Leadership Retreats Resources


Choosing Optimism When You Are Overwhelmed

January 14, 2020
Leader's Journey
Joseph Cook

Is the Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?


There is a glass of water on the counter, and the water level is sitting halfway up the glass. What follows is a question we are all familiar with: Is the glass half-full of water or half-empty? We have been taught that our answer to this question determines our level of optimism, but this question is not productive in moving forward.

Instead of settling for the current water level, employees can take their organization to the next level by believing there is a way to fill the glass to the top. Choosing optimism is not simply finding the bright side. Rather, it is reflected in one’s ability to keep moving forward in the midst of difficult circumstances. When problems seem too big to solve, we can become overwhelmed, but there are some practical ways in which we can move forward to reach our preferred future.


Overwhelming Problems


Ever since my second daughter was born, she has been plagued with sporadic high fevers and febrile seizures. These fevers have occurred about every two to three weeks and are frequent disruptors of the routine my wife and I have worked so hard to create. When they hit, we have developed a new routine of waking up every three hours to give our daughter Tylenol, then Ibuprofen, then Tylenol, then Ibuprofen, then…you get it.

With my wife and I both in graduate school, this problem is magnified and sometimes seems like a mountain we are climbing without a summit. We are told that most children with this condition grow out of it, but the timing is uncertain; it could take four years or ten. With the uncertainty of when a solution will come, I feel like I am wandering in the dark, which can bring fear and anxiety.

You may not be a parent, but everyone has felt overwhelmed at some point. It could be a problem at work that involves so many details you have no idea where to start, a broken relationship that is too far gone and seemingly not worth revisiting, or debt so deep that financial freedom seems out of reach. Whatever your context may be, there are four practical ways to remain optimistic – remembering your preferred future, reframing your problem, getting support, and celebrating progress.


01 | Remember Your Preferred Future


To rethink the problem, first remember the preferred future. My daughter’s laugh brings so much joy to my heart that I long for the day when it is more frequent. I crave it the way a person underwater craves the much-needed breath found at the surface, and this pushes my feet each step up the mountain.

At WinShape Teams, our purpose is to build strong, healthy, fulfilling teams that change the world around them. This can seem like an impossible endeavor, but this purpose is more powerful than the problem. The summit of strong, healthy, fulfilled teams and leaders keeps us moving forward.


02 | Break Down Your Problem into Attainable Steps


After remembering the ideal future, break your mountain into attainable checkpoints. Do not worry about getting to the summit, just make it the next ten feet. Clearly defining checkpoints makes progress more recognizable when they are reached, and this can fuel further optimism.

While we are pursuing long-term solutions for our little girl, I have to avoid thinking about ten years of this pattern and keep my focus on delivering the next dose of medicine successfully. In the corporate world, organizations break down their ultimate purpose into priorities, strategies, and goals. Whatever the language may be, the summit for your organization is only reached through the persistent journey of smaller, more attainable steps.


03 | Find a Support Ecosystem


It is important to remember that you are not alone. This feeling only adds to the overwhelming paralysis. Getting support will be one of your biggest resources in finding the solution. More than likely, there are others who share your struggle.

When you have support, you also gain the gifts of encouragement, accountability, and diversity. Taking a step forward when overwhelm sets in requires courage, and Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 4:10, “Pity the one who falls and has no one to help him or her up.” Support also provides additional voices to keep you headed in the right direction and thinking differently about how to fill an empty glass.


04 | Celebrate Progress


After two years, my daughter is still experiencing occasional high fevers, but they are becoming less frequent than before. Recognizing this progress is added fuel for optimism for our preferred future. Where we are today is further than where we were this time last year.

We have also learned some things along the way due to sudden obstacles, like a child who refuses to receive needed medication. These are moments in which I need to pause, step away, and take a breath, and this is okay. The only difference between pausing and quitting is your willingness to get back in it. Remember your wins and use them as fuel to keep going.

Rick Howard — WinShape Teams

How Rick Howard Re-energized His Leadership

Never Give Up


Excellence, greatness, and success do not happen on the first try. Henry Ford – who failed in his first two attempts to start an automobile business – said, “Failure is merely the opportunity to more intelligently begin again,” and this belief built a resilience that allowed the automaker to keep choosing optimism about the future.

When my daughter falls down, I have begun to ask her a question. “What do we do when we fall?” She now declares back, “We stand back up!” She is building a resilience to choose optimism that there will be a day when she is not falling so frequently; however, when she does fall, it will simply be time to stand back up!


What’s Next: Gain Traction


Randy Gravitt is the founder of INTEGREAT Leadership and co-authored the book Unstuck. He suggests that if you are overwhelmed at the bottom of a pit or feeling stuck in the mud, all you need to get out is a little bit of traction. To gain traction, choose optimism by remembering your preferred future, reframing your problem, getting support, and celebrating progress. Optimism will feed further optimism. This will help you fill your glass of water rather than settling for half.

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