Your desk is cluttered, you’re running out of things to eat and have a deadline tomorrow. Too much to do, too little time. How can you stay positive and maintain your happiness when life gets busy?
I’ve lately been in a situation where I had to find out. My new found theories on happiness were tested by real life. It was messy, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it out alive.
Theory vs. Reality: The crash
I had been following the core principle of my hot new happiness philosophy (greatly influence by Danielle Laporte): Focus on doing things that make you feel good. Ditch the rest as best as you can.
Alright. So I was flowing through life, had synchronicities piling up everywhere and felt invincible. “I got this!” I assured myself, “Living this theory is the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”
Everything was plain awesome. Until…well, until I woke up one morning and noticed myself repeating my to-do list to myself before I was even fully conscious. Oups. I realized I was feeling stressed. Old buddies like anxiety, pressure and overwhelm started to stop over at my place more and more regularly.
Under these circumstances I couldn’t help but should all over myself a few times per day. Note: “should”, “must” and “need to” have become my personal indicators of ill-being. These words are symptomatic for me putting too much pressure on myself.
Of course I did my best to ignore that. I thought it didn’t matter all that much and that I should really just focus on pushing through this and get some stuff done. I wasn’t that unhappy, after all. Right?
The problem is that it always starts out that way. We notice the to-dos piling up as we get behind on things. We panic a little, and decide that we just need to suck it up and get shit done faster. So we try that. We start feeling more and more stressed, and before you know we stop singing in the shower, or humming on our way to the grocery store. We realize that this might actually be worse than we thought it was. We play it down, because by this time, we’re convinced that the world will blow up if we don’t get everything done right now. Our life depends on our to-do list.
This is not a good situation to be in. And it’s the start of something that could turn into a big messy unhappiness crisis if we go on for too long.
How do we get ourselves back into a state of feeling good when we feel threatened by our to-do list?
One of my favorite lessons from the work I did with a former coach of mine, Sally Hope, was this: “You always have a choice.” She constantly reminded me of this one. And, funny enough, I often wanted to disagree with her. In my mind it went like this: ” I absolutely don’t have a choice! You don’t understand my situation, it’s different!”
Turns out, no situation is different. You always have a choice, in each and every moment. Even when it totally doesn’t feel like it. Even when you think the world is gonna blow up if you just start saying no to people so you can free up your time to destress every morning. Or when you feel like you need to have all this work done tomorrow (at the latest!), and then kill yourself over this deadline without realizing that it’s totally self-imposed and you have a choice to let it go.
Sometimes it’s hard to focus on creating positive feelings in your life, when all we wanna do is hide in bed and forget about those stupid obligations. Fear not, you awesome happiness seeker you, I’ve gone through this quite a few times now and here’s what I figured:
How to go from overwhelm to positivity
self-awareness. Most people have a pattern they fall back into when they go into stress mode. There are certain symptoms that come with being overly stressed. For me, these are mostly verbal cues. When I’m stressed I have a tendency to should all over myself using words like “need to”, “must” and”stressed” several times throughout the day, especially when someone asks me how I feel. Noticing these symptoms can help you become aware of your stress level, and awareness is the first step to any change.
choose to change. Once you grudgingly admit that you’ve maneuvered yourself into stress mode, it’s time to consciously make a decision to get yourself out of it again. Remember that you always have a choice. Now if your immediate reaction is to wanna start yelling at me, explaining how your situation is different and life just keeps throwing
shit penguins at you, take a deep breath. This is another sure sign of yourself being deep into stress mode, at least it is for me. Pay close attention to the next step as it might be helpful:
challenge your assumptions. “I have to do it all now.”, “Bob will hate me if I don’t hand this in tomorrow”, “Life is just being a bitch at the moment, nothing I can change about that”, “I just need to push through this right now”. These are all assumptions, even though they feel very real if you decide to believe them. Thing is, most of us don’t consciously decide to. Make an effort to challenge your assumptions. Most of the time, you’ll be surprised at how exaggerated your expectations and sense of urgency are.
get minimalist on your to-do list. Once you’ve taken a closer look at your assumptions, you’ll probably realize that you don’t necessarily need to, or want to do everything right now. Get minimalist on your to-do list. Cross out everything that doesn’t absolutely need to get done this week. Ideally, have only 1-3 Most Important Tasks on your list. This step is only possible after you’ve gone through the previous ones, as doing less is counter intuitive when you’re deep down into stress mode.
focus on feeling good. Remember that the primary intention is to feel good. Happiness is the bottom line in life (YES! it is). Do one thing that will make you feel good today, no matter how small it is. Make life a bit fun again. Rinse and repeat tomorrow, or in 5 minutes. Whatever feels right to you.
Going through these steps might take you a few days, or even several weeks, but I’d recommend that you give it a try anyway. If it works, it can feel like a miracle. And yes, these are in a particular order, because focusing on self-awareness makes it easier to eventually focus on feeling good. Got it? Cool.
I was able to go from crazy overwhelmed mess to happy and excited about life several times through following the steps we just discussed. I hope they will do the same for you.
Are you struggling with marrying your to-dos and your desire for happiness? If yes, anything you’ve figured so far?
- "This Is Too Big for Me" – No, It's Not. Here's How to Beat the Odds
- Too Much to Do Too Little Time: How to Get Off The Hamster Wheel
- How to Escape A Life That Bores You to Death
- Unhappiness 101
- Why You Need to Live Your Dreams to Make Your Life Meaningful (spoiler alert: you will die)
- How to Do What You Love, Change the World & Get Paid to Do it
- 10 Life Lessons Learned on a Trip to the End of the World
- What to Do When Everything Plain Sucks: A Gentle Suck-Day Survival Kit
- The Beauty of a Morning Ritual: How it Can Help You Get Your Joy Back
- Burnout Is Not Cool. I Know You’re Serious About Your Dream, But Stop Killing Yourself Over It.
- Listen to your intuition. It trumps your rational mind.
- You can’t skip the fucking journey (& why I haven’t been blogging as much)