Tool #7: Manage the Paradox of Choice at the Buffet of Life
This is an edited excerpt from Ease: Strategies to Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy” by Eileen Chadnick. Reprinted with permission of author. All rights reserved. Ease is available from most major online book retailers. See more at www.Easerx.com
Estimated reading time: about 3 minutes
As we explore this concept of overwhelm, it is easy to assume that our overload can exclusively be attributed to all the external demands and obligations that others put upon us. But that would be inaccurate. Often, we are the culprits of our own overload, particularly in the case of people who like to engage full out in life both in their discretionary choices and their professional and personal pursuits. There are a lot of enticements in the buffet of life, and for some of us, gorging gets us into trouble. The opposite—not engaging enough—is equally unhealthy for our well-being. Reflect on your own style: Are you a gorger or a nibbler or somewhere in between?
The Story at a Glance
Confession: I am a gorger at the buffet of life! I know that I have a tendency to take on large loads in both work and play, and all too often, a great part of my experience of overload is because I have chosen to do too much. I’ve signed up for too many courses (but they are all great, and I really want to do them!); I’ve taken on too many big projects, such as this book (come on—how can I not write this book?); I am a member of a book club (reading is important, no?); I get to the gym for my boot camp, Pilates, and stretching classes (physical well-being is essential to my overall well-being plan); and so on.
Oh yes, I want to do it all, and it all matters to me. But I know I’ve passed the tipping point of engagement when I find myself wading in the overwhelm swamp. Oh, where’s the joy?
As a go-getter myself, I’m not going to tell you to cut back here or there. But this is what I will advise: Be aware of and take responsibility for the choices you are making at the buffet of work and life. Check in frequently, and ask yourself if your choices are contributing to your well-being or impeding it. Do the benefits of your activities outweigh occasional feelings of overload, or has the tipping point leaned towards too much overwhelm, leaving you with more stress than joy? If your answer leans towards the latter, it’s time to make some changes.
Make It Work for You
If you are like me, simply asking you to choose less will be challenging. But perhaps there are better ways to approach the buffet of life—to enjoy it and sidestep the overwhelm swamp. Here are some ideas.
- If you like variety in your life, choose smaller portions for particular pursuits. For instance, golf is one of my summer activities, but I have learned (after many frustrating years) that given all my other pursuits, golfing two to three times a week is not always reasonable. So golf these days is now a delightful side dish rather than an entrée in my summer pursuits. I manage to get out frequently enough and leave room for the other things I enjoy doing.
- Manage your own expectations. Using the golf example above, in past years, I would set up an expectation that “This will be the year that I will get out earlier, golf more often, go to the range, and become a real golfer.” I’d experience frustration when that didn’t happen, and I judged myself. Crazy, eh? Once I became aware of what I was doing to myself, I realized how insane that behaviour was. Golf wasn’t—and had never been—a huge priority for me, but I was setting standards for myself as if it were. So I reset my expectations to align more realistically with my more meaningful goals and priorities. Now I play as little (or frequently) as I like—without the frustration of feeling as if it is not enough. Golf is just one example from my life. Think about your life and the activities you are committing to. Where are you setting standards and expectations that need to be readjusted to more accurately reflect your true priorities?
- Choose the right balance of activities. Often, go-getters go get ’em with such gusto that we can sabotage our own balance with our overzealous ambitions. It’s important to have a portfolio of activities that provides a healthy balance. Are all your activities calling on you to excel, work, drive, and push? Are there enough activities in your life that allow you to rest, refresh, and simply be? Which choices nourish you, and which deplete you? There’s no one-size-fits-all recipe, but regularly check in by asking yourself, “Is this the right balance of choices right now?” See chapter 6 (tool number fifteen) for thoughts on creating a happiness portfolio.
- Adjust accordingly. Work and life are dynamic and fluid. We need to adjust constantly to accommodate the demands. Some days, weeks, and seasons allow us to do more of certain activities, and other times allow less time for those pursuits. Recognize this, and adjust your portfolio of activities accordingly. This will help keep you from trying to maintain a fixed approach to balance. Balance needs to ebb and flow with the realities and demands of life.
- (Bonus tip) Start an “Oh bleep! Another idea!” file. This tip is for you if you are creative and constantly coming up with new ideas and perhaps also have a passion for shiny new things (to learn, to do, etc.). These are not bad qualities. That said, having a lot of passion, creativity, and diverse interests can sometimes put a pinch on that focus thing we talked about earlier—and on your time. In my experience, I’ve learned to not completely squelch my ideas and interests but to find a way to park them until there is a better time. To do this, I have created an “Oh bleep! Another idea!” file. I put a lot of great ideas in there, and when the time is right, I revisit them and bring them back out. I’ve offered this tip to many others who share similar challenges, and they love it. Try it out, and see if it helps you manage the tendency towards overextending yourself without compromising your passion and creativity.
Becoming aware of your choices and taking responsibility for what you choose will help you in myriad ways.
- You will manage your load and avoid taking on too much.
- You will learn to create balance in the ebb and flow of life.
- You will become aware of what’s really important to you, and then you can make choices accordingly.
- You will find ways to keep your passion alive without compromising your sanity.
About the Author: Eileen Chadnick (@Chadnick) is Author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of ‘Crazy Busy’. She is a certified executive and leadership coach; a communications pro (20+ years of experience) and principal of Big Cheese Coaching and Chadnick Communications in Toronto. Eileen draws from the science of positivity, leadership, neuroscience, emotional intelligence – and Conversational Intelligence®(C‐IQ®) in her work as a coach, consultant, trusted advisor, and facilitator.