Have you ever felt paralysed by indecision, like everything’s happening all at once and you just don’t know which way to move? One of the situations that I repeatedly come across as a coach is the client who feel overwhelmed. This happens both in business and in life. Either way, why does this happen and what can you do about it?
In my experience, the biggest reason this happens is that you are in some way in conflict with your own internal value system. You find yourself having to make a decision about something that doesn’t sit well with you, though you often may not know why.
There is often a destructive circle where one decision is linked to another situation about which there is no clear answer, which is linked to a third or even multiple decisions that seem to have no obvious solution.
So if you can’t decide on (a) because it is dependent on (b) but that depends on (c) and you don’t know the answer to (c) you can find yourself stuck. In the worst case when (c) is dependent back on (a), you find yourself in a loop, which can feel like a knot tightening around your neck!
This kind of internal conflict leaves you feeling stuck, helpless and overwhelmed. That frustration can also lead to anger or even disappointment with yourself. You may like you should be able to resolve the problems and move forwards but you just can’t, so you mentally beat yourself up and suffer from a melt down and stress!
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So here are a few thoughts about how to tackle this…
(1) Engage A Coach – My clients have found it immensely valuable to talk it through with a trained coach like myself because the questioning techniques that we use enable us to draw out more information about what is really going on. We are trained to listen for the things you don’t say and to observe the clues revealed by your body language when talking about the problems. So talking to a coach can help you find clarity about the real issues versus the perceived issues. They can often be completely different beasts.
(2) Establish Your Values – One of the things I always take the time and trouble to uncover is what values you hold dear to you. We all have core values, yet most people never actually step back from the frenetic pace of life to consider what those principles and beliefs actually are. If you highly value ‘honesty’ for example, then to undertake any action that you know would require some hint of’ dishonesty’ would feel wrong to you. You might try to justify it or gloss over it by saying that it’s only a ‘white lie’ or that the action is ‘in the other person’s best interests’ or that ‘it’s for the greater good of the company’, but it will still feel wrong to you and you won’t want to do it. Being clear about your values increases your chances of realising when you are not acting congruently with them.
(3) Eat the Elephant – An old metaphor for dealing with overwhelm is to ask the question, “How would you eat an elephant?” The answer is, “One mouthful at a time!” In other words, rather than being daunted by a seemingly overwhelming target, you break it down into manageable or ‘bite-sized’ chunks. In a business sales context the thought of trying to hit an earnings target of $100,000 for the year might initially seem like an impossible mission. If you instead break that down into a monthly target of around $8,500 or even a weekly target of $1,950, it suddenly seems a much smaller figure. You can then take the pressure out of that scenario if you work out the average profit from the average sale. Let’s say that an average sale is $4,000 with an average profit of $2,000, then that would mean that one sale per week would cover your target. If you know that on average one out of every three prospective clients will go ahead and buy your product or service and that one out of every five contacts with suspected customers leads to an appointment, it becomes a simple mathematical exercise to suggest that if you make fifteen contacts per week, then that will on average lead to three appointments and one sale. Thus instead of stressing about the huge figure of $100,000, you just focus on making at least fifteen contacts consistently every week. These numbers are simply for illustrative purposes but the principle works for most businesses and it gives you a simple weekly measurement tool to help you stay on track.
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(4) Establish a Timeframe – Back in my earlier days as a young retail manager, one of my senior bosses gave me some great advice. He said that when you are faced with a tough decision, ask yourself if the decision is easily reversible. If it is, then make the decision quickly, because if it turns out to be wrong, you just go back and change it. If however, you know that it will not be easily reversible, take as long as you can to gather all of the relevant information on which to make your assessment. Sometimes with the benefit of more time or facts, a new solution may appear. To be clear though, there is a big difference between being paralysed by indecision versus consciously choosing to do nothing yet, until you have better information.
(5) Take Action – Once you have broken the elephant down into bite-sized chunks, checked the decisions made against your values and decided on a course of action, there is one absolutely crucial thing to do – take action. It is staggering how many times people go through that whole process of ‘unravelling the cause of feeling overwhelmed’, figuring out that solution, making those important decisions, then they don’t do anything!
One of the biggest causes of feeling overwhelmed is that you feel powerless and out of control. The simple act of doing something that you believe is leading you towards solving the problems enables you to regain your sense of control and to feel empowered once more. Even if other people think you are doing the wrong thing, at least you feel like you are doing something.
Another way of looking at it is to say ‘Make a decision, then make it the right one’ by being committed to your new direction. There are many roads that lead to Rome and even if you pick the slower route, it is still better to be heading in the right direction than to still be sat at the crossroads of Indecision Street, Completely Stuck Avenue and Afraid of Getting it Wrong Boulevard, otherwise known as the ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams!’
The state of overwhelm is often a case of information overload that triggers anxiety, self-doubt and disempowerment. There is always a solution, even if it may at first appear unpalatable. Recognise also that every apparent disaster also contains within it the seeds of a potentially greater opportunity or positive outcome that may only appear later with the benefit of hindsight. In the immortal words of Indian mystic, Meher Baba, later made famous by musician, Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
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