Categories
Challenges

252 – Overwhelmed

Do you get overwhelmed with the challenges of life? When life gets too stressful do you shut down and bail out? Today I want to talk about why we let things overwhelm us and what can we do to stay on track.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Life is challenging. Some times we feel overwhelmed at the situations we have in life. When this happens we may shut down and retreat. We may give up on things that are important to us that are not even directly tied to the situation that may be causing stress in our lives. This can include areas such as work, relationships, or hobbies.

Many people might see this and think that the "obvious" solution is that this is a failure of planning, as in, you might have unrealistic timelines or expectations of how much you can actually get done. When you fail to meet those expectations, you get frustrated and burned out.

But before we look at tactics, let's think a little deeper, shall we?

First, I want you to know that you are not alone. Anyone involved in a creative endeavor runs into this issue. And by creative endeavor I mean creating anything, and that also includes creating a better life. We have great intentions, high aspirations, and plenty of talent, and yet, we get sidetracked, spiral out, and shut down.

I know that I have a pretty familiar pattern: I make plans when I’m in a good headspace. I feel excited and am looking forward to working on my goals. Then something stressful hits in my life, and pretty soon I find myself retreating and backing off from a lot of things in life.

I’ve done this several times with my podcast. Things in my personal life would be falling apart, then I would shut down the podcast. Sometimes, I would try working on another project, only to find that I even then I still would feel overwhelmed and just give up.

The worst part about this pattern is that I would feel like a failure on multiple fronts. I would feel like a failure because of the issue in my personal life, then I would feel like a failure because I wasn’t working on my podcast or music or learning 3D programming.

So why do we do this? Why do allow stress from one part in our life deep six other things in our lives?

Self-Sabotage

I think the first thing we need to come to terms with is that sometimes, we’re looking for a way out. When I feel overwhelmed and let myself burnout, it is often because, deep down, at some level, it's what I really want. I want to give up. Sometimes, life is hard and letting outside events overwhelm me is an easy way to blame an outside event for failing to achieve what I set out to do.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “I would never do that! I really want to succeed, but there was just too much other shit going on."

Let me let in you on something: Everyone has too much other shit going on. Kid's plays and soccer games. Partners and friends who need your time and attention. And there are the basics such as, you know, keeping up with work. That's not to mention taking time for ourselves such as exercise, hobbies, and rest.

Simple put, life is busy.

Plenty of people have done amazing things while still managing all this extra shit. If you really want to accomplish your goal, then you wouldn't let anything stop you.

Let me put it this way. If one of your projects was something you needed to complete because if you didn't you would die, do you think you would let those outside things overwhelm you?

I don't think so.

I think you'd finish it come hell or highwater and push all those external things to the side.

If there is something that you truly want to do in life, then any external excuse for quitting, is just that – an excuse.

Ultimately, I find that I sometimes let myself just get overwhelmed because it's easier than pushing through, and I can point to a "reason" why it wasn't my fault that I failed. But if I'm honest with myself, I know, deep down, I'm quitting because I just don't want to do the hard work. It's hard to admit to something like this, especially when you know you are quite capable, but owning up to it is the first step in taking responsibility for your choices. You have the right to choose to not do something. You don’t need a reason outside of yourself.

Now, not everything we feel burned out on is due to self-sabotage. Sometimes we really do want to reach some goal but we’re pushing ourselves too hard and we end up ignoring other aspects of our lives. Stoicism is about equanimity, it’s about finding balance so that we can work efficiently and effectively. So let’s dig into some ways that you can help find that balance, and avoid burning out.

Facing Up to Your Emotions

I think the biggest piece of the puzzle that can cause us to feel overwhelmed is that we may be in situations that are emotionally challenging and we don’t want to face them. When something in our lives is emotionally draining, we will often try to ignore it. But in doing so, the emotion doesn’t go away. It stays in our system unresolved. We carry it around like shackles on our ankles, and we’re the ones that put them on. We might be able to function in our daily lives, but we are not bringing all our resources to bear. We are not operating at our best.

This can become too much of a burden and rather than face up to and deal with these challenging emotions, we find ways to distract ourselves. The list of distractions includes alcohol, drugs, work, television, video games or any other number of things that allow us to push these uncomfortable emotions to the side. I noticed that when I took a break from my podcast over a year ago, rather than working on learning graphics programming in my spare time, which was my plan, I ended up just playing video games. I had no motivation to anything else. I didn’t write. I didn’t read any books. I didn’t hang out with friends.

Once I started facing up to some of the emotionally challenging situations in my life, I was better able to handle the pressure of other commitments, such as working on my podcast. I was more social. I started working out again. My life wasn’t perfect by any means, but it certainly felt more manageable.

