Fighting Overwhelm with Momentum and the “To-Start List”

It’s a craaaaazy time during this Rona broohaha. It can be very hard to be productive. Covid has made a polarity of people who say things like, “if you didn’t learn a language or write a book or start your online business during the lock down then you didn’t really lack the time, you just lacked the discipline” and then you have other people that took that post and scratched it out in red, like, “no, you need time to be sad, it’s ok, your mental health is important and if you need to grieve that’s ok, you’re not ok, I’m not ok, but that’s ok”. Either boat you’re in, I love you and care about you and I have no right to judge you, I just want to help with a couple thoughts and ideas.

I encourage my students, especially my black sashes and my instructors to always have a notebook with them. When they wake up in the morning, early, I suggest they make a pot of tea, find a quiet spot, don’t look at their phone, and plan their day. Write out their goals for the day, and the tasks they have to complete, and make sure at least some of those tasks are supporting their long term goals.

For some people that are driven this works great. For other people this can be discouraging, especially at a time like this, when it’s easy to have a “what’s the point” attitude. That’s understandable. Sometimes you need a day of pyjamas and Kraft dinner. Sometimes you take a couple, sometimes a week goes by and you have no motivation, and as your list of goals and tasks add up it gets more and more daunting. Dishes are piled too high, laundry hamper is too overfilled. This is the downside of being hyper motivated and having a list of goals and aspirations and big dreams and a well thought out master plan on how you want to consciously design your life. Sometimes you can look at the whole big picture and get inspired to take action. Other times you look at everything you have to do, and just say, nope, I don’t even know where to start. Every possible starting point has a valid excuse of why it won’t work, so you can’t bring yourself to even get up.

It can be very hard sometimes to build up momentum. Think of a jet plane taking off. It burns a ton of fuel just getting up, fighting gravity, and eventually getting to cruising altitude. Once it’s there though, things are much easier, and it doesn’t have to burn so much fuel just to stay in the air. Momentum for us works the same way, and sometimes the fight to get to cruising altitude is just too intimidating.

If and when this is the case, I recommend not having a to-do list. Sometimes having a to-do list is just like a roundhouse right in the face of your mental health, but that doesn’t mean you just accept your situation the way it is. In this case I recommend a to-start list. A to start list is a checklist of things that you don’t have to finish, but you just have to start. You see, sometimes when you look at a task list that you have, and you think of an item, and that item might take an hour or two of your time, you may think, I don’t have an hour right now, I would have to block that hour off, and I can’t between going to my job, eating, picking the kids up, dropping the kids off, dealing with phone calls, dealing with emails, I just can’t block that kind of time. That deters you from even trying. Then that item gets piled on top of new items that keep coming in to overwhelm you even more.

A to-start list is instead just things that you have to start, but not necessarily finish, so there’s no pressure. For example, if you need to do the dishes, and pile the pile of dirty dishes has conquered half of your counter and the other half is about to lay down arms. You know the pile has gotten so out of hand that it’s going to take an hour or more, and you just can’t mentally commit to that kind of time when you don’t have the energy to go anywhere near adulating today. Put on your start list to wash one dish; just one; just enough to get started. After you wash that one dish you can either choose to wash another or you can cross off “started dishes” off of your to-start list. What are you going to do after that? You can crash back down on the couch if you want. At least you started something. Now that the pressure is off you may feel like washing one more dish. If not that’s ok. But after you cross that start off of your list your brain will get a tincy little hit of dopamine that will make you feel just a little bit better. If you decide to wash another one or two you will get some momentum. What you do with that momentum is up to you. You will feel more encouraged to start another item on your list, or you might want to tackle another few dishes. Whether it’s dishes for you or filing your taxes, or calling prospects to get new clients, whatever it is, it’ll work to build a little momentum which is better than any drug at curing overwhelm. I share the dish example because that’s the way my Dad taught this trick to me, and I’ve used it to keep my business surviving during the pandemic, it’s a little hinge that can end up swinging a big door. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tomorrow morning, make your tea or coffee, don’t look at your phone, don’t look at any news, just spend 10 minutes quietly writing your to-start list. Please like and share this if you found it useful, and if you’d like help building momentum and building some positive habits please reach out to us for 2 free weeks of lessons in Holistic Kung Fu and we would be very happy for the opportunity to help you.

-Sifu Atalick