Combating mental overwhelm

Doing a brain dump is helpful for when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It shifts your mindset from “don’t know what to do” to “this is what I know”. When all your thoughts are on paper, you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

You can schedule a brain dump once a week, or use it as an emergency tool when you hit mental overwhelm.

Write anywhere you please, whether it’s on your phone or a blank piece of paper. I write in a password-protected document on OneNote. I can write without hesitation when I know no one can access it but me.

Set a timer and write for at least five minutes. Use point form or longhand, whichever flows easier. Setting a timer gets you started, but feel free to write for as long as you like. The point is to write down every single thing that’s on your mind.

Take a step back and process your brain dump. View every problem as an individual issue, separate from the others. Tackling each problem one by one will help your situation seem manageable.

  • What is most urgent? What problems need to be solved before you can proceed with others? Brainstorm some solutions.
  • Are you missing some information? Make a list of things to research.
  • What can you work on right now? If it’s fast and easy to accomplish, do them first.

Even if you don’t come to an immediate solution, this simple exercise can trigger ideas that may help you get there.

Thinking about thinking

My friend Suha offered me a tip on battling negativity and it got me thinking.

One of my most persistent thoughts — you are not good enough — could easily lead me down a vicious negative spiral of thoughts.

The single thought could colour the rest of my day or week.

Track down the source of your thoughts.

“Your emotions are usually induced by a thought,” wrote Suha. “Influence your emotions by tracking back to its source and countering that thought by working through it.”

It struck me that a majority of my thoughts weren’t my own. Growing up, I wanted to do something, I did it. I taught myself how to code and design.

I didn’t pause to consider whether I was good enough.

As an adult, I was informed that I was in fact, not good enough repeatedly until I caved in and believed it.

Allow people to form opinions about you.

Today, I was casually reminded I was a perfectionist. It’s why I set high standards for myself. It’s why I never get anything done. And it’s ingrained in my DNA, which is why I will always be miserable.

In the past, I would have retaliated. Today, I took it.

I don’t have to agree with anyone who offers personal attacks as criticism. I can improve what I can, with the help of my unwavering support system.

Pause whenever you’re feeling negative.

Identify the root of why you feel the way you. Journaling or talking to a friend can be helpful.

The most important thing is to be aware of your thoughts, and to reexamine what you truly believe about yourself.

Every good day begins with a to-do list

And yes, even weekends.

I love trying new productivity apps. I’ve tried dozens over the years. My go-to apps are Google Calendar for scheduling appointments and Fabulous for building new habits. But when it comes to-do lists, I’ve always relied on pen and paper.

A to-do list instills a planning mindset. Learning how to plan your day is the first step in planning your week, month, and eventually your year.

When it’s in head your head, it’s an idea. When it’s written down, it’s a plan. Those who write their goals down longhand are more likely to succeed at them. Break down a goal to its smallest components: it is made up of the things you do on a day-to-day basis.

Writing down your tasks clears out your mental storage, freeing your mind to focus on the problems at hand. You no longer have to worry if you have forgotten to do something. Interestingly, the physical act of writing also helps you remember things better.

There’s something satisfying about crossing out tasks with your favourite pen, however daunting they may be. Never mind the fact that you might be daunted by the simplest of things, like a phone call.

Writing it down on paper means it can be done.

Keep your dreams safe

As I explore new things, I’m careful with whom I discuss my future direction. I’m lucky to have a group of people who are supportive of me, regardless of what I choose to do. We discuss our goals, dreams, and where we see ourselves years down the line.

Guided by honest, gentle criticism, I want to nurture a mindset of openness. I want to see opportunities where I before saw potential failures.

I’m still learning to shrug off bad criticism. The kind that makes you shrivel up with shame, wondering why you even wanted to try.

“You can’t do it.”

I leapt to defend myself. “I’m going to do it anyway. I won’t know unless I try.”

But underneath my defiance, I felt self-doubt resurface. What if it’s too difficult? What if I’m not good enough? What if I burn out?

I turned back to my support system. I calmed down and realised – I don’t have to react. I don’t have to course correct because of anyone’s feedback

For the one time I was told to give up, five people wished me luck. And there are countless more people who are in between, who could not care less what I do with my life.

Find someone you can share your dreams with. And keep them safe together.

State of the union 2018

What went well last year

Redid my portfolio. I took part in the May 1 Reboot, a global movement to relaunch websites everywhere. I intend to take every 1st of May as an opportunity to rework my website.

Returned to blogging. I began writing regularly again and finally completed the 30 Days to Better Writing course. My confidence grew and I returned to blogging after a ten-year hiatus.

Designed my own products. I started learning handlettering back in 2015 but never took it further. This year, I produced a series of hand lettering prints and stickers.

Fell in love with photography again. Over the years, photography had gone from being a serious merely become a method of documenting my work. I picked up my DSLR, attended a portrait photography workshop, and remembered what it was like to enjoy being behind the lens.

Focused on my health. In October, I began exercising every morning. I haven’t skipped a day since. I also started seeing a therapist. I went from being ashamed of my depression to volunteering with a local mental health initiative.

What didn’t go well last year

Frequently burned out. I was constantly exhausted. My CTS flared up all the time, the worst it had been in years. At one point, I found it immensely difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

Didn’t focus on personal work. After taking on a full-time design job, I had little interest or time in my own work. I now know how important it is for me to express myself creatively outside of my day job.

Lost my dad. My dad passed away from cancer just days after I turned 27. I tried to find a way to make myself feel better about losing my favourite person in the world, but there is none. And it’s okay.

How I plan to carry on this year

I’m happy with the progress and plan to continue what went well. 2017 taught me that I don’t have to face difficult times alone. Each time I needed it, my friends and family have lent me support. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Here’s to beginning the new year with renewed strength.

Discomfort is a compass

Having lunch alone at work. Waiting on a diagnosis after a doctor’s appointment. Networking at events.

I no longer fear having to do these. (Okay, I’m a little afraid of seeing my doctor.) They’re all part of being a functional adult. But they’re only the start of a long list of things that make me feel uncomfortable. I do all I can to put them off as long as I can.

In her TED talk, Priya Parker talks about building your resistance towards discomfort. When we’re in public, our first instinct is to reach for the phone and blending in with everyone else. It’s easy. What’s hard is drawing attention to yourself and being okay with it.

Parker suggests singing — not too loudly — but loud enough to be heard. Your heart will start to pound as people zero in on you. Training yourself to get used to this feeling will build your discomfort muscles. Luckily, you don’t even have to sing in Tesco to try this experiment.

“It’s he or she who’s willing to be the most uncomfortable can rise strong.”
— Brené Brown

Discomfort is a compass. It helps you navigate why you deliberately or subconsciously avoid something.

  • Why do I get nervous at networking events? I take a long time to warm up to people and it might get awkward.
  • Why do I take so long to be myself around new people? I don’t spend much time talking to people at events.
  • Why do I want to meet other local artists and designers if it makes me nervous? I want to learn from them.

By shifting the focus towards leaning into discomfort, you stop relying on motivation. Instead, your goal is to see it through.

I’m always nervous around new people, so I prepare for the possibility of awkward moments. I speak up whenever I’m curious. Even if I all I do is ask people about themselves, I can learn a lot by listening. And it ends up being fun.

Instead conquering your biggest fears, why not start the new year confronting something that makes you uncomfortable?