Out Of Overwhelm

In this Habit stacker episode, I share with you the tool to move away from overwhelm more and more often. A habit that has allowed me to fit so much more into my days; to achieve more, experience more, connect more, contribute more, to be healthier and happier….. giving me a genuine sense that I am living fully in a fulfilling way for me.  And even better, even though there is more in each day than ever before, I experience less feelings of overwhelm than ever before!



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Overwhelm. We throw this generalised term around so often, and yet I haven’t seen its use helpful to anyone in moving them out of the state of overwhelm.  It’s like, ‘I’m overwhelmed’ Full stop. Stuck.

Using the term often serves to keep us stuck in the state we are trying to define, make sense of and escape from.

So before we jump to the Habit Stacker tool, let’s agree to take the word ‘overwhelm’ out of our vocabulary moving forward. Instead, in the moment you next feel it, and most want to use the term, get your detective skills ready and shine a light on the real reason the overwhelmed sensation is present.

By doing so, we see our own patterns that drive the sensation of overwhelm. And if we get to that stage of knowing our patterns that drive it, we can change the patterns one by one, and heavily reduce the frequency of overwhelm. Because whether we want to hear it or not, overwhelm is our own personal problem, and it’s our responsibility to change it.

We can usually breakdown overwhelm into 3 primary drivers:

  1. Biochemical Deficiency
  2. Cognitive Overload
  3. Time limitation

In the sensation of overwhelm, first define which are most likely driving your sensation. Let me unpack them and offer some ‘next steps’ for each of these overwhelm drivers.

BIOCHEMICAL DEFICIENCY: To simplify, we know that beneficial bacteria in our gut will positively influence our mood and behaviour. If our mood and cognition are compromised, our sense of overwhelm very likely escalates. Therefore, we want to make sure that those beautiful, beneficial bacteria in our gut, that help produce and respond to neurotransmitters (these are chemicals like GABA – helps to regulate fear and anxiety, serotonin and dopamine) are being supported. We also to want to make sure that we have key nutritional elements which support our nervous and adrenal systems. This is a topic for another conversation, but it should not be left out of this one entirely.


A mental overload. Most of us have too much input coming in that we’re trying to process. 

That cognitive overload places us in a state of anticipatory anxiety.

In this automatic response of anticipatory anxiety, we stop. Our brains messaging to the action centre of the brain is not working well, and that’s highly annoying because the best way out of the sensation of overwhelm is through action, and yet we’re not receiving the ‘action’ messages.

In knowing this, it’s much easier to start at the beginning, and reduce the COGNITIVE LOAD itself, so that we don’t have to battle that frustrating loop.

Here are some general cognitive overload driving patterns:

Firstly, some of the cognitive load is actually just ‘noise’. Irrelevant and insignificant noise. Take a few seconds to think about the transitional moments in your day today or yesterday. How much irrelevant and insignificant noise has hit you? TV, workplace or school yard gossip, traffic, junk mail, social media, message pings……..’team app’. Take an honest look at the noise coming in and be ruthless in minimising it. Set clear intentions around noise.

Secondly, you may not know with conviction who you are and what’s really important to you– things like your values and you just keep loading the cognitive layers over a day, a week and a lifetime, trying to please everyone and trying to tell yourself that this next thing might bring you the happiness you desperately seek. Get crystal clear on your values and the way you support them through intentional behaviours.

The third driver of cognitive overload, is that you have no clear path of what you’re working towards. You may know your values, and cut out the excessive noise, but perhaps you don’t have clarity around whole of life ambitions, nor the skills, habits, achievements, character traits that stack together to bring fulfilment to the forefront………and without clarity on your direction across all important life areas…….you spend your time comparing to others, and then adopting all different things ,from all different people. It’s overloading and still doesn’t raise the barometer of personal fulfilment.

If this is the case, begin the process of defining your vision for the future across all important life areas.

The final primary driver of the sensation of Overwhelm is a TIME LIMITATION.

Perceived or real, this time limitation you have driving overwhelm comes from a couple of things. Again, it’s worth jotting these things down where they ring true.

AN INADEQUATE  ORGANISATIONAL OR PLANNING DISCIPLINE and by default, you’ve created a reactive lifestyle and a discipline of being unproductive and inefficient.  Sometimes that’s hard to hear, like everything that we’re not great at. You don’t notice inefficiencies happening over night, it’s a slow process, but eventually it feels like you’re busy all day, but you have nothing to show for it.

The second thing to limit your time available is by using the popular PROTECTION MECHANISM OF ‘BUSY-NESS’.

You may have been playing a little too small, living out your days in comfort, but actually there’s this ‘itch’ and ‘restlessness’ inside of you jabbing little reminders at you, that you’re capable of more. That time is running out. That feeling is hideously uncomfortable, so you fill every possible space, so that you don’t have to face doing the hard stuff and so that you also effectively avoid the uncomfortable feeling itself. But eventually this act of filling the gap with ‘doing, eventually it overflows.