Physical Health

I think that many of our issues with mental health are directly related to out physical health. If we’re exhausted, in pain, or in poor health, it affects our state of mind, causing us to have a negative outlook on life. I think that there is an underestimation of how much our physical state affects our mental state. We like to think that we can just change our thinking and we can ignore our physical state. But remember, we experience the world in our bodies, so to pretend that they aren’t linked is rather foolish.

If you find yourself feeling burned out, make sure that you are taking care of the physical things. Pushing ourselves too hard, eating poorly, not sleeping enough affects our mental outlook whether we like it or not.

For example, in my own life, I struggle with insomnia. This makes it hard to think clearly, and often makes things feel much darker or harder than they really are. I can be grumpy and irritable without really being aware of it. Doing my best to take care of myself by doing everything I can to improve my sleep by eating healthy, exercising, and following a regular sleep schedule has helped quite a bit. I also do my best to be aware of my mood by writing in my journal and meditating.

Narrow Your Focus

In our world of productivity hacks and hustle culture, we can feel overwhelmed because we try to take on too many things. We may feel guilty when we take time to relax and recharge because it’s not considered productive. Much of this comes from comparing ourselves to others. We look at how others “hustle” and think that is the reason for their success. But as any good athlete will tell you, resting is just as important as training. Doing one without the other will guarantee failure. Finding the balance of working hard and resting is what puts you in the ideal state.

When we’re spread too thin and pulled in too many directions, we end up not doing anything very well. By reducing what we’re working on to just a few things at any given period of time, we can make more progress on the goals that we have. This doesn’t mean that we need to drop everything else, but it can mean that we schedule things to a later date. There is nothing that says we have to accomplish everything all at once. And to be honest, just hustling all the time sucks the joy and pleasure out of life.

Time Management

"It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it."

— Seneca

One area that we can focus on which will help reduce our stress is managing our time. This is something that I’m still working on, and I should probably do a full episode so that I can explore ways to manage my time better. But for now, I have a very basic schedule to my day of when I start and end work. I also schedule in self care activities like exercise and meditation. I make sure that I take at least 30 minutes for lunch, since I work from home and it’s pretty easy to just get busy and push through some code I’m working on.

Since I struggle with insomnia, I’ve been making sure that I have some wind down time before bed. This means that an hour before bed I will doing something relaxing that is not cognitively taxing. This could be watching something fun on Netflix, reading some nice fiction, or sitting in the hot tub. As I’m getting ready for bed, I’ll put on some chill jazz piano, to help my mind wind down.

Creating a basic outline to your day can help you manage your life a little better. The less you have to keep in your head, the more likely you’ll be able to follow your schedule. Also, if you put everything on a calendar, it’s easier to see if you are simply overloaded and trying to take on too many things.

Make Choices

"It is not what happens to you that matters, but how you react to it that determines the quality of your life. You have within you the power to choose your thoughts and opinions, and you can choose to respond to any situation with patience, courage, and understanding."

— Epictetus

Often when we’re feeling overwhelmed it’s because we are stuck in a place of worry and confusion. Probably the most useful tool that I’ve worked on implementing in my life is something I talked about in episode 247 – There are no Problems, Only Choices. This is the idea that rather than focusing on a problem and all the worries attached to it, you focus on what choices you have available, and figure out which one most align with your goals, your values, and your principles.

Focusing on what choices you can make is beneficial for a number of reasons. Since you are focusing on choices, you spend less time needlessly worrying about the problem. It also puts you in a better place to take action. When you take action, you are making progress. When you make even just a little progress, it makes the next set of choices easier. You create momentum which can help carry you through the difficult parts of a situation.

We may get stuck in worrying what choice is the “right one”, or we may have too many choices. If you find that you have having a hard time making a choice, figure out what your principles and values are and use that as your guide. Is there a choice that aligns with them? If not, are there any choices that tick most of the boxes, but still support your most important principles? Is there choice that can, at the very least, get you started?

Conclusion

There are a lot of things in the world that can derail us from achieving the things we want, though usually the biggest hinderance is ourselves. However, there are foundational things that we can to do that make us more resilient when we run into resistance and help us avoid burnout. When we focus on taking care of our physical health, managing our time, and put our energy towards making better choices and find that balance that we need. When we find that balance, it helps us keep moving forward, rest and recover, and enjoy the journey.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.

Want to help support this podcast? Become a patron on patreon!

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Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Acceptance

224 – To You or For You?

To You or For You?
To You or For You?

It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.

— Seneca

Do you think that life just happens to you? That you are simply a pawn in the game of life? Because there are so many things that we don’t have control over in our lives, it can be easy to fall into this kind of mental trap. The problem is that when adopt this kind of thinking, then we have placed an unhelpful filter through which we view everything that happens in our lives.

