Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Whether it is because of the number of tasks on my to-do list, or the complexity of a situation, I sometimes find myself feeling frozen because of the multitude of things to do. Because of my work in health education, I am frequently explaining how systems of the body work together like a puzzle and how each part impacts the others. This can feel overwhelming to the listener – especially when the adjustments to build health include changes in their nutrition!

Our diets are dearly held rituals and the need to eat multiple times each day presents a myriad of choices where we get to confront our patterns. When feeling overwhelmed and immobilized by the volume of tasks, I suggest this mantra: “Do what you can.”

My mom used to say, “How do you eat an elephant?” I soon knew the response and would say, “One bite at a time.” Mom’s reminders to me to start with what was possible have proven pivotal throughout my life. When I got to medical school and began assisting in surgery, there were many times where scar tissue made deciphering the organs virtually impossible. My attending surgeon would search for any landmark that looked normal and start there. Millimeter by millimeter we would separate the scar tissue between the organs until we could no longer be sure of a safe move forward. Then we would look from another angle and start again with what we could recognize and move forward little by little. Persistence and small, repeated actions allowed us to achieve our goals.

Even when progress seems impossible, there is a choice available. Sometimes the choice is between a good-better-best option and working with what is in front of us. Other times, the choice might be to “be” instead of “do.” Practicing a pause and creating time for planning amplifies my efficiency when I get back to the “doing.” I will often assess my day and allow myself to know that while I didn’t finish anything, I “moved the ball forward.” Not only is progress not linear, it also includes failure and course adjustment. Becoming comfortable with learning and adjusting helps keep stress low and allows for resuming action quickly.

In our quest for personal wellness, there are many voices to hear and resources to utilize. It can feel overwhelming to remove common foods from our diet, or implement a new mindfulness routine. I often orient myself again with asking, what simple thing can I do right now? I can drink water, I can pause for 5 minutes of deep breathing, I can feed myself a colorful fruit or vegetable, I can let my shoulders drop and be silent for a moment. Then I am ready to move to the next action, and I am present to do what I can.

“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Dr. Brossfield is the medical director at the Eisenhower Wellness Institute and can be reached at (760) 610.7360.

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