I started practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu last year. I love it. I’ve only been practicing for about six months. I’ve been surprised to discover how important the mental game is. Particularly when it comes to being overwhelmed by an opponent.
I get overwhelmed a lot.
So, I have many opportunities to contemplate this.
Every practice ends with a half hour of “rolling” or sparring. Yesterday, my first opponent was the instructor. He’s very good. I mean, really very good. Not just in terms of our school but also in international competition. Just discovering that he was going to be my first partner was intimidating. Especially because his comfortable smile as he waved me over indicated that he was absolutely confident that he could have his way with me.
He’s smaller than I am. But he has an ability to focus his weight which is incredible. As he tied me into a ball and crushed me, I felt like he weighed 300 lbs. I knew that at any point he could just finish me. But he chose not to. He just made me work. He was on top. Amusing himself with changing positions back and forth. I was on the bottom. Mostly trying to breathe. Any moment where I was able to move, at all, in a way that I intended felt like a victory.
I’ve learned that working harder and struggling more is only helpful against opponents, who like myself, don’t really know what they are doing. Learning to relax, learning to breathe, learning to keep my head, learning to find and use leverage and moments of momentum is key.
I know that. But it isn’t easy to do.
Most Leaders Are Overwhelmed
Most leaders don’t find it easy to do either. Most leaders, who I talk to, feel like they are pinned beneath circumstances, expectations, issues, and fires that need to be put out. Most feel that any movement they can make happen is a victory. Most no longer even have a mental image, or belief, that anything else can (or should) be experienced.
Yesterday I spoke to a start-up entrepreneur. He looked and sounded tired and riding the edge of discouragement. He was working hard. But he didn’t know where to focus. He didn’t know what effort would produce results.
Yesterday, I also spoke with a very successful executive. He knew where to focus and what efforts would produce results. But he didn’t know how to switch off. He didn’t know how to differentiate between work that only he could do and work that anyone could do. He was worried about burnout. He was worried about not making it emotionally or spiritually through the year.
Many, if not most, leaders I talk to confide that they feel overwhelmed. Carried along by circumstances. Most of those don’t even recognize this as a problem. Many will argue with me that this is how it should be.
You Are in The Position You Deserve to Be In
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu there is a concept that you end up in the position you deserve to be in. If, like myself, I’m still learning how to escape being pinned – I’ll nearly always end up in a position where I need to practice my escapes.
If I tell myself, “I’m just not good at this.” Or “I will always experience this.” I’ll be right. It is all I’ll experience. If I say, “I deserve this and need to learn the lesson so that I deserve to be able to control the match,” I will learn and grow. And deserve the experience of not being on the bottom all the time.
You are in the position you deserve to be in. Are you ok with that?
Different is Possible. You don’t have to be overwhelmed.
I get it. I know overwhelm. I still sometimes feel it. But I’ve learned not to let myself get stuck in overwhelm. I’ve learned not to allow it to be a lifestyle for me. Just an experience that passes.
I can’t tell you, yet, how to avoid being overwhelmed in Ju Jitsu. I can tell you how to avoid it as a leader.
Here are seven tips for earning your right to experience peace, focus and a sense of control.
Seven Tips to Escape from Being Overwhelmed.
- Ride the Wave: Accept where you are at. Stop fighting it. Stop blindly resisting. As opposed to doubling down on your efforts, hours or intensity, just accept that you’ve got more on your shoulders than what is comfortable. Recognize that this wave can and will pass.
The value is achieving objectivity in your situation. Creating some space for yourself to think and respond as opposed to reacting.
- Change the Story: We tell ourselves stories to explain our experiences. My stories have included, “This must be how this is.” Or “Other people are lucky or blessed why aren’t I?” or, “I can’t afford the cost, time, or effort that it will take to change this experience.” I heard someone describe these as Negative Fantasies. Imaginary places we keep going to in our minds and emotions – that we don’t like, don’t want but keep revisiting.
When I shifted my story to: “My experience can be different, and it can look like X. I can make different choices that will yield different results. I can’t afford the cost, time and effort that it takes to stay stuck, whatever I invest in change will be multiplied back to me.” – I experienced a dramatic change.
