Curing overwhelm

Spoiled for choice – curing overwhelm

I have a confession to make. I am a member of two gyms. Both have comprehensive group fitness classes and great environments. One even has a 50 metre outdoor pool. On the way home from the office the other day I was trying to decide whether I should go to the 6pm spin class at one gym or the 6.30pm class at the other. Both had pros and cons determined by their different locations, instructors and bikes. Overwhelm set in. Do you know what I did?

I did neither.

Yes, that’s right. I became so overwhelmed by choice that I did nothing. Nothing! This happens quite a bit for me. I can’t decide between a swim, a spin class or some simple weights – or perhaps a walk, a run, a cycle outside… So, I end up doing nothing.

Now, don’t leave me hanging here. Have you ever had that experience where there are so many options, it’s actually TOO MUCH? Like when you look at an amazing menu full of lovely food options and you simply can’t decide what to eat? Standing in the foyer of the movie theatre paralysed by the indecision of action vs romantic comedy?

Why we feel Overwhelmed

Dan Gilbert, in his TED Talk in July 2005, claims that our brains were not designed for the world we live in now. We were designed to live in small groups with people very similar to us, live short lives with limited choice.  Our priority was to eat and mate TODAY. The world has changed. But our brains have not. We now live longer in a world full of diversity and choice. This explains why we feel overwhelmed and ultimately make bad decisions. These bad decisions give us even more reason to second guess ourselves when faced with choice, which leads us to more bad decisions. The spiral continues.

The Cure for Overwhelm – Choice

Feeling overwhelmed? I wrote a little piece about this in That Online Stuff some time ago and recommended connecting with “your Why” when feeling overwhelmed. Too overwhelmed to do this? Do this instead (or as well!):

Banish the word from your dictionary.

Yes. Just don’t acknowledge it and give it power. I choose instead to call it having INFINITE CHOICE. How lucky am I? I live in a world where I could do a spin class, I could go for a swim or I could sit at home doing nothing.

And anything I do is the right thing for me.

Now, doesn’t that feel better? Doesn’t that put the power in your hands? Of course, it doesn’t mean I’ll never make a bad decision again, but it does mean that decision making power is firmly back in my hands. And I’ll never feel that feeling of “overwhelm” again.

This technique is called a “Re-frame” – a way of redefining a situation by examining the content or the context. You can do this with other things too. What can you re-frame that could make a big difference for you and your results? Feel free to share! I’m off to a spin class (or a run… whatever…) :-)



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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.