Do you feel in control of your daily schedule? Are you clear about what you can achieve in a day, and do you set limits on what others demand of you? Or do you dash through life, from task to task, struggling with the overwhelming pressure of keeping obligations?
Kim Forrester is an award-winning author, educator and holistic wellbeing consultant. As a mother-of-two and recovering people pleaser, she understands all too well the pressures that women face to be it all, do it all and keep it all together – for themselves, and for others around them.
"If you are like me, the people in your life probably describe you as kind, generous, and reliable. You are the person everyone turns to when they require someone's help, advice, time or energy. And, if you are like me, you oblige every single time", Kim admits.
According to Kim, the troubles arise when your commitment to others is so overwhelming that, in private times, you feel drained, exhausted and resentful.
"Many of us, particularly women, have been raised to believe that -being of service' is the greatest form of humility", Kim remarks. 'But this can sometimes compel us to give well beyond our means - until it makes us mentally, emotionally and (sometimes) physically ill."
"It's vital to understand that over-commitment and overwhelm are not helping you, and ultimately they're not helping anyone around you. Your children are learning that giving too much of yourself is okay; your friends and colleagues are dealing with a distracted or exhausted version of you; and you are not giving yourself the space to think clearly and rest deeply", she adds.
Kim offers four tools she has personally used to reduce overwhelm and discover a more peaceful, powerful tempo to life.
Stop "shoulding" on yourself: "If you truly want to help – or give your time, or support – then deep inside you will actually have all of the resources needed to complete the task; your generosity or selflessness will be coming from a place of authenticity and inspired empathy, and will only serve to life your spirits further. However, if you are only doing something because you should, then you are probably lacking in some of your own needs – it's time to put yourself first – or your input is not truly required at this time." In which case, it's time to…
Release the need to rescue: "It's vital to remember that life is all about experience, and there will be times when our help or generosity actual hinders the emotional and spiritual growth of another person. By giving them continual financial help, they may never learn the value of money. By providing constant emotional support, they may never learn to tap into their own inner strength. By continually ignoring or excusing others' bad behaviour, they may never understand the need to embrace their innate love and compassion."
Live by the 80% Full Rule: "When we allow our schedules, our commitments and our emotional investments to fill up completely, we don't allow space for the inevitable twists and surprises that life is going to bring. If our lives and our time are 100%, or even 90% full, all it takes is an emergency, or a sick pet, or drama in a friend's life and, all of a sudden, we're over-committed. Change the way you view your life, and live by the creed that you will only commit 80% of your time, energy and emotional reserves. After 80%, you're full. At this point, reply to requests with ''I'd love to help but I just don't have the capacity at the moment', I this way you will always have the ability to rest, or deal with surprising developments without stretching yourself."
Gift yourself a year of "no" : "Some people decide to have a year of yes, and have amazing experiences because of it. But, for many of us, saying 'yes' isn't the problem – it's what gets us into trouble in the first place! So, gift yourself a year, month or even week of 'no'. Tell your friends and family that you're doing so, and then decline every offer, every request that comes to you in that time. You'll be amazed at how quickly you will find gaps in your usually-busy schedule."
Vitally, Kim warns against filling space that becomes available in your life. "We can become addicted to 'the busy'. I know, I have been there. When you slow down, you're going to feel the adrenaline – the angst – that you have been living with. But don't distract yourself with more tasks. Sit with those feelings, be quiet or creative, and you will eventually acclimatise to the new pace of life."
Kim Forrester is an award-winning author, educator and holistic wellbeing coach. She combines cutting-edge science with traditional spiritual teachings to inspire soulful living. Born in New Zealand, now living in Singapore, Kim has contributed regularly to global publications such as MariaShriver.com and Arianna Huffington's Thrive Global and has made television appearances in Australia and New Zealand. Her book, Infinite Mind, was awarded a Silver Medal in the 2017 Living Now Book Awards.
Question: How have we become a nation of people-pleasers?
Kim Forrester: Australia, like all wonderful societies, is based on the concept of looking out for others and being kind, generous and thoughtful. These are valuable social concepts and therefore many of us – particularly girls and women – have been praised, and approved of, and rewarded all of our lives when we have exhibited these traits. We have been taught to be 'good'. The only challenge is that, while we were being taught to be good to others, very few of us were empowered to be as equally good to ourselves. We weren't taught that it's equally as important to 'check in' with ourselves and make sure that we have all the energy, support, nourishment and rest we need as an individual. This type of behaviour has been labelled as 'selfish' where, in actual fact, ensuring our emotional, physical and spiritual needs are met is incredibly 'self-full'. We deserve to be fully nourished – when we are, it is fun and fulfilling to give to others.
Question: Why do you feel Australians are more overwhelmed than ever before?
Kim Forrester: There are several social dynamics at play that are filling our lives with ever more craziness. Firstly, we live in a society where our value is judged but what we do. It also tends to be how we judge the value of others. "What do you do? What's your job? What committees do you belong to? How are you involved at school?" We are driven by a need to contribute in very visible ways so that we can be judged as being valuable. That means, we are driven to spend a lot of our time 'doing'.
Secondly, parents tend to take this concept of 'doing is valuable', and apply it to their children. Many Australian children are over-scheduled, over-supervised and overloaded with homework. This leads to busy parents trying to coordinate activities, taxi children around town and fill valuable time with their children's 'doing'. All this, while running households and often working.
Finally, I believe there's an element of 'addiction' here – it's as if we, as a society, have become addicted to being busy. In fact, we often wear it like a badge of honour. "I can't stay, I have a million things to do" or "I'm so busy this week" or "I don't have time for that". I know firsthand how easy it can be to get used to the adrenaline, the rush, the go-go-go … and slowing down can actually feel quite confronting and painful. I think that's why some people, even knowing their lives are out of control, choose to stay in the busy-ness.
Question: How will we know if we're overwhelmed by our daily life?
Kim Forrester: You'll know – it's manifesting itself somewhere. If you are like me – very demonstrative – then you may find yourself incredibly stressed in traffic "Get out of my way, idiot, I've got somewhere to be!" Or it may reveal itself in your intimate relationships in the form of stress-related arguments or a low sex-drive. If you are more restrained, your body will be your feedback mechanism. You may find yourself crying easily, or grinding your teeth at night, or suffering with signs of anxiety or depression. Or, as if often the case if we are ignoring our needs, your body will become ill or injured. Many times in my life, I have twisted an ankle badly, or sprained a leg muscle – my body literally screaming at me to "SLOW DOWN!"
Question: How can we learn to feel in control of our daily commitments?
Kim Forrester: Firstly, you must understand that the busy-ness you create in your life is a choice. You may have fallen into a habit of filling your schedule, or have felt it's what everyone does, or perhaps you were taught that you had to be busy to succeed or be worthy. But, truly, those are just stories and they are not right, nor real. There is a man in Penang, Malaysia who opens his grocery store whenever he needs money. He'll work hard, many hours a day, for as long as