Feeling Overwhelmed? Take Action

A simple rule to get out of your head and start doing

Here's a rule I have for myself that goes something like this

When feeling overwhelmed, take action.

Feeling overwhelmed is unlike feeling exhausted. When you're exhausted, you've emptied your fuel tank. You run out of energy, your mind is empty, and you don't feel like doing anything any longer. But you're not anxious or worried because you know you've done enough.

On the other hand, when you're overwhelmed, you're fueled with too much energy but little to no clarity. Your mind is packed full with combinations of great ideas and monkey thoughts. So much so that they paralyze you from moving forward. There are important things you need to get done (probably too many of them)—and you know you should get started now. Unfortunately, you have no idea where and how to start.

Working on multiple projects while learning to live a good life, the sense of feeling overwhelmed isn't strange to me. And I bet it's the same for you too. So what do we do.

Here's what we usually do. We give in to distractions and start procrastinating on the very thing we need to get done. We tell ourselves: "I'm exhausted, let's take a break." It feels great at the moment because we've got an escape, but it only gets worse. The escape we take to avoid feeling overwhelmed feeds into the very feeling we want to avoid in the first place. Not only our work are important, but now that they are urgent. And we started feeling anxious and worried about falling short and behind.

The truth is that we're not exhausted. How could it be? When we haven't gotten a single thing done yet. We haven't even started.

So what should we do? Instead of taking a break, take action.

You see, the source of feeling overwhelmed usually comes from the lack of clarity. There are too many important things we should do and paths we could take at a given time. Worse, they don't come with a set of precise instructions and rarely promise the best possible, most desirable outcome.

It's hard to start when it's unclear how to do something and uncertain about where it leads us. We thought we needed motivation—a strong enough push to get things in motion. But what we need are clarity and certainty.

So here goes the rule:

When you're feeling exhausted, take a break. When you're feeling overwhelmed, take action.

An action is a decision. Instead of staying where you are and wandering around, decide to go somewhere by taking action.

Did you know that the Latin root of the word decide is decidere? Decidere is the combination of two words with de which means "off" and caedere which means "to cut." In definition, to decide means to cut off. When you decide to commit to one thing, you also cut yourself off from all the other options and alternatives.

When you start doing something—however small it is, you also stop thinking about the other things you should or could be doing. And that's how you gain the clarity and certainty you need to stop feeling overwhelmed. So go ahead to:

  • Read one paragraph of the book.
  • Write one sentence for the essay or the long email.
  • Put your running shoes on and take the first step.

It's okay that you don't have a complete grasp of how to do it and where it leads to; you will figure them out along the way as long as you start now.


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