I feel like psychologists laugh when they hear people proclaim “New Year, New Me”.
Not because they are cynical, but because they know how difficult it is to change even one thing, let alone a deeply engrained ego identity constructed over a lifetime.
Nevertheless, I think we all start the new year with a grand ambition of what could be, and with an ideal vision of who we could be.
We enthusiastically think of a million and one ideas of how we can improve our lives and make drastic transformations in the next 12 months. Naturally, it’s not long before we are simmering to a boil and drowning in a pot of overwhelm. No one wants to succumb to the horrors of overwhelm, so let’s look at some ways to deal with it.
Here’s how to deal with the overwhelm that often accompanies ambition:
Regulate the nervous system first
- Problem: When you are overwhelmed, your brain is buzzing with activity and is struggling to make sense of any of it. It has reached max capacity and is starting to short circuit.
- Body-based (solution 1): put on classical or stress relief music, pour yourself a cup of warm water or herbal tea, and sit down for 30 minutes while your body and brain calms down.
- Mind-based (solution 2): once you are calmer, meditate for 15-20 minutes to bring the mind back to equilibrium.
Gain a larger perspective
- Problem: When you are overwhelmed, your perspective shifts from macro to micro. Every little thing seems to be a bigger hurdle than it really is.
- Solution 1: think of your situation from the perspective of someone who admires you. They would think of your problems A) as being smaller and more manageable than you do; B) as your life being an overall success.
- Solution 2: Go Meta. Think about your role in the grand scheme of the multiverse (see this post). You are literally on a planet floating in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
Write it all down
- Problem: your mind is trying to hold more things in its working memory than it can handle. We can only manage 7 pieces of information in our mind at any given time. When you are overwhelmed, you are trying to ask your brain to process more than it is neurologically capable of processing.
- Solution: discharge your thoughts and ideas from your working memory to a notebook. This will unload the current pieces of your mind, making room for other creative solutions and more mental clarity.
Remember: you are overwhelmed because you are trying to be better, amazing or perfect.
- Problem: you’re one of the rare human beings that cares to improve themselves and their life situation. This only becomes problematic when you become perfectionistic about it.
- Solution: recognize this tendency to reach too far beyond where you currently are. Keep your ideal vision, but recognize that it will be achieved step by step. Give 10% more each day instead of 100% more each day. The incremental improvements will compound over time.