Overwhelmed or Focused?

I just recently stumbled upon and then read The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. Hats off to Stanier. The book is incredible. It is such a beautiful work of distilled wisdom that is easy to digest, timely, and immediately applicable. Not too mention, the wisdom is very evidence based, and a great encapsulation of a handful of the best insights on coaching and behavior modification.

All that aside, in the very beginning of the book, Stanier writes very briefly about getting overwhelmed:

“The more you lose focus, the more overwhelmed you feel. The more overwhelmed you feel, the more you lose focus”

Michael Bungay Stanier, The Coaching Habit

Have you ever considered that you cannot be both overwhelmed AND focused? It is one or the other. If you are overwhelmed, you know you are NOT focused. This may sound simple and obvious but it is actually quite profound. The antidote to being overwhelmed is to find focus in the most immediate way you can. As you soon as you can feel the experience of being focused, you’ll begin escaping the discomfort of feeling overwhelmed.

The most efficient way to create focus is to engage in physical acts that require accuracy. For example, juggling and playing a musical instrument are two GREAT ways to immediately practice the act of “locking in” with an activity that forces your full attention to come aboard. If you cannot juggle or play a musical instrument, you can play catch with yourself with one or two balls, hula hoop, jump rope, or do some kind of physical balancing. These activities allow you to get out of your head and into your body in such a way that your attention narrows on executing a specific task.

The reason focus and overwhelm are mutually exclusive is because focus influences intentional action; whereas, overwhelm influences reactionary inaction. Focus wants to take you somewhere. It wants to explore, discover, and create. Overwhelm wants to keep you where you are. It wants to intimidate, confuse, and scare.

Call to Action: The next time you find yourself overwhelmed, choose focusing as your exit strategy. If you are in a situation in which physical acts are not an option, I recommend focusing on your breathing or reciting a favorite poem, proverb, or excerpt of prose that you have committed to memory.

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