Slow down - Put down - Let down
Throughout my coaching practice I am noticing more and more that people are feeling overwhelmed. It isn’t surprising, given the amount of things we are all dealing with; dodgy governments, cost of living rises, and the enduring pandemic. In the past two years we’ve been forced into the roles of nurse and teacher, whilst trying to maintain our careers and keep up with our work from spaces we used to call home.
Feeling overwhelmed is a deeply unpleasant state, but the double whammy is that it also places us into a non-resourceful state. That means it can be hard to pull ourselves out of it. More and more things pile up and our ability to handle them effectively or even at all, diminishes at an equal rate.
You’d think, therefore, that carving out time for coaching would only add to our woes, but my experience has shown that coaching actually helps people unlock and redirect their energies. Its why people who have been the beneficiaries of coaching are so keen to tell their friends. Or why people who notice the positive change in their friend’s behaviour are keen to find out how they managed it.
At its heart, the purpose of coaching is to reposition people so that they are in a resourceful state. From this position, they can make good decisions that move them forward in a direction they want to go. Getting into that resourceful state from a starting position of being overwhelmed can be tricky, but I have found that the holy trinity of strategies involves Slowing down, Putting down, and Letting down.
When we race through life, we are not really living. Things pass by in a blur as if on a speeding train, and we lose the ability to decipher detail and significance. We rush from one activity to another (and often back again, repeatedly) without ever really feeling on top of anything. We lose focus and perspective.
By momentarily forcing ourselves to slow down, things start to come into relief. By slowing the pace, even for a short while, we can take a breather, fill our lungs with deep breaths, and see things for what they really are.
Most of us have too much to do. Or too much we want to do. Or too much that other people want us to do. You’d think that with technological advances, our workloads would decrease, but this hasn’t been the experience for the majority of my coaching clients. In fact, the reverse has been true. Sooner or later, something has to give.
Our lists are basically too long, and whilst many of the tasks on the list might be desirable to achieve, our limited time and energy means that we have to choose and prioritise. Inevitably, this means letting some stuff go. It might not be forever, but right now, we have to streamline our workload and reduce the expectations we have of ourselves. Instead of picking more stuff up, we have put some stuff down.
Putting down means saying ‘no’, ‘not yet’, or even ‘not ever’ to some stuff. It’s like clearing out a kitchen cupboard that has become so full and disorganised that you can never find what you are looking for, and when you do find it, it is out of date, or you’ve gone off it. When we have fewer things on our list, we can give each one our full attention. And with fewer things to look at, those feelings of being overwhelmed start to dissipate.
Adopting the Slow Down and Put Down approaches typically requires us to come to terms with the fact that we may need to let someone else down. This is a tough choice for many of us, and one we are often reluctant to take.
People can become accustomed to our willingness to help out; so much so, that over time, they think nothing of passing more and more stuff our way. They are not necessarily taking advantage (although some are!): they may simply be responding to signals we give out that we are prepared to take it all on.
Sometimes, it is more than tasks we take on. Sometimes, we take on the responsibility for problems that are not our own. We allow people to dump their problems on us and feel obligated to solve them. We start to worry on their behalf, putting their needs above our own. In certain circumstances, this is a laudable and caring thing to do. It shows compassion and empathy. But in other situations, we can allow it to place inordinate pressure on us to take on board stuff that doesn’t belong to us and shouldn’t belong to us. We put ourselves out to fix something that is another person’s fault or that falls within their responsibility to fix.
Caring what people think about us isn’t always good for us. It can lead us to keep quiet when we should speak up; do things that we feel uncomfortable doing; and stop ourselves from doing things we want to do. But letting down doesn’t mean we stop caring; it simply means that we move the caring focus to ourselves for that moment.
Until we are prepared to let other people down; to resist the demands and expectations they place on us; and give ourselves a break; we will struggle to Slow Down and Put down.
Being overwhelmed is like being swallowed up by a whale. We become small and feel trapped. We find ourselves swimming in sticky goo. The best approach is to stop ourselves getting into this state in the first place. But if we find ourselves there, we could start by slowing down, putting down, and being prepared to let others down.