While there is plenty of debate within the stoic community as to whether or not stoics are fatalists, meaning they believe that life happens as fate determines, I honestly don’t worry too much about it. If we are simply following out the plan of life that is predetermined for us, then there is really nothing we can do about it. If we aren’t and we actually do have freewill, then we should keep doing our best to live the best life we can.

With that said, it can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling like life just happens to us, and that we have little to no control over anything. And if this is the case, and we have little to no control over out lives, then adjusting our outlook to be of the mind that everything that happens actually happens “for us” and not just “to us” can certainly make the trip much more enjoyable.

So let’s take a look at each of these perspectives.

When we believe that life happens “to us” then there is very little that we can do about it. Everything is just going to happen and we just have to endure it. We feel like victims because we have no control over all these things happening to us. We wish things would happen the way we want them to, and when things don’t go the way that we want we complain about it. We blame our failures on someone or something outside of ourselves. We are simply at the whim of all these external forces.

When we believe that life happens “for us”, the same things may happen, but how we respond to them and how we let them impact us is quite different. We are no longer a victim of circumstance. We look at everything with an eye as to what we can learn from this situation. We find ways to become stronger from what happens to us. We are curious about what is happening, and how we might even be able to enjoy things, even if they are challenging or uncomfortable. There is also no one to “blame” for anything because even if something sucks, if we approach it as something that life is supposed to bring our way, that it really is something for us to learn from.

An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.

– Epictetus

When we hit setbacks, we don’t look around for someone to blame for it, we recognize that the setback is there for us to learn. Maybe it’s to teach us persistence. Maybe it’s a sign for us to change course. Maybe we missed something along the way and the setback is time for us to evaluate other opportunities.

Let’s take an example that can show the difference between these two perspectives. Let’s say that you had to have a difficult conversation with someone, and you knew that things could get heated. If you were to approach this with a “to me” attitude, you would be frustrated with this person that they are getting angry with you or not listening to your point of view. You might be defensive with them because of all the things they were doing to you. You might even avoid the conversation in the first place.

But if you were to approach them with an “for me” attitude, you would see it as an opportunity. You might see this as a chance for you to practice listening to this person and to hear their concerns. You would see it as an opportunity to craft a solution that suits both of you. You would be more likely to approach it with compassion rather than defensiveness. It would also make it less likely for you to avoid the situation in first place.

So why do we feel like most things happen to us rather than for us? It think there are a number of reasons. First is that quite naturally we don’t have much control over many of the things that life sends our way. I mean the fact that we don’t control where we were born, the color of our skin, or the family that we belong to, we recognize that some of the core parts of our life are just chance. Because we have little control over some of the key aspect of our life, it’s natural to apply this to other areas of our lives.

I think another big reason is that humans are great at taking the path of least resistance and it’s easier to blame what happens on things outside of ourselves. Taking ownership of our lives is a lot of work. It’s something that we all talk about, but to actually step up and so is not something most of us are good at. We’re not really taught to accept responsibility, we’re taught not to fail. I mean think about in school. If you mess up a test or class project, you’re punished for it. You get bad grades and you get in trouble with your parents. We don’t look at those things as signals that you are not understanding something or pointing to areas that you need to work on. And so we do our best to avoid having that failure on us, so we look to find someone or something to blame.

I do want to point out though that this is not the same as the platitude that “everything happens for a reason”. I find this is very popular in religious circles and it always rubbed me wrong because to me it always implied that you were either being rewarded or punished by god for being a good or bad person. People don’t get cancer for a good reason. People don’t get abused by their parents for a reason. That’s just not how life works. Life just happens, and sometimes it sucks and can be pretty damaging, and it’s so much easier to just blame everything that is wrong on something outside of ourselves.

I like to think of “for me” is a much more neutral perspective. Life puts these things out there for me, and I can decide what I want to do with them. I can learn from them, and grow stronger. I can ignore them, and try to find ways avoid them. But if we really want to be in control of our lives, we need to look at challenges not as something that is in our way, but more like an obstacle course that we choose to test ourselves and something that we can improve our skills in overcoming. When we can recognize that life and it’s many challenges are here for us, the better we can get about just facing things head on with curiosity and compassion.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.

Want to help support this podcast? Become a patron on patreon!

Like the theme song? You can find it here from my alter ego. 🙂

Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Control

207 – Resistance

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Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible. 

— Epictetus

What if you stopped resisting what life brought your way? What if you could cheerfully accept everything that came your way? How would that change the way you showed up in the world? This week I want to talk about the importance of dealing with what is, and not what we think it should be.

The stoic idea of Amor Fati, to “love your fate”, is often a confusing topic. Did the stoics mean we are victims of fate, and that we do not have freewill and we should just accept what happens to us? I mean doesn’t that just make us victims?

I don’t think so. I think what they meant was that life, fate, is going to happen to us no matter what. Unless you’re dead, there are things that are going to happen in your life, and you have no control over them. And because they are going to happen to us, whether we like it or not, we can either resist and complain, or we can accept that this is how life is happening to us, and flow with what happens.

