What really causes me to freeze

Sometimes I get really productive during stress. REALLY productive. It’s my coping mechanism and I run around like an energizer bunny, getting it all done. I think my inner monologue truly believes that if somehow I accomplish every last thing on my todo list, I’ll be okay.

But long-term stress and unpredictable environments can turn this into overwhelm and apathy. It feels like nothing I do matters and I’ll never be able to keep up.

If the world around you feels like it’s a lot right now, and you’re feeling the stress of an election (which we can’t control), the uncertainty around COVID-19 futures (also mostly out of our control), and the stress of crisis-schooling, you are NOT ALONE.

Even if you’re reading this years from now, things can go wrong—and they often do. People pass on, projects go under, businesses are forced to change. Part of the work of being human is reconciling with all that is beyond our control.⁠⠀

Reclaiming your power 

This brings me to a coaching exercise and a practice that I love and I wanted to share with you today. Anger, sadness, and rage are important emotions, but it’s also important to let those feelings burn cleanly and clearly so that you can stay focused and keep going.⁠ The exercise is called “areas of control,” and you’ll need a piece of paper or journal to do it.


STEP 1: Get a piece of paper that’s at least A4 size (8.5″ x 11″) if you can, so you’ll have enough space. This exercise is adapted from several coaching practices.

STEP 2: Start by drawing three circles, each one a little bigger than the next. Give yourself some space for each circle because you’ll be drawing in it.

STEP 3: List everything that’s within your control in the smallest center circle.⁠ Anything that you have full control over, or that’s within your realm of expertise—like what you decide to eat for dinner, or when you’re doing the laundry, or what time you wake up and exercise, to what you wear. List everything you’ve got in this smallest circle.

STEP 4: List things that you can influence (but not fully control) in the next layer out, the second circle.⁠ Maybe your roommates choose dinner, but you can influence it by making shopping list requests. Maybe you influence what time y’all go to bed, but your kiddos are often rambunctious late into the evening.

STEP 5: List anything that’s out of your control in the outside circle.⁠ There’s a lot outside of our control right now. The results of the election, whether or not we get COVID, how the next Supreme Court justice gets appointed.

BONUS: For anything that’s outside of your control that causes a lot of stress, write one action item inside of “influence” or “control” that you can take action on related to the bigger stressor. Some examples:

  • While I can’t control the outcome of the election, I can write letters with Vote FWD, an organization that helps boost voter turnout by 1-3%, and I commit to writing 20 letters each week.
  • While I can’t control the Supreme Court Justice outcome, I can call my senators to let them know what I think, and I will donate money or time to the senate races I think are the most important in this upcoming general election.
  • While I can’t control what time the children actually fall asleep, I can put dinner on the table at 6:00 to give us enough time for dinner, bed, and bath. 
  • I know that getting through the bathtime routines are super stressful for me, so I’m going to take my own hot bath at 5PM (in my control) while the children are plugged into iPads before dinner. MOM GETS THE HOT WATER FIRST TODAY TEAM.

Use the circles of control to reconnect with your power.

If you’re reading this and scrolling through emails and notifications, please do take the time to try writing this out. Here’s a playlist I love, and you can set the timer for 5-8 minutes to practice. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to be very effective. Getting the thoughts and worries out of your head and on to paper is very, very effective and can relieve a huge amount of stress.

Listen to this blog post as an audio podcast 🔬

If you want to hear this by audio, take a listen to the Startup Parent Podcast Episode #172. I go over how our thoughts work, why this exercise works, and why it’s so important to actually write it out. The process of writing disrupts our normal mental loops and helps us see things in a new way—literally.⁠ 

Stick to your zone of genius—and spend time where you have agency and control. Reclaiming your energy and agency is a huge way to make change in the world.

PS: I’ve been having way too much fun with Instagram Reels and I have no agenda for using the platform other than playing around and having fun. If you love cooking (I do), I posted new recipes to my Instagram stories, including a no-sugar no-dairy homemade pumpkin spice latte.

PPS: I keep forgetting to talk about the new mini-books available, if you want to take a look, these are short, actionable books to help you with very specific challenges. The latest book is all about saying no and setting boundaries.