Sometimes, you just have to know when to stop.

But when you miss the warning signs again and again, and keep on working at the same dangerous pace, eventually, your body will decide it has had enough, and will take action to force you to stop.

As of last Sunday, when I was admitted to hospital, I had the following major responsibilities (not in any order):
1. A 2-day per week contract (at 9 hours per day)
2. A 3-day per week contract (at 10 hours per day)
3. Business #1, approx 2 days per week
4. Business #2, approx 2 days per month
5. Infrastructure #1, approx 0.5 days per week
6. Infrastructure #2, approx 2 days per week
7. Financials & paperwork for business #2, 3 days per quarter
8. Household financials, 0.5 days per month
9. Gym with personal trainer, 3 sessions per week
10. Walking, minimum 2 hours per week but ideally 5 hours per week
11. Various major projects around the house, approx 4 days per month
12. Various household tasks, approx 1 day per month
13. Recreation, such as movies and social nights, at least 3 evenings per week
14. My wife and child (aged 18 months) who I would like to spend most evenings and all weekends with.

When everything goes onto one list, it all looks a bit extreme doesn’t it? I have never listed all this before now (and the list is not at all complete), but it surely does seem daunting. I’m not even going to try to add it up. It’s no wonder that my body took one look and said “okay, everybody out of the pool!”

So when your body grinds to a halt, what happens next?

After you stop, breathe.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Just breathe, slowly, for a while. Don’t think about all that needs doing, don’t think about how behind you are, don’t think about anything but your breathing. Thoughts will intrude almost non-stop at first, just let them. You can’t shut them out, so just watch them as they flutter by. Don’t let them engender other thoughts, just let them pass over you, through you, past you. Gradually, they will flit away, and what will be left behind is you. Breathing.

It is important to do this regularly. If you don’t, thoughts tend to accumulate, and when there are enough of them, they get heavy enough to push you around. Sometimes, they may even knock you down. Not very nice, to be mobbed and trampled by your own thoughts.

We are told that our thoughts can produce our realities. This is not direct or immediate (what an unpleasant surprise that could be!) but is instead a cumulative process. The thoughts first have to be numerous and frequent enough to seep into our subconscious mind, which then goes to work, arranging our behaviour and our awareness in order to promote the outcome. So if you find yourself thinking negative thoughts continuously, STOP!

In truth though, it is not so easy to stop thinking something. For some, it may be impossible. A less difficult (but still not easy way) is to replace the negative thought with a more positive one. This involves creating an habitually positive way of thinking. Easier than stopping outright perhaps, but still hard to do.

An easier way is to simply build awareness that you’ve had a negative thought, because when we are consciously aware of something, it is much easier to control. Once we have the awareness, we find the negative thought patterns diminish on their own, without us having to do anything else. A great way to achieve this awareness comes from Aaron, who used it to make himself a more patient person: he suggests wearing a bracelet or wristband, and whenever you catch yourself in the thought or behaviour you are trying to fix, move the band to the other wrist. As simple as that. This action has 2 main results: (1) it diminishes the negative behaviour by increasing our awareness of it, and (2) it sharpens our general awareness, in order to better spot our bracelet-moving transgressions. Incidentally it is not just for modifying thought patterns, but for any kind of behaviour that we would prefer to reduce or eliminate. As we get better at this, we find we can spot ever-milder negative thoughts, until the result is a generally positive pattern of thought.

I think that correcting habitually negative thoughts is one of the two biggest steps towards dealing with an overwhelming life. As a by-product, it can also engender happiness. Remember that happiness doesn’t depend on anything other than your thoughts. Think the right thoughts and you’ll be happy. I can prove this for any doubters out there (just leave a comment and I’ll respond).

I mentioned two steps. The other is relaxing yourself at regular intervals and being able to do so on demand in stressful situations. After my mini-breakdown, I started seeing a psychologist who has a great technique for this. He calls it “count-relax” though it may be known by other names. The process is dead simple: while aware of your breathing, and continuing to breathe normally, count with each inward breath, then think (or breathe) the word “RELAX” (or similar relaxing word) as you exhale. When you get to 10, count backwards, when you get to 1, count forwards, and so on. Thus:

Breathe in while counting 1…
Breathe out while thinking or saying “RELAX”…
Breathe in while counting 2…
Breathe out while thinking or saying “RELAX”…

Breathe in while counting 10…
Breathe out while thinking or saying “RELAX”…
Breathe in while counting 9…
Breathe out while thinking or saying “RELAX”…
and so on

If you can do the “count-relax” routine twice every day for 20 minutes a time, you’ll go a long way towards reducing the extent to which the things in your life can stress you.

These two things might just be able to help you cope with an overwhelming life… perhaps enough so that you can start fixing things. Which you must do. Overwhelming commitments, even ones that you can cope with, will produce a lifestyle that cannot be sustained in the long term. There is no substitute for seeking help though, and you should definitely do so, even if you are unsure whether you might need help or not.

In self-help and success literature, we are often asked: “what is one small thing that you could do that would have the greatest positive impact on your life?”. Then they ask: “Why not start doing that thing?”. Well, here you have two things. There are lots more, but this is a start. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “STOP!”

    1. Dennis: I published it today, but left the date as it was, because the events described happened in Sept. And I’m ok now, but still trying to get on top of things. Just for good measure, was in a car accident on Thursday. I’m ok, just a bit banged up, but the car is a write-off. Oh well. :-)

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