I look at my to do list and wonder, where do I start? Despite planning my week on Sunday evening, everything staring back at me from my Trello “My Week” board (an online project management site) feels like a lot. No, not a lot, like way too much. Like no freaking way is that going to happen. I have a couple options. I could get caught up in the “can’t” by continuing to stare blankly at my screen and get lost in the sea of “to dos.” I could also just take the day off. Decide to do nothing, close my computer, say forget this and walk away. Or, if I’m really dedicated to my life intentions and goals, I could ask myself “what’s one thing you can do right now?” “Choose one thing,” I hear my inner voice say. Then I choose one thing and do it.
These days with all that’s happening from my personal life to the global world, I could get my fifth PhD in overwhelm if I let myself fall into it. I’ve earned many in the past. They resulted in immune system failures, mono, many strange illnesses people can’t explain, and a loss of hope. By now, I know better. I know my predictable pattern to do too much and put too much pressure on myself. As a go-getter, falling into overwhelm is as easy as slipping into a bath for others to relax. It’s my zone, but it’s not my healthy zone. It’s not my peak zone. It’s not an optimal zone where I kick ass and take names. That zone comes from dedicating myself to mindful momentum.
I open my Facebook feed and feel bombarded with political action items to help shape the future of this country. As an activist, a person of conscious, I can’t ignore them. Instantly I’m brought back to my activist days in times past when I worked on a barrage of policy issues. I remember the endless feeling of not doing enough. How concern for others occupied my mind 24/7, and how I lost it while having five news tabs open during the Egyptian Revolution, glued to unfolding events and feeling I wasn’t doing my part. A co-worker found me staring in despair and the look on their face told me I had pushed myself too far. This time will be different.
Listen, I’m all for taking a step back when it’s needed. We all need unplug time whether it's from our to do list, the news, our work, or any area of our life that feels too much. Space creates perspective. And I’ve been taking my fair share of it along the way. I’ve written about the power of space before. You can check it out HERE in a previous Joy Tip. However, space is not what I want to reflect on this week. Instead, I’m interested in the power of momentum and how we build it.
In a sea of overwhelm, it’s easy to lose sight that there is a way out and it starts with a simple thing I call “do one thing.” Do ONE thing.
Do one thing is exactly what it sounds like. Do just one thing. Then check in with yourself. When I see the barrage of political action items, I check in and see what one thing is calling my heart most. Then I do that one thing. When my to do list is staring at me and it's far too long for the time I have left before my next appointment, or teaching, I choose just one thing. Sometimes it's the one thing that excites me the most. Sometimes it is the one thing I keep avoiding. Sometimes it's the one thing I deem most critical to moving forward that day. Each time is different, but each one thing is the one thing that calls me the most. Once it’s chosen I simply...do it.
Here’s the magic of what happens after doing one thing. You’ll likely want to do one more thing.
Then one more thing. And suddenly you’re on a roll and you’re so psyched about what you’ve been up to that you’ve forgotten your original list has 12 things on it because you’re already on number 4. And even if you don’t get all 12 things done and end at four, you still feel way better than when you were just staring at your screen.
Overthinking is one of my greatest stumbling blocks. My analytical mind is an amazing tool for so many things. I’m able to see problems before they happen. Read people before I know them. It’s a very useful tool, but often it stops me from getting things done if I’m not careful. When it’s overused, over-activated, it clogs up the system and it stops my momentum. When momentum stops, feel stuck, my energy gets drained, and then I start building towards that big unfriendly state of being...overwhelm.
For this week’s Joy Tip Wednesday I want you to practice doing one thing every time you find yourself stuck.
When you are facing too many things to get done, or when you are unsure where to start, ask yourself one of the following questions to get started:
What one thing do I feel most excited to complete today?
What one thing would release the pressure I’m feeling most?
What one thing do I keep avoiding?
What one thing do I know I can do right now?
What one thing would I be most proud to complete today?
Once you’ve identified the one task or step you plan to move forward, do it and then pause. Take a moment to check in with yourself and acknowledge that you moved something forward. Then, if you feel inspired, repeat and choose one more thing. Once you’ve completed one more thing, pause again and acknowledge what you have accomplished.
So often we stop our intentions in their tracks by doing nothing, and when we do something, we forget to take time to savor what we have done. By making space to let it sink in that you moved something forward, you stoke the fires of motivation to keep you moving forward. This is how momentum is built and sustained.
An avalanche of snow is built by single snowflakes coming together. I keep this image in my mind to remind me that big changes, goals, intentions, are built by every single individual snowflake. No one thing you do is too small. What is too small is doing nothing because when we do nothing we play small.