The 4-Word Motto That Helps Me When Life Gets Overwhelming

The 4-Word Motto That Helps Me When Life Gets Overwhelming

Young woman using a laptop during Christmas
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If there is one word that could be used to sum up the way I’ve felt for the past year it would be overwhelmed.

I’m overwhelmed with conference calls and Zoom classrooms and homework and kids who are around all the freaking time and never stop talking. Overwhelmed with the constant stress of trying to keep our family healthy. Overwhelmed with frustration for the previous administration’s complete fuckery. Overwhelmed with the devastation so many people are facing. Overwhelmed with the constant fighting on social media. Overwhelmed with the dishes and laundry and more dishes and more laundry. Overwhelmed with exhaustion. Overwhelmed with confusion. Overwhelmed with gratitude.

Sometimes the overwhelm is so heavy that I feel paralyzed. You know that scene in “Garden State” when Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard stand on the crane at the edge of the infinite abyss and just scream in the pouring rain? Yeah, that. THAT. Everything else feels impossible.

But whenever I feel like this, I try to remember something I once read or heard: Do one good thing.

I don’t remember where I heard it or when. But I keep coming back to it. Do one good thing.

I find this advice to be so helpful during really overwhelming times – like pretty much every single day for the past year – because it doesn’t say what to do. It doesn’t say what to do first. It doesn’t tell you to prioritize good things or tell you to do what’s most efficient or most effective or most strategic. Just do something good.

So when I’m racing around in the morning with my mind running through all the things that need to get done – make coffee, pack lunches, put laundry in the washer, unload the dishwasher, return a gajillion emails, feed the dogs – I can feel my mind spinning on which thing to do first. Which chore needs to be done first? What is most efficient? So much to do, so much to do, so much, so much, AGGGGHHHH! I can tell myself to stop: Just do one good thing. Then do one more good thing. Then another. And another.

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This advice helps when I’m overwhelmed with the dumpster fire that is the world right now too. I can fret and fret all day long about what organizations to donate to and how I can best advocate for the things I care about. And I get stuck in the cycle of chastising myself and feeling like none of it is good enough. Then I remember the advice. Stop. Do one good thing. Then another. And another. And another.

Of course, there are times when it makes sense to pause and take the time to figure out an efficient and effective strategy. But for most things, there are a bunch of “right” ways to get to the end results, and getting caught up in finding the most efficient, the most perfect way of doing things, just keeps you from doing anything. Just do one good thing. Then another.

The beauty of this advice is that it works for everything from managing the chaos of the morning rigamarole to job stress to making the world a little better.

I’ll admit this isn’t some mind-blowing, novel advice. But it works. It prevents overwhelm-induced paralysis. It keeps me moving in the right direction. It is, by its very nature, one good thing.

And sometimes that is enough.