What if your to-do list had only1 thing?
How many things do you have to do today?
Before the holidays?
How much energy do you have after work to do these things?
Do you feel overwhelmed just thinking about it?
Of course if it isn’t the holidays, it’s something else: lacrosse season, gift shopping, family members who need your help, college tours, deadlines for that committee that you aren’t sure why you signed up for.
And the worst part? You decided to do all this stuff. You want to be the person to go to the games and help the family and be involved in your work.
But at the moment, it all seems like too much.
And just to make it better, we tell ourselves over and over how much it is.
“I have so much to do.”
“I don’t have enough time” (code for this is too much for me.)
“I don’t know how I will get it all done.”
“I’m really busy.”
“I need a break” (code for I can’t take all this.)
We say it to ourselves, to our coworkers, to our spouse, to the lady at the checkout counter.
Do you know why we do this?
Because that’s exactly what our brains are designed to do, minimize any energy expenditure that is not absolutely necessary for survival. It goes back to the times where we had to forage for food and not exceed calories out over calories in (obviously not a problem for most of us now.)
So good news, if you said any of these things in the last 24 hours you are completely normal and your brain is functioning as it should.
Of course if the story ended there, you would stop reading and go find some chocolate to make yourself feel better. After all, knowing that your brain is trying to make you feel worse as a self protective mechanism isn’t exactly encouraging.
But the story doesn’t end there. Thankfully our brains have evolved since that primitive programming (enter the prefrontal cortex- YAY!).
We can use the EVOLVED part of our brain to boss the primitive part around instead of vice versa. This evolved part is what lets us think about our thinking, it allows us to ruminate or problem solve by seeing what we are thinking and choosing whether or not we want to keep thinking it.
Ok, ok- I will get to the point. HOW DO WE STOP FEELING SO OVERWHELMED?
Step 1: Catch yourself when you are thinking or talking about ALL the things you have to do. See how often this is coming into your conversation. Is it filling up your thoughts between patients, while you are commuting, or while you are pretending to have a conversation with someone about something else? Like most things, awareness is the first step.
Step 2: Watch your language. When you use those phrases above, the “I have so much to do” phrases, you activate the Reticular Activating System (sounds serious, I know). This part of your brain enhances the attentive state and facilitates conscious perception of sensory stimuli.
It makes you notice things.
The RAS looks for evidence to prove whatever you are thinking.
Not convinced? It’s the reason why when you hear a word you’ve never heard before and you have to look it up, you then hear the word 5 more times that week. It’s the reason why you decide you might want to buy an orange jeep and then you see them every day as you drive around. You have told your brain to pay attention and see specific things. New words and orange jeeps have not multiplied, you have just become more aware of them (keep this in mind- it’s a mental ninja hack).
So step 2 is really: Be intentional about what you are telling your brain to prove true. Do you want it to be true that you don’t have time or it’s too much? Of course not, if that were true you probably wouldn’t have added all these things into your life. You want to do these things AND you want to feel non-harried, in control, and relaxed. RIGHT?
Step 3: Now that you are watching your language, we are going to take a step back from the big picture and acknowledge that in fact, we can only do one thing at a time. I know, I know. Some of you are going to bristle at this a little bit. Somehow, multitasking has been elevated to a position of honor, especially among women. But, if we are going to look at the science, you know I’m a big fan of science, multitasking has not actually been shown to be effective. It actually decreases productivity, particularly if the task is more complex/if it takes more brain power or accuracy. I was tempted to list all the references at the end but then decided to stick with the task at hand (hee hee) instead of starting down the rabbit hole of multitasking research, something I am choosing not to do today. If you are fascinated by this, a quick google search of “scientific studies on multitasking” will give you all the data you want. You don’t have to take my word for it.
Ok so back to multitasking and what it has to do with language and feeling less overwhelmed.
If we accept that multitasking is not in our best interest, then we can choose to do one thing at a time. To make this easier (remember the mental ninja hack I prepped you for), instead of saying all the things we have to do, tell yourself the ONE THING you are doing next.
Then ask yourself,
“How can I make this easier/ faster/ more efficient/ more fun?”
“How can I go all in on this one thing, right now?”
Get that Reticular Activating System noticing things to help and support you instead of making you feel worse! BOSS YOUR BRAIN AROUND!
This may seem like I am oversimplifying your life, especially since this doesn’t take anything off your plate. But if you are doing the things anyway, isn’t it worth a try?
What if you gave yourself the grace to do one thing at a time AND acknowledge that that is actually the MOST efficient way to live your life? What if you could be present where you are, enjoying the task at hand instead of dividing your mental energy and wasting time ruminating about what’s coming next?
What if you acknowledged that you do, in fact, always get the things done?
What if you told yourself (and the checkout lady) that, instead of minimizing your badassery?
Oh, and maybe schedule in a little break time for yourself (gasp). Get the coffee, sit in your car and listen to your favorite song, drive around the block and see the Christmas lights, stop for a minute between patients and stretch. If you are saving so much time by giving up multitasking, you’ll have time to spare for this. Then you won’t need a break because you’ll have one.
Doesn’t that sound great?
Need some extra help feeling better through the holiday season? I am here to help you with that if you need me. You can schedule here .