Why You Feel Overwhelmed by Modern Life (and what to do about it)
Learn how to use the modern world to your advantage, instead of letting it use you.
Do you ever feel like abandoning the modern world to live in a cabin in the woods? It would be so much simpler. No dead end career to persue. No social media to compete on. No social pressure. Just a simple happy life.
The thing is, you probably don’t want to give up the modern life you have, you probably were just never taught how to navigate it.
You see, our generation was never taught how to live within the world we inherited. Humans were never designed to process so many things at once. Our minds are simple. We don’t multitask well, and our modern world is full of entities constantly bidding for our attention. The good news is there is a way to keep everything under control… by using your technology instead of letting it use you.
Why Modern Society Paralyzes You
Do you feel paralyzed, like you aren’t able to function in society because everything seems overwhelming? Yeah, I did too. It’s normal actually.
Our school system (at least in the USA) doesn’t prepare us for the modern world. It prepares us for the world our parents and teachers graduated into.
In order to understand why you feel the way you do I want you to think about life a few hundred years ago. Imagine the pressure and expectations the typical person might feel back then. This is a gross oversimplification but at a basic level I would image it looks something like this:
- Provide for yourself and/or family
- Become good at your profession (probably whatever your family does)
- Raise some kids
- Pay taxes and Die
These days our goals and expectations are not so clear cut. Something like this:
- Get the money to get a good education
- Get a good education (whatever that means)
- Get a good job (one that pays a lot of money, not necessarily one you enjoy)
- Get a better job (one that pays even more money)
- Make sure you keep up your presence on social media (because even your employers will look at this stuff)
- Don’t disappoint your parents who still think the world functions like it did in the 60s
- Get married by a certain age
- Have kids
- Provide for your family if you have kids
- Respond to the millions of bids for your attention every day
- Pay taxes and die (probably full of regrets)
- And a million more things…
It's insane. And most of it’s contradictory. But you probably already knew that, so what the hell do we do about it? It’s a simple concept that’s not so simple to execute. It’s externalization and aggregation.
You can use the technology that’s paralyzing you to your advantage. And in some cases you don’t have to use it at all.
Basically, you have to create a buffer zone between your brain and all this meaningless noise that’s bombarding you every day. Let's start with externalization.
Do you keep a journal? If so, then you probably already understand what externalization is. It’s getting all the junk out of your head into a format where you can work with it and process it. Don't worry, I'm not gonna tell you that journaling is the solution to all your problems, but the concept of it is part of the larger solution.
Throughout your day we collect things in our mind, whether we realize it or not. At a certain point our short term memory starts to get full. We start to lose track of things. We start forgetting. We get overwhelmed.
A lot of people live in a constant state of being overwhelmed because they were never taught how to get all that stuff out of their mind. They think they should just be able to miraculously keep track of everything and have it all in their head. It don't work like that. You're stuck in life because you can't process your problems.
Once you get everything out of your head, it’s possible to analyze it and start to better understand your problems, goals, ideas, and how all that stuff relates to one another. In other words, it provides a sense of clarity that one can’t achieve while trying to keep everything in their head.
The Basic Things You Need to Get Out of Your Head
Have you ever forgot to go to an appointment or class or meeting? Of course you have. You are human and you forget. You shouldn’t try to remember things like that. If you have to go somewhere or do something on a certain date… put it on a calendar. A digital one that will remind you. I use the stock Apple calendar app.
Reminders are similiar to the calendar but they aren’t as absolute. These are things like “I need to go to the grocery store tomorrow.” If you try to keep track of all the things you need to do in the next few days, you’re going to fail.
As soon as I realize I need to do something, I pull out my phone and say “remind me to do x at x time” so I know that thought is saved and I’ll be reminded of it. I use the stock Apple Reminders app.
I’m not going to tell you journaling is essential, but I would suggest trying it. Just write (or type or dictate) what happened throughout your day. Write how you feel and why. Write anything that comes to mind because the point is to get it out of your head and into some other format. You’re clearing space and putting all that information into an archivable format. It’s there if you need it, but you don’t have to juggle it around in your head 24/7 anymore. It’s like moving data from RAM to a hard drive instead of just overfilling your RAM and then deleting it.
- Projects & Goals
This is a big one, and it’s where I think a lot of people get lost. You need a place to put your goals and projects where you can view and work towards them. Some people use journaling for this, but that doesn’t work for me. I need something more interactive and flexible. I use an app called Things 3. It’s similiar to Apple reminders or Todoist.
I use it to keep track of projects and goals. For example, if you want to write a book someday, you can make a task in things for that.
I also use it to keep a list of things that are causing me stress. Every now and then I look at it and see if I can eleminate one of the things on that list. It turns out most of the things aren’t all that hard to fix if I list them out one by one.
Lists of ideas are good to keep around too. I have lists in here for Youtube videos and other things.
You could also use the reminders app for these things but I prefer splitting regular reminders from projects and goals. Find a system that works for you.
We’re bombarded with a million things every day. There’s no way we can respond to all of them. It’s healthy to separate the noise from the actual important stuff before it even gets to you.
Silence unimportant notifications before bed.
Set up email filters to put certain emails (especially ones you receive a lot) into folders out of your mail inbox
Unsubscribe from mailing lists for the love of God
Don’t use social media (except for business) for a day. See how it feels. Maybe do it for two days next time… or a week…
Automate things that you do over and over
Keep your desk clean
Organize your files
Don’t feel like you have to reply to everyone all the time
If you do use social media and you realize you’re only on it because it’s a habit, immediately do something else
That last point is important. All of these things aren’t going to happen at once, and it will requre breaking habits. If you feel yourself doing something simply because it’s a habit… just stop for the moment and think about what you would actually like to be doing in the moment. The answer is probably not going to be scrolling your instagram timeline mindlessly.
Improving your life is hard. If this stuff feels overwhelming, latch onto one thing in the article and implement it. Take one step at a time. Nobody is going to read an article and immediately become their ideal self.
This is just shared knowledge that helps me live a better life. Hopefully it will help you too.