Is fuzzy, messy thought making you stressed?
“I’m feeling anxious because I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.”
Common enough statement. Now imagine in it coming from the mouth of an unemployed teenager. Now coming from Elon Musk.
Notice how that statement probably means totally different things to those people. To one it means that I’ve got not one but two centrelink office appointments this week. To the other it means that my secret plans to colonise Mars are 3 months behind schedule.
We all sit somewhere on that spectrum.
When we have more to do than we feel we can handle, we feel overwhelmed. We get anxious.
Basic rule of human psychology.
By why is it that our threshold levels of workload – the point at which we flip from feeling in control to feeling like it’s all out of control – can be so vastly different?
There’s probably a bit to unpack with this. Humans are complex. But for the sake of keeping this to a blog-size chunk I’m going to point to one factor:
This is probably easier to explain by it’s opposite.
I was once walking around a place that a friend of mine bought, giving her a hand with the ideas for her renovation.
She was in a flap.
We were standing in the living room. She was pointing to the eastern wall.
“That wall there needs to probably come out. It’d give you better access to the kitchen, but I would maybe need to rethink about where to put the second bathroom then. And do I really go all out with the kitchen, or just put something basic in? Because I saw these great cupboards at Ikea, when I was looking for doors. Because see, that door is hopeless. So ugly. I want something white, to match the walls. But then should I just get rid of that wall anyway?”
And round and round we went. Each idea launched into half-a-dozen others, and with each pass she became more and more energised, and more and more anxious.
And we quickly approached her limit of overwhelm. In her mind, she had just rattled off 30-sperate issues, when in fact, it was 6 issues, repeated and come at from different angles.
She had no capacity to give her thoughts structure. She had no capacity to keep those kittens in their proper boxes, and so they were all over the floor.
Having an ability to create a structure of thoughts, and then an ability to understand how different bits of information or different decisions fit into that structure, makes it feel easier. When everything is in its right place, you feel like you’re in control.
You don’t get anxious, no matter how big that structure is, or how much information it holds.
And without any structure, all thought and activity is kind of stressful.
And so some people are blondes, some people are brunette. Some people have a natural talent for structured thought, some people don’t. Nothing wrong with that.
But if you’re the kind of person who regularly gets stressed at the amount of stuff on your plate, then it’s probably worth thinking about thought structure.
Because thankfully, there are tools to help. If you’re head doesn’t naturally keep those kittens in their boxes, then there are systems you can lean on for help.
And it could be as simple as writing it down in a list. Make a list of all the things you need to do. Keep it updated, keep it orderly. Pin those kittens down.
I also love mind-maps. They’re a great visual tool for capturing information and the way different pieces of the puzzle relate to each other.
Find what works for you. But there are tools you can use.
And seriously, we all know what it’s like to be stressed. It’s no fun. It sucks all the joy out of life.
And you just can’t get anything done.
So find a system that works, and keep those thoughts from climbing up the curtains.