Techniques for taking effective action in a world chock-full of too many choices
Hey Hey Hey,
Sometimes I'd like to just not have to make any more choices. Do you share this fantasy?
The "right thing" would just be there, spelled out on a billboard, on the side of the road. Major decisions would be certain and easy. Heck, little ones too.
Imagine basking in a moment where you can declare, "No more decisions for me!" This is fair. Sometimes too much is too much.
We're going to get into the muck together on this, following 2 trains of thought. 1. Some things can be deferred, let's talk about taking time off. 2. Analysis paralysis is a beast, but you can tame it and get unstuck.
Overstimulation and overwhelm are part of the world we live in. There's countless bits of information coming at you each day competing for your attention. Sometimes (often, in fact) the best thing you can do for yourself is to pause.
Pausing could be a vacation, but it could also just be a moment.
When I was a new mom I loathed being told to slow down. At the suggestion to take time for myself. I thought, Take time for myself? Are you stoned? Alright, I was miffed with the idea of self-care and by proxy the whole therapist community. I did not pee alone so the idea that I was going to indulge in self-care? Unreal.
Whether you experience constant pressure to be always on as a reality of caring for others -or- an internalized demand for what you "should" do, or whatever else is between you and permission to slow down, that makes sense. I also know you know that its costing you. Hards truths are what they are. Don't throw your computer or phone across the room just yet.
So the question here is: When self-care feels out-of-touch and you're confronted with much too much, what can you do?
I invite you to imagine a scenario. You're at a meeting when the leader unexpectedly calls on you. Your mind goes blank. What was a pleasant engagement suddenly feels high-pressure, high-stakes. Your heart begins to race. Your mouth dries up. You feel queasy and flush.
Imagining that, notice what stress feels like in your body. You're in the moment, noticing yourself there, noticing the stress you're experiencing.
Here's where the gift of a pause comes in.
Silently, to yourself, notice your breath. As you breathe in silently say to yourself, "I am breathing in," As you breathe out, "I am breathing out."
That's it. A tiny pause, not shared with anyone else. Check in with yourself. Do you notice a difference?
Giving yourself this boundary, to not respond immediately, often relieves a little pressure. It's not that the situation has changed, but simply that you've given yourself some space.
You then choose how to respond next whether that's to say, "I'll need to give that some thought," or to simply excuse yourself and go to the bathroom.
Boundaries are a gift you give yourself. In the face of overwhelm two boundary super-skills are deferring and delegating. The limitation of deferring and delegating are that they require resources beyond yourself. The most accessible boundary you have is a pause.
One place to set a boundary is to notice the "I've got to respond right away" impulse and use it as a cue to give yourself a moment.
If you can do vacations, massages, bubble-baths and savor time for yourself, you've got my full support in that. Revel in your amazingness. If you can't, I've been there. My reality as a young mom was that pampering was something I was completely estranged from. There are many life stages where that's the case. When you feel the pressure go up, practice giving yourself a moment to breathe and pause.
When stuck in analysis paralysis; it helps to have a system.
"System," is a little word with complex meanings. On the one hand, the impact of relationships is ENORMOUS. The systems we live in have a direct impact on our internal experiences. The reverse is also true. Individual healing, sharing healing with others, can be revolutionary. This doesn't mean you have to give a play-by-play of your personal journey, but if you change (for example, by setting boundaries or casting off shame) the system responds. Sparks catch.
Sparks catching is powerful. The impact of your healing isn't just healing you. There's a mighty ripple effect.
As a person with attention challenges, creating systems to do everyday tasks is something that I both need and struggle with. In thinking about what helps you in facing overwhelming, overstimulating situations where there is just too much, I'm thinking of these sorts of systems.
When you notice yourself starting to shut down, tune out, and freeze because you're simply faced with much too much: you need a system. These are the systems that move you from stuckness to effective action. To be clear, we'll call this sort of system a strategic process. If you want to deep dive in creating processes that work for you, I'd recommend James Spears' book, Atomic Habits.
Here's a 4-step strategic process for effective action in the face of analysis paralysis or those moments when you're saying to yourself, I don't know what to do!
Limit your options
Tune into values
Take a small step
Recognize, reward, repeat
Limit your options: We live in a hyper-connected world of limitless information. In life many choices seem wide-open. Need a therapist? Google searches and directories will give you an overwhelming list of profiles. Same thing with dating apps or parenting approaches. How do you choose the "right one"? To shortcut decision-making limit your options to 3. In an interesting human behavior phenomenon, choosing from fewer choices for an option that works is more likely to leave you feeling satisfied than digging through many choices to find the best possible one.
Tune into values: You can use totally arbitrary criteria to limit your choices. For example, you might only consider profiles for therapists with outdoor photos or parenting books that will fit easily in a handbag. Because decision-making satisfaction increases as cognitive overload decreases it's important to eliminate options so you have only a small number to process. What will ultimately matter in your choice is that it aligns with the qualities that are most important to you. You can ask yourself, how do I want to be as a person, partner, parent, etc? Use these qualities to check if options are a good fit for you. It's important you believe in what you do.
Take a small step: Taking action can be uncomfortable, especially if the question of "is this the right choice?" is still lingering. The reality is that there isn't an off-switch for nervous thoughts and they are usually present when people are doing new things. The only way to know if something is going to work for you is to experiment. Try it out. Gather data. Adjust as needed. Try again. Reading this letter, or a self-help book, will change nothing in your life (except you'll maybe have more information rattling around in your head) if you don't act on them. The only way to find out what works is to use the marvelous mechanism of your human body and take action.
Recognize, reward, repeat: Like my sad office plants, new behaviors need to be nourished to take root. Using the 3 Rs of Reinforcement means noticing what you're doing, building in a reward to encourage you to continue, and doing it again (modifying as needed). Establishing new behaviors for future rewards often requires effort and discomfort to create something of value. Given this hurdle, it's important to build in recognition and rewards to keep at the things that are important to you.
Reading a letter isn't therapy or mental health treatment. Subscribing to the letter does not make you a client. What the letter does is it puts therapy concepts into writing so that they can be accessed more widely. I hope that the ideas are helpful to you.
If you know someone who'd benefit, forward this on to them. There are two ways to sign up, a consent checkbox for new clients in intake, or easy-peasy from the website... available for anyone.
New things are coming! I've been working on an app for a few months (I get slowed down by my own analysis paralysis and inner critic and have to keep getting unstuck to continue taking action). The purpose of the app is to give you an easy place to track your actions and access exercises to help you get unstuck. In the next letter expect an interest survey.
The truth is, your decisions are yours to make. I know! That's not always what I want to hear either, but owning your power can be its own sort of magic. So yes, you're powerful, but it's okay to take a pause (or a nap) first.