What do you do when you're feeling overwhelmed?
Feeling overwhelmed is a common problem that can strike at any moment. As demands roll in from all directions this productivity killing monster often rears it's ugly head. At first it's not so bad. We feel busy, challenged, maybe even a little excited that we have so much to do. There's a catch though. If busy goes on for too long or if tasks pile up too high the excitement quickly turns into despair, action into inaction. But what can we do?
The answer is simple in theory, but nuanced in practice. What we can do is ask ourselves questions. It's important to ask questions because the right question and the right answer can change our entire perception of something challenging in an instant. It's likely you already engage in this practice. We all tend to ask ourselves questions about challenges we face, even if we don't realize it. It's the caliber of these questions and what they focus on that means the difference between getting unstuck or falling deeper into the trap that overwhelm sets for us.
Surely, at this point you're asking yourself, "Well then, what's the right question?"
Good question, but the bad news is there's no single ultimate question we can ask ourselves to get the answer every time. Rather it's the practice of exploring multiple questions and answers that is key in the fight against overwhelm.
The good news is we can use other people's trigger questions, ones that help them defeat overwhelm, to jump start our own practice!
An Examination of Tim Ferriss' Tactics shared in Tribe of Mentors
In his most recent book Tribe of Mentors, Tim focuses on the idea of asking questions. In the book he shares that it was manifested out of a need to fight the monster of overwhelm in his own life. It was during a period of self-reflection that he started to journal about what he wanted to do and how he wanted to grow as a person from 40 onward. The list grew and grew until it became completely overwhelming! How was he going to accomplish all this? Particularly the things he'd struggled with his whole life... overwhelm began to tighten it's grip. In the book he shares that he then asked himself the single question he uses to trigger a perspective shift.
"What would this look like if it were easy?"
According to the book, the ultimate answer for him was: I would have a whole tribe of mentors to call upon when facing the biggest challenges on my new journey. With this the looming cloud of overwhelm began to dissolve, and he set himself to breaking down tasks using this new perspective.
When we're overwhelmed there's an inescapable feeling of everything being so hard! We create a narrative in our minds that the only way we can get through is to struggle. The cycle of this narrative reinforces a perception that individual tasks are a singular insurmountable thing. His question is powerful because it automatically leads us to challenge this core aspect of feeling overwhelmed. What the question shows us is the size of the task isn't what's overwhelming. Rather it's our approach to solving it that creates this perception.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed try and ask yourself: What would this look like if it were easy?
See where it leads you!
Whether your questions cycle you deeper into overwhelm, or they're triggering questions that help you climb out of the hole-- they are valuable! Examining our questions and seeing what others ask themselves gives us insight on improving our own questioning practices.