Aurelia Flores: How to Break Free from Being Overwhelmed

Sometimes the January impulse to dream of new goals and set new intentions can lead to sheer overwhelm.  This overwhelm can come either from taking an inventory and feeling like you have so much to do, or it can simply come from wanting to do too much from the outset.

“How do I get there from HERE?!?” you might think in anguish.  Well, let me assure you that you can.  But you can’t (and don’t need to try to) do it all at once.

Let me suggest several good ways to conquer overwhelm – whenever it hits.  Try a couple of these strategies, and see what works best for you.  Perhaps you’ll be inspired to think of other ideas, as well.

First of all, back up and take a deep breath.  It’s good to remember that all change takes time. What it took to get you where you are now did not all happen in a day.  Give yourself the chance to gather a broader perspective and have some patience with yourself.

This is also a good reminder when thinking about your expectations.  Remind yourself that those things that are worthwhile take time, energy and effort and do not usually come quickly or easily.  So expect some setbacks, and know that so long as you keep moving in the right direction, you WILL eventually arrive at your destination.

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Next, figure out where you want to start.  Don’t do too much at once.  (I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.)

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It takes time to instill a good practice, habit or skill. Only try to take on ONE (ideally), or at the most 2-3 new things at a time.

Then, start by making small changes.  And here’s a hint:  figure out a way to make the actions you take toward the outcome you want a part of your daily practice, so it becomes a habit or a ritual. If you make working on your goals a part of your daily life, after about a month, it will become something you just naturally do!

Here’s an example from my own life.  I’m currently in the process of learning French.  At some point in my life, I’d like to live in a French-speaking country, so this is big goal to get to fluency level.  Although the fact that I speak Spanish helps, it’s still a big undertaking, as learning any new language is. There are new sounds, new vocabulary, and practice, practice, practice.

However, I already have a very busy life.  I knew I could not devote the time or energy right now to spending 2-3 hours twice a week in a classroom.  So I’m taking small steps.  I found a great audio course, and I practice (nearly) every day for half an hour. The course tells me whether I’m listening and repeating (out loud), reading, or some combination.  But I devote just 30 minutes per day to it, and I usually do it in the car driving to or from work (or doing errands on the weekends).

Amazingly, over the past few months, I have found my level of understanding and ability to speak grow by leaps and bounds.  But trust me – it doesn’t feel like it from day to day.  At the micro level, it feels exceedingly slow. But at the macro level, I can see real change over time.

Small steps add up.  And honestly, small steps are the only way to get from one destination to another.

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So back up, take a breath, relax, and admit you don’t have to do it all at once.  Then, bite off just a small piece.  Decide which direction you want to go, and choose ONE new outcome you want to achieve.  Then pick small steps you can take to move in that direction, ideally by incorporating these steps into your daily practice.

When do you get overwhelmed, and what tactics do you use to break free?

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website,, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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