Do you ever feel you should be doing something other than what you’re doing? In your head an inner nag keeps reminding you of all the things you have to do. You can’t focus. Your attention’s on the next task. When you finally get to it you’re still not focused; still thinking about other things. You’re tired and you’re overwhelmed.

You may feel like a hamster on a wheel, but hamsters don’t seem to agonize the way we do. They get on with it. Imagine going with the flow. It’s efficient. It’s satisfying. It builds self-esteem. It feels good. Why can’t we get on with it? Are hamsters cleverer?

Cleverness is part of the problem. We make up excuses: life is complicated today; you can’t rely on anyone else; these things just have to be done. It’s easy to avoid responsibility, but it comes at a price. Instead of training our attention and containing those overwhelming feelings, we’re at their mercy. Distraction is harmful.

You don’t have to be cut off from the world to train your mind. In fact, focusing your attention on everyday tasks is the way to go. That’s exactly where you need it.

We’re adapting, but what we’re
adapting to is defeat and denial

Some mornings I set off for work looking forward to my interesting projects. Then I get sideswiped by an avalanche of insistent chores. Then I get anxious. I don’t think clearly. My efficiency falls. Instead of feeling fulfilled, I end my day tired and discouraged.

Not all days are like this. I don’t mean that unexpected and uninteresting things don’t happen. I mean, I manage them differently. When I feel that sense of unease creeping up on me, I’ve got to step back or lose the flow. I need to check my inner dialogue.

Sensing procrastination before you’re completely overwhelmed presents you with an opportunity. There’s still time to change direction. The trick is to bring your attention to what you’re actually doing and forget about what you wish you were doing. Unfortunately, it’s not just a one-off decision. You have to train your mind and its reactivity.

Fortunately, it’s not the tasks that overwhelm; it’s the thoughts. We do all this to ourselves.  We submit to procrastination and fear of failure. We’re adapting, but what we’re adapting to is defeat and denial.

The big things in life are the most important: marriage, family, success, but if you don’t sweat the small stuff, the big stuff never works out well. We earn self-esteem by paying attention. We show our concern for others by paying attention. We keep our balance by paying attention. We get what we want by paying attention, although too often what we want is not what we need. By paying attention then too, we learn more about ourselves. We grow. We cultivate the art of life.

We’re not the rational creatures we think we are. What drives us is force of habit. If you’re in the habit of being overwhelmed, then it’s just a matter of time before you’re back in that rut. What you need is a counter-habit.

Properly applied, mindful reflection brings subconscious reactions to the surface, enabling you to rethink them and undo old habits. It reveals just how few pressures are really thrust on you. Most are self-imposed habits of reactivity, rooted in forgotten experiences. We follow them without asking why, but we don’t have to.

Stephen Schettini offers a new Mindful Reflection™ workshop on six Thursday evenings from Oct 7 to Nov 20 (except Oct 23). For more information and to register, click here or call 450-458-8030.


Author: Stephen Schettini

Host of The Naked Monk

4 thoughts on “Overwhelmed”

  1. In other words, we can choose the outcome of our subconscious conditions that arise and pass away during the day.

  2. Stephen I am presently working with my Anti-Depressant Skills Workbook and your article relates to many of the points in this work book…..I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your writing. Chuckled over the what we want is often not what we need. There are not many individuals who would not benefit from reading this article. Once again, many thanks for sharing. Cheers, Ronnie

  3. Really nailed that one Stephen … Thanks so much for expressing it in such a lucid way. I can only wonder if we are not in fact, undermining our true motivation and inspiration in life by such unfulfilling behaviour … by depriving ourselves of such true presence in the moment. Much like mental junk food… which spoils our appetite for real nutrition.

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