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Escape Being Overwhelmed In 7 Steps You've Never Heard Of

Written by: Carlo Mahfouz, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


In a world full of distractions from every direction, our ability to stay present diminishes by the minute. It is not because we do not try to but because we are up against powerful rivals.

exhausted business woman working late at night.

Companies across the globe are bidding, selling, and buying the most expensive pillar for being present, and that is attention. Thus, we are positioned to fail even if we try, and the worst part is that we are most of the time oblivious to it.

When our attention is dispersed, it becomes easy to fall into the cycle of indecision, feeling a lack of time, and eventually being overwhelmed. Yet that does not have to be the case.

Hi, my name is Carlo Mahfouz. I am the author of "Reality Check: In Pursuit of the Right Questions," and I am here to help you escape being overwhelmed in 7 steps. It might sound like a daunting task or a "mission impossible" amidst everything happening in your world today, yet I would love for you to allow me to try.

What you will gain is the clarity to recognize what is boxing you into feeling the pressure of too many things to deal with. You will discover a way to escape the current patterns that lock you in place. After going through the steps below, you can easily recognize, understand and accept the reality that overwhelms you so you can escape it.

Let’s get started by defining the rules of the game:

  • You can stop at any point.

  • You can stay at one step as long as you need.

  • You can skim through quickly.

Some of the steps might sound random, and you would like to know the "Why" behind them. The "why" question itself is sometimes distracting, and thus not to pollute the experience each step intends to introduce, I will defer to answering the why till the end. You can always re-run through the stages after reading the conclusion.

Step 1. Stop Focusing.

It is counterintuitive, yet it is the most crucial step. For the following steps to be effective, I need you to stop trying to focus. You have my permission to wander in thought, quit reading, or do anything else at any stage. Do not feel the need to reflect, analyze or think even. Whatever focus means to you, let it go and simply read.

So, for example, when I ask you a question, all the following are valid:

  • No answer

  • Zero answers

  • 1 answer

  • 2 or more answers

The difference between a no answer and a zero answer is that for the "No" answer, you have no clue what to say or think, whereas with the "Zero" answer, you have many answers, yet you can't pick any.

All and any answers are valid.

Step 2. Breathe

You are alive, so you must be breathing, and what a simple request I am asking of you. Yet indulge me. Do not meditate or focus on your breath. Instead, no matter how you understand the following sentence or whatever those words mean to you, do the following:

Take one slow, single, deep, and long breath. And then release it.

Done. Thank you.

It felt good or felt nothing. More thoughts might be coming. Please allow them all to come and go as they please. Judge, criticize, or don't. It is all a normal and accepted reaction.

Step 3. Empathize

A Big Word. By definition, it means to understand and share the feelings of another. Yet, in this case, I was hoping you could do that by being empathetic to yourself. In other words, be kind to you.

Please give yourself a pat on the back, whether you think you deserve it or not.

You do deserve it.

If you struggle to accept it from you, accept it from me for free—Pat yourself on the back.

It is tough to see ourselves in a good light when constantly trying to improve—trying to be better or paying attention to everything in our lives, including ourselves. We made so many mistakes that we want to fix. We had so many accomplishments that were not enough. Yet, it is vital to recognize that we are here and worthy.

Step 4: Who are you?

Jot down or say as many labels as you see fit that you can identify with. They can be professional, personal, or any other. It can be your title, nationality, hobby, favorite soccer/football team, or even generic labels. List as many as you can.

Examples include a student, engineer, photographer, Real Madrid soccer team fan, etc.

No right or wrong answer. Be as specific or generic as you need. This is not a test, so you cannot fail.

Step 5. No, thank you.

At this step, forget about the previous question, and in fact, for every question starting to pop up in your head right now, answer it with “No, Thank you.” No matter what the question is. Any assumptions or conclusions you arrive at, cut them short, and say no, thank you.

Keep saying it till no questions are left. It is easier said than done but do it nonetheless —even if the questions are not for you to answer. For now, answer them with "No, thank you!" When left with no questions, move to the next step.

Step 6. Are you losing or winning?

Failure and success are strong markers in our lives, so let us unpack them. Are you losing or winning? I specifically did not indicate "in what" because I wanted it to be part of the answer.

For example, I am winning at my job as I just got a promotion. Or I am losing in my love life since I didn't find a partner yet.

List as many wins or losses that come to mind. Or list none as well, and that is fine.

Step 7. Ask a question

The previous step will make it challenging to think about one but try. The question should be one you do not have the answer for. It could be for anyone or anything as long you genuinely do not have the answer. Please write it down.

For example:

  • Will this [anything] work?

  • How can I become more successful?

  • Where the heck is this going?

That’s it; you made it. You can rinse. And repeat as necessary the steps above.

Now, The Why?

Everything distracting you today relies on your existing behavior or experience. To break out of the distraction, surprise it with something unexpected, and suddenly, you are outside the loop of distraction and present. And by being present, the cycle of being overwhelmed disappears. Each step was designed to do precisely that.

When overwhelmed, we tend to focus more or try harder, yet it often results in the opposite. It is like swimming against the current. The more we fight it, the more it pulls us in. Breathing helps break that pattern further because it is an action we can take at any time and does not cost anything or require too much effort. It is powerful because we can accomplish it, which is important when everything else feels out of control.

After gaining control and remembering we are worthy, we turn to our identity. Many, if not all, of our reasons for being stuck revolve around some boundaries our identities define. And when that is not the case, it is our accomplishments and failures. Recognizing the latter puts us on the right path to acknowledge the limitations both constructs impose.

Last, leaving with a question we cannot answer allows us to be comfortable with the unknown, thus less constrained by the limitation the knowing forces us to be in.

If you like this article and want to learn more about how I could help you view problems with new eyes, hone your attention and identify possibilities, follow me on Facebook LinkedIn, Instagram, or visit my website for more info.


Carlo Mahfouz, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Carlo Mahfouz is an intrapreneur and product development executive in the healthcare ed-tech space with a deep understanding of technology; he works developing products to help improve patients’ outcomes and driving change in organizations, teams, and individuals. Always curious, Carlo is a firm believer in tech’s power to create positive global change, a novice opera singer who heads innovation at a classical music non-profit company, and a published author. His book, Reality Check: In Pursuit of the Right Questions, explores different tactics, mental models, and mindsets that improve our ability to identify ourselves and ask the right questions to solve complex problems. It empowers us to address the issues that matter.



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