Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed I can’t even think straight
Everything feels like a big deal and yet nothing feels good enough – I run myself into circles trying to make the smallest, tiniest, most miniscule unimportant decision because it feels LIFE CHANGING.
I’ve realised what this is – it’s not just overwhelm, and it’s not just perfectionism.
It’s both, so I shall call it perfecto-whelm.
Perfecto-whelm: feeling so overwhelmed and stuck in your perfectionism that you can’t do anything.
When we’re stuck in the throes of perfecto-whelm (where it feels as though nothing we can decide is good enough and YET EVERYTHING WE DECIDE MATTERS, even when it totally doesn’t) good decisions don’t get made.
They can’t get made – there is no space for them. Zero. Nada. Nothing. It’s a dead zone for creativity, for ease, for self-compassion and for flow.
And with no flow, we don’t get anywhere.
So how do we get ourselves out of perfecto-whelm?
Well, not to use the word ‘perfected’ where it’s not all that necessary, but I’ve perfected a tried-n-true system to get myself out of perfecto-whelm.
Here’s what you can do when stuck in the throes of perfecto-whelm:
Absolutely right now stop everything that’s making you feel perfecto-whelmed.
That’s usually something to do with writing, cooking, cleaning, making arrangements, being tired, making plans, making appointments, pushing yourself too hard, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, picking up the kids (I don’t have kids yet but I can imagine the perfecto-whelm!), organising something or someone else, doing life admin, returning a million phone calls, running your business, answering emails, writing emails, getting work done, creating something new, organising a new project, running a meeting, trying to not stress about an upcoming meeting, trying to not stress about a past meeting… and anything in between.
So basically, the first thing to do to clear perfecto-whelm is to stop doing what’s making you feel perfecto-whelmed.
I know that sounds counter-intuitive – sometimes we don’t even know why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling, but I’ve done lots of very scientific research on this and you will definitely at least halve your perfecto-whelm when you can step back from it.
It can be the most simple thing ever, like getting away from the laptop and walking around the block.
When people used to say this to me, I would scoff. Ha! Walk around the block? How boring! That’s not solving my problem so why the hells would I do that?
Except I’ve started doing that, and it’s golden.
Just this week, I’ve taken myself for laps around the block on two different occasions when I felt a litle perfecto-whelmed. I didn’t take my phone, just myself. And my house keys, obvs.
It allowed me to open up to some extra mental clarity and space, fresh air, a lot of gratitude for living in such a beautiful suburb near one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, in a beautiful city.
And importantly, the step back gave me perspective. Um, Cass, what you’re worrying about is okay to worry about but actually, you don’t need to worry about it. Worrying won’t help it, just be less ‘charged up’ about it and you’ll find the solution.
And that’s exactly what happened – my walk released the emotional charge I’d been holding onto when ‘penned’ in my office with only my laptop and my stressed out ego. In reality, I didn’t need to sweat the small stuff, and my walk helped me be a grown-up about it.
The second thing you can do when you’re feeling perfecto-whelmed is to get a huge, beautiful, white sheet of paper, a notebook, or a new Word/Evernote doc. I prefer to handwrite this exercise but totally up to you.
Now, write out EVERYTHING that’s making you feel perfecto-whelmed. EVERTYHING. Even the tiny little things that totally don’t matter but seem like huge, scary, insurmountable mountains.
Now leave this sheet of paper or Word document for a little while – back away, make some tea, get a coffee, walk around the block. Sometimes I give this sheet a whole day off before I come back to it.
Then I come back with a fresh mind and a little more patience than I had the day before. Why? Because I’ve just written out everything that was stressing me out and I’ve created so much more space in my head, my heart and yes, my life (even though nothing has been done yet).
Then, go through the entire sheet or document and cross off or delete anything that just doesn’t matter anymore. You’ll be surprised at how much you can let go of.
In this next phase you have a little more choice. Here are your options (and yes, you can choose them all):
- Highlight everything that can be outsourced or delegated (I used to bribe my little sisters with lollies if they opened the front door when it rang so I didn’t have to run downstairs. That is outsourcing at its finest. Until they caught on to me…)
- Highlight everything that’s urgent in one colour, and everything that’s important in another. And then… do what’s important first. (Watch this video from Marie Forleo for more insight into this productivity tip.)
- Put a deadline on anything that’s left, and only work on the things that are important and that need to be done first
- Next to each task, write out how long the task will actually take you. Sometimes we get all het up about a task that will actually take 10 minutes. This is one of the best ways to clear perfecto-whelm! At the Ontrapalooza event I attended recently, the president of the company, Lena Requist, said if her employees come to her feeling overwhelmed she gets them to look at the work they’re doing in 15 minute increments for an entire week. She says once we know how we’re managing our time, we can improve it and reduce our overwhelm
Now that you have your list of things that are important, with their deadline, and how long they’re going to take you, you can schedule them into your diary.
This might mean you need to create some space by reducing something else in your life. That’s okay, just don’t reduce the things that are bringing you joy, such as exercise, loving relationships, lunch breaks, fresh air, etc.
To clear the ‘perfectionist’ part of perfecto-whelm, you have to be willing to just do the work, to trust yourself, to know you’re always doing your best and that your best is enough. Kinesiology is also so wonderful for helping you get really clear on where to invest your energy, and help with clearing stress and overwhelm.
You are enough.
And if you aren’t managing, ask for help. Ask for help! It’s a truly wonderful thing.
Here’s what you mustn’t do when stuck in the throes of perfecto-whelm:
- Stay sitting at your desk, staring at the screen in case a new email comes in that’s super important and helps you clear your perfectionist overwhelming emotions that are making you feel frantic and panicked because you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing right now.
- Walk away from your desk/computer/phone and stick your head in the sand, only because this absolutely doesn’t work and will make you feel more perfecto-whelmed. Give yourself a break, by all means… but don’t ignore what needs attention. If you’re feeling perfecto-whelmed, then something needs to shift, change or give in your life, your schedule, or your mindset.
Something is happening whereby you’re either putting way too much pressure on yourself, or saying yes to way too much, or not following your intuition, listening to your gut or trusting guidance that’s trying to come through to you.
Boundaries? Yeah, they get pushed. That’s okay. Hold them firmly.
Perfectionism? Work through it. You are enough.
Fatigue? Take. A. Break. You deserve it.
So the next time perfecto-whelm threatens to huff and puff and blow your world down, take stock; where are you maybe saying yes too often? How are you managing (or not managing) your time? Are you running on the hamster wheel but not getting anywhere because you’re doing all the ‘urgent’ yet totally unimportant tasks first?
Productivity is important in clearing perfecto-whelm but so is space, breath, self-compassion and a clear, focused mind.
You can clear perfecto-whelm… so take a step back, look at your time, do what’s important first, nourish yourself, protect your energy and your boundaries.
And go for a walk around the block.