As a Doer, you likely take on a lot of responsibility. You push yourself to accomplish a great deal and this has served you in the past because it’s gotten you to where you are today in your career and perhaps other areas of your life as well.
But sometimes even high achievers experience a setback. The secret to overcoming it lies in how you frame that setback.
Are you someone who feels like you have to do all the things and if you don’t, you start to feel overwhelmed? Perhaps there’s even a sense of shame when you think, “I should have and I didn’t,” or when you interpret your lack of productivity to mean, “There’s something wrong with me.”
And you go down the spiral.
But here’s the truth: The answer isn’t about doing more and it’s not about stressing yourself out.
What this is about is getting some insight into yourself and being able to take a step back and reflect on what is working for you and what isn’t. When you do that, you might tap into what can make your life better.
Making Changes When You’re Already Overwhelmed
I recognize that when you are already overwhelmed, making any sort of change feels like just the thing to tip you over the edge. But what we know is that it’s about making small changes.
You don’t have to make massive transitions in your life, especially all at once. The goal is not to further overwhelm you. It’s to nurture you and help you feel stronger, more empowered. You have a choice. If this isn’t working for you, you can change it.
You feel stuck because you tell yourself all the things that you should have done or that you should do, but you’re not doing. And then you start to feel bad. You beat yourself up.
Here’s the message you need to hear: “There are no shoulds!”
All those things on your to-do list–you are electing to do them. You want to do them because perhaps they will allow you to improve your life, be more successful, feel more at peace, be healthier, or make sure others you care about are taken care of.
Chances are that when you created your goals for yourself you were unsatisfied with some part of your life. You had an idea of where you wanted to be instead and then identified a process to help you go from here to there.
It’s the same with your current emotional state. You decide that you want to go from this place of burnout, resentment, feeling unfulfilled to a place where you feel empowered, satisfied, and excited about life.
If you are lacking in self-compassion, it’s likely that your actions reflect a deeper belief. Typically, Doers are programmed to believe that if they aren’t doing something, it makes them less valuable or worthy.
These are all just thoughts. And it’s those exact thoughts that are causing your distress. This inner dialogue reflects all these expectations you have of yourself and when those expectations are unrealistic, they don’t serve you.
Consider how this line of thinking is representative of how you show up in the world, not just in this current scenario where you feel overwhelmed, but in many areas of your life.
Do you have a tendency to expect not only to do all the things, but to do them all perfectly?
If you answered “yes” to this question but there is something in your life you aren’t quite getting to that is causing you to spiral, then you have everything you need to do a behavioral experiment. Here are the three steps:
Step 1: Bring to mind a task you either didn’t complete on time or one where you aren’t happy with your performance. Chances are you have some thoughts about the task that make it challenging to complete in a way that meets your expectations. What are those thoughts?
Step 2: When you think about this unfinished business, what emotions come up?
Step 3: What action did you take as a result of your feelings about this task? Did you procrastinate on it? Did you start it but not see it through?
Sometimes, especially if someone is holding us accountable to accomplishing a task in a timely manner and we fail, we get into a cascade of further procrastination. Perhaps you canceled your meeting with your supervisor or coach.
If you are the one holding yourself accountable, as a result of not accomplishing what you set out to, you might have decided that you can’t indulge in any fun activities until you complete the task. Instead of giving yourself a break, you canceled your workouts and dates with friends.
But what if you showed up anyway? What if you could own up to the fact that you didn’t follow through perfectly and gave yourself some grace?
It might sound something like, “I’m not totally prepared, but let’s just go from here.”
I know what you’re thinking. There’s a part of you that’s scared of becoming lazy. You worry that if you don’t uphold your standards, you’ll start slacking, making excuses, and feeling satisfied with mediocrity.
The truth is that if you’re a Doer, you will never be satisfied with mediocrity. It’s not in your nature, so let’s put that worry aside.
Part of life is that you’re not always going to be prepared.
Think back to examples either from your job or when you were in school where you had a plan to get something done and something got in the way. Or you didn’t do your work in the way you would have liked.
Does this feel familiar?
You probably find it frustrating that you can see this phenomenon happening but it happens anyway.
One of my clients described her experience like this:
“I’m not doing things because I wanted to get them right. And then I got in a state about it. I can just see all those thoughts happening, but they just keep happening.”
The 4 Stages of Your Transformation Journey
The fact that you are aware of your thoughts is part of your transformation journey which has 4 stages. The final stage is about making change happen, but the first three stages are where you likely get stuck. They include:
Stage 1: You began this journey motivated by the idea of overcoming a pain point (e.g., burnout). You created a vision of what you wanted for yourself instead. It is that vision that is driving you forward.
Stage 2: Before you can implement change which requires a rewiring of your brain, you have to learn about how your brain works. If you are “shoulding” yourself, you need self-awareness that you are doing this as well as an understanding of why you are doing this. Chances are your brain is attempting to get some need met and there is an underlying fear that if it isn’t met, something bad will happen to you. Telling yourself you “should” do something is a way of fending off potential danger.
Not everything your brain tells you is true. Your brain likes to stick to the things that it knows, the things that are familiar. Your brain doesn’t like change. And your brain tunes in automatically to anything negative in an effort to avoid it, which makes it much more difficult to notice the positives around you.
Stage 3: Now that you understand the preferred state of your brain, it is time to notice your thoughts. This is where you become aware of your patterns.
