‘I’m satisfied and I’m not interested in dessert right now.’
These are just a few statements to get you started. Practicing one of these statements and adding more of you own gives you something to use when it’s needed, so you’re prepared.
Trying to come up with supportive alternatives to your habits when you’re overwhelmed is like asking yourself for a magic wand. It’s so far outside of what’s possible that it’s a sure set up for even more overwhelm. But what does help is to practice these statements and add more of your own, so you’re ready.
I know I just said that twice, because my experience is that we think we’ll remember, but we don’t!
Practice makes progress as my kid’s teachers say!
My hope for you is that this way of being with yourself becomes so much of a habit that supports your happiness that they become automatic.
Afterall, the relationship you have with yourself is the one that matters the most. When you’re in alignment with what you want and need, you’re able to use your felt experience as the information you need to shift your perspective and focus on what matters.
And, if you’re like most of us, you’ll most likely experience a bit of overwhelm from time to time. The difference is to acknowledge it when it’s at a low level, so you can more easily identify what you need and move toward it.
Focus might seem like it’s confining, but what it really does is keep you on track, so you receive what you truly want. The snowball effect begins to take hold and when you receive what you want. it’s most likely what you need for a fulfilling life as well.
My challenge to you is to look at your week and with compassion in your heart, answer this question:
‘What will fill my life with calm and clarity today?’
Remember, focus is an investment in your future self. It gives you a rich awareness of how you can own your life and lead yourself to a life filled with fulfilment and intention.
I can’t wait for you to experience the peace and fulfillment you desire in your life!