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Coping With Overwhelm, 15 Minutes at a Time, Without Emotional Eating

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Overwhelm is something that we can’t always avoid, and it can be a major trigger for emotional eating, overeating, or bingeing. While it’s great to have strategies for staying out of overwhelm, sometimes–no matter how skilled or proactive or positive we are–overwhelm just plain happens.

A colleague sent me a gift recently. She sent me a timer. She didn’t have to explain what it was for, because I know her strategy. She’s about getting big things done by making them do-able.

That is such an important key. When we are facing something that feels overwhelming, when we are staring up at a mountain, it may feel intimidating to even think about getting started. We can feel so overwhelmed simply thinking about how big the mountain is that we never even begin to climb.

Last year I ran a marathon for the first time. Here’s what I know. If I had stood at the starting line thinking about how I was going to be running for the next 26.2 miles I might not have started. I certainly would have panicked. I started the race by moving forward. I took some steps and then I took some more. I looked for the mile marker that told me I had run the first mile. I ran from mile marker to mile marker and I didn’t let myself think much farther ahead then that.

Today I had to work through some difficult and rather uninspiring tasks. I’ll be honest. They were overwhelming and I’ve been avoiding them. I’ve been sitting here all day setting my timer for fifteen minutes at a time, taking a break with a more pleasant activity each time it goes off. It’s only noon and my desk is almost clear. I’m amazed at how much I’ve accomplished and I never would have really gotten started if I hadn’t broken it down into small chunks.

I know that when you are facing an overwhelming project or decision or whatever your mountain is, those small fifteen minute chunks can seem like nothing. They can seem insubstantial and “not serious.” Don’t give into that thinking. It will sink you before you start.

My suggestion for you is to pick something you feel overwhelmed by or that you’ve been avoiding because you don’t know where to begin. And then dig in–anywhere.

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What a good friend, wonderful post and timely (!) reminder. I have ADD, which makes it doubly hard for me to focus on tasks I'm not interested in (balancing the checkbook is a horror, for instance) for long periods of time. Therefore, I avoid. And, like you, the longer the pile sits there, well, the longer it sits.

I once used this practice -- 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off -- and, like you, was absolutely amazed at what I could get done. It is as if removing the resistance itself is the biggest part of each task. But it's a practice I've forgotten. I need to find my timer!!

Thank you!!

October 15, 2009 - 9:17am
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