Typically, people become restless when they notice their patterns because they are hungry for the change to happen immediately. We can’t change what we are not aware of. While you might feel frustrated noticing what’s wrong without yet changing it , this stage is crucial to your progress and it is, in and of itself, progress.
If you’re feeling frustrated, trace your steps back to a “should” as in, “I see this happening. I should be able to change it.”
Replace that thought with, “Hey, I’m seeing something that I didn’t see before. I’m making progress” and then have some patience with yourself.
When you reframe self-awareness as being three-quarters of the way toward the finish line, you’ll feel more accomplished.
To help you along with this, I created a guided meditation so you can acknowledge yourself and let go of the “shoulds.”
In addition, a really good exercise for you would be to keep a journal of all of your “shoulds” as they come up. This will allow you to notice what you’re telling yourself. For instance, are you thinking:
- I shouldn’t show emotion.
- I should do everything perfectly.
- I should get all my work done on time.
When you become aware of these “shoulds” that fill up your head, you create an opportunity to reflect with questions such as, “Is this true?” or “Is there maybe a different way to think about it that would help me feel better?” Notice that when you “should” yourself,, it makes you feel sad, frustrated, guilty, or disappointed, and that’s not how you want to feel.
Making Excuses vs. Having Self-Compassion
When you replace your “shoulds” and instead acknowledge yourself, does it feel like you’re making excuses to avoid doing things?
If so, I want you to take a step back for a moment. Chances are that you’re not the kind of person that makes excuses. Otherwise you wouldn’t be so bothered about self-acknowledgement prior to achieving the final step of your goal.
Sometimes we confuse self-compassion with the idea of idleness. Just because you have your back doesn’t mean you won’t go ahead with the task. It just means that you embrace the task with more gentleness towards yourself.
Here’s the alternative. There’s a task you set out to accomplish and didn’t get to it. You beat yourself up and tell yourself, “I should have done it.” How do you feel now? Not so hot! And feeling like rubbish doesn’t make you do more. Instead, now you didn’t get the task done and you feel rubbish on top of it.
This notion that if we beat ourselves up it will help us catch up on things or spring us into action doesn’t work. When you keep cracking the whip on yourself, all that happens is you end up whipped.
And if you’re really into self-punishment, you might tell yourself you deserve to feel badly because you didn’t do what you “should” have done. It’s simply faulty thinking. It doesn’t work.
Shoulding just makes you feel bad that you didn’t do something. If what you want is to do more, you need to come from a place of motivation, excitement, and engagement.
Negativity doesn’t lift you up. The exact verbiage you use when you beat yourself up is what is causing your sadness, feeling of failure, frustration with thoughts like, “I’m not good enough,” “I should have done more,” “I didn’t do enough.”
If you want to get hard things done, you have to feel strong. You have to feel courageous. You have to be able to face your fears. And none of that can come from beating yourself up. It comes from building yourself up.
Tell yourself, “You know what? This is hard. I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to try. And maybe it won’t work, but I’m going to show up and let’s see what happens.”
It comes from having your own back.
It comes from knowing that whatever you do doesn’t have to be perfect, but trying and failing is better than not even trying, because then you feel like you aren’t living fully, that you’re hiding.
It’s not about the excuses. It’s about how you handle tasks that are hard. Are you avoiding them and then beating yourself up for avoiding them or are you building yourself up and then moving forward?
Perfectionism is too black and white. There has to be some gray. There’s got to be more fluidity, more flexibility in your brain where you say to yourself, “Trying and failing is better than not trying at all.”
Your brain is programmed to avoid failure because that feels really scary. And that’s where you can use the power of your mind to shape the brain. That’s where you say, “Yes, I hear you. I feel that, but it’s okay. It’s just a thought. It’s not real. I’m going to take back control and I need to decide what I do, what it means, and how I want to feel.”
You have control over your life. You get to decide. And by slowly chipping away at this, you rewire your brain to think differently.
And listen. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s just not.
Instead of trying to do ten things all at once, maybe this is the one thing you focus on. Check in with yourself by noticing the thoughts and then saying, “You know what? That doesn’t work for me. How else can I think about this situation?”
If you didn’t do something you wanted to get done, what are you making it mean about you?
That’s what I want you to get in touch with. You do that and everything’s going to change because what holds you back is not being aware of the connection between your thoughts and your feelings. And that’s how you take back your power. Notice the thoughts and notice how when you think those thoughts, they lead to exactly how you feel right now.
How do you want to feel given the fact that life didn’t go according to your plan? Instead of frustration, perhaps you reach for curiosity and motivation.
You Are More Remarkable Than You Know
There are two truths. There are the things you didn’t do and there are the things you have done. Because your brain automatically focuses on the negatives, it likely overlooks your attempts and achievements.
It’s your job to highlight what you have done. That might be hard, especially if you’ve been taught not to blow your own horn. There is a difference between giving yourself credit and bragging. Even still, bragging is only taboo because of how you were programmed. When you listen to children talk, they have no problem claiming “bragging rights” after accomplishing something they worked hard on.
Bottom line: You’re not as bad as you make yourself out to be. Maybe everybody else can already see that about you. You just need to catch up to them.You have to see yourself in the way that everybody else sees you.
That’s part of that vision you first created for your life when you knew something needed to change. It was the recognition that you weren’t satisfied and perhaps overcoming your programming and acknowledging yourself for all the hard work that you’ve put in is part of your transformation. It’s about giving yourself permission to not only have your own back but to acknowledge yourself for all your wonderful accomplishments. And if I dare say it–to know you are remarkable no matter what.
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