How to overcome overwhelm, frustration, and procrastination with one easy tactic
Do you find complainers incredibly annoying? You know those people that no matter what is going on they seem to feel like they have been wronged, have the worst luck or more than their fair share of obstacles… and they need to tell you all about it, ALL the time?
That was me this week.
Telling myself over and over, every waking moment, that I wasn’t doing enough, or what I planned, or what I wanted: that nothing was going to work out.
Here’s the problem, I couldn’t walk away from myself, or hang up the phone, or stop paying attention. I was stuck with me, stuck with the constant, yet unreasonable, thoughts that I was wasting time, not meeting my goals, and generally just not good enough. It’s been exhausting.
The good news is, I did my best to keep my frustration to myself rather than shmearing my negativity on everything I came in contact with (please don’t fact check this with my family). But I still experienced it, and it was still incredibly annoying.
There’s really no good reason why these weeks happen. It’s just that primitive part of the brain trying to exert its “use the least amount of energy and stay safe” mechanism. So how do we overcome the thoughts that nothing we do is going to make a difference or matter? How do we work on making meaningful progress toward the things we want in our lives? How do we just get moving in the right direction to defeat overwhelm and procrastination?
Try the tactic of just taking the next best step.
Don’t worry about the whole path toward your goal. Don’t worry about the mile markers or if the next step is definitely the right one. Just move.
Going in any direction will give you some clarity.
Let’s face it, looking for one next best step is certainly more time efficient than looking for 20 steps to distraction. And even a step in the wrong direction will still obtain the goal of not staying where you are.
I am sure by now you are coming up with some objections (as I did this week). See if any of these resonate with you.
Objection #1: If I don’t make the right decision on what the next best step is, I'm wasting time on something that doesn’t work.
This is a reasonable concern and I am the first one to trash talk wasting time. But thinking this way will keep you from taking any action, which is a sure way to stay where you are (and waste time that could be spent bringing you closer to your goals). So out of fear of wasting time by doing the “wrong” thing, you do nothing and waste time, a little counterproductive.
Another rendition of this objection is “I took action and got nowhere. I’m back to square one.” But this isn’t really true either. You started out not knowing which way to go and doing nothing, now you know one thing that doesn’t work. I consider this progress. Re-evaluate without judgement and take another step. You gain momentum just by moving.
Objection #2: The “it’s impossible because” trap.
It’s easy to say, “just take the next best step” but sometimes it is legitimately hard to figure out what that step actually is. Every time we try to come up with an action all we come up with is all the reasons it won’t work, or can’t work, or isn’t possible. This is where a lot of people freeze with overwhelm or a sense of hopelessness (which feels terrible by the way.) So if you really can’t find the next step, try the obstacle hack.
List all the reasons you can’t move forward.
I don’t have time.
It has never worked before.
I am not good with technology.
I can’t stick with the plan that I know works.
Now, rather than looking at achieving your big “impossible” goal, try taking the first small step toward debunking your obstacle, the step that will shift it to not so absolute. Maybe this first step appears to have no obvious relation to your goal. Maybe the first step is just to look at your calendar and evaluate how you spend your time, or to look at what you have tried in the past and identify a new approach to try. Maybe the first step is to watch a YouTube video on how to improve your use of technology (or to ask a teenager to explain it). Maybe you pick one easy part of the plan that you know works and start with just sticking to that.
Obstacles are literally the road signs that tell us where to start.
Objection #3: But it isn’t perfect (or good enough) yet.
This objection is a sneaky one. It’s really a cleverly hidden excuse hiding behind an idea of doing your best work. The perfectionists reading this are starting to sweat.
I love doing great work. But sometimes we can get totally stalled by trying to perfect the first step. Out of fear of failure we don’t move forward. We say things that sound good like “I just want to get this right before I add on, or try something else.” But instead of protecting ourselves from failing we are actually failing ahead of time by not moving forward at all.
This is when I invoke one of my favorite mantras
DONE IS BETTER THAN NONE.
Objection #4: I don’t know how.
This one doesn’t hold water anymore. Find out how. Maybe your next step is just to get some info.
Nobody can disagree that we have access to tons of information. Read a book, or a blog :)
Watch a video, listen to a podcast. Someone has had your same goal and has figured out how to achieve it. Get some information online.
Or here’s a really radical idea: ask someone. People love to share information especially if they think they are helping you. Talk to other goal-centric people. Find someone who has what you want and ask how they got there. Then try that.
There are lots of objections we can create for why we shouldn’t take any step at all. Keep in mind, you only have to do this if you want to move forward. If you are perfectly satisfied with where you are and have nothing you wish was better in your life than don’t bother.
Up-leveling your life may be hard which is ok. You don’t have to do it all at once (it's not possible to do it all at once anyway).
The key is to do something.
Take a step.
One step is enough for today.
Quiet your inner critic, she could be wrong.
In the words of the great Maya Angelou,
“ Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”