In my earlier years, as I was working towards black belt, there were many days where ‘overwhelm’ was my best friend.
I lived most of my life on what seemed like a roller coaster ride of emotions. I genuinely felt out of control and never quite got a handle on this thing we call life.
Being a young teenager throughout this period, I felt that most of the time I was trapped and couldn’t quite get myself off the ride. I was stuck. And, it was so tiring.
I would go days with no sleep, bad food choices and filling my mind with anything that would distract me. I knew that I needed to deal with the issues that were causing the roller coaster rides, but it was easier to stay distracted.
At the time, one of my practices was to ignore these things with the hope that they would go away all by themselves.
I know you would never do that, but I often found myself hiding. I would do anything but take responsibility for my own life when I was younger.
I was continually living on the edge, just preparing for the next ride on the roller coaster of overwhelm. Nothing ever seemed to make me feel prepared for these rides.
The moments always seemed to catch me by surprise and take the wind out of me. I could not even take a deep breath to refocus and approach what was to come with any kind of level-headedness.
It would take days and sometimes weeks to recover.
Of course, sometimes I didn’t recover at all. Quite often, there was another roller coaster ride coming, with a spare seat waiting for me.
There wasn’t even any time to join the queue.
Just jump off one roller coaster ride, right into the next one.
Have you ever thought about how much energy we burn when we live like this?
Eventually, I asked myself that question and it lead to more questions.
What if we lived a life without all of the drama?
How better could we spend all this energy to truly add value to ourselves, our families and our communities?
Admittedly, this way of living on the edge has served me well with my martial arts training, although at the time I did not appreciate it. When you develop an acute state of awareness out of necessity, it teaches you to be ready for anything.
The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, a highly respected martial arts enthusiast, once said,
“Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks and bad people. Dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of training in the art of peace.”
I’m not sure about you, but in the midst of my moments of overwhelm, the last thing I was thinking about was gratitude.
As a teenager, gratitude was not something that I was good at, but with the guidance of my mentors, I’m so very grateful to be on the path of practicing gratitude every day.
One vivid memory of overwhelm was on one of the coldest and darkest nights that I can remember. Mum and I had been visiting a loved one in a local psychiatric hospital and it was getting quite late.
As we returned to our car, all I could see under the street light was glass on the road. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that our car had been targeted leaving traces of glass everywhere.
I can’t say I was surprised given proceeding events at that time, but I still remember freezing in that moment and losing all sense of control of my teenage mind, body and emotions.
A sense of fear and helplessness kicked in, I didn’t know what to do.
We were on the roller coaster ride of overwhelm. And it promised me the ride of my life. We were barely in our seats and we were moving fast. There were highs and lows, twists and turns. The ride just seemed to keep going on for what seemed like forever.
For some reason, it seemed faster than any other roller coaster rides that I had been on before and it was out of control. My thoughts were fleeting and becoming more intense. My mind was going to a dark place. Fear was taking over.
Would this be the last roller coaster ride that I would take?
I would love to say that something spectacular happened and that I became the hero of this story. Not this time, or even the time after that. My response and my way of dealing with things didn’t change until many years later.
To be honest with you, I retreated into being a victim on many occasions. I didn’t have the courage nor strength to take responsibility for myself and my experiences.
It was so much easier to blame others for my misfortune. It was easier to be bullied by others and continue riding the roller coasters.
As life went on, the rides seemed to become more intense and more damaging.
It couldn’t continue.
Fast forward to the present day.
How do I deal with overwhelm and get off the roller coaster rides?
Well, let me first openly share that I do still catch the roller coaster ride of overwhelm from time to time. But thankfully, nowhere near as much as I once did.
Now, there is one BIG difference… I’ve learned how to deal with things better.
In order to make the change in the way that I deal with things, I now have ‘practices’ which I do every day.
These practices were all really difficult for me at first, but over time, they have made my life much easier as I continue on in my quest for ongoing self-improvement.
Maybe you have heard of the famous quote by T. Harv Eker,
“If you are willing to do only what’s easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy.”
I read this quote often as it reminds me to lean into the things that challenge me in all areas of life.
Of course there are times when I really don’t want to lean in and do the hard stuff.
There are times when I don’t feel like doing what’s necessary.
And there are times when I lack confidence and don’t believe that I can do what’s needed.
These five practices continue to shape me in ways I could never have imagined. They help me to become a better person in all of my endeavours as I continue to explore them more deeply.
I’m not saying it has ever been easy or that I am always able to stay 100% motivated.
In fact, I have learned to not rely on motivation, but instead to rely on being consistent with these five practices.
Before I get to the five practices, I want to share a few thoughts from Michelle Bridges that may further explain what I’m trying to say about motivation.
“Motivation is about feeling – determined, enthusiastic, frenzied, angry – and is therefore fickle and unreliable like a bad ex-boyfriend. You can’t count on it being there because we know feelings or emotions do not last, and if your journey is based on feeling motivated it won’t last either.
