To Be Less Overwhelmed, Take Home the Bronze

We want everything to be good. Actually, we want everything to be great. We want it to be awesome, perfect, revelatory, incredible, amazing, game-changing, epic, fantastic…pretty much think of any word that is part of a superhero’s name…that’s what we want.

But, it isn’t possible to put equal amounts of care and energy toward everything we do. It isn’t possible to win a gold medal in every event of of our work and our lives.

We know this intuitively. We know that there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we want to a ‘gold medal’ standard.

And yet, we pressure ourselves to make this the standard. That pressure might be something we apply, or it may be the actual or implied judgement of those around us that make us feel that there are two categories to the work we do: perfection and failure.

There is another way.

For every event in which there is a gold medal winner, there are also silver and bronze winners. Those who take home the silver and the bronze didn’t ‘win’ the event, but they completed it to a solid standard of performance.

And in other events and on other days, maybe they will take home the gold. But on this day, it was silver or bronze, and that is still success.

Because, for every person who took home a sliver or a bronze, there are many, many others who never even entered the event. They looked at the event and the competitors and said to themselves, “If I can’t take home the gold, I shouldn’t waste my time.” If I can’t win, I won’t play.

When we take this all-or-nothing attitude toward our work or home lives, it causes problems.

We become overwhelmed by all the things we must do (events we must complete) and that overwhelm leads to procrastination, or ‘analysis paralysis’.

If we try to take home the gold in every event, it increases our stress and decreases our ability to take action. We begin to spend more time worrying or context switching than it would take to actually complete items and get them off our list. We soon find we have so many things we need to complete that we can’t even think of where to start.

What is a path out of the overwhelm? Acknowledge that you’re not going to take home the gold in every event.

It is impossible to be awesome at ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’. And yet we think it is. Or we think that we should. Or we think that is what others expect of us.

When we set the bar for performance at ‘perfect’, we delay starting the events where we won’t take home the gold. But, the reality is, the events where we won’t win the gold make up the vast majority of our lives.

Not every moment, initiative, assignment, task, or interaction will allow us to be the best in the world. For many of them, we won’t even be able to deliver our personal best because we are juggling so many competing priorities.

And all of this is OK.

In order to have a ‘gold medal’ performance in one event, we must choose the events where it will be OK to get a sliver or a bronze.

When we choose to put forth ‘bronze medal’ effort in one event, it frees us to put silver or gold effort elsewhere.

When you feel overwhelmed, make a list of everything you feel you need to do. Then identify from that list which items require ‘gold medal’ performance. Those are your top priorities.

And then (and this is what most of us don’t do), identify which items can be sliver effort and which could be bronze. And then decide what silver/bronze effort means for each item. Then you can choose if your next best action is to work on your gold priorities, or if you’d be better served by completing the bronze priorities to get them off your list and off your mind.

You can’t deliver ‘gold medal’ performance in your highest priority if your silver/bronze priorities steal your attention and energy.

Once you have made all of your priorities visible and decided which ones actually need your gold-level effort, you will feel lighter. You will feel less overwhelmed and will likely feel motivated to tackle some of your bronze-level items because they suddenly feel less complicated and now feel more achievable.

And this is my ‘bronze medal’ post for the week.