Mindset Shift to Deal with Overwhelm

By Leo Babauta

In recent weeks, almost every coaching client I’ve been working with has been feeling one big thing: overwhelm.

It seems almost universal: people can’t seem to deal with the big things in their lives because they’re feeling too overwhelmed. They can’t take on their more meaningful projects, because there’s just too much.

You can deal with overwhelm in a few different ways:

  1. Reduce the number of things you do. Eliminate, simplify, reschedule, create space.
  2. Be super productive, and crank out a bunch of things.
  3. Shut down, throw your hands in the air in resignation, and go watch some TV.
  4. Prioritize, and put less important things on hold.
  5. Focus on one thing at a time, and don’t worry about everything else for now.

My favorite tools are often the last two — prioritize, and give my full focus to one thing at a time.

But I’ll tell you that none of these really addresses the root problem of overwhelm — and that’s your mindset.

Let’s look at how our mindset creates overwhelm, and how we can shift that so that we feel more delight, fun, joy as we take on life’s wonderful challenges.

Mindset Creates Overwhelm

If you have a lot of tasks and personal things going on in your life … what makes it feel overwhelming? A lot of things isn’t inherently overwhelming — it’s how we view those things.

If you view each task as a potential “dropped ball” or way to let people down or fail … then a bunch of those potential failures and dangers will feel overwhelming. If every email and message has the potential to have people frustrated with you for not replying, then a long list of unanswered emails/messages will feel overwhelming.

If every decision you need to make has the potential to be a mistake, then you’ll feel overwhelmed by a lot of decisions that all might turn out to be mistakes.

The potential to let people down or fail = danger

The potential to make wrong decisions = danger

So you can see that a lot of tasks and decisions, with the view that tasks and decisions are potential danger … will feel overwhelming.

If tasks and decisions feel like a minefield of danger … How can we shift our view so that they don’t feel overwhelming?

The Mindset Shift

What if your list of tasks, and your pile of daily decisions … felt like a playground? Or an adventure?

You could imagine yourself going into a giant playground with so many different toys and games to play with. This could be your task list and inbox.

What if you could see every single task as an opportunity — to learn, to grow, to serve? Then it’s a pile of gifts.

Opportunity and play, instead of danger. How would it feel if you viewed your life like that?

This is an example of a mindset shift that can transform how you experience your life. You might find others that light you up even more!

Daily Practice

This shift is not meant to be a way to get rid of the feeling of overwhelm. I’m still a huge proponent of learning to be with your overwhelm, fears, uncertainty. Let yourself feel it, and find wonder in the middle of it. It’s an incredible creation each of us have magicked into the world.

But we don’t have to stop there. Once we can relax in the middle of the overwhelm and chaos, we can try something new. This can be a shift in how we view our lives, our tasks, our decisions and messages.

So if you’d like to practice with this kind of mindset shift, I recommend the following:

  1. Write down the view that you’d like to create (i.e. tasks are opportunities to play and serve and bring curiousity)
  2. When you feel overwhelm, be with it.
  3. Then remind yourself of the new view — see if you can actually view things this way. See how it feels.
  4. Practice this over and over, when you inevitably fall into the old view.

What would it be like to shift this for yourself?

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