November 17, 2008

Underwhelmed to Overwhelmed and Back Again

Posted in personal at 11:48 pm by jimazing

late-clock.gifI am frustrated because a project I am working on at work is behind schedule.  The causes of the “behind-ness” are many, which is part of the frustration, but not part of my topic.  Maybe it’s an old-guy thing, but I am learning to take the opportunity when I feel strong emotions to observe myself.  It is almost like having an out-of-body experience. I’m going through a circumstance and feel a strong feeling.  I’m still in the circumstance, I still feel the feeling, but at the same time, I am asking myself all kinds of questions about what’s going on.  I understand that my emotions are about what’s inside of me and not so much what’s happening around me or to me.  In an attempt to understand me better, I ask myself what is going on.  What emotion do I feel?  What are the circumstances?  What do I believe or what story do I tell myself that causes me to feel this?

It is not unusual at times to feel overwhelmed with the tasks I have to do and then at other times, I find myself waiting on others with nothing that I have to do.  With only a few tasks to keep up with, I can multitask and juggle the tasks in my memory just fine, but when I have way too many tasks, I need a list to manage things or I start to forget them. This list can be on paper or computer.  It can be many different formats like a checklist or a mindmap.  Anything will work as long as I am not depending on my pea brain to manage the list alone.

The other day, it occured to me that when I have just a few things to do, keeping a list is cumbersome.  Since I don’t really need a list, creating and managing one feels like a waste of time and a little like a crutch.jpgcrutch.  On the other hand, when I feel paralized with all I have to do, I need a list and I need it now!  It doesn’t matter if it is a crutch, just give it to me so I can start walking.

The thing that just occured to me is that the passing from the state of underwhelmed to overwhelmed is stressful!  When the number of to-do’s passes a threshold from a few to too much, I feel a different kind of stress than just having too much to do.  I need a list and it doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is only as current as the last time I needed a list.  It is like someone reaching for the crutch they need to walk now, only to find that is unassembled.  On the other hand, when the new tasks slow down and I begin to catch up on the list, I fall back into the I-do-not-need-a-list mode.  I still have the list I needed, but I feel like I can get along without it.  It is then that I find myself in a different kind of struggle.  Part of me wants to keep the list current, but that part of me always loses in this phase. It is too much work for something I can do in my head, so it fades from my awareness and gets stale again.

Understanding that the movement from one state to the other is stressful helps me because I can recognize it in the moment.  An uncontrolable feeling becomes a recognizable pattern.  When I first begin to feel overwhelmed, I can recognize the pattern and ask myself what’s going on inside, take a deep breath and then make choices that help me handle that to do list.  Not to say that it is easy, but it is possible.


  1. Judy said,

    Jim, I think this sounds an awful like a lot of us.

    It’s a funny thing about lists. John and I have been married for 32 years and if I have something for him to do around the house and I ask him to do it, he says ok and forgets about it. On the other hand, if I make a list and leave it out for him to see (it doesn’t matter if only one thing is on that list), once the list has been made…the job will get done. There’s just something “official” about that list being written down that makes it get done!!

  2. ded said,


    I read this earlier but did not take the time to comment.

    About the self-observation thing: it may be an old-guy thing but probably not. I think the insights you have from having more life experience alters both the way one observes him or herself and the conclusions one draws.

    I also think having the spirit of the Lord to illuminate thinking over these observations allows one a certain freedom with the observation which those who do no know the Lord lack. Though all people experience what you are describing in some capacity.

    By comparison, I try to make lists and get them done, but ususally lose the list or simply face a new day with different demands which render the first list a past to be left.

    My lists are in my head; I get done the most urgent and ususally things go ok. My stress level seems normal to me, as I always have a lot of “must get this done today” floating around in my head.

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