An Antidote to Overwhelm

One day last week, I was scurrying out of my house at an early hour to get to a meeting, looking ahead to a particularly scheduled day – several client appointments, two meetings, a few pockets of time to make some serious headway on a pending project – the kind of day when it feels like there aren’t enough minutes in an hour.

As I put the key in the ignition, suddenly I heard a familiar voice in my head: “Keep the main thing the main thing.” I took a deep breath and leaned back in my seat.

This phrase has saved me on more than one occasion. It did it again.

With the engine running, I repeated it out loud to myself: “Keep the main thing the main thing, Ivy.” I let my attention drain down out of my busy head and into my heart. What’s the “main thing” right now? Of all that’s flying around in my head, what’s most important?

The “main thing” became clear – I wanted to be emotionally available and mentally focused for the meeting I was going to. Yes, I had to swing by the library and drug store on the way, but by simply identifying the most important thing, I could center my mind on what truly deserved my attention, and let the competing thoughts recede for an hour. I turned off the car radio.

When I returned to my car after the meeting, I reminded myself, “Keep the main thing the main thing, my dear.” As I considered the items on my plate now, a new “main thing” rose to the top: the project I needed to deliver in a few days. Although I had to pick up groceries before I could sit down and write it out, I let my mind rest on the project – why it mattered to me, what was meaningful about it. My thoughts got focused, and I felt a quiet sense of reassurance. I could chew on this – yes, this much I could do.

That morning, I had felt overwhelmed by the list of tasks I had to get done, my energy dispersed and moving in several directions at once. After letting the “main thing” get clear in my head, the overwhelm dissolved even though the “To Do list” had not. Focus emerged.

This phrase, and this practice, also helps me to take a long view on my life when I’m feeling a little lost in the weeds of daily activities. It pulls me up to get a bird’s eye view of the landscape of my commitments. Sometimes I discover I am spending too much time on things that just don’t matter that much to me. Then this phrase helps me course-correct, to realign with my real priorities and not to feel guilty for letting go of things that simply aren’t the main thing right now. That’s the beauty of main things – there are very few of them. If we aren’t careful, they get crowded out.

It’s a good time to try out this reminder for yourself. There is a lot of upheaval right now across the globe – fires at Notre Dame, a gas explosion here in Durham, storms and tornados. You’re not alone if you’re feeling it – it’s real.

Let this statement reassure you: you can’t do it all, but you don’t have to. Keep the main thing the main thing. The rest will take care of itself.

6 thoughts on “An Antidote to Overwhelm

  1. Virginia Roberts says:

    Ooo so reassuring! I am looking forward to a guest arriving and want all the little details finished: patio washed down , towels cleaned, food in fridge,flowers arranged. Good grief! But my real desire is that I feel open and joy filled at his arrival and he can feel it. Thank you for the peace of focusing💝

  2. Denise Baker says:

    Hello Dear Ivy,
    Thank you for sharing “keep the main thing the main thing.” I will use this phrase to keep me focused on the main thing. I get so scattered and don’t focus.
    Thank you again.

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