Wisdom lies in cheerful acceptance of whatever life throws at you. 

—The Ancient Sage

Should Be vs. Could Be

When you focus on what you think “should be”, you are wishing for the world to be something different than it is. You are projecting your expectations on the world. You are chronically unhappy because the world will never change to meet your expectations. You judge everything by what you think it should be, not what it is. People are not doing the things you think they should. Events aren’t happening like you think they should. When you think about how things should be, you are wishing.

When you focus on what “could be”, then you are recognizing the way things actually are, and seeing the potential. You mind can be creative because it sees the possibilities, based on what is there, and what things could become. It gives you a real chance to actually accomplish something because it starts from a basis in reality, rather than trying to bend things to fit our expectations.

Once you can accept everything for exactly as it really is, especially the things we don’t like, you can be okay with whatever life throws are you. It doesn’t mean that you have to like it. It just means that you acknowledge and accept it. You can see opportunities and potential. You are curious and accepting, and less judgmental.

This is not an easy mindset to adopt. We’re told that we should visualize how we want things to be, and just think positively and everything will work out. While I think imagining the future we want is important, we should be cautious of wishful thinking.

I think a good metaphor would be if you went river rafting and complained about the flow of the river, the curve in the shore, and the challenge of the rapids. If you constantly wanted the river to change so it was more to your liking, then you’re never going to enjoy the river for what it is. You’re going to be upset that it didn’t meet your expectations.

On the other hand, if you simply accept the river for what it is, and appreciate and explore the challenges of the river, you’re going to focus your energies on the best way to ride the rapids, enjoy the lulls of the more placid areas, and appreciate the scenery. You accept what is, and focus on making the best of the situation, rather than wishing for the river change for you.

To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. 

— Eckhart Tolle

Resistance

I think that a lot of our stress comes from resistance. We don’t want to deal with what is, so we find ways to avoid dealing with what is. We may avoid having tough conversations. We avoid doing the hard things, hoping that if we just ignore it, it will resolve itself on its own. But this never works, and it usually makes things much worse. Even just half-assing it doesn’t work. Whatever the excuse is, it’s usually because we feel uncomfortable, and I’m speaking from my experience here.

For example, if you need to have a hard conversation with your partner, and you avoid and don’t commit to it fully and honestly, things rarely go well. You come up with all kinds of excuses and rationalizations as to why you should avoid having that hard talk, but for any of us that have been in long-term relationships we know that avoiding the problem never makes it go away, and generally makes it worse. If you embrace the hard stuff from the beginning, then it is much easier to deal with. When you let things fester, then it’s not just about the issue, it’s also about avoiding the issue.

It’s kind of like having an open wound – the more you ignore it, the greater the chance you have of it getting infected. If you take care of it right off the bat, it’s much easier to clean it out and keep it from getting infected. Once it’s infected, then it takes more drastic action to repair the damage, and the greater your potential for causing long-term harm to the situation.

How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life. 

— Marcus Aurelius

Accept

So what can we do to be more accepting of what life throws our way? I think one of the best ways is to let go of our expectations, and do our best to face our challenges head on. When we look at anything that pops up in our lives as just another day in our life and get on with dealing with it, we are better able to deal with it. When we complain, avoid, or ignore, we are not only wasting time, we are also putting ourselves into a mindset where we are even less able to deal with it effectively. If we look at each challenge as something we can learn from and build our skills, then we are using our time more effectively, as well as priming our minds to approach it with a more effective mindset.

Self-Acceptance

I think another key area of accepting life as it is, is to accept ourselves as we are. For those of us that work hard to improve ourselves, we also need to remember that we have all kinds of expectations about ourselves that are often detrimental. There is a lot that we want to accomplish, and we can see the person who we want to be, but I think that we often make plans and set goals with this perfect ideal of ourselves in mind. If our plans expect us to be operating at our best, or some ridiculously idealized version of yourself all the time, without room for being at our worst, then we’re going to suffer a lot of failures in our lives. I think we need to recognize not just our strengths, but also our weaknesses, and work within what we can really accomplish, not just what our ideal selves can accomplish.

Remember, self acceptance it not about letting yourself off the hook. It’s about being realistic about what you can do, and who you really are. It also removes a lot of shame for not being something other than what you are. It’s a recognition that a lot of the ideas of what you should be are not yours, but are those given to us by family, religion, society, and other external influences.

Conclusion

Learning to accept life and ourselves and stop resisting what life hands us is not a simple task. But learning to be realistic about how things are and how we really are, can help give us a perspective about the potential of how things could be. When we work from a base of “what is” it’s more likely that we are able to realize our potential, and not get stuck in wishful thinking.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break  podcast.
Also stop by the website at stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.
Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.