From Overwhelm to Growth: the 3 Most Important Things to do When You’re Stuck

toddler on a mountain top

Waylon, just over a year old, at the top of Hunger Mountain

Sometimes growth feels so hard.

There’s so much to do to get to our dreams, to just lay the foundation.

But then I look at my son, who all of the sudden wakes up taller.  I look back at my favorite pictures of him, and see how easily he grew, because it’s what he’s meant to do. I remember how we hold him and massage his legs when he gets growing pains, and I think, why not give myself the same gentleness?

Why is it so much easier to give to others than to myself?

Just the other day, I was overwhelmed and cried out, “I’m doing all that I can! And that’s the problem, I’m doing all that I can, and I just want to let it all go.”

Edge looked at me and said, “I think you should take your own advice. You give really good advice, and you should listen to it. That’s the only advice I’m going to give you.” And he smiled and hugged me, and for that moment I let it go.  And then took a long bath.

The next day, I made a list: The 3 most important things to do this week.

Rather than a daily to-do list, and rather than writing it in my already busy planner, I sat with my open journal—no dates, and with pages and pages of white space—and paused.  I let my mind clear out with deep breaths, and asked myself the question again.

Then I wrote exactly three things.

Which is a big deal, since I’ve gotten in the habit of writing my to-do lists on post-it notes so I can move all the unchecked items forward a week without having to re-write them.

But more important than highlighting the 3 most important things is how I re-programmed my language.

When my son, Waylon, asked me to play with him, instead of saying, “I have so much work to do,” I said:

“I have one thing I need to finish, and then I can play.”

Unlike his endless questions of what that work entails when I say “so much,” he understood “one thing” and started coloring as I worked.

I understood that one thing, too, and instead of overwhelm, felt focus.  The vagueness of “so much” can make a molehill seem like a mountain.  (I admit that I did make a sub-list of what needed to get done in order to complete that one thing, but I’m standing by it as a helpful way to break up a task and see progress instead of feeling stuck).

It’s not always possible to let everything go, but it is possible to take a new approach, to get clear, and focus on the flower instead of the weeds.

It took me all week to complete my three things.  I checked them off, no post-it note moving forward another week.  And I found it’s easier to be gentle with myself when I let go of the expectations, not the work.

I’m not actually a superhero, despite all the pretend Waylon and I play.

I’m more like a plant, needing water, sunlight, air, nutrients, and rest.  Because even plants rest at night.  Growth always feels the hardest when I ignore that need.

Have you felt overwhelmed by your to-do list, stuck instead of growing?

If you have, I invite you to try this:

  1. On a blank piece of paper, write down the three most important things you need to do.  (it doesn’t necessarily have to be work-related.  One of mine was a personal goal).

  2. Give yourself a week; when you get overwhelmed, focus on the progress that comes from each small step.

  3. Reframe your language: from “so much” to “one thing”  This gives you space to clarify your actions and focus on what’s most important.

In the comments below, let me know what your most important things are, and how you’re going to be gentle with yourself.  (Planning in a bath or a walk or extra time to bake dessert really makes a difference!)

We’re all made to grow.  Remember that growth will happen no matter what, and take the time to nurture yourself like a garden: water, sunlight, air, food, and rest.  Savor that rest.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this. Holding up my arm admitting I also have been writing lists on post it notes so I can move them to the next week. Cheers to growth and to rest.

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