We all fall into habits we would rather not repeat, but when they leave you feeling spent and overwhelmed, they’re difficult to avoid.
“Take control of your habits. Take control of your life.” — Anonymous
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 grab the one thing that’s needed quickly.
It’s been my responsibility since I started it!
When I was 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 usually do, 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 feeling overwhelmed.
Thought habits are also some of the most exhausting habits to change.
How often have you told yourself you’ll change the habit, and there you are again, like on autopilot, at it?
Even when you don’t want the habit, it takes less effort and energy to change it 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.
Most of the time, this shows up in how they speak to themselves.
Often, what helps the most isn’t simply replacing the negative thought with a positive one. Instead, a recalibration to shift the energy from overwhelm to alignment is what makes a sustainable change.
It’s also important to acknowledge that there are specific points in the year when we have more to do. Sometimes, being overwhelmed doesn’t start with emotional stress. It begins with the sheer volume of tasks in a short time.
For parents with school-age children, September and May are typically very busy with many 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 focus skill helps prioritize competing needs.
During the busy months, it’s helpful to go into them with a recalibration plan based on your need for alignment – to live in harmony with your goals and values.
So, how do you make this happen? Real change happens when you focus on changing how you talk to yourself in your own head.
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 joint statement: many women say a lot,
‘I’m going to be good and pass on dessert.’
You’ve probably heard this from when 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 you lack strength and willpower if you 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 break the habit and eat dessert, a cascade of guilt and shame begins — the next default habit – an expectation of judgment and more guilt that reinforces the judgment.
Changing this habit is possible with an intentional process that cuts through all expectations. When you’re 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.
A non-judgmental focus helps to change overwhelming habits with aligned ways of thinking.
Creating and using alternative statements you have ready helps you focus on what you want – freedom from being overwhelmed. Moving toward what you wish 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 am morally the same person no matter my choice.’
Or it could also be one of these statements,
‘I’m experiencing one of the simple pleasures in life!’
‘I’m satisfied and 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 your own gives you something to use when needed, so you’re prepared.
Trying to devise supportive alternatives to your habits when you’re overwhelmed is like asking yourself for a magic wand. It’s so far beyond what’s possible that it’s a sure setup 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!
I hope that this way of being with yourself becomes so much of a habit supporting your happiness that it becomes automatic.
After all, the relationship you have with yourself is the one that matters the most. When you align with what you want and need, you can 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 occasionally. The difference is acknowledging it when it’s low so you can more easily identify what you need and move toward it.
The focus might seem like it’s confining, but what it does is keep you on track, so you receive what you truly want. The snowball effect begins to take hold 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 to own your life and lead yourself to a life filled with fulfillment and intention.
I can’t wait for you to experience the peace and fulfillment you desire!