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An Easier Way To Overcome Overwhelm And Get UnStuck

“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”

These were the words from a client, five minutes after he’d arrived at The Thrive Experience, an annual retreat I run for leaders. The event runs over 2.5 days, so we hadn’t even officially begun and yet, he was telling me he was leaving.

“I have too much on and I really need to get back to the office because of some key issues. I’ll stay for this afternoon and the dinner this evening but I need to leave in the morning. Sorry.”

I said no problem but I had one ask.

While he was there, he had to switch off all tech and be fully present. This way he’d get the benefit of even a small part of the experience.

He agreed and we began.

A core part of my approach is to help people really understand how they can change their state regardless of circumstances. It’s often easier said than done, but when people really ‘see’ this, a light bulb goes on which changes the way they see everything. And especially how they manage their moods, energy and clarity. And ultimately, results.

And the first part of the event was all about that.

As we moved into it and started talking about State and the inner side of business and life, everyone in the room visibly started relaxing. It was as if a valve had been opened and the high pressure gas had been released. People’s shoulders dropped and their faces began to get brighter.

The way most people work and live is very much in their heads. And in today’s busy and high interruption digital world, most have a lot of mind noise that leads to brain fog. And for many, overwhelm and a lack of clarity is a regular part of their work and lives.

My experience is that the feeling of overwhelm is directly related to our thinking. Which is completely related to our state.

When our state is upbeat, our thinking changes in two important ways. Firstly, it’s always more positive. Imagine yourself in work with a mood of 3/10 from having the flu or too much stress.

Now imagine yourself in the same work situations with a mood of 8/10. Will you be different? Of course. Your energy will be radically changed, which impacts the people around you for starters – an important variable as a leader. Your communication changes, as does your ability to see solutions to problems or capitalise on opportunities.

But the reality is that most people’s mood is determined by how they’re reacting to what’s going on around them. And overwhelm is a feeling that comes from thinking you’re not in control or you can’t get it all done. Which leads to stress, which leads to a lower state.

Secondly, the volume of thoughts increases hugely when our states are low. Think about yourself relaxing on a deck-chair beside a pool in a warm climate. Thoughts are usually like clouds floating slowly across the sky. Compare that to when you’re in a busy ‘get-it-done-at-all-costs’ mood at work. Or when you’re in a stressful situation where things are not going the way you want. Or if you’re in a bad mood.

What you’ll find is that when you’re feeling low, the volume of thoughts increase. Instead of clouds, it’s more like a thousand ping pong balls bouncing around your mind!

The flip side applies when your state is good. 

In his ground breaking research with the University of Chicago, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pioneered research around the optimal state of performance called ‘Flow’ or as it’s know in sport, The Zone. But a key line of the research findings say it all. ‘Flow is a state characterised by a low level of thought.’

And certainly my own experience over 20 years of working with people is that when your state is good, the volume of your thinking is low and the quality is higher.

The thing that blocks this is an over active mind – which most people have these days. This is why meditation and mindfulness, in particular, are gaining traction. But they are more like as aspirin for the pain. They give some relief but they don’t really fix the problem.

The real problem is how we actively manage our inner worlds. And that can be transformed by understanding how we best work as people. And central to that is how we manage our state.

And I believe this is much simpler than many training courses and books would have us believe. Certainly the way I look at this area today is very different to what I did 10 years ago and much of what I used with clients I now don’t use any more. And central to it is helping people to understand how to change your state – even in difficult circumstances.

Back to the event, and as the evening progressed I could see my client relaxing even more. And with it started to come the inevitable insights or eureka moments, when we allow ourselves to come out of the stressed, over-active mind. He was getting ideas and solutions on how to solve some of his problems.

That evening, after dinner, he mentioned that he was glad he’d come down to the event but that he was still returning to work in the morning.

But when the next morning arrived, he was still at the hotel.

“I’m staying. It’s not logical to me but I know I’m to stay.”

And for the next 2 days he immersed himself in 2 days of learning, fun and conversation. And emerged refreshed and recharged.

He sent me a message that Friday, three days after the event, to say that he’d solved major problems on returning – problems that had been around him for several months.

But his state had transformed and with it came extreme clarity. He saw the solutions and moved into action mode with no hesitation – and because of that the problems were closed off quickly.

He was in shock at how effective he’d been since returning to work and had done ‘a months work in 3 days.’

You may not be able to attend a retreat to get a reset. But you can work on your state daily, once you prioritise it, which most people don’t.

Key to it is deliberately taking yourself out of your active mind and into your calm one. This could be through awareness alone or something distracting like music, sport, friends, reading, nature, etc. Indeed that’s why these things are so popular – because they help us change state.

For long lasting change though, improved understanding and awareness is key. The future of work is about learning how to bring that state into our daily lives more and more.

My clients final words were “I never want to forget the impact of State on everything this week.”

Me too…

The Thrive Experience runs from Sunday 8th to Tuesday 10th September. Full details are here. Applications close soon.

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