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  • Darci Daniels

How Do You Process?

How do you process?

Or, how do you get through your crap so you can move on?

This is an important question, because if you don’t know the answer, you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle on how to be efficient and effective not only in your business, but also in your life.

Some of you may already know how you process most effectively, and I’ll share mine later. Even if you already know, humor me and keep reading, because you may realize something you didn’t already know about yourself. If you’re thinking “process?? What the hell is she talking about?” Then definitely stay with me!

What I mean when I say…

· Overwhelm: You have a million things to do and they all seem urgent and important. There are several competing priorities pulling you in many different directions currently, and at the moment, you can’t seem to control or deal with any of it well. *If you have a never-ending to-do list but you can focus on the 1 thing you’re doing at a time and you’re making progress? That’s not overwhelm. That’s busy.*

Stress to the point that the things you’re doing are going to have to be re-done later because you can’t think straight? Yeah, that’s what we’re talking about. Overwhelm can be a semi-permanent state, but for this article I’m talking about when you feel overloaded in the moment and are not going to be very productive that day. (If overwhelm does feel like a semi-permanent state in your life, I encourage you to ask for outside help and find out if you have anxiety, depression, or another mental disorder. You may need different tools.)

· Process: Processing is working through the stress, overwhelm, negative thoughts and feelings to get to a place where you feel happier and (at least somewhat) peaceful. A place where you feel freer and can function better. Not processing happens when you’re ignoring all of it, you’re trying to numb out, or you’re trying to push through and pretend that you’re fine. When you are not processing your spinning thoughts and overwhelming feelings to get through them, they will get stuck. What we resist, persists. When we process we don’t avoid our crap, we meet it head on and find our way through it. Why? Because peace, ease, clarity, and happiness lie on the other side. You show me someone who never needs to process, and I’ll show you someone who is going to have a nervous breakdown. Think of any news story that you've heard about someone deliberately causing an unthinkable tragedy, and you’ve got the idea of how extreme it can be when people avoid processing. We actually process all the time, in small ways and big ways. We vent to co-workers. We talk to our partners about our day when we get home. These days we post and tweet and commiserate with other people online so we don’t feel quite so alone. All of these things can help (or hurt), but becoming conscious of what does and doesn’t work for you in processing all your stuff, and leveraging what helps you get not just un-stuck but to feeling better, resolved… that’s what I’m talking about when I say processing.

· Staircase/Next level: Imagine this whole thing as a staircase. Your overwhelm, stress, to-dos, and issues – the whole mess of stuff – is at the bottom of the staircase. At the top, freedom, happiness, peace, clarity, ability to function better – everything you get when you process. The staircase is the process. The next level is where you get to when you take one step forward in processing. For example, admitting you feel overwhelmed and need to process (instead of ignoring and pretending) is the first step. The next level, the next step up, will be the first thing you need to do to effectively process. (This will look different depending on how you process, because everyone is different. We’ll get to that.) You keep taking steps, dealing with your shit, moving up the staircase, until you’ve processed what you need to and no longer feel overwhelmed. This isn’t to say you won’t ever feel that way again, you almost certainly will. We’re human. But the next time you feel it, it’s a different staircase. You’ve reached a different level entirely. If you never process, you’ll stay stuck on the same staircase and never really get anywhere. Avoiding, numbing, distracting, pretending… these will all keep you stuck on the same staircase, with the same mess of issues pulling you backward, forever.

Got it? Okay. Now let’s get down to figuring out how you process.

I wrote a short post the other day and was surprised at the variety of people who either commented or liked it. It seemed to strike a nerve, and if you haven’t already seen it, I want to share it with you:

“Some days it’s just tougher. It’s tougher to get out of bed, to eat right, to work out, to deal with work, or family, or friends... to do life. And that’s okay. On those days, I find that even taking the smallest step in the right direction, and then patting myself on the back for it, can change my mojo. Let it be easy. You don’t have to go all out, slay the day, and take the bull by the horns EVERY DAY. Some days that’s just not gonna happen. And that’s okay. Small steps add up, and you can still get up the hill.”

Think of those days – when things may or may not be going fine, but most everything just seem tougher. The to-dos keep piling up, you got a nasty review from your boss/client/kid, and there’s some pressure there that is keeping your mind occupied to the point that you’re just not functioning at the level you’d like to be. You’re treading water, but focused enough to move yourself forward? Yeah, that’s not happening. You have too much swirling around in your brain.

So, first question -- when your mind is spinning and you feel overloaded, what’s your first reaction? What do you want to do? Hide away from the world, vent, cry, double down and work harder, have a glass of wine, get on Facebook, check your email, look for something (or someone) to distract you? There are no wrong answers, and in fact, you probably have multiple answers. For now, think of the one reaction that occurrs most often, it may even be a habit. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, what’s your go-to reaction? (If you reach back too far to see how you cope it may be outdated because the way we deal with stress and overload evolves as we change. Also, we didn’t have smart phones 20 years ago, so if you find yourself reaching for Candy Crush on your phone more often than not, looking too far back may not be applicable.) Okay, got your answer? Great.

