Who do you know whose life operates at a frenetic pace? They’re always overwhelmed, too busy to socialize, eat sitting down or sleep for eight hours. They have that slightly glazed look in their eyes. Maybe they’re a bit twitchy, or appear vacant during conversations. They snap easily, triggered by seemingly odd things, like someone walking too slowly, or breathing too loudly, like Darth Vader. Know anyone like this?
Perhaps it’s you.
I know because it has certainly been me. The frustrating thing being caught in this frenzied spiral is that working harder doesn’t work. It can take hitting the wall to snap out of this way of operating. But it doesn’t have to.
Lets start by being honest about what the danger zone looks like for you. For me, these tell tale signs let me know I’m doing too much: sense of humor failure; constant low-grade irritation; a feeling of ‘why me?’ (and why do other people look like they’re coping so well?). When these things are going on, I know something’s askew.
When you feel your own danger signs – and we all have them – here’s three things I try.
Watch Your Language
I’m not talking expletives, though there may be plenty of those too.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, constantly trying to please someone, it’s easy to just try to get through. I’m just trying to get through this week/month/year – sound familiar?
One of my favourite coaches, Steve Chandler, calls this victim talk. Victims, he says, ask themselves, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ People who are owners of their own lives ask, ‘What can I do?’ Then they prioritise and focus fully on one thing at a time. Victims look at their entire to-do list and then do a dead fly impression.
Using empowering language can reboot your psychological software to make you feel more in control. Swap ‘I should do this’ (disempowering and demotivating) for ‘I choose to do this.’
I tried this last week. I had promised to attend an evening engagement I was luke warm about, and when the day came I slid into an internal dialogue you might recognise: ‘What possessed me to say yes to this?’ (insert face palm). But I was committed. So I said to myself, I’m choosing to go. And it turned out to be fun, actually.
Be the Boss of Your Priorities
This Michael Neill quote says it all: ‘The most important choice you make is what you choose to make important.’
It’s easy to confuse busy-ness with business. If you want to create important art (be it writing, music, team motivation or whatever your particular art form is) it requires time. And usually more time than we think. That means uninterrupted, focused, butt on chair time thinking, planning and executing. I’m afraid there is no short cut.
The good news is, our priorities are within our control. We’re the boss of them. Even if your priorities are not entirely your own, your attitude towards them is.
‘It is necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant.’ So says James Watson, Nobel Prize winning scientist. For me that means getting really clear on what I want to create in my life. Then everything fits around that.
Non-prioritisation means everything’s fighting for air time and nothing real gets done. That’s busy-ness.
Get clear on what’s really important and say ‘No’ to the rest. Check out Alexandra Franzen’s cool advice on how to say no without sounding like a jerk.
Kindness is King
I’m talking self-kindness mainly. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent quote that perfectionism is just fear in really good shoes. Perfectionism is a way to do damage to your sanity, happiness, productivity and sense of humour, while still creating the feeling of a warped kind of heroism.
Go with what feels good. I mean really deep-down good. ‘Sure I’ll bake those cupcakes for the school fair after I finish work at 10pm’ is not a deep down feel good. It’s a teeth-gritting inability to practice self-compassion and to set healthy boundaries.
What if good enough was good enough?
‘What we produce is not our value,’ says Brené Brown. She suggests that when someone asks you to do something, ask yourself if you’re doing it because you want to (in other words, because it’s a priority and feels good), or to prove your worth? If your guilt gremlins crowd in, that’s a clue.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown discusses the connection between our worthiness and setting boundaries. We have to believe we are enough in order to say, ‘Enough!’
So lets regroup. In your frenzied life, how do you talk to yourself about commitments? You should, or you choose to? And before making those commitments going forward, what do you really want? Really, really. Then recognise that what you produce is not your value. You are not your writing, or your canvases or your business.
What about you? What works for you in taming the frenzy?