How To Overcome Overwhelm - Goodlife Zen

How To Overcome Overwhelm

A guest post by Ande Waggener of Up From Splat

Last week, Mary Jaksch issued her readers a challenge.  “Want to be fit, or even ultra-fit?” she asked.  “Join the 8-week Fitness Challenge.”  She set forth her fitness goals and invited us to join her to make a measurable change in our fitness level over the next 8 weeks.

The invitation both galvanized and enervated me.

“Yes, yes,” part of me answered.  Whenever I see a competition or challenge to get fit or improve my life, this part of me has a puppy-like eagerness to join in.  I want to be fit.  I want to improve.

“Oh man, where would I start,” another part of me groaned.  This part views challenges as long roads stretching into the distance far beyond my line of sight.  I want to plunk down on my butt and sit this one out because it’s just too overwhelming to contemplate the effort required.

When overwhelm strikes, the stricken tend not to move.  In order to take action, the first thing we need to do is overcome the overwhelm.

When The Road Is Long

The eager part of me was in charge for most of my life.  Lately, though, my health and weight issues have become, well, super-sized, and the plunked-on-the-butt part is in control.

I am over 150 pounds overweight.  How did this happen?  I used to be slender and fit, and I did aerobic and strength training daily.

Who stole my body?

The how I got here story is long and negative.  It involves a couple severe accidents, a money crisis, and self-medicating with food.  But that story isn’t important.  How we got to the starting point is never as important as where we go from here.

When you create an intention or accept a challenge to create a life change, you come face to face with the enormity of necessary action to create that change.  Even if the goal is seemingly small—to drop five pounds or “get in better shape” as perhaps defined by not huffing and puffing when you go up a flight of four steps—you know that you’re going to have to do something to set off down the road to the new you.

That knowledge can be extraordinarily overwhelming when, like me, you know the ultimate road is a long one.  So what if you lose five pounds if you have 150 to lose?  So what if you can get strong enough to rise out of a chair if you ultimately want to be able to have well-toned muscles?  Little goals are just steps to big goals, and we all know that.  So even the smallest goal can seem overwhelming.  To overcome that overwhelm, we need to resort to a little self-trickery.  Like this:

Three Steps To Awaken Eagerness

Life change boils down to getting eagerness to trump plunked-on-the-buttness.

Discipline and will-power will only get you so far. And when the road is long, they won’t even get you off the starting line.  Resistance is far too powerful.

Puppy- or child-like desire for fun is the only thing that will get you moving and keep you moving.  Because who cares if you get moving if you’re going to stop in a day or two or ten.

Here’s how to rev up your inner kid (or puppy or kitten or whatever happy little critter lights you up) to be ready for a fitness or any other kind of seemingly overwhelming challenge:

1.  Play Make-Believe
Of course you know about visualization.  You understand that it’s easier to move toward a goal when you have a vision.  But the overwhelmed part of you isn’t going to be easily swayed by a vision of a future victory.  It will, however, be impressed by a memory of a past triumph.

Playing make-believe involves creating a scene that captures what your life will be like when you attain your fitness (or any other) goal.  As with plain old visualization, it involves seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, and tasting what you’d experience if you achieved what you want to achieve.

Unlike visualization, though, playing make-believe is about pretending it has already happened.  You want to create not a vision but a memory of how awesome it was when you got to the end of that long road.  Memories of things already achieved have much more power than visions of desires not yet realized.  And these pretend memories have the power to create.

2. Do Your Own Thing
One of the ways to let overwhelm shut you down is to start comparing your efforts with those around you.  When I read about Mary’s experience with her 83-year old neighbor, I was beyond intimidated.  Strength work, bag work, running, yoga.  Whew.  I’m challenged by an hour walk at a moderate pace with my dog.

To get past overwhelm, you have to be able to ignore what others are doing.  Do what feels right to you, even if it’s a tiny little step toward a goal that’s a long way off.  Author and speaker, Barbara Sher, an expert in pushing past resistance, says that sometimes we need to break down action steps to their most infinitesimal minimum.  You don’t resolve to do ten crunches.  You resolve to do one.

My own first fitness steps for Mary’s challenge include adding to my daily routine:  five minutes a day on my rebounder, five minutes of breathing and isometric exercises, and a couple servings of fruit a day to my diet (to replace less healthy choices).  Quantum steps are right for me right now.  It doesn’t matter what’s right for anyone else.

3.  Treat Yourself For Doing Instead Of Achieving
The eager part of you isn’t into delayed gratification.  Long term goals like improved fitness are about a goal that’s a ways off.  It’s tough to get a sense of accomplishment along the way, even if you’re doing your best to enjoy the process.

Find a way to reward yourself for taking steps.  I love to check things off of charts or lists.  It makes me feel virtuous.  So creating an action chart and placing a nice perky check mark next to each thing I do to move down the long road to achievement makes me feel good.  This in turn keeps me eager to continue to take more action.

If you like more visual strokes, get some gold stars.  If you like more concrete rewards, pick a few things you love like candlelight or bubble baths or indulging in a novel or favorite TV show or whatever soothes you, and treat yourself every step of the way toward your goal.

No matter the length of the road in front of you, you can complete the journey … if you begin.  When you get in touch with your natural eagerness, you can transform overwhelm into overdrive and make that make-believe memory a reality before you know it.

Ande Waggener is the author of both fiction and nonfiction.  She encourages people to keep on toward their dreams even after setbacks and disappointments at Up From Splat, a site that helps you get back up when life slams you down.

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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