The Two Opposing Forces of Overwhelm — And How To Use Them To Your Advantage
I’ve found myself caught in a small but mighty storm of overwhelm recently. My mind has kicked into its old-yet-familiar taskmaster mode, where I find myself a little short of breath, swirling in a sea of tasks and to-do’s, and no matter how hard I push, nothing seems enough. There’s always more to do.
I’m a coach, right? I’ve actually spent years unlearning this way of being, and thinking, and doing. And I work with others now, to unlearn the same.
This wiser part of me knows that living, and working, and creating in this state doesn’t feel right.
And so I am reminded of the two opposing forces within us.
These forces influence how we approach everything.
One force is goal-oriented, driven. Our taskmasters are at the helm here -- who fire relentless instruction from our busy minds. Always telling us to do more, achieve more, go faster, tick more off the to-do list.
And who tell us to ignore that doing all this feels exhausting. Override your body’s signals! This is more important!
Push. Force. Do. Achieve. Repeat.
It’s not surprising how common this mode is. The majority of us learned in schools, universities, workplaces, and society in general that this way of operating breeds ‘success’.
Productivity is Queen.
We were not taught to cultivate the other force.
The one that whispers very softly, reminding us that we can’t (nor shouldn’t) do it all. That perhaps there is value in resting, relaxing, and reflecting.
The force that moves us to take a walk around the block when our brains are full to bursting. To be curious why our bodies feel tense when we're pushing ourselves. To listen to the gut sense that this way of being doesn’t feel right.
We were actually taught to override this force.
That's why we tend to treat ourselves as machines.
And many of us do until our body literally forces us to stop. How many of us have back pain that flares up when we’re stressed? Or collapse with the flu after a particularly stressful time at work?
When we’re stuck in overwhelm mode, it can be extraordinarily difficult to tune into this force.
the dishes are piling up
and we have 256 unread emails that need our attention
and we've got a work deadline to meet tomorrow
and our friend is beeping us on messenger...
And we will never achieve our goals if we do something as ridiculous as REST!
I would like to create a wild controversy: maybe the opposite is true.
Maybe slowing down when we're immersed in overwhelm could:
actually create more space
provide a tiny shift in perspective that helps us see, with more clarity, the one thing that needs doing in this moment
open the channels so new ideas can pop in, and
give us a glimpse of peace and calm that makes us want to repeat this again tomorrow.
So how to slow down?
Try any of the following, or invent your own. There's no right or wrong way... the point is simply to allow yourself a moment of peace.
Open a fresh Word doc on your computer and do a brain dump of what's on your mind
Open up Spotify, and search for a calm, meditative playlist. Play it for three minutes whilst staring blankly out the window.
Close your eyes and breathe in and out, deeply. Five times.
I'd love to know how you get on.