You can’t pay attention to what you aren’t looking at.
If you’re stuck on a bit of a hamster wheel with overload, overwhelm, or overeating, it’s probably because you’re focusing in the wrong direction.
If your strong suit is making things happen, you likely have an over-developed “do” muscle and your automatic response when something happens is:
“What do I need to do?”
Doers look for what needs to be done, and from this perspective, problems are most quickly solved by immediate action.
The tendency to just do it is a fine skill to have and it’s probably brought you lots of nice acknowledgments, rewards, and results over the years.
Is your doing leading to done?
The problems start when you “do” prematurely (without considering not doing or doing it differently). Or when you overdo, or when you are so focused on the doing (and all that you need to do) that you aren’t enjoying the ride, you’re burning out, or you are absolutely running on fumes.
Even your ability to do has its limits.
Reaching that limit (or living at it) is a big cause of overeating. Exhaustion eating, procrastination eating, stress eating, and anxious eating all happen when you’ve crossed the line. And when you’re all done in (from all that doing), it’s so much more tempting to use food to reward yourself or to boost your mood or give yourself a little something extra.
All that doing can also be your undoing. Because when the to-do list gets too long or overwhelming, sometimes it feels too hard to do anything at all. Even a teeny tiny step.
That’s what happens to a lot of women who are stuck on the overeating hamster wheel. It can start to feel like nothing works, like there’s too much to do, and that it’s impossible to make an impact. It begins to feel difficult to even know where to start.
And, if your brain is caught in this trap, it will continue to press you to “do something” or “do lots of things” and you’ll either keep trying to do things with minimal results or you’ll feel paralyzed and overwhelmed and possibly very, very frustrated with yourself.
Have I just described something all too familiar?
What to do when your doing is undoing you
There’s a way out of this cycle of overload, overwhelm, and overeating. It starts with the f-word.
The f-word is Feelings.
Try this on: the next time you’re overwhelmed, don’t ask what you should do. Ask how you want to feel.
In the focus to make things happen and get things done, it’s easy to forget your feelings. It’s easy to fall out of touch with what you’re feeling now and what you’d like to feel in the future. And while that’s a tragic mistake, luckily, it’s not hard to turn things around.
Mary (not her real name) was stressed out and anxious about both a huge work project and an upcoming wedding (with a photo shoot she was dreading). Her stress eating was out of control and she wanted to lose ten pounds before her event. In our coaching session she frantically described her plans to get the project done while losing weight. Her mind fixed on a long list of things she needed to do to be successful. Eat this, not that, have more willpower, eliminate sugar, get to the gym…the list went on and on. Mary sounded exhausted just relaying it. Not surprisingly, her long list was getting her nowhere. She couldn’t stick with her plans, she was overeating, and was actually gaining instead of losing.
Her doing was in overdrive.
“Mary,” I asked, “How do you want to feel?”
Mary sounded pretty confused but she played along. We checked in with how she was feeling at that moment and the feelings she wanted to nurture moving forward.
“How do you want to feel at the wedding? How do you want to feel while you’re having your picture taken? How do you want to feel when you finish this project and over the next several weeks while all this is going on? What are you hoping that losing the weight will help you feel?”
In case you are like Mary, let me gently remind you that “thin” is not a feeling.
We spent some time on this. Eventually energized, purposeful, and alive were what emerged.
What would happen if you responded to your feelings as well as your to-do list?
The feelings that Mary was craving were getting buried by her doing. In her effort to work herself to her goal, she was actually creating the opposite feeling states. Very little that she was trying “to do” was helping her feel energized, purposeful, or alive. So Mary and I worked out what it would take to feel a tad more of those things immediately – in the next hour. And then we explored what it would take to feel more energized, purposeful, and alive over the next week. We strategized. She scheduled things. And she crossed a lot of things off her to-do list.
Getting clear on your feelings helps you get clear on your priorities.
Get clear on how you want to feel most of the time and you may get some instant clarity and motivation related to how you want to eat.
Mary did. When I asked Mary how she would eat over the next seven days if her goal was to feel energetic (not for fifteen minutes but for the long haul), purposeful, and alive, she lit up. Eating for solid energy and vitality became her goal. Guess what? You don’t feel vital and energetic zoning out with a pint of ice cream.
It’s a lot easier to make changes to grow something you care about (in this case energy and confidence and purposefulness) than it is to work very hard to do things just because you think you should.
Mary’s stress level began to shift and her eating changed dramatically that day. And she was still eating for energy and vitality (and losing weight), the last time we spoke.
By the way, Mary’s still a doer and a high-achiever. She simply inserts the f-word (asking herself how she wants to feel) before she jumps into doing.