“Overwhelm” is that state of confusion in which the mind tries to run in all directions at once, spurred on by the feeling that there are too many things to do and no time in which to complete anything. Like a flurry of hydrogen balloons, myriads of thoughts are floating in the air above and around you and those thoughts and ideas do not want to come down. Your energy is “blowin’ in the wind” along with all those balloons and you don’t feel you can focus on any one particular task.
But overwhelm itself is not the problem. It is a symptom of a problem. “If overwhelm is not the problem, then what is?” you may ask. “And how do I call in all the balloons and focus my energy to do any one thing?”
Hidden among those balloons is one that you do not want to face, maybe even more than one. Your mind, ever anxious to save you from any discomfort, hides that balloon and then lets go of all the rest at once. This is a situation that happens to me frequently. I am hanging onto the balloon strings for dear life, dangling in the air with no firm footing, drifting about with every change in the wind current.
What do I do about it?
First, I find the cause, the hidden balloon. I ask myself, “What is it I don’t want to do?” What am I trying to escape? What is hiding behind my feeling of “overwhelm”? Usually, what I am not wanting to do is write. This is odd because I really like to write. (The matter of why I don’t want to do what I like is a question for another NewsNote.)
So the first step of the cure for overwhelm is to pinpoint what it is you are avoiding. Ask yourself, “What is it I don’t want to do?”
Second, I ask myself, “Why don’t I want to do that?” It is then that I start to feel the fear. Maybe I don’t have anything to say; maybe no one will read what I write and if they read it, maybe they won’t like it; maybe I don’t have enough skill; but mainly, it is “maybe I don’t have anything to say.” When I sit down with pen and pad, I am sitting with the unknown. The page is a blank and when the pen starts to move on the page, the unknown is starting to take form.
The second step of the cure, then, is to ask yourself, “Why do I not want to do it?” Listen for the feelings that come up. Is there a reconciliation that needs to happen? Does anger come up? Feel it, but do nothing. Are you afraid of admitting you can’t do something alone and need to ask for help? Feel the fear, the discomfort, the squirming to get away from it. These feelings are your tiger, the thing you need to face. The energy of this tiger is the force which is blowing your balloons aloft, the force you must face and conquer before you can regain your focus, and with your focus, your energy.
Third, “Face your fear and do it anyway,” someone has said. In the book, The Life of Pi, which was made into a most beautiful movie, Pi, a young East Indian boy, is marooned with a wild tiger on a small raft in the Pacific Ocean. Pi, with great courage, subdues that tiger, and finally arrives at land safely.
Your fear, your anger, your shame, your embarrassment, whatever it may be, is your tiger, and it will not necessarily go away.
The tiger remained on the raft with Pi for the whole trip and Pi had to keep constant watch with readiness to beat the tiger at any moment, but because he kept that tiger at bay, he was able to come to land at last.
Similarly, when you face the tiger which is keeping your hidden balloon in the air and maintain mastery over it, all of your other balloons will come to earth, and you will find yourself able to do what you need to do. You will feel your strength and energy return. The symptom of “overwhelm” will be gone because the underlying cause is removed.
Recommended reading: The Life of Pi – by Yann Martel
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