There used to be this unbelievable Oak Tree in my neighbor’s yard – the most amazing tree I’ve ever seen. My children nicknamed this great White Oak Old Majestic. It was seven feet in diameter, and its limbs hung over three different houses on our road.
I remember one evening I was suffering. A partner of mine later called what I was experiencing “entrepreneurial terror.” It was a completely paralyzing fear that came over me, keeping me from taking any purposeful action whatsoever.
I had extended myself too far physically, emotionally and financially. I was weighed down by an anxiety like I’d never had, and nothing I did could make the pit in my stomach lessen. I was walking up and down our road just trying to find some way to ease the pain.
And then I walked up on that old oak tree. I looked up into its branches and an immediate calm came over me. I just knew that everything was going to be all right. Old Majestic was believed to be 300 years old. It had seen every possible adverse condition a tree could go through, and stood there as if saying to me, “This too will pass.” And, just like everything else in my life, it did.
Einstein had 24 hours each day, as did Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Walt Disney… just like everyone else does, including you. I know single mothers who hold down two jobs, work out every day, and still manage to provide amazing nurturing care to their children.
So why is it that so many of us feel completely overwhelmed and think there just isn’t enough time in the day, when, in reality, there is?
I believe it’s because we can’t get out of our own way. We’re consumed by fear, anxiety, anger and frustration. And we’re using up the one thing that we most need to overcome our challenges: our time.
We’re remorseful about past actions, and we fear fatal future circumstances. The events that cause us true pain are far less frequent than the suffering we create in our own minds throughout our lives.
We need to figure out how to put our minds to work in a positive manner using the only thing we really ever have: the present moment.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, here are five actions to help you regain control:
1) Do what the pros do
I was recently reading a book on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a modern approach for helping individuals with anxiety, as well as depression, anger, and many other destructive thought patterns. In this approach, therapists work with patients to elicit what they call the relaxation response. One primary tool that psychologists use to trigger the relaxation response is Diaphragmatic Breathing. It’s very simple, and best performed lying down with legs bent (but can also be done sitting upright in a chair). The process of Diaphragmatic Breathing goes like this:
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips (as it making an “o” sound)
Do this for as long as it takes to break down the anxiety and relax. Some psychologists suggest doing this for 5-10 minutes 3 or 4 times per day. Personally, I like to do it when I’m feeling anxious or stuck. It is a great way to calm my nerves and get me refocused on what I need to do.
2) Make your life exponential
As individuals, we can only work so hard and so efficiently. At some point, we all hit our ceiling. Until we learn to work with, for and through others, our abilities will be limited.
They say that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. You have to find people you trust and can count on. You need to find people better than you at the things that need to be done in your life. You need to ask them for help and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs.
Let the grandparents pick up the kids from school once or twice a week. Give the new person at work the chance to shine. Let others accomplish more than you could and then focus your energy on the things you do best, the things that are going to make the biggest difference in accomplishing your dreams.
3) Take action
Many mornings I wake up struggling. The different obligations in my life weigh on me and create anxiety, and I muddle around until I start doing something.
The moment I take action, my anxiety lessens. I feel empowered and start to regain a sense of control. If I’m worried about money, nothing makes me feel better than doing a budget. If I’m concerned about a problem at work, the best thing I can do is start solving the problem or start communicating with people who can help me. You see, the instant we act is the start of the process that alters outcomes for the better.
The biggest gap in life isn’t the difference between what we know and what we don’t know, it’s between what we know and what we do. To take action, remove the uncertainty and feel the energy of empowerment.
Whenever someone is struggling in life and they ask me for help, my first response is for them to meditate or pray. I know that if you do one of these two things, you will begin to heal. These are the cornerstones of all religions, and are tried and true practices that have worked for eons.
It’s like when you’re looking at a new diet: I’m pretty confident that exercising, eating vegetables and drinking water are on all of them… just as meditating or praying should be something we all do regularly.
5) Learn to Compartmentalize
“Create separation between the different areas of your life, so that problems in one area will not spill over into another.”
A major challenge for many of us is managing the complexity of our lives and allowing certain aspects to cross over into others. Things get mixed up, momentum builds, and before we know it, we feel like we’re in free fall in every area of our lives.
For example, a bad day for me at work can result in my being mentally drained and physically tired, totally unable to do what’s needed at home. Likewise, trouble at home can consume us at work and make us inefficient and ineffective.
One technique to prevent this overlap is an intentional pause before starting a new activity. For example, I sometimes stop on my way home to take a few minutes to reflect on my work day, shift my focus to my time at home, and consider what my goals are; I take the energy off of my day at the office and put it towards my wife and family – which is where it needs to be.
The key is to create separation between the different areas of your life, so that problems in one area will not spill over into another. Compartmentalize and solve the problem inside that box rather than spreading it around and creating a snow ball effect in your life.
This past winter, Old Majestic was condemned. We started a petition and 500 people immediately signed it. We eventually got over 1,000 signatures from all over the world. The local news came out and ran two stories on the tree, and the Mayor even called a special town hall meeting to decide its fate. We fought hard for that tree, but unfortunately it ultimately came down.
In the spring, the stump was ground up into mulch. A few months later, I was walking by the place where the old tree had been and noticed something mind-blowing. In the middle of where the tree had stood, where there had been nothing but mulch, was the tiny sprout of a little oak tree. From the impossible, Mini Majestic, as my children call her, had sprouted and completed the cycle of life.
As you might imagine, I immediately put Mini Majestic into a pot. She almost didn’t make it through the long Georgia summer, but she survived. I will plant her this winter where she can grow safely and, 300 years from now, maybe she’ll inspire someone else with the simple and beautiful idea that everything eventually will pass.