Let’s do a quick recap. You may be feeling the sensation of overwhelm because of any or many of;

  1. Biochemical Deficiency
  2. Cognitive Overload
  3. Time limitation

I’m taking a stab that if you’re feeling overwhelmed often, that there may be more than one driver in play and you’ve been doing a sensational of perfecting them!

This is part of that mid-life itch, or restlessness that shows up. Telling you, the end is near and asking ‘Is this really it?’

One day I realised that there still so many things that I wanted to learn, achieve and experience, and that ‘more time’ was never going to show up. Plus, the schedule seemed full already, and I didn’t really want to put off the waiting until the kids left home, but I also did not want to miss being present during their childhood.

I was seeking the elusive ‘life balance’. 

I knew that life balance wasn’t the equal sharing of time with important things, it wasn’t like 20% work, 20% health, 20% at home and so on. Clearly we run out of % to share pretty quickly, hello overwhelm!

Life Balance for me was more an intentional art of balancing priorities, moment to moment, day to day, month to month, that mattered most and moved the needle most efficiently and effectively toward what I wanted. Being crystal clear on it.

I knew we commonly overlook areas, some of you may be acutely aware of when we don’t check in regularly, how areas can get overlooked for too long: relationships? health?……We wonder how these things got so far from where they started.

I came to understand, that when we’re intentional about where we distribute our time and energy, in line with what matters most at any given time, and we check in daily and weekly to all areas to see how they’re tracking, life feels different. It feels more balanced, because you’re nailing what needs to be nailed.

I also found that balance meant giving my best energy where I was at any given time. All stacked together it gifted me a perception of balance and greater fulfilment. And let’s face it, our perception is our reality.

So, I came up with the balancing tool. It allowed me to prioritise energy and wellbeing, time with my children and husband, contribute in the community, do work that I love, to spend time with people that I love, to have fun and be social, achieve more daily satisfaction and to continue to grow in my personal capabilities, skills and character traits. All with the same time I had before.

It also allowed me to pattern interrupt my autopilot thinking, and bring my presence and best energy to the next things that was coming rather than dragging stress from one transition in the day to another, and feeling frazzled by the end of it. That in itself brought a feeling of greater fulfilment and less overwhelm more often.

This organisational, filtering and planning system became what you see today as being The Whole Life Success Planner. Buying it, doesn’t guarantee that you win the overwhelm battle. You actually have to use it consistently. And we run into a few problems here. Some people, the perfectionist and procrastinating type, love to plan, but they don’t like making it messy, or doing it wrong, or waiting for the perfect time to start. I know you’re out there. It’s another one of your patterns and you can choose at anytime to take it out. To get messy, to do it your way, and to seize the moment.

And I know, the word ‘planner’ has some of you wonderful, more fun, playful and extroverted type rolling your eyes and feeling your energy deplete right now. And I know you’re desperately wanting to tell me that ‘planning’ steals the spontaneity and joy. And I will tell you, it actually allows you to carve out space for more of it, and that without it, if you have ambitions, and you love your family, and your friends, and you want to be healthy and mentally and emotionally well, and all the other things on your ‘perfect life’ list, without a really solid organisational and filtering system, you’re not in spontaneity and joy, your living in reactivity, overwhelm and guilt of letting people down. 

Now we can all wing all the cool stuff without discipline and a system in our 20’s, maybe even edging up to mid 30’s, but most people stack and layer more obligations over time, continuously, and you can’t continue to stack the obligations (a husband/intimacy, child, another child, perhaps another, a home, more demanding jobs, growing community contribution, personal growth, health, ……….) , you can’t keep stacking. You run out of space and time, and instead you welcome in overwhelm.

Without a system, eventually you lose spontaneity and joy anyway, and if you’re not meeting those extroverted needs of spontaneity and fun, instead it can often turn into pleasure seeking and void filling habits around food, alcohol, sugar, technology, shopping, craving holidays….

This system, this tool, is also not a lifetime guarantee that you’ll never feel the sensation we describe as overwhelm again, but I will guarantee on my life, that if you follow the system consistently, it will be a rare visit, and you’ll be living live more fully and fulfilled than you ever thought possible.

Here’s the overview of the HABIT of The Whole Life Success Planner:

  • You clearly define what you want in life, across 10 important life areas
  • Identify the gaps in skill, character traits, your way of ‘showing up’, or habits between where you are and where you want to go in each life area
  • Clarify your values and your supportive and risky behaviours
  • You identify how you intentionally seek to show up everyday
  • You build practices of daily intentions, productivity planning with transitional pattern interrupts where you get to put new data into your brain, like good data, inspiring data, rather than the worthiness and guilt criticising data that usually is the norm
  • And then you have an evening reflection and discovery practice every night, that allows you to celebrate and/or call yourself out where necessary, with compassion.
  • Then weekly you check into it all, and see where things went well or need refining
  • When you cycle downward in a dip, you get to use structured journaling questions and shine a light on your stress triggers, so you get up and out of the dip faster. We all dip, it just sucks to stay there very long
  • You have nutritional frameworks and vitality inducing pages to keep your energy and motivation high

The best part is, you just follow the prompts! You start where you’re at. 

You treat your life like a worthy business that you want to see grow and flourish.

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