What’s Weighing You Down

This past week has been one of tremendous ups and downs.

bunkejer4Photo bunkejer4 on Flickr Creative Commons

Ups, because I returned from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference bubbling over with ideas, inspiration, markets to pursue, and leads to follow,

Downs, because

  1. I had way too MANY great ideas, leads, and inspirations to pursue, and was struggling not to feel overwhelmed, and
  2. Because, well, conferences are physically and emotionally exhausting, and it was taking me a bit to get back into the swing of things.

But I read this fantastic book a few months ago thanks to the recommendation of creativity coach Sue Mitchell called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: the Kaizen Way. The philosophy explained in this book is that change can be overwhelming—in fact, that the human mind is programmed to resist change, which it perceives as threatening—but that there’s a way around that automatic resistance:

Make incredibly SMALL steps toward change.

This thinking has helped me in the past, so I decided to put it into practice. What small change, I asked myself, could I make to decrease stress?

I picked a few very, VERY small steps I could make.

  • I finally scheduled the hair appointment I’ve been putting off for the past three months. My hair had reached that point where it was WAAY too long, bothering me even when I pulled it back in a braid or ponytail (which I did pretty much all the time at this point).
  • I returned one phone call. (I hate talking on the phone.)
  • I dusted one room, thus making progress toward the goal of getting the house under control again.
  • I wrote one scene.

Okay, I wrote way more than one scene, but only because I wanted to do so. And why did I want to do so? Because all this WEIGHT had been lifted from my shoulders.

Sometimes, we carry around the so much metaphysical weight in the form of undone tasks that it’s hard to get ANYTHING done. All our energy is wrapped up in these things we feel we need to do. And, if you take a good look at whatever’s weighing you down, it’s often something so unmanageably huge that of COURSE it’s weighing you down.

Things like:

  • The house is a mess!
  • My book isn’t finished!
  • I’m way behind on paying bills!

With problems this huge, our minds tend to leap to huge, overwhelming solutions:

  • Clean all the things!
  • Write all the chapters!
  • Pay all the bills!
  • Or, as my 13-year-old (and resident meme-expert) likes to tell me, “X all the Y!”


Image from Hyperbole and a Half

It’s no wonder the poor brain shies away from these solutions.

There’s a trick to get past feelings of overwhelm—the trick explained in One Small Step

You can lift the weight of undone tasks by taking miniscule steps toward the goal. Not huge steps. Not massive to-do lists.

TINY steps.

You have a plan. You’re in control again. And the weight lifts.

And instead of writing one page, maybe—like me—at the end of the week you will find yourself with three new chapters, two dusted rooms, and a clean desk.

Or maybe you will only accomplish those small steps, but maybe that’s more than you would have accomplished if immobilized by overwhelm. You’ll be in a much better position for facing the week ahead.

Who knows what you might accomplish?

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


    • says

      So sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed, but I’m glad this struck the right note for you. Hopefully you can take a few tiny steps forward today!

  1. says

    This is great advice – I often feel overwhelmed by my to-do list, but you’re right – anything you do is something you wouldn’t have done otherwise, so it’s all progress, even if it’s just a little at a time :)

    • says

      You remind me of my husband’s response whenever I feel like I’m not running well (actual running–we’re working up to a 10 K, VERY slowly). He always says, “Hey, we’re beating out all those people still in bed!” We have to be careful to recognize the positive steps we ARE taking, right?

  2. says


    See the post listed below for context on the last one.

    But this reminds me of Ninjanomics, that changing one aspect of your life will affect the others.

    • says

      Funky, never heard of Ninjanomics before–sounds exactly like this! Okay, off to see what FLO is…

  3. says

    This is great advice. I also notice that women tend to put our accomplishment bar so high that we are forever reaching and never vaulting over it. I’ve found that scheduling time windows helps me, then whatever I finish in the window is gravy.

    • says

      Hi Leslie,
      Scheduling a window instead of an “achievement goal” is a great idea. I’ve been doing that with house cleaning the past few weeks and it’s helped tremendously. I think it’s like creating a designated time to worry: it’s easier to keep a task from feeling overwhelming when you’ve planned a time to work on that task. I’ll have to remember to apply this to other areas of my life!

  4. Ashlee Mallory says

    I smiled when I read the part about returning one phone call–I’m the same way! I loathe talking on the phone and would rather everyone just send me a text or email. Thanks for the boost this Monday morning!

    • says

      I’m so glad I could spread some Monday sunshine! And it’s always good to hear that I’m not the only one who dislikes the telephone. I mean, I like having a cell phone because I like that it shows me where I am when I get lost. I just don’t like people to actually call me on it. I like keeping in touch with my friends and family, though, so I try to get past my phone issues….

  5. says

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today. After participating in the A-Z blog challenge (and let’s use the word “participating” loosely. More like “I did it by the annoying hair on my chinny chin chin.”), I took a look at my Google reader and immediately shut it down.

    Life has overwhelmed me but I can do little things. I can sort the mail tonight. I can fold the towels. Baby steps…

    • says

      Heh! Thanks for making me laugh, too :). Yep, baby steps are definitely better than no steps. And it also helps to remember that sometimes that to-do list is written for Superwoman rather than real-woman-with-laundry-and-blogs-to-visit.

      I’m so impressed you made it through the A-Z challenge. That’s HUGE! Hope you take a night of to celebrate :)

  6. says

    Great post. I’ve long held the opinion that huge, sweeping, all-or-nothing approaches to tasks or goals is a great method… for resounding failure.

    • says

      Nicely put! Now the trick is to *notice* when one is making those all-or-nothing goals.