The world can be overwhelming. Period!
Each of us has a can only take so much stimulation. We each have a mental “glass-ceiling”.
This limit was recognised over 100 years ago by US psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodgson. Their model followed a classic bell curve. In plotting performance against arousal they showed that whilst performance does indeed increase with arousal, there is a point at which the increase stops. Performance quickly diminishes thereafter as we become overwhelmed by excessive demand.
Person to person the line might plot the same, but the scale is unique. Quite simply, my capacity to steer myself through the demands of life can be significantly different from yours.
Overwhelmed and immobilised
Each of us is the product of infinite influence, a myriad of minute experiences quietly shaped by and shaping our interactions. Often punctuated by bigger more visable, and memorable events. Each moment of every day we (generally unconsciously) practice our responses. Getting subtly better each time, like the concert pianist preparing their recital until the perfection of their performance is habitual.
In uncertain times, we all have to work harder to be. In challenging times, it is harder to engage the reflective and rational. Under stress our cognition is never at its best. Our habits and heuristics thereafter assume the director’s role in the movies of our lives. This includes our directing emotional responses.
In uncertain times it is easy to become overwhelmed. We are too busy trying to make sense of things and in that moment that part of us which might otherwise engage the reflective is disengaged. Everything becomes a challenge. Even the mundane proves impossible.
One moment at a time
Meaningful change is tough for most of us at the best of time.
Under challenge, when we are lost in unconscious survival loops, what hope is there? What chance to reflect and to adapt?
We need to redefine the playing the field. Let the world go for a moment. Let ourselves be the world. Are we then in that moment, the singular within the singular, quite so overwhelmed? Forget whether we will get back to the gym or not? Or whether we will have a holiday this summer? What might can we do now?
Coaches often talk about achievable goals. But lets forget the long-term, forget the life plans. Life is not about grandiose schemes of betterment or ambition. What can we do now? Life is now.
We need to set ourselves up for success. And that might mean no more than what can I do right now? These can be simple but necessary tasks, clean our teeth, plant some seeds in the garden, get the laundry done etc.
Little micro achievements. One moment at a time. One thing at a time. Not world changing, but these can be life changing when we are otherwise emotionally consumed by the big picture. In those moments we take back control.
Remember to feedback
Lastly, do not forget feedback. Our brain needs to know that it has done good. With reward it learns, it subtly strengthens that neural pathway. Celebrate the achievement. It might not seem worth a ticker-tape parade, but that is your judgement talking. When the alternative is being trapped in inaction, simply getting dressed is a powerful personal achievement.
So be kind. Be fair. Make it manageable. What can I do now? This hour? This morning? I think you get the picture. When we acknowledge the limits to our achievement for a given moment, we can frame success. In the next moment we can set the next. Moment we moment we move forward, baby step by baby step.
The venerable Lao Tzu is often quoted: “A journey of a thousand miles with a single step.” We have to take that single step. And then we can take the next. How much more manageable is that journey when it is no more than a chain of achievable single steps.