Focus on One Thing at a Time
“I can’t do this! I’m so overwhelmed and you keep giving me things to do!”
I don’t know who I thought I was yelling at. It was more of a reaction than anything, but it caught my attention because when I heard myself thinking it I stopped allowing my thoughts to race and started to listen to them.
Of course I was overwhelmed and exhausted.
Without noticing it I had filled my headspace with a long laundry list of things that needed to get done and implying that they all needed to get done RIGHT THIS SECOND.
I took a breath and focused on the feeling of anxiety that had set in.
What was causing it? Was there something in that long list of things I needed to do that was so over-bearing and terrifying that it was putting me in this state of restless procrastination?
Each item came to the surface and I inspected it.
Some of the things I wanted to get done provoked a little more fear than others, but not one of them on their own was so ridiculously threatening that it warranted this level of dread.
So, what was it? What caused the heaviness and the restless panic?
“You are thinking about everything at once” my guides told me, “And every time you do you are putting a little bit of your energy into each thing but not providing enough momentum to resolve any of them. The result is that you are over-extended, exhausted, anxious, and not moving towards anything.”
I could see what they were saying. My thoughts appeared to me like a web of tangled threads knotted in several areas. Even if I took no action at all my energy was feeding into each and every one of those knots so that I was left feeling drained and exhausted while simultaneously anxious about the web of undefined worry hanging over my head.
“One thing at a time” the guides told me, “Don’t look at the whole web. You are gaining nothing from spreading your energy out in that way. Choose one knot to untie and only one. When you untie it you will free up space and energy to address the next. The more you do this the easier it will become because it will be one less thing soaking up your thought space and draining your energy.”
The first time I applied this it felt odd. The anxiety was still around asking me to give my attention to every possible thing that could implode.
“Focus on just one” the guides said and as I did, I noticed that it took up the majority of the space in my mind.
“I can’t hold on to all of this right now,” I whispered, “So right now I am only going to worry about one task—the one before me and nothing more.”
That became a mantra of sorts. “Just this one thing and nothing more. I can’t hold onto everything right now. One thing at a time”
Once I pushed through the initial discomfort, I found that it actually worked really well. I didn’t have to really stop all the extra thoughts and worry, it wasn’t about making them disappear or doing a super-focused meditation but giving myself permission to only give my attention to the one thing before me allowed the other thoughts to fade to the background. For that span of time nothing else mattered and I did not need to give my attention to everything.
In time I finished my first chore. I don’t remember what it was any more, but just as the guides had said I felt relieved. A knot in the web had dissolved and the pressure had been reduced, just a little.
“Take a breath” they said “And rest a little. You did good. Now, choose the next thing-“
I’ve talked about baby steps in my blogs before, and I go back to them often because I have found them to be one of the greatest ways of breaking overwhelming tasks and challenges down to a size where progress can actually be made.
Learning to focus on just one, single task at a time is actually a variation of baby steps. Instead of taking one giant task and breaking it into smaller pieces you are taking the mass of ongoing activity and concerns that make up the bulk of every day life and putting your attention on only one item.
This process is extremely useful for people who struggle with anxiety to the degree that they become paralyzed in a loop of avoidance and overwhelm because it breaks down the overwhelming aspect.
By focusing first on only one thing and drawing all of your energy together in that direction you are removing the sensation of being overwhelmed that comes from looking at too many things at once. Then by resolving that one thing which you energy is focused on you reduce the overwhelm further by removing one of the obstacles from your pathway.
This process allows you to align your energy to address concerns and resolve some of the items in the nebulous cloud of concern which tends to hang over the head of those of us who spread ourselves too thin with worry.
In this way you take something intangible and make it concrete and then resolve it.
Focusing your energy in one area allows you to address concerns and resolve situations faster and once it is resolved you get the kick-back of additional energy from no longer having the worry of an incomplete item hanging over you.
There are different variations on this and some practices that can help you learn to focus your attention and energy more effectively (meditation is a huge one but not the only one).
If you are carrying a cloud of chronic worry over things that you are struggling to look at and resolve, then following these steps might alleviate some of the exhaustion and restlessness caused by hearing the constant clatter of so many worries.
Take a moment and stop to listen to what that cloud is telling you. Let it point out all the things you feel you need to do or look at and notice where your attention and energy is flowing away from you.
Then figure out which concern you want to address first. Pull it to the forefront of your mind and break it down into one task that you can work on to begin its resolution. It’s okay if more than one task in necessary to bring about resolution, but if this is the case choose just one to focus on first. Finally complete that task—follow it through to the end so that you can mark it off and put it behind you.
Then celebrate the completion before you choose the next thing.
This way you will make progress one step at a time in both understanding and resolving some of the worry that is being carried around in that cloud over your head. You will find that over time this reduces the size of that cloud while bolstering your confidence and self-trust.
If you think you could use some additional mapping out the contents of your cloud and developing the skill of focusing on just one aspect at a time, please feel free to use the contact page to reach out to me.
The three pillars of my coaching program: awareness, ownership, and action are built into this practice and I would be happy to schedule a call with you to see if you are a good fit for that program.
Learning how to direct energy, focus attention, and resolve ongoing stress can take time and practice, but it’s not as hard as it might seem. Breaking big tasks down and focusing on just one little thing at a time can go a long way towards building momentum and creating opportunities for huge breakthroughs in your own life.