Now keep an open mind… and imagine that’s the opposite of what is the best way for you to process. This is a theory, but it has strong support from brain mapping and mental and emotional research. For example, I have a client (let’s call him Edward). Edward’s first reaction to overwhelm is to double down on work and not talk to anyone about it. However, although it’s distracting and maybe helping Edward deal with his feelings in the moment, the same feelings of overwhelm pop up again for Edward every hour and again the next day. He's not working well, and he keeps having to re-work projects the thought he finished. He’s also not sleeping well, because those thoughts that he’s buried are still awake and pestering his brain while he’s trying to rest. He’s tossing and turning, and his lack of sleep is compounding his problems. Then he blows up at his wife or kids and takes all his stress out on them the next morning. The theory is, although his first reaction is to double down at work and “push through” his overwhelm, this is actually the opposite of what is helpful for him. His way of processing isn’t processing at all.

The best way for Edward to process those thoughts and feelings of overwhelm and stress may just be to stop, take a few deep breaths, and talk it though with someone who is equipped to hear it. That’s not necessarily a counselor, it may be a co-worker, his wife, a coach, or a good friend. (“Equipped” means they’re in a place, at the time you need to talk, to receive what you’re saying and listen as you vent it out. Depending on what you need in the moment, you may or may not need advice or help, you may just need an ear. They will also not make it about them. If it IS about them, if part of the stress is a difficult relationship with a co-worker, then he should not talk to that particular person.)

Processing may have lasting effects when we are “over” a certain issue and moving on, but I find more often that processing helps me get to a higher level. I’ll most likely re-visit the stress and overwhelm later, but I’ll do it in a different way, because I’m on a higher step. Remember the staircase analogy? When we process effectively, it may take a few steps before we reach the top and are free of the issue, but you never go completely backward into overwhelm, as long as you’re processing and not ignoring.

I told you I’d reveal how I process, so here it is: I most often react to overwhelm and stress by freezing, hiding, and shutting down. I escape by watching TV, playing games on my phone, or getting on social media (which often can compound the problem). That’s my first reaction – to hide and do nothing and then distract myself as a means of escaping my thoughts and feelings. This is, nearly every time, the exact opposite of what I need to do to effectively process. My most efficient way to process is out-loud. That usually means talking to someone else, although sometimes I can talk to myself and have it work, but that’s not quite as effective. If I can’t process out-loud with someone, and often I can’t, the next best thing is writing. I write what’s going on, and then how I’m feeling, and what I’m thinking. Lucky for me I’ve got the skills to coach myself around it. But even if you’re not a coach, this can still work – think about what your best friend would say to you. Or read what you wrote, imagining your favorite person is saying this to you. What would you say back? What advice would you give? Or what’s your intuition telling you, but you would be afraid to say? If you’re writing, write a response as if you’d gotten a letter from someone else detailing their problems. If you’re talking to yourself, record the answer you’re giving your “friend”. The idea is, you already know the answer, you just have to trick yourself into revealing it to your conscious mind.

Not everyone processes better by talking. Some people react to overwhelm by getting social or doing things. They go out with friends, they keep themselves busy, or they even talk about their feelings, but they do it in a way that they’re just spinning the same sad story over and over again (that’s called story fondling, in case you were wondering if it had a sort of creepy name, it does). None of these things get them to the next level, and the same issues and feelings persist. For the people who keep themselves busy, sitting alone quietly and getting in touch with those thoughts and feelings may be exactly what they need. Often these people will need to retreat to spend time alone sorting through their crap, and once they feel slightly better, they’ll talk to someone else about what they figured out. They don’t process by talking out-loud (like I do), they process by listening to themselves and getting clear on what they want and how to move forward. This can take incredible willpower, to stay with the feelings and thoughts and deal with them alone, and not let yourself get distracted. If you do this, and find yourself getting distracted instead of actually processing and resolving anything, then maybe try writing, or talking to someone instad. Story fondlers are the opposite – they talk, but they aren’t trying to work through or solve anything. They’re talking to elicit pity or a reaction from others. Their opposite would be to DO something. Pinpoint whatever the biggest issue is that’s making them feel overwhelmed, and take action to change it.

So, take a moment and tell me – what’s your first reaction to this kind of overwhelm? Is it maybe the opposite of how you could best process? Do you know how you process? Is it effective and efficient so you can leave the overwhelm behind you and move forward in a more positive, focused, and joyful way? If you have a way to cope, that’s fine. But if coping doesn’t move you up to the next step, if it just maintains where you’re at on the staircase, then you’ll also want to find your best way to process.

PS – if all of this sounds foreign to you and you don’t know where to start, or you have an idea how you process but you don’t know how to consistently get to the next level, or you know what you “should” do to process but you’re actively sabotaging yourself… then email me at I can help.


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