“Do not ruin today with mourning tomorrow.”
— Catherynne M. Valente
Ever feel a little overwhelmed? Or really overwhelmed?
This quick read is for YOU…
Once upon a time there was a man who had been lost in the desert for three whole days without water. Just as he was about to collapse, he saw what appeared to be a lake a few hundred yards in front of him. “Could it be? Or is it just a mirage?” he thought to himself.
With the last bit of strength he could muster, he staggered toward the lake and quickly learned that his prayers had been answered: it was no mirage — it was indeed a large spring-fed lake full of fresh water — more fresh water than he could ever drink in his lifetime. Yet while he was practically dying of thirst, he couldn’t bring himself to drink the water. He simply stood by the water’s edge and stared down at it.
There was a passerby riding on a camel from a nearby desert town who was watching the man’s bizarre behavior. She got off her camel, walked up to the thirsty man and asked, “Why don’t you have a drink, sir?”
He looked up at the woman with an exhausted, distraught expression on his face and tears welling up in his eyes. “I think I’m dying of thirst,” he said, “But there is way too much water here in this lake to drink. No matter what I do, I can’t possibly finish it all.”
The passerby smiled softly, bent down, scooped some water up with her hands, lifted it to the man’s mouth and said, “Sir, your opportunity right now, and as you move forward throughout the rest of your life, is to understand that you don’t have to drink the whole lake to quench your thirst. You can simply take one sip — just one small sip… and then another if you choose. Focus only on the mouthful in front of you, and most of your anxiety, fear, and overwhelm about the rest will gradually fade.”
. . .
If that story resonates at all right now, it may be time for a few wake-up calls:
1. In life, we can’t take more than one sip at a time.
Challenge yourself today to focus solely on the sip (task, step, etc.) you’re actually taking. Honestly, that’s all life is — small, positive actions that you take moment by moment. Then one day when you look back it all adds up to something worthwhile — something that’s often far different, and better, than what you had imagined when you started.
And if you’re having trouble sorting out where to start, remember that writing things down helps. Everything usually seems far more overwhelming in our heads. So get out of your head by writing everything down in tiny tasks (that can be tackled gradually). The smaller the better too. Writing the list can even be one of the tasks (see, you already checked the first thing off). Then you can do the next tiny thing and check it off, and the next. Doing so builds a gradual sense of achievement and a degree of control over your world, which reduces the overwhelm, or at least enables you to cope as you move forward… one “sip” at a time.
2. All of us constantly do things that don’t need to be done.
Our lives get incredibly complicated, not overnight, but gradually. And the complications creep up on us…
Today I order a few things on Amazon, tomorrow someone gives me a birthday present, then I get excited and I enroll in a free giveaway at church and I win, so then I decide I need a new six-foot cabinet to store my growing pile of stuff. One item at a time, the clutter builds up in my space, because I keep adding new things without purging the old.
And the cycle continues in all walks of life too…
Today I say yes to a Facebook party invitation, tomorrow I say yes when a neighbor asks me to help him move some furniture, then I get asked to a quick lunch meeting, then I decide to volunteer at my son’s youth group. One yes at a time, and soon my life is so busy and complicated, and I don’t know where I went wrong.
And because I’m feeling stressed, I distract myself…
I read a couple articles on Google News, then I flip over to social media, then my email, and then I check my phone and watch a cute video of my niece that my sister texted… and soon another day is gone, and I didn’t get anything done, and my life gets sucked away one little “sip” at a time, and I feel overwhelmed with what’s left undone.
How do we protect against this vicious cycle?
We have to take a step back on a regular basis and reevaluate what we’re actually doing and why.
Instead of thinking, “Oh my gosh there’s too much to do!”… let’s ask, “Should I actually be doing all of this?”
The bottom line is that people never get more done by blindly working more hours on everything that comes up. Instead they get more done when they follow careful plans that measure and track key priorities and milestones. So if you want to be more successful and less stressed, don’t ask how to make something quicker and more efficient until you’ve first asked, “Do I need to do this at all?” Simply being able to do something well does not make it the right thing to do. And if you think about it, it’s actually kind of ironic that we complain we have so little time, and then we prioritize like time is infinite. So do your best to focus on what’s truly important, and not much else. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the Success chapter of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”.)
3. It’s necessary to say “NO” to some really good things in life.
We all have opportunities and obligations, but a healthy and productive routine can only be found in the long run by properly managing your yeses. And yes, sometimes you have to say “no” to really good opportunities and obligations. You can’t always be agreeable — that’s how people take advantage of you. And that’s how you end up taking advantage of yourself too. You have to set clear boundaries!
You might have to say no to certain favors, work projects, community associations, church activities, volunteer groups… coaching your kid’s sports teams, or some other seemingly worthwhile activity. I know what you’re thinking: it seems unfair to say no when these are very worthwhile things to do — it pains you to say no! But you must, because the alternative is that you’re going to do a half-baked, poor job at each one, be stressed out, feel like you’re stuck in an endless cycle of busyness, and eventually you’ll reach a breaking point.
Truth be told, the main thing that keeps so many of us stuck in a debilitating cycle of overwhelm is the fantasy in our minds that we can be everything to everyone, everywhere at once, and a hero on all fronts. But again, that’s not reality. The reality is you’re not Superman or Wonder Woman — you’re human and you have limits. So you have to let go of that idea of doing everything, pleasing everyone, and being everywhere.
In the end, you’re either going to do a few things well, or everything poorly. That’s the truth.
Now, it’s YOUR turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to embrace the difference between being committed to the right things and being overcommitted to everything. It’s your turn to leave space on your calendar, to keep your life ordered and your schedule under-booked, and to create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe.
But before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which point above resonated the most? How has overwhelm affected you?
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