Overwhelm — the Alice-In-Wonderland Syndrome

I recently read two blog entries back to back that sparked my thinking about the epidemic level of overwhelm that is occurring in this country both in people’s personal lives and in business, especially for solo entrpreneurs.

One of the articles was by my coach, Mark Silver, on his Heart of Business Blog, and the other… well about my own life many years ago that was shared on Talent Development Resources, where this appeared:

He says he felt like Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, running with the Red Queen:

“But no matter how fast Alice runs she can’t seem to get anywhere.


“Finally, breathless from her efforts, Alice is allowed to rest long enough to comment, ‘Everything is just as it was!’

“The Queen replies, ‘Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’”

Swift notes, “I knew just how Alice must have felt. I was physically exhausted and emotionally out of breath, running as fast as I could to keep up with an out-of-control lifestyle of my own making.”

Ever feel that way? Such overwhelm is truly a vicious cycle. It’s like spinning around on a merry-go-around that’s moving so fast you’re afraid if you jump off you’ll kill yourself, even though at some level you know that you’re not really getting anywhere, and that if you don’t get off soon you will die anyway.

How do you break cycle? Well, unfortunately, for many people, including myself about 20+ years ago, such overwhelm often leads to burnout — not always to the verge of suicide as it did in my case ( In the past I seemed to have had a high threshold for suffering complicated by a real stubborn streak.)

But is burnout the only way to break the cycle? Thankfully, the answer is no. There are other ways. Mark outlines some of them from a business perspective in his article, The Myth of Being Successfully Solo in Business. I’d like to suggest a few that can be used in your personal life:

1. Carve out time for self reflection — I know this can be hard… or at least appear to be very hard in the midst of overwhelm. It feels like a ‘catch-22.’ “I need to take time off so I can recover from not being able to take time off.” Yep, that’s right. But think of the other alternative — burnout leading to a mental meltdown that could lead to suicide. And yes, it may not be easy. That’s why I used the term, ‘carve.’ It will take some effort, but it’s worth the effort.

Now, this doesn’t mean taking a vacation during which you fill all of your time touring Disney World with your family. You know the type of vacation I mean. The kind where you need a second vacation to recover from the first. No, time for self reflection is more like, reserving a week at some reclusive beach cottage, or a meditation center, or camping out in the woods on your own. The key is that you have time to just simply be, and to reflect upon your life and your life purpose.

2. Know your purpose. I’d be remiss if I didn’t have this close to the top. It’s what you want to use some of your self reflection time for because it will make the biggest difference in the long run because that clarity of purpose will help you focus your intentions and actions, so those things that are not “in the beam” of your purpose can be eliminated from your life over time.

Now, I know the challenge here can be — “But how do I get clear about my purpose?”

Good question, for sure. I’m just going to mention one avenue to explore. Check it out HERE.

3. And related to these first two, ask yourself some questions like these:

What really matters to me the most? What do I truly value and want more of in my life? What are some of the intangibles of life that I’d be willing to devote some time and effort to have more present in my life and in the world? Intangibles like love, compassion, justice, integrity, joy, fulfillment, spontaneity, etc. Check out this list of personal values from personal development guru, Steve Pavlina.

Your core values are an important ingredient of a powerful life purpose, along with your vision for what’s possible, the essence of who you are, all combined with the bounding power of Universal Love, so start by getting in touch with your core values.

And remember, like the mythological phoenix, it is possible to arise from the ashes of a burned out life to a life filled with purpose and meaning. Not always easy but well worth the effort.