Not just how I interpreted things changed but what I experienced changed as well.
- Change the Dialogue: Very closely related to the above, start paying attention to the words that you use. When people ask you how your day has been, do you find a perverse pleasure in describing how busy you are and how much is on your plate? When you see someone who is successful but doesn’t seem harried and busy – do you find yourself questioning their work ethic? Do you waste time and energy rehearsing negative phrases or thoughts?
Stop it. If you don’t know how to change what you are thinking in the moment, take some time and write out the thoughts you’d like to think.
This felt weird to me. I started doing things like speaking positive affirmations. I made a point of describing what was good about myself and my life now and what I would experience in the future. I started practicing to see and say the positive things I saw in others.
There is nothing magic in it. I was just displacing the negative dialogue with a discipline of positive dialogue. That has made a huge impact.
- Aggressively Prune: I’ve learned that fruit trees are healthier and bear more fruit when they are pruned, when branches are cut off or cut back.
The same principle is true in our lives. It is critical for leaders to become ruthless, to “kill their darlings” if they want success for their organizations, themselves and any level of peace and enjoyment in life.
- Discard: Say “No.” Get out of unfruitful commitments. Don’t do things that don’t produce results. Yes, it takes effort. But so does being on the treadmill.
Always Discard if you can. Don’t do unfruitful work. Don’t give it to others.
- Delegate: Learn to use other’s resources. Learn only to do what only you can do. Hand the rest of it off to someone else. Practice trusting other people. Practice empowering other people.
Your ability to delegate well is what determines the height of your personal ceiling for success.
- Delay: Learn to prioritize. Differentiate what needs to be done now, what needs to be done later and what might not need to be done at all. There is a massive difference between what feels urgent and what is actually They are often not the same things.
What can’t be Discarded or Delegated needs to be Prioritized. Don’t give your life over to the Tyranny of the Urgent.
- Mono-Task: Multitasking is inefficient and less productive. People love it. There are times when it is necessary. But a lifestyle of multi-tasking is a lifestyle of doing everything less well.
Do the next right thing. Get it done. Move on. The research repeatedly shows that uninterrupted, concentrated effort on one thing at a time helps you achieve more in total.
This is another one of those habits that people will go to the mat defending. The absolute necessity of doing everything all at once. Meanwhile, they constantly complain about not being able to keep up with it all.
Well, stop trying harder at what isn’t working.
- Clear Your Mind: I started practicing this, then I noticed that research regularly backed up my experience. Taking time to clear your mind allows you to be more productive.
A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my ax.”
For most leaders, being mentally, emotionally and socially present is our “ax.” But too many of us are dull. We lose connection with ourselves and with others. We go through motions that we no longer understand or want to explore.
Two simple ways to quickly practice clearing your mind:
Deep Breaths: I usually do this a couple of times a day. It helps clear my mind and shifts emotions. Deep, slow breathing from your diaphragm stimulates the vagus nerve. This can quickly slow your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure.
While spending more time is beneficial it can be very simple: I find that ten deep, slow breaths can often shift my mindset. Sometimes it takes more. And like most things health related, there is a benefit to doing this regularly, so there is a cumulative effect.
Walks: Taking at least a 5-minute break to walk, especially outside, especially around greenery has been shown to have a significant impact on mental acuity, attitude, stress levels, and focus.
It’s a simple thing. It feels like it isn’t “getting stuff done” but it helps you get more done. Walks are also a good place to sort through the Pruning exercise above.
- Support: Get support. For me, hiring coaches and connecting to peers who can mentor me has made so much difference. This all takes effort. Sometimes there is also a financial investment. However, seeking out people who know how to escape the “overwhelm” and flourish in their lives is one of the most important changes you can make.
Good support helps give you a live picture that your current state of overwhelm doesn’t need to be your future. It connects you with people who will challenge you and hold you accountable to change.
Back to the Jiu Jitsu analogy: You end up in the position that you deserve to be in. To acquiesce to it is what we call “getting submitted.” You don’t want that.
Just working harder only wears you out – and you get submitted.
Using the tips above to start changing how you see, think, and act will allow you to escape “Overwhelm.”
What is the first tip you need to put into practice?
Take good care,
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