Chapter 32: Feeling tired, stressed, overwhelmed, or lacking time

When I started my habit journey, I was working long hours and coming home exhausted. And then I wondered why I couldn’t find the motivation to stick to new habits!

It wasn’t until I started to manage my energy better that I found the strength to really stick to changes. I think a lot of people are like that: they are tired and stressed out and don’t know how to get themselves into a habit change.

All the habit strategies in the world will not work if you’re too tired, stressed out, or overwhelmed by all the work and information that’s coming at you. Our willpower only lasts for so long in such conditions before we give in to exhaustion and quit.

When your stress levels are high or energy levels are very low, it’s hard to maintain any kind of discipline. You just want to be lazy.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this.

  1. First, be aware of the problem. Take a moment to assess your level of exhaustion and stress. If you think this is the reason you’re putting off the habit, then there are ways to deal with it.
  2. If you’re tired, can you get more rest? This is the best way to deal with exhaustion. Many people simply don’t get enough sleep. They’re running on high octane all day, then stay up late and don’t have enough rest before starting another high-energy day. You can do this for a little while, but eventually the lack of rest will affect you — you’ll start dragging, feeling lazy and burnt out, and you want to procrastinate. You might even get sick. The best thing is to get more sleep at night, so start going to bed earlier. A good nap also helps a lot. Even just 30 minutes, though an hour is better, if possible.
  3. Take breaks. Get away from the computer, and take a walk. This is the best way to deal with stress — find ways to de-stress during the day. Stretch. Move around. Massage your neck and shoulders. Get some fresh air. Talk to someone in real life. Take a hot bath or shower if that’s available.
  4. Exercise. I’ve found exercise to be one of the best ways to reduce stress. Ironically, it can be hard to start exercising if you’re tired and stressed, but I’ve always felt a lot better after exercise, so it’s worth putting some effort into starting. A fast walk, a good run, some strength exercises, a swim or bike, playing a sport. Not only does exercise reduce stress, but it helps you to sleep better at night. While it’s good to exercise regularly, it’s also best to have at least one to two rest days a week.
  5. Get the overwhelm under control. Sometimes you’re stressed or overwhelmed because there’s too much going on in your life or too much information coming in. There are ways to deal with this. First, make a list of all you have going on right now. Now see if you can eliminate or put a hold on a few of them — simply send an email or make a call and tell people you can’t work on this right now. Make a short list of three to five tasks you can actually work on today, and focus on the first item only.
  6. Reduce the inflow. If you have information overload, see if you can reduce or eliminate some of the information coming in. Unsubscribe from things in email, RSS, Twitter, Facebook. Limit your time in these communication mediums to certain periods a day, so you can disconnect and focus.
  7. Breathe. Focus on your breath as it comes into your body and then goes out. Relax your jaw. Smile. Slow down for a minute. Return your mind to your breath. Let your tensions go out with your breath. Remind yourself that all that you have going on … doesn’t matter that much. At the end of the day, life will go on. This breathing exercise is available to you at any time of day.
  8. Make your task your meditation. Just as the breathing exercise can help calm you down and return you to the present moment, so can working on a task. Close all programs and devices and notifications not necessary for working on your task, and be mindful as you work on the task. Notice your thoughts, breath, fingers tapping away on the keyboard, body as it becomes stressed or relaxed. This is a form of meditation, and you can do it for each task.

Not enough time, or having other priorities

We’re busy, so we put off starting a change until later … or start it, but then it gets sidetracked because we get busy. The best solution is something we’ve already discussed a couple of times: make the change smaller. If you just do two minutes a day, you’ll have the time.

Note that this solution helps overcome a number of habit obstacles: not having enough time, not having enough energy, being overwhelmed or afraid of the change — which is why small changes are so incredibly important for overcoming obstacles.

But let’s say other things take priority in your life for a little while. You’re excited about a change, but then other projects or events take priority, pushing your change to the backburner. This happens quite often. There are a couple of approaches here:

  1. Take a break from the habit if necessary, but make it a defined break — three days, seven days, etc. — and set up a commitment to someone else to start once the break is over or face an embarrassing consequence.
  2. If you can, don’t take a break, but instead learn to make your habit change a priority at all times. Go back to your Minimal Viable Habit (the smallest version of your habit) for a week, if things are getting overwhelming.

As you can see, these obstacles are common, but solvable. The most important thing is not to let your Childish Mind talk you out of the change, because of fear or discomfort. Often the mind will rationalize not doing the habit because it’s tired, or doesn’t want to face discomfort, and instead it wants some kind of comfort. Be prepared for this by anticipating its objections and using one of these techniques to answer them.

Mission: Gauge your energy & commitment levels

Today as you journal, take an assessment of your levels of stress, tiredness, and energy for doing the habit. Assess your commitment to the habit and see if anything needs to be adjusted. If you’re tired or stressed or other things are taking priority, put a solution to that in your Habit Plan and tell your accountability partner or team about it.

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