This is for those moments of overwhelm.
When thoughts seem to tighten up and freeze.
You look around to realize there are just so many things to do.
And too many new opportunities to chase after.
Analysis paralysis starts to set in. And in no time, you are overtaken by anxiety on the inside yet have an appearance of total inactivity on the outside.
“What have you been working on?” someone might ask.
If ever one could answer truthfully “Nothing and everything,” this might be it.
I’m going to show you, in a few simple steps, how to get unstuck, how to get back into a state of flow. Are you ready?
What is happening?
To start, let’s understand what is happening. Poor homo sapiens, it seems we are getting in our own way. Homo = human, sapien = judicious. While our remarkable thinking abilities may have allowed the species to make grand leaps and bounds, in the context of our modern and complex world, spinning the hard drive for hours on end, just like in our personal computers, can lead to system failures and crashes.
It doesn’t take too much detective work to see what precipitates most “beach balls” (for Apple loyalists) and dreaded “blue screens” (for PC owners). Often, the culprits are too many open programs and windows, which all eat up memory. And when that runs too thin, the machine seizes.
This is not unlike what’s happening upstairs in your own noggin. Lots of open loops, unresolved projects, ongoing dialogues with self or with others, shopping lists, calendar appointments, menial chores, and big visions to pursue. No wonder it feels like too much. It is!
If only there was some way to remember and keep track of assignments without having to store them in your head. Some kind of outside compartment perhaps. Like a notebook for your brain. Like some kind of notebook… What would be like a notebook? Like…
Hey, I’ve got an idea! A notebook!
Write this way
Empty your mind. That’s not just good meditation advice. It works here too. Let’s close those tabs and applications by jotting down what’s taking up all that space under your lid.
Now, I realize there are many folks that like to type out lists. However, I’m going to strongly recommend that you go analog here. There is plenty of research out there to suggest that taking old-school pen to paper lights up parts of your brain for better comprehension, retention, and recollection.
Here’s the way I do it. See how this works for you! I begin by opening up my journal to two fresh pages. Then draw a horizontal line across the middle of both sheets, creating four equal-sized quadrants.
In the first box, write the word, Celebrations. Follow that with everything that is going well at this moment. Things for which you are grateful. People, projects, or any momentum that you are lucky to have.
It’s too common, especially in problem-solving scenarios, to obsess on what’s broken, what needs fixing. However – and I’ll challenge anyone to prove me wrong – I can’t think of anyone from all of human history that’s ever cried, complained, blamed, lamented, trash talked, or finger-pointed their way to happiness and success. Can you?
Staring intensely at the negative only makes you feel more… well… negative.
My radical suggestion here, instead, is to recall and focus on your strengths. These wins can be built upon, grown, replicated, and multiplied. But only if you know to do so. You’re a superhero and you don’t even know it. Acknowledge your powers and make use of them. Celebrate!
2. Goals & Unfinished Business
While it would be awesome (and possible) to wipe the slate clean, let’s recognize that right now the slate is anything but blank. There may be many plates of various kinds, twirling. What are they and what’s happening with them at this time?
This is what you put in the next quadrant. Write down everything that is live and out of the gate. What has launched? What is mid-range in its life cycle? What needs attention? What requires a decision from you?
Having this visual can help you:
- Clarify next steps
- Extend deadlines
- Or confidently deactivate certain initiatives altogether
3. Ideas & Brainstorm
Onward to our third quadrant.
Especially if you are a creative-type, you likely have tons of great ideas swirling around your eyes. Things to try, to accomplish, to attain. Tips, tricks, tests, and even more tasks. These are items you haven’t quite started but would like to! Write and draw them all out.
Remember, this isn’t another “to-do” list. No one is charging you to make this stuff happen. This is just you doing a mental clean-out. If anything, it’s a bit of a wish list. Rather than get more daunted as you scribble away, you should be imagining, “That would be fun! Wouldn’t that be fun?” Walk lightly as you enter this arena.
At this point, your mind is likely starting to thank you for the newly found spaciousness. Getting this stuff out of the abstract and into the tangible (even if it’s only paper at this time) can be hugely relieving.
4. Remaining Questions
Now, the finish line. Get ready for a feeling of more psychological freedom and mobility. The true and best use of your brain isn’t for random storage but for clever solution-seeking.
Review what you’ve captured so far. Your wins and forward motion. Projects that are already, to some degree, in the works. And a series of nice-to-haves. We want more of Quadrant 1 events, potentially through the actions that appear in Quadrants 2 and 3.
In this last quadrant, we write questions. Intelligent questions produce intelligent answers!
When seeking to draft some smart questions, we will generally want to steer away from “Why” questions. As a matter of habit, you may end up asking, “Why me?” Or, “Why is this happening?” And our brains, powerful as they are, always want to provide answers. So a “Why me?” question is likely to produce a justification. Not a solution!
Rather, try asking questions like:
- Which of these is a priority at this time?
- What will produce the results I want?
- How does that work?
- What do I need to research or read in order to learn more?
- Who should I talk to that may be able to help?
- Is this something I can continue to do on my own?
- Or is it time I hire a professional?
Another fun one you can try that has worked for me is: “If I did know what to do, what action would I take next?” This one can be especially cool because it taps into your superconscious wisdom or your future self. It takes the pressure off having to know by assuming you might already know. It gets you out of your cerebral processes and more into your gut instincts.
Again, because your brain likes to and is in fact designed to compute, you will now be activating its true creative problem-solving capabilities. Just ask it more sensible questions.
You and I can probably yap about this all day. You’ve probably already been talking up a storm just in your own mind. Time for us to pause the chatter and get to the actual doing.
Clarity awaits you.
Let’s do this!
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