Setting Temporary Limits to Help with Overwhelm

One of the most common struggles I hear from my HSP clients is how often they are feeling overwhelmed. So in this blog post, I want to share a quick "tool" to help overcome overwhelm, which is to simply apply the idea of creating a "temporary limit."

I'm personally a big fan of to-do lists. Every day, I have a to-do list with about a dozen tasks that I want to accomplish that day. But sometimes, when I'm looking at that long list in the morning of things I want to get done - I begin to feel overwhelmed. My fear-based mind can start spinning out on thoughts like, "How am I ever going to get all this done? Why do I have to do all these things today?"

So whenever this happens, I try to catch myself - and create a "temporary limit." What do I mean by this? For example, if I'm looking at my long to-do list, I would ask myself, if I could only do 3 things today, what three things would they be? What must I get done today?

For me, these 3 things would become my "non-negotiables" for the day. In this way, I create a temporary limit of 3 things that I want to focus on - as my top priority. This forces me to determine which tasks are of the highest value - and brings me clarity on where I should be focusing my time, energy and attention. This focus is what helps me to shut out overwhelm.

Another key aspect of this tool is to remember that we are only creating temporary limits. It's just to help us focus in the short-term. We're not abandoning the rest of our to-do list. We're merely focusing on the top 3 things we want to get done first. And when those are done, we simply apply this tool again. And again. And again!

Creating temporary limits helps us to focus and offers us a sense of calm. I'm no longer stuck looking at all 12 items on my to-do list. I'm just focusing on 3 things. And applying the idea of "just for now and not forever." Because many of us do get stuck when we're feeling overwhelmed. We may get stuck physically, mentally and emotionally. And when that happens, we frequently fall into procrastination, distraction or numbing ourselves.

Another example some of you might relate to - is if you play a musical instrument. I grew up playing piano. And sometimes in a long piece, there might be numerous places in the song which could use improvement. If I look at the piece as a whole, I might begin to feel overwhelmed at all the different places I need to work on.

But if I create a temporary limit and tell myself I'm going to work on this particular phrase, or these 4 measures, for "an hour" - I can narrow my focus and release the overwhelm of having to improve the entire piece all at once. Just focusing on that one section and practicing it over and over and over again, for an hour, is going to yield much better results for me - compared to practicing the song from beginning to end. By focusing on that one trouble section, I might be able to practice it 500 times - rather than just the 10 times that I could fit into an hour - if I were to only practice the song from beginning to end.

Now, while practicing the same part of a song 500 times in an hour will probably drive my neighbors crazy - it definitely helps me to focus, reduce overwhelm - and ultimately generate better results :)

Another example of when "creating temporary limits" may be helpful is when you're short on time. Let's say you know you only have 30 minutes free to work on something in between two other commitments. By creating a temporary limit, you can ask yourself, "What is one thing I can do, in these 30 minutes? Rather than jumping from one task to another, or getting overwhelmed by the fact that you only have 30 minutes - you can feel empowered by picking just one thing that you're going to do for half an hour.

Maybe it's writing a blog post. Or posting something on Instagram. And if, for example, even those feel too overwhelming - you can break each of those down to even smaller tasks. Maybe in those 30 minutes you just pick or create the picture you want to post. Maybe in those 30 minutes you just focus on writing the caption you want to use. Or maybe in those 30 minutes you just focus on choosing the hashtags you want to include. The key is to just keep creating temporary limits - until your focus is such that you are no longer feeling overwhelmed.

You can literally use this for anything. The key is that we're creating temporary limits to help us focus - so that we know where to direct our energy and attention. Overcoming overwhelm is really about learning how to manage our energy. When our energy is scattered - our progress towards reaching any goal will be slowed down or non-existent. While if we have laser-like focus, our progress is always going be faster because we are managing our energy and attention more efficiently.

The idea of creating temporary limits can also be applied to how we show up to difficult situations in our life. For example, we might be feeling overwhelmed going into a difficult conversation we need to have with someone. We can choose to focus on a single value or emotional state we would like to hold during the difficult conversation. For example, it might be love. Or it might be gratitude. Or it might be patience. And it doesn't even have to be just one. The point is that by focusing on the specific energy or energies we wish to bring to a situation - we are more likely to not be overwhelmed and to be more effective at moving through it.

And lastly, the idea of creating temporary limits can also be applied to things like our life purpose. For example, if I need clarity around my life purpose, I can ask myself, "If I only had a year left to live, what would I work on? How would I want to spend each day of the rest of my life? What kind of impact do I want to have on the people around me?" Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, so this is a great exercise to visit from time to time - to confirm we are going in the direction we truly wish.