I used to feel like a drowned rat, and now I don’t

The other day, I was talking to a friend who told me about some of the challenges she’s facing. She said, “There is just so much to do, and not enough time to do it.”

I asked if she was meditating. “I try to,” she said, “But there doesn’t seem to be enough time.” She walked me through her typical day, and sure enough, her day was jam-packed with little time for herself.

As I listened to her talk, I wanted to help. I kept thinking of what I could say to make it all better.

I took a moment and reflected on my recent past and remembered having a similar feeling of being overwhelmed. I described to her what it was like for me to make sure we were on the same page.

I told her when my wife and I were struggling through the difficult parts of running our software company, especially as we went through the lawsuit, I remembered days when I felt I was drowning.

It was like being carried away in a wild and mighty river. Everything was going too fast and entirely beyond my control. I was powerless as I was dragged along. My head would bounce underwater and pop up just in time to grasp for air before being sucked under again. It was exhausting, and I had no idea how to get out.

As I described the experience, my friend slowly nodded in agreement.

I continued to tell her how I hoped someone would throw me a life preserver, or I could grab a branch long enough to find stable footing. If only I could stop and catch my breath, I remember thinking at the time, everything would be okay.

She looked at me and shook her head, “That’s exactly it. I’m drowning.”

I smiled and thought, I’m no longer underwater. What did I do to go from feeling like a drowning rat to the happy, hopeful, and content person I am today?

I told her, it was a bunch of little things that added up to my transformation. It didn’t happen overnight, but two things, in particular, made the difference – two small changes in my thinking.

When you feel hopeless, you have no idea what you want. Sure, you want the pain and overwhelming feeling to stop, but you are not thinking about what to replace it with. That was my essential first step.

I found something to be hopeful about

I found something I wanted, not something I didn’t. I started dreaming of ways it might come true, and then I played around with my imagination and all the different, possible ways it could happen.

For me, when we were facing bankruptcy, I imagined someone giving me a million dollars. I didn’t get hung up on how I would pay it back or whether anyone would actually give me money for a failing company. I just played with the fantasy in my mind.

Playing with my imagination allowed me to visualize something I wanted and let me shift my focus for a short while. It helped me pay attention to something pleasant instead of being overwhelmed.

The second thing was to understand Now is the only time that matters

Each time I wished for a break to catch my breath, I was pushing away the very thing I wanted. I never said, let me take a moment Now to catch my breath. I always envisioned it in the future.

Tomorrow never comes.

I found tiny moments when I could feel comfortable. While I knew the world was swirling around me and I was still being tossed about in the river, I started to ground myself. It was in those tiny moments that I began to change my future’s trajectory.

It only takes a moment to gather yourself. Embrace those moments.

It was the combination of finding something to hope for, and deciding to make a change and then doing it, that helped me move beyond the feeling of being drowned.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, especially during the holiday season, maybe the struggles and transformations I went through could help you.

Take a moment and think about something you want. It can be a million dollars, a new job, a new friend. It shouldn’t be a statement of something you don’t want.

Once you have that figured out, don’t think about how you will get it. Instead, think about it – ever so lightly – when you feel overwhelmed.

Put your focus on what you want instead of the overwhelming reality you feel today.

Practice, practice, practice being present in the wonderful Now, even if it’s only for a few seconds at a time.

It made sense to my friend, and I hope it makes sense to you.

As you begin to imagine a new world, the current one will start to shift before your eyes.