Message Four: Decide what you want to do instead

I’m really excited to be back here with you again today because I get to talk about the skill to stop overwhelm that everybody wants to jump ahead to anyway. It’s deciding what to do instead.

Here’s a quick recap if you missed any previous messages:

Message 1: I confess to getting overwhelmed while I was working on this very series about stopping overwhelm, and I outline the series.

Message 2: Choose just one thing to focus on, which is a skill I learned as an introvert acting in audience-participation improvisational murder mysteries.

Message 3: Get curious so you can really see what’s going on, which is the skill that has allowed me to successfully manage what used to be severe PTSD.

Deciding what you want, instead of whatever it is that’s been overwhelming you, seems like it’s not rocket science, right? Or that’s what we’ve been told, anyway. What’s the problem with skipping ahead to deciding – without choosing one thing to focus on? Well, we end up putting effort into actions that don’t put a stop to the overwhelm.

If you were to ask me how I know this, I could give you examples that I can remember as far back as when I was in high school. Like the time I pulled an all-nighter working on paperwork for a club…and it turned out we didn’t need that paperwork (when I handed it to my teacher, he looked at me like I had three heads and then gave it right back to me and told me to line a birdcage with it and no, I’m not kidding).

Unfortunately, though, I didn’t figure out how to actually do the whole “work smarter, not harder” thing until I was much older. What I’ve learned since then is the “work smarter” bit pays off a lot faster when I identify one problem to focus on and make a decision that will start to solve for that same problem.

Here’s where the importance of getting curious so you can see what’s really going on becomes clear. Because when you can see the pieces and parts of what’s actually happening – and this includes not just circumstances and behaviors but also your thoughts and feelings about it – you can make decisions from a much more informed and neutral perspective.

And this really works – I truly did use this to dig myself out of the overwhelm I was feeling from creating this series on overwhelm! (Every time I write that, it sounds to me like a plot for a sitcom episode.)

When I woke up on that morning a few days ago and knew that I just couldn’t go on feeling so squeezed and pressured by my overwhelm, which was happening because of a lot of things going on in my life and not just this series, I walked myself through these skills. I learned a lot using curiosity.

I quickly reviewed all the things I observed, and two big things stood out to me. First, even though I really wanted to do a new video series, I hadn’t actually promised that to anybody. What I promised, and what you signed up for, was a series of 6 emails, period. Second, I had a thought that the ideal way to do this series would be to produce videos, and I knew I would feel disappointed in myself if I didn’t do this series the “ideal” way.

Because I had already chosen just one thing to focus on to stop my overwhelm, I made an informed decision to revise my plan to produce this series. And in order to do that, I also decided that I was willing to feel disappointment in myself. I intentionally decided to feel a very challenging emotion that I have struggled with for most of my life (disappointment…ugh), so that I could ease up on myself and get relief from my overwhelm! It worked. I made a good decision. It was so hard for me, but stopping the overwhelm made the emotional pain worth it. 100% worth it.

When you apply the skill of getting curious to the one thing you decided to focus on, what do you see? What stands out to you? Do you notice a detail, behavior or plan you could approach differently? Do you, like me, notice a feeling you’d rather avoid?

I don’t have any way of knowing what’s overwhelming you right now, of course, but you can leave a comment below or email me if you are stuck and need some help.

And I’m really looking forward to sending you the message tomorrow because that’s going to be about setting boundaries when it’s appropriate. It’s not always appropriate or needed, by the way, but it’s incredibly helpful when it’s an option you’re willing to explore.

Please don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that you start by setting really big or challenging boundaries yet, because that’s not the best way to learn a new skill. And the stress of thinking about boundaries you’re not prepared for can actually make your overwhelm worse. If you are ready to set a big boundary, that’s really great! But it’s OK to start small too.

Remember that the best way to eat that overwhelm watermelon is one bite at a time. Since my goal is to help reduce your overwhelm enough to get a break and maybe get some rest, I’m going to talk about boundaries designed to do just exactly that.

Here’s to making wise decisions that reduce our overwhelm,

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Life & Business Coach, and mother, wife and caregiver

P.S. Prefer to listen to this message? You can do that here.

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Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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