Consistency, however, is about doing. Consistency isn’t something that you need to wind up like a coiled spring every morning. You don’t need to plug it in and re-charge it every few hours. It is that steady, yet relentless, journey to an end. It doesn’t require profound thought. You quite literally just do it.”
I’m not a black belt because I’ve stayed 100% motivated all of the time.
In fact, I’m definitely not where I am today because of motivation alone. I’ve simply been consistent with my efforts as I move forward towards what is important to me.
With that in mind, I now share these five game-changing practices with you.
- The practice of karate
- The practice of personal growth
- The practice of contribution within communities (learning – growing – sharing)
- The practice of leading by example
- The practice of patience and respect (for myself and others)
As I dig deeper and learn more about each of these five practices, I always find ways to improve, which helps me live an even better and more fulfilling life.
It even allows me to turn up and bring joy and lift others up when I’m in the midst of a personal challenge.
When I was a teenager, I had the belief deep within me, that my best days were yet to come. And no matter how messed up I felt, I would take back control of my life.
I was not going to allow my past to determine where I was going in my life.
I was not going to be tossed around and be chained to the roller coaster of overwhelm.
I was not going to allow myself to be controlled by any other negative emotions and bad habits.
Thankfully, during this challenging time in my life, I spent a lot of time in the dojo. And that was where I started to learn how to exercise the muscles that I needed in order to get off these roller coasters.
I was exercising my muscles for life: confidence, focus, self-discipline, respect, courage, determination, patience and so much more.
With the belief that my best days were yet to come, I attracted a new friend, curiosity.
As I continue to move forward, curiosity has been instrumental in keeping me engaged, excited and present.
I am so grateful for the presence of curiosity in my life as I continue learning every day.
I am a student of life and every person I meet offers a gift for me to learn from, especially when I take the time to look and listen.
At times, we all ride the roller coaster of overwhelm and let our lives be ruled by negative thoughts and habits.
However, there comes a point in time when we have to stand tall and make a decision to prioritise what is important to us. We need to lean into our challenges no matter how we feel.
These five practices form the perfect foundation upon which I build my life. They help me lean into my challenges and help me to align with what is most important, each and every day.
Although I could never truly appreciate your life and your challenges, I do believe in people and that includes you.
I also believe that we are all here for a reason and we all have something to contribute to humanity.
Yes, that means you too.
I also believe that we need to support and encourage each other to greater heights by sharing our journeys with each other.
I’m certain that you have something to share that can help create positive change someone’s life right now.
In the words of Mother Theresa,
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
So, here are a couple of questions I ask myself often.
I hope they may also help you gain greater clarity in your journey and help you take back even more control of your life.
When I ask myself these questions, I tend to go deep within myself.
I ask myself the hard questions and continue to go deeper and deeper until I create an emotional response.
I’ve always found this process to be very confronting and difficult to do.
I would often put it off, but now I have done it many times and experienced the benefits, I no longer hesitate. I just make time for it and do it.
What is important to me?
I usually follow this by looking at how I’m making it a priority in my life today.
If today was my last day, I want to know that I had been doing what was most important to me ongoing throughout my life.
I’m not sure about you, but if I don’t make time for things that are important to me, they don’t seem to happen.
It’s so easy to get caught up being ‘busy’ and before you know it, years have flown by and you are still chasing your tail with the hope that one day you’ll get to live your dream life.
But, if you take the time to see what’s truly important it becomes easier to prioritise and take the appropriate action. In this way, we can start moving towards our dream life on a daily basis.
What practices will serve me and align me with what is most important in my life?
Once I’ve identified these practices, I’ll schedule them into my weekly planner so that I am always moving forwards. Because they are scheduled into my planner, there is no energy required to make decisions all day.
I simply focus on turning up and ‘live’. No excuses.
And, if life happens, I practice patience for myself and give myself time to refocus and get the wheels turning again.
I check in with these practices weekly and continually refine them as I believe there is always a way to improve and create better results.
If one thing karate has taught me is that there is always another level. There is always a way that we can become more efficient and effective in all that we do. We just need to make the time to look.
I hold myself accountable to continue learning with the view that as I learn more, I challenge myself to live a little better and share more.
To be completely honest with you, the more I venture down this path, the less I feel I really know.
But, one thing I am truly enjoying is the experience of the new roller coaster rides. These roller coaster rides are first class and are full and overflowing with gratitude, joy, excitement and love. Amazing!!
Sometimes you just need to do the best you can with what you know right now.
At that very moment, that is enough.
As you learn more, challenge yourself to be a little bit better.
A few words from an extraordinary lady, Maya Angelou,
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
These are words that I have leaned on throughout my journey and as I continue to grow, I’m sure I’ll be researching more of Maya Angelou’s work for further inspiration.
So, no matter what you may be going through, know that your best days are ahead of you.
Choose to challenge yourself to do something today that is important to you (no matter how small it may seem) and create ‘practices’ that help you live your best life.
Be great, Be YOU!