Recently I went out to the local hotel to catch up with some friends whom I hadn’t seen in a long while. There were 12 of us and we had to push several tables together so we could sit as a group. As you can imagine, we had lots to talk about after such a long time apart.
Our group was the first to arrive and we had the place to ourselves for about 30 minutes before other people started arriving. This meant that we could talk and be heard clearly, even from opposite ends of the table; following the conversation was easy. As the crowd built up and the noise of the extra people increased, I started having some difficulty hearing the comments from my friends sitting further away from me.
The group conversation broke into smaller chats between those seated close to each other. The crowd continued to build, as did the noise level, and soon I was shouting just to be heard by the person next to me. Pretty soon, we were all shouting and being shouted at. With the collective noise of so many people talking, laughing and arguing, I found it impossible to focus. I lost connection with those around me and started to feel very uncomfortable. I felt like I was being crushed under the weight of everything going on around me.
It’s just too much! I can’t do it! I’m not coping! My head is going to explode! My life is so full of stuff that it is overflowing and I can’t stop it.
Have you ever felt that you had a never ending ‘to-do’ list at work or at home? Felt that there were too many demands being placed on you and that your emotions were ‘out of control’? Maybe you have had moments when you just felt completely defeated with no idea of how to move forward to a more positive, peaceful place.
If so, you are human. It’s called Overwhelm!
Overwhelm can come to us in many forms, but the result is always the same. We lose our ability to concentrate. We get nervous. And this inhibits our ability to think in a constructive, positive manner. When we get stuck in our state of overwhelm, we cease to be productive.
Of course, stress and overwhelm are not the most pleasant emotional states we can experience, but we need to realise that they do not need to be permanent states. When we embrace the difficult times and use them to practice emotional mastery, we can learn to be more resilient and resourceful in finding solutions to our problems. This is our time to be mindful. The way forward does not need us to isolate ourselves on a mountain top to meditate for months and years, the way forward can be learned in a few minutes.
Calming the Chaos of Overwhelm
We don’t have to be the victims of our own thinking. Just because someone is doing something we do not like, it doesn’t mean we have to get angry. Becoming anxious is not our only option if we are unsure of what the outcome of an event will be. Likewise, when we feel we have too much to cope with, we do not have to give in to overwhelm.
There are many models of how to prioritise and manage an overly full list of competing events but what I want to show you here is that learning to manage your state is the first step to defeating overwhelm. Solutions and processes will be more obvious if you operate with a calm mind.
There are many NLP techniques that help us to control our state and develop emotional mastery. A very simple to learn and amazingly powerful technique for achieving a calm state in the midst of cognitive chaos, is the ‘The Span of Periphery’. This technique has many names, including Situational Awareness (pilots will be familiar with this term), the Learning State or the original name from Hawaiian, the Hakalau. Whatever you call it, it is a calm, controlled state from which you can build positivity. A state that can be called upon in an instant to provide relief from overwhelm in a variety of situations.
The steps to achieving this calm, broad and resourceful state are very simple and anyone can do it. You can try it right now but of course you will have to read through the process first before you can practice it.
The Span Of Periphery - A Walkthrough
To begin, get comfortable, let your thoughts drift, stop paying attention to any of them. Choose something small or even a mark on the wall in front of you that is slightly above eye level. While focusing on that spot, continue to breathe slowly and deeply.
Without moving your eyes, allow your vision to de-focus so the spot becomes blurry. It is o.k. to blink; this is not a staring challenge. Now begin to broaden your view but maintain the connection to the original spot. Gradually extend into your periphery and continue to do so until you become aware of as much of the room as possible. To help you achieve the wide view, when you are first learning the technique, you can hold your hands out in front of you at eye level, shoulder width apart. Keeping your focus on the point in front of you, slowly move your hands outwards and backwards, allowing your eyes to take in all the sights between them. See everything but don’t look at anything.
While in this state, you can now allow yourself to hear the sounds around you. Hear everything but listen to nothing; be receptive to the range of sounds around you. The goal is to be aware but not focused.
At this time, you will become aware of the chair against your back or the feeling of your feet on the ground. You will feel the clothes you are wearing and the temperature of the room. Accept the feeling of physical, visual and auditory relaxation, the calmness of your mind. You are now in the Hakalua.
When you first start practicing this technique, you may find yourself distracted by thoughts as they pass through your mind, or paying attention to a particular sound. You may even find yourself moving your eyes from the starting spot. Don’t worry! Just recognise that this is happening and stop the process. Give yourself a gentle shake and begin again. Very soon, you will learn to achieve this state in an instant and will be able to access it at will.
This technique is so powerful and effective because your mind cannot hold an expanded state and negativity at the same time. So, the next time you feel the beginnings of overwhelming thoughts or feelings, in fact any negative emotional state, you will know how to control your state quickly. With practice, you can use this in a traffic jam, or in a frustrating meeting at the office. It may even help you manage the kids in a more positive way. When you emerge from this calming state, you will be ready to tackle the practical actions required to manage your overwhelm.