In times of change, people tend to flail. All of us get a little less focused, a little more distracted, and find it harder to set and keep priorities. We describe ourselves as “crazy busy” or overwhelmed. Fearless leaders notice this in themselves and their organizations, and work hard to create clarity and calm in the storm. You know these people because they appear to be unflappable. They bring everyone together and set direction when the future is uncertain.
What would it take to create clarity in your own life? You can be that fearless, and create clarity in times of change, by accepting a few simple truths and embracing some simple practices to clear through your own overwhelm.
The simple truths
- You created the sense of busy or overwhelm, and only you can change it.
- There are no miracle solutions, only a choice of the next action you will take.
- Your sense of overwhelm is contagious, as your sense of calm can be.
The first one is perhaps the hardest for many of us, as we assign responsibility for our emotions to external events on a regular basis. “He made me mad”, “that project frustrates me”, “that event created this mess.” If events create your emotions, then how can anyone be happy? How can one person find a situation terrifying, and another person find it fascinating or intriguing? Your emotions are the product of the stories you are telling yourself about what the event or person or project really mean. And those stories are uniquely yours, and you are able to change them. What stories are you telling yourself, and do they move you forward, or create stress and anxiety?
Secondly, you always have the power to choose your next action, your response, even your emotions (see the first truth). You can accept things as they are, you can decide to do something radically different, you can seek common ground. Often living in a state of stress or overwhelm is not motivating you to resolve the challenge in front of you—it’s making it harder. For many of our clients, one of the choices they neglect to consider is doing nothing and letting go of situations that they do not control, have little chance of influencing, or that are really small issues in the grand scheme of what they hope to accomplish. What are you fretting about that you could let go?
As a leader (anyone who interacts with others is leading), you have a responsibility for what you create in this world. You can lead yourself and others to make a positive difference in the world, or you can encourage others to share your negative stories about the world, other people, even yourself. When you change your stories to create clarity about what you want to create in the world, the people you see daily notice and are influenced by your new tone, attitude, and actions. You can choose to help create clarity for others by creating clarity for yourself, or you can contribute to the overwhelm. How could you help create clarity today?
When you are confronted with overwhelm, remember these three truths and take three simple steps
- Notice: Connect with your feelings of anxiety, worry, overwhelm. Take a deep breath, take 3 more. What story are you telling yourself right now?
- Step Back: When you notice that trigger emotion, pause and reflect on what is happening. Think about who you want to be in this moment to make a difference, and what story will allow you to be that person.
- Choose: Imagine how the best version of you would respond to the situation, and write down one thing you can do today to move in that direction. Execute that “one thing” right away.
Actions for creating clarity
- Create a clear, written vision of the future you want to create.
- List your values and find actions that demonstrate them.
- Communicate with others your vision and your one thing.
- Ask others great questions that help them identify “one thing” they can do to move forward.
- Listen to others intently and hear what is unsaid, as well as what is said.
Creating clarity when you are feeling overwhelmed is about fearlessly taking stock of what you can do, how you can be a positive influence, and what really matters today. Then, execute on those decisions.