Here’s the scene: I’m making breakfast for the family… coffee, tea, cereal, green juice smoothie, scrambled eggs with cheese, and then serve them to the family one-by-one so there’s something to eat ASAP. My wife Kristen sits with our girls, Ellee who is 5, and Grace who is 19 months, to make sure breakfast actually gets consumed.
The clock is ticking down toward 7:30, which is our deadline to finish up the breakfast part of the morning so we can get to school on time.
Grace is crying in her high chair… maybe because she’s not a morning person 🤷♂️
Ellee is yelling at me, “Dad…DAD…DADDY… I WANT more cereal!!”
Kristen asks me to get her a cup of coffee
All at the same… exact… time…
I have all these competing demands. At that moment, I experience overwhelm.
Overwhelm happens when we have competing thoughts about what we should do and create the vicious cycle of feeling like sometimes detrimental might happen based on our choice. When you have 4 squeaky wheel clients at the same time, you can experience overwhelm because you fear if you choose one over the other, they might all fall apart.
When this happens to us often, it can cause problems in our mental performance. The impact of feeling overwhelmed frequently can lead to mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically a racing mind, or an impaired ability to problem solve. Clearly, the experience of these things hurts our ability to maximize our potential inside or even outside our careers.
The teachings of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) contains a concept called Hierarchy of Ideas that can help explain and get rid of overwhelm.
The concept of Hierarchy of Ideas says that all of our ideas go along a vertical line where bigger picture concepts are higher on the line and more specific ideas are lower on the continuum. Here’s an easy way to illustrate this… Mustang is a subset of Ford, which is a subset of cars, which is a subset of the movement, which is a subset of existence.
We call each of those examples “chunks.” We can chunk up to get to a bigger picture or more purposeful idea. We can chunk down to get into specifics, details, and action.
When we’re overwhelmed, our chunks are too big for us to handle at that moment.
Let’s go back to the breakfast scene. I take responsibility for making breakfast, Grace is crying, Ellee is demanding more cereal, Kristen asks for coffee… I’ve learned to do this: stop and tell everyone that I can only do one thing at a time. I then announce that I’m getting Kristen coffee first, then more cereal for Ellee. Kristen is handling Grace, so I don’t have to focus there. I then grab the coffee mug…
The overwhelm is gone!
Here’s all I did… I realized that my chunks were too big for me to deal with in that moment. I simply chunked down into the details that I could manage and take action on.
We can all chunk down when we experience overwhelm. Here’s 3 easy strategies:
Make a list. A list gets you out of your head and puts ideas on paper that you could do. The competing ideas will flow out so that you can manage it.
Regain your priority. Figure out what is the most important thing that you can do right now. Reality is you can only do one thing at a time. Decide what is most important in the moment… then go do that.
Reframe the consequence. Many times the overwhelm tells us that something bad will happen. Ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” You’ll find that the worst thing a) isn’t that bad, b) unlikely to actually come true. Then you’ll have more confidence to move forward knowing you can handle the moment.
Getting into action releases overwhelm. Find the best action by chunking down out of the overwhelm and get back into winning your day and achieving your results.