si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Month: May, 2011

Dealing With Overwhelm

Overwhelm is a huge part of life. It happens to the best of us. Eventually there’s a point where we just can’t keep up. As life gets ever busier & more distracting, the likelihood of it happening continues to climb. Obviously it’s also a huge contributor to stress (and all the nastiness that entails).

So, what to do about it?

Remember that saying “Trust in God, but paddle your own canoe” or my personal favourite “Trust in Allah, but tie up your camels”?


I noticed when I was much younger I would get stressed (feel overwhelmed) any time I had too much in my head.

Sitting down & writing out every thought that was buzzing around would help enormously. It would also show me that 90% of them were variants on the same issue (eg “Where am I going to find money to eat?”)

Getting things out of your head & into some kind of system – whether that’s an app, a piece of paper or a personal assistant – is the core of the Getting Things Done approach. There’s a reason GTD is so popular. It works.

There’s been a million books & blogs written about it, so I don’t need to go into more detail here. The key aspect is this: Get every thought that’s burbling inside OUT of you.

Us humans really aren’t very good at holding too many thoughts in our heads at one time (the apocryphal number is 7 +/- 2). Thus, getting them out helps enormously. Then, any time a thought recurs, you can immediately dismiss it with “Yep, it’s on the list.”

Clear head = no overwhelm = no stress.

Once you have your list(s), group, sort & order them in whatever ways feels best for you, then take action. For me, “things to do today” and “some time”, then ordering by “most important” with a smattering of “quick, easy” in there so I can get my coding momentum up seems to work best.


Ok, it’s not a perfect analogy, but hey, roll with me here. Also, if you do have a camel, please let me know, I’d love a ride – crazy awesome!

Aside from getting everything out of my head, hands down the single best thing I’ve found is to use EFT (& ooh, I refound the video I had up there. You should check it out, it’s really quite snazzy).

You don’t even have to say anything while you tap. Usually, after I’ve done a single round (tapped from my head down to under my arms) I’ve already calmed down enormously. Two or three rounds – just while my thoughts are burbling around will clear a ton of energy off, and get me back into a super calm space.

Once you’ve calmed down a bit, feel free to rant (out loud is best, but not critical) to your heart’s content. It really doesn’t matter what you say. Just yabber about all the junk that’s been flying around in your head. Tapping your meridian points will help take the energetic sting out of it super quickly.

In fact, I’m just amazed I haven’t mentioned this earlier. I’ve used this on myself, and watched friends use it, literally hundreds of times over the last few years – always to great success.

There’s no need for overwhelm to take over your life, your day, or even more than 5 or 10 minutes. Dump it and get the hell back into awesome-space.


    How To Stop Being A Victim And Regain Your Power

    Being a victim means feeling that something or  someone outside ourselves controls some part of our lives. Put simply, we lose connection with the fact that we create every single aspect of our existence. Often it may be difficult at the time to see how or why, but we do.

    Of course, this can be a very hard concept to accept as truth. However, in order to get out of being a victim, it’s helpful to just go with this for the moment.

    (Yes, this is a very confrontational post. Bear with me.)

    Basically, every step we can take towards having complete power over our lives is one step away from being a victim (where we have none).

    Regarding any specific situation, it’s critical to remember:

    1. It’s already happened. We can’t change the past. So, the best thing we can do is accept what’s happened, and let it go. Ie, get peaceful about it.
    2. For better or worse, the myriad of tiny decisions you made up until that point is why you were there. ie, you put yourself there. Often it’s impossible to see the exact chain of cause-and-effect, but you created that situation, if nothing else then just by being present (athough there’s always a lot more going on than just that).
    3. Accepting the past does not mean choosing to create the same situation in the future

    Remember, this isn’t about blaming yourself, this is about accepting the past & letting it go. It’s also about realising the true power we have. Once we accept the past, we can move on and make better decisions in the future. Have better beliefs and self-image. Create a better existence.

    How to drop victimhood

    Think about something terrible that’s happened to you. Just start with whatever pops in your head.

    Then say (as always, preferably out loud if possible):

    • (describe the situation)
    • I created this (or to save time, just “I created [describe situation]”)
    • I accept it.
    • I accept myself.
    • I love you Si (or your name, if you’re not called Si).

    As you’re doing this, you may feel a lot of energy come up. It’s very likely that part of you will be screaming as loudly as it possibly can NO NO NO, I DID NOT, I WILL NOT. I DON‘T.” This is completely normal — and in fact, why we’re doing this — to bring all that resistance to the surface & let it out, harmlessly and safely.

    You may feel tension or clutching in your body, shortness of breath, etc. Just let it all go. Relax that part of your body and let all the energy out. Keep cycling through the above four statements until you feel completely at peace about the issue.

    Some tips:

    • If it’s hard to say “I accept it” (which, oh boy, is understandable), try “I choose to accept it.” Again, this reasserts your power.
    • If it feels like there’s still some ickiness around the subject, try amping the statements up:
      • I accept all of this
      • I accept every part of this
      • I accept myself completely
      • I love you anyway

    (you get the idea)

    Basically, just say these variations & let go (ie, accept) everything that comes up, until you feel super calm. Estimated time per subject? Oh, typically less than 20 seconds.

    What do I feel a victim about?

    Where to start? Here are some suggestions:

    • Any feelings of inadequacy towards your parents
    • Any situations where you felt “not good enough”
    • Any situations where you compared unfavourably to friends
    • Any strongly negative judgements (eg, feeling like a loser, a failure, etc — any of those deep dark criticisms)
    • Big life mistakes (particularly those around relationships, or money)
    • Traumatic events where you felt you had no power or control
    • Anything you want to change about your life

    Basically, any memory you have that you hate the hell out of; makes you feel crappy every time you think of it; you wish were different. Just go with whatever pops in your head, your intuition will guide you.

    It’s ok to address multiple aspects of a given relationship separately. Some people have very major (read: traumatic) roles in our lives, often spanning decades.

    Why bother?

    The whole intent here is to simply accept the past for what it is — done & dusted. The peace this brings is incredibly freeing. It also has the benefit of stopping you continuing to create these things in your life.

    Why? Well have you ever noticed how we tend to cycle — have the same crappy things happen to us, until we finally learn our lesson? Yes, well this is one powerful way of breaking those cycles. Think about it, when you learn a lesson, you relax & accept it, right? So think of this as a shortcut. This is how you unwind karma and free yourself from those patterns.

    When you’re truly peaceful about something that’s happened, you’re also truly free — you can choose to create it again, or create something completely new. You don’t have emotional detritus pulling at you. You regain your true power. You stop feeling like a victim.

    The other thing to realise is — even though we may not be consciously aware of it, our subconscious is constantly churning over all this noise. The amount of peace we bring ourselves by pulling all this junk to the surface, accepting it & finally letting it go… well, you’ll just have to try it for yourself. Words really cannot do this justice.

    Finally, with big issues it’s often helpful (and easier) to take smaller steps. Acceptance is one such super useful step towards fully loving every aspect of your life.



      Day 14,610*

      bagel + beach

      Honey & almond bagel, best coffee in Melbourne (highly debatable, but still), beach. Perfect start to the day. I also spent roughly 12 hours meditating - which resulted in a perfect end.

      I also did a digital detox – no internet, phone off, just BEING. It was a great call.

      jellyfish shoe

      this was about an inch thick. It looked exactly like a jelly (I didn't check for taste authenticity)

      beautiful beach

      beautiful yes...

      beach warning sign

      .. but really NOT very friendly (a ton of these I never even knew existed)

      Melbourne city

      city walk - notice the sign for the hook turn (hanging from the tram wires) - a Melbourne specialty

      Also, a haircut. It’s gone from unpredictable yet interesting to really quite funky. I do love when a hairdresser manages to surprise me with awesomeness.

      Graduate Union

      Innocuous entryway leads into a sumptuous banquet hall, acres of fruit and vegetables.. my body SUNG for the rest of the day. Needless to say it would have been FAR too gauche to take a photo inside

      Later, drinks at The Attic (upstairs from The Black Pearl Bar) – which is so new it doesn’t even have a website yet. I was their fifth customer ever (yes, on 5/5). I mentioned that, & they gave me a free 23 yr old Ron Zacapa (which won the global rum awards five years in a row – until they created a hall of fame specifically for it, so it would stop competing & let some other rum win). It was like drinking malt extract, with a scrumptuous kick.

      Unfortunately, I was so wowed by the immaculate service,and incredible interior to remember to take photos. Any bar that creates cocktails that require a blow torch (at the table) & fresh rosemary is all good by me though. Highly recommend, A++++ would visit again.



      building art

      hello building!

      soy hot chocolate

      a gentle nightcap (utterly delicious)

      street art

      street art (note the milk crates next to it, for scale - elephants are always big, right?)

      mankind's planned evolution

      Actually quite a realistic forecast for mankind's evolution


      I walk past these trees a LOT. They utterly captivate me every time. I heart them.

      And the big lesson for the day seemed to be (although there was a ton of ancillary growth also):

      Listen more deeply. Particularly, do not talk in order to:

      • seem clever (think I’ve mostly already dumped this one, but still)
      • try to gain approval from the other person
      • try to control the conversation
      • try to “help” (since this is typically just an ego based rationalisation for the first two)
      • Or to tell them what you think they need. Just listen

      All in all, not at all what I expected, but thoroughly great regardless.


      *non-negative integers


        Urban Misogi

        Tonight was an excellent night for some urban misogi.

        Some back story. Last week or so, I biked into town to hang out with a friend. While we were getting a bite to eat, some 15 year old kids decided to trash my bike. They stole the seat, lights & reflectors, basically rendering it un-ridable.

        The upshot of all that was two fold.

        1. I got to watch my internal reaction to this event (almost zero – always nice to see progress)
        2. I’ve been doing a lot more walking.

        The walk to town is about an hour and a half, and since I meditate while I walk (I have some great audios), this has meant a good solid three hours meditation a day (plus what I normally do) every day for the last three days.

        The growth I’ve been experiencing recently has been, much like the walk itself, gorgeous.

        Which brings me to this evening.

        I’d been in town all day (bit of this, bit of that), and about 9:15pm it was time to walk home.

        It was pouring. And I mean POURING.

        Oh, oh! I completely forgot, you may well need an introduction to misogi.

        The term misogi covers a few things, but generally it refers to standing under freezing cold waterfalls. Typically this happens mid winter, sometimes for hours at a time, and often (in Aikido) holding a sword as you do.

        Misogi generally looks something like this...

        .. except this evening, when I ended up looking a little more like this

        Misogi is a purification exercise. It teaches you to stay centered. Still mind, still body, no matter what happens. It’s very simple mind-over-matter.

        I got introduced to this through Ki Society (a branch of Aikido) about 20 years ago. So yes, I’ve done neck deep (& under) standing naked in mountain rivers in the middle of winter.

        Let me tell you, it’s.. quite an experience.

        Anyway, back to this evening. One minor issue with misogi as a practice is the difficulty with finding a handy waterfall in, say, central Melbourne.

        They’re a little thin on the ground. Least of all because Australia is, for most intents & purposes, a desert.

        So, this evening was quite a neat opportunity. It was about 14 degrees C (57F). Not exactly sub-zero, but certainly a good test.

        Squelching along, drenched to the skin, while remaining as present as I possibly good was.. well, delightful.

        After about an hour of this, I was meditating on there being “nothing to change.” Or perhaps more accurately, that I felt that yes indeed there were several things I’d like to change, just at that moment (my shoes, shirt, pants, for a start.. and maybe swap my headphones for an umbrella).

        I was reminded of the classic story of the Zen master Banzan. He was walking through the market when he heard a customer tell the butcher “I want the best meat, so give me the best.”

        The butcher replied “Every piece of meat is the best.” And, so the story goes, upon hearing this Banzan became enlightened.

        As I remembered this, I realised – life is nothing but a series of “nows”, and every now is perfect.

        (Of course, the only thing telling us otherwise is our silly old monkey mind)

        I felt a huge rush of energy (& a ton of stuff leaving), and continued trudging along, tears of joy pouring down my face.

        This knowledge is nothing new, I first heard it 20 years ago, and I am sure I will need to learn it again.

        In that moment though, that one glorious moment, I suddenly heard hundreds of birds happily chirping in the trees, cars swishing past, and I didn’t just know it in my brain but in my heart.


          Escaping From Escapism

          I’ve been thinking about escapism for a while now.

          What is escapism? Essentially, anything that takes us away from being fully present. So, this would include:

          • Watching TV/movies (a personal favourite)
          • Booze (ditto)
          • Sex (can be – depending on context)
          • Food (any emotional altering food – carbs to dampen, sugars to elevate, etc)
          • Daydreaming
          • Worrying (ie, misery-focused daydreaming)
          • Non-essential shopping (aka “filling our lives with unnecessary crap”)
          • Drugs (a lot of – but not all)

          in other words, anything which numbs us.

          also any form of distracting ourselves from the task at hand, or procrastination:

          • Idly surfing the web
          • Twitter
          • Facebook
          • Reddit

          (we all have our personal favourites)

          in other words, anything we’re doing primarily because it uses up time (while optionally making us feel slightly better).

          A good question: Does this task take time, or am I doing it solely because it fills in my time?

          Now, if you’re doing any of the above with the specific intention of being present while doing it, that’s a  different kettle of fish. I am of course speaking in very broad terms – there are valid exceptions to all of the above.

          While we’re doing any activity the key thing is to notice where our attention is, why we’re doing it, and whether our primary motivation is simply to avoid something else.

          What is it that we are trying to avoid?

          Usually it’s something unpleasant. A feeling we’re not comfortable with, a task we don’t enjoy, or maybe just life in general.

          I saw a lot of this when I was working in investment banking in London, both in myself and others. It’s the “my life sucks, let’s get drunk!” solution. Where by “solution” I mean “escapism that really doesn’t do anything to help at all.”

          In general, escapism, procrastination & avoidance all fit under the title “side-effects of aversion”.

          You have an aversion to something, and procrastination etc are simply the result of that aversion. This is why “trying to stop procrastinating” rarely works. (also because it’s focusing on the problem, hence the above approach). You may have temporarily adjusted a result, but you haven’t dealt with the root cause.

          The Bhagavad Gita talks about the two forms of wanting – attachment & aversion. Releasing both forms is what leads to enlightenment, ie, the cessation of suffering.

          So, in order to drop, say, TV watching, you need to first ask “What am I avoiding, by watching TV?” Then, you need to heal/drop/etc that aversion.

          It’s also super useful to ask “What’s the upside of TV watching?” “What’s my payoff?” “What’s the benefit I perceive?” and so on. Ie, drop the attachment.

          This then leaves you in a place where you’re free to make a choice (watch/don’t-watch) with zero internal emotional tension.

          Dumping your aversions

          As an example, you have a blog post you need to get written. It’s causing you pain, or not flowing like it usually does. A whole raft of negative thoughts are floating around it (I’m not good enough. I can’t think of anything to write. Nobody reads my stuff anyway. It’s all crap. I’m blocked… the list goes on). Those are all your aversions to doing the task at hand – writing that post.

          I find tapping my karate chop point (the fleshy side of your hand where you would, hypothetically, karate chop someone) while asking “What’s my aversion to writing this post” or “Why don’t I want to do this?” or “What sucks about this?” helps bring those aversive thoughts to the surface. I can then write each down, in turn, and move to the next one. Really, just ask whatever resonates for you.

          If I’m feeling particularly clear then I don’t need to tap my hand necessarily – it’s just a useful tool for “tuning in.”

          Once I have a list of the aversions (reasons for avoiding it), I can then simply knock them out, one by one. How?

          Usually either by:

          1. Using EFT (slow, but a good solid approach), or
          2. Using releasing (much faster – just take the thought back to wanting or lacking approval, control or safety & let it go)

          Once it’s gone (ie, we feel no particular emotional resonance to it any more) then it’s super easy to replace each thought with an opposing, positive thought.

          • “I’m not good enough” -> “pfft! I’m plenty good enough, I can do this in my goddamn sleep”
          • “I can’t think of anything to write” -> “Course I can, the whole world’s my inkpot”
          • “Nobody reads my stuff anyway” -> “Who cares! Writing’s fun, and besides, those that need to read it will”
          • …and so on

          You may have noticed, I find getting all sweary is a great way to give myself a nice positive kick up the bum. Works for me, you just need to find what kind of language motivates you the most strongly.

          If you’ve really dropped each aversion, then those positive replacement thoughts will swill around in your brain pleasantly.

          If saying the positive phrase raises resistance (physical tension, opposing thoughts of emotions), there’s just a little more to go. So, let go of whatever comes up & try again till you’re clear & calm.

          Dumping your attachments

          Once you’ve got rid of the obvious aversions, then you can look at the escapism more specifically.

          Questions like “Why the hell do I want to watch TV?” “What’s compelling me to watch this?” “Why would I rather do this than write that blog post?” and so on. Really, anything that pops in your head that feels right. That’ll give you the other side of the equation. In other words, your attachments.

          Then, just do exactly the same thing you did for your aversions to (say, writing the post), to your attachments to (say, watching TV).

          So, tap or release on each of the attachments to watching TV.

          Now, it might take a few goes to clear everything out – that’s quite normal. We’re complex, layered beings, and often we need to remove the outer layers before we can see more deeply.

          Yes, we’re all onions.

          However, pretty much straight away you’ll start to feel both your resistance to doing the task start to dissipate, and your attraction/compulsion to that particular form of escapism fading.

          The result?

          I’ve been doing both of these things – on tasks I want to get done, and forms of escaping, for a few weeks now, and I tell you, my life is CHANGING.

          In a million years I never would have thought it would be possible to not surf my favourite geek news sites, and not watch TV.. and yet, here I am (and don’t even get me started about dumping booze, sugar & no caffeine during the week).

          The best thing of all? It’s been effortless. Really. The motivation just isn’t there any more. I can watch TV or not watch TV, I don’t care either way. The magnetic tractor beam that has been there pretty much my entire life has just disappeared.

          Even better, as I continue to query & release aversions to the various projects I have, I’m getting ever clearer, and the more effortlessly everything is falling into place.

          Yes, it really is possible to escape from escapism.