Thought for the Week: You can transform overwhelm into brilliance

Working hard at social change can't be sustained if you don't look out for yourself, too – so each week, we're inviting experts to share guidance, reflections and exercises to help social impact leaders through difficult times. This time: tips for when you're feeling overwhelmed, helping you get back to calm, confident decision-making.

It’s big stuff that we’re all going through right now. The survival of many organisations, including social enterprises, is at stake, and for many it’s overwhelming. This feeling of ‘overwhelm’ cuts the knees out from our confidence and blocks our ‘brilliance’ to figure out a way forward.

Overnight, our routines have been disrupted both at home and work. Many of these changes are significant shocks to tolerate and make sense of, let alone the direct effects of the pandemic. Unfortunately, when things go terribly wrong, our mind can easily create a state of overwhelm.

Our minds predict what is going to happen, usually blowing things out of proportion

How the mind goes into overwhelm

First, our minds draw conclusions about what has happened. It judges whether an event is good or bad, wanted or not, how it affects you and others, etc.

Next, our minds make demands on how things should or should not be, how others should or should not be, and what you and others have to do about it.

Finally, our minds predict what is going to happen, usually blowing things out of proportion and making things seem worse than they actually are. 

Catching the mind at work

The interpretation cycle of the mind stokes anxiety and magnifies the experience so that we can’t think clearly or see a way through the problems we have. No wonder so many people are stuck in ‘survival’ or a sense of ‘impossibility.’


Shift your mindset

However, it is within your power to take charge of your mind and shift it to move out of overwhelm, shed the anxiety you’re experiencing and begin moving again confidently and decisively.

Human beings have a natural ability to be brilliant, but when you’re entrenched in overwhelm, it’s impossible to be so. Following is a four-step exercise to shift your mindset so that your natural brilliance can emerge.

‘Calm the waters’ first by taking three measured breaths, counting to four at each step: inhale through your nose, hold it, exhale through your mouth. Then take your time with each of the following steps:

1. Accept – The first step is to accept your situation as it is. Say quietly aloud several times: ‘This challenge is real, it happened, and I accept it. I’ll say ‘yes’ to it.’ Stay at this step until you settle in with this acceptance.

2. Decide – Continue by saying: ‘I will take this on as mine to handle; I don’t know what I’m going to do just yet, but I will figure it out.’ Again, take your time to allow your natural determination to rise up.

3. Aim – ‘Given that this has happened, I now want…’ Write whatever comes to you. Add on the words: ‘I want it because I want… Continue with: ‘I’m aiming at doing (or being)…’ Repeat: ‘and I want it because I want’ at the end of each phrase. Keep writing until you’ve expressed the deep desire of what you want. 

4. Find Possibility – Now is the opportunity to create something new out of what you want, in response to the challenges you’re facing. Continue with the words: ‘Therefore, I choose to…’ See what choices emerge.




Challenges such as Covid-19 are difficult to deal with especially because of how the mind interprets them. But by using this exercise, you can use challenges as levers to transform your leadership and your organisation in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Scott Roy is co-founder of Whitten & Roy Partnership. Read more on the method above in his free eBooklet: The One Thing That Changes Everything – From Overwhelm to Brilliance in Challenging Times.

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