Indulgent Emotion Series: Overwhelm


This is the first blog post in a series about indulgent emotions, which was kicked off with a post last week called, The Real Reason You’re Not Getting It Done.


This is my brain’s most favorite, default indulgent emotion. For years I thought that overwhelm was necessary, required, and even part of how I got so much done.

I was very mistaken.

Overwhelm is a feeling, so it is created by a thought, or thoughts we have. These thoughts are only sentences in our brain that are 100% optional.

When it comes to indulgent emotions, these emotions seem like they are necessary and they parade around as if they are not optional, when they actually are.

These indulgent emotions are our brain’s feeling of choice because if we stay in the indulgent emotion, then we stay much safer than if we were to opt out of the indulgent emotion. Check it out:

When I think, “I have too much to do and not enough time” then I feel overwhelmed. When I am feeling overwhelmed, then I have thought loops about how much I have to do, the impossibility of it all, contemplate quitting something, maybe even have a little meltdown or pity party.

I might even start eating emotionally or pour myself more wine in the evening to escape the feeling of overwhelm. I might convince myself I just need to take a break and watch TV.

What do all of those actions actually have to do with getting things done that I’m so “overwhelmed by”? Nothing. I’m totally making it worse because I’m taking no actions toward actually solving for the having things to do and not having time.

This creates the result of nothing done on the list or project we’re talking about here, and now even less time to do it in, so that’s evidence or proof for my original thought.

Here it is in a model:

C: Detailed schedule for today <— you’ll want to get it super detailed and as fact-oriented as possible in this line. What are exactly the circumstances of the schedule? Be very specific.

T: I have too much to do in not enough time.

F: Overwhelm

A: Watch TV, drink 3 glasses of wine, meltdown fit to boyfriend

R: Less time and nothing done from the detailed schedule

See how overwhelm is completely useless here?

But it feels much safer than feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It feels much more comfortable and normal to us than the feelings of determination or commitment. The actions it drives feel like they give some relief, but really they hold us back in the long term.

Indulgent emotions keep us stuck in the cave, hidden from all of the risk of what we may view as more threatening negative emotions such as shame, failure, embarrassment, etc.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, ask yourself:

• Why am I overwhelmed right now?

• What are the facts about this situation?

• What story am I making up about this?

• What am I making this mean?

• How do I need to feel to get all of this done, without overwhelm?

• What if I believe there was more than enough time and energy than things to do?

Take a look at it all, then choose to opt out of overwhelm, on purpose.

If you want.

Your choice.