I met Rachel for the first time a few weeks ago when she and her husband, Jamie, were touring parts of Europe. They were literally in Europe to watch top level women’s football. Rachel coaches at Bethel College, and her team has followed Ella and my careers for the past couple of years. They even have an Ella Masar award for the person who is tough as nails and works her butt off. Rachel is currently getting her PhD in Mindfulness, and after some interesting discussions with Rachel, I knew she had to be the next blog on our website. A big thank you to Rachel, especially because of the limited free time she has, for contributing a blog for our website. I also want to give a huge thank you to those of you who have written in with incredible stories of inspiration. Hang tight as we will soon put many of your writings on our site. If you have stories to share, or you want to share a blog on our website, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Pick Up the Soft Things First
Do you ever get overwhelmed or think you don’t have what it takes to accomplish what is asked of you? I do. In fact, I remember the first time I felt this way. I was about four years old and my dad had asked me to clean my room. I remember walking into the disaster, that was my room, and starting to cry. I felt so overwhelmed…
When we feel overwhelmed we often describe it as being “stressed”. In the sport psychology world, stress is defined as our belief that we do not have the tools needed to complete what is being asked of us. In fact, in sport psychology stress is often referred to as “perceived stress”. That’s just it…it’s perceived. It doesn’t actually exist! How we view something in our head is what makes it true! I have a saying that I often use with my athletes and students: The mind has an amazing ability to believe itself. If we think we can’t handle what is coming our way, then we are exactly right. However, if we think we can, then we will find a way.
The other interesting thing about our perceived stress, is that it uses up our attention. Studies in motor behavior have shown that humans have a limited amount of attention. You can think of it like a bank account. If you have $500 in the bank you can divvy it up however you like, but once it’s gone, its gone. Attention is the same way; we can either put our full attention into something or we can divide it multiple ways. When we are overwhelmed, often our attention is pulled in many different directions. This is what was happening to me as a four-year-old when my dad asked me to clean my room. My attention was so split between all the tasks before me, I couldn’t even think straight. I remember going back to the living room, crying, and my dad asking me what was wrong? “I don’t know where to start,” I sobbed. He patiently gave me some very simple directions. “Go pick up all the soft things and come back.” So, I did. “Now, go pick up all the hard things and come back.” So, I did. “Now, make your bed and you’re done!” What simple, yet effective advice for a four-year-old. As I looked at that messy room, I didn’t think I could complete the task. However, once my dad broke it down into small pieces, I no longer had to focus on the whole room, just one thing at a time. This allowed my brain to put my full attention into the task at hand. When we put our full attention into one thing at a time, suddenly, we have more tools to work with!
Recently, I have been feeling very overwhelmed. I am a full-time college professor and I also coach a college women’s soccer team with my husband. In addition, I began a doctoral degree in January. The doctoral program is online, so each week as I look at my assignments, thoughts race through my head. How am I going to have time to do that? Do I even know how to do that? What does this assignment even mean? How am I going to fulfill all of my other responsibilities AND this school work? When I start to feel these overwhelming thoughts, I hear my dad’s voice saying, “pick up the soft things first.” I take a deep breath and force myself to focus on one thing at a time, remembering that if I allow my attention to be split, I will be less productive. I am studying Mindfulness as the main topic for my doctoral degree. If you’ve read Erin’s blogs, you are most likely familiar with this concept. If not, in a nutshell, it is a focus on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. It’s not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. It is focusing, feeling, and just being where you are in that moment. Our society praises and almost demands multi-tasking. However, just like that bank account, we only have so much attention to go around. If we work to be present in the moment we are in and focus on just one task at a time without worrying about the past or the future, we will find our brains to be so much more productive. The beautiful thing about each moment is that we are in control of what we do with it. We can’t control the past or the future, but we can control our brain in each moment of our day.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, let me encourage you to first take a deep breath and focus on one thing you can do right now. After completing that one thing, move to the next thing you can do. By focusing on what is right in front of you, not only will you be more productive, but you can also appreciate what you are accomplishing, instead of feeling behind. Remember, stress only exists if you believe it does. This is exactly why what stresses one person out, doesn’t stress another the same way! Breathe, be present in the moment, and pick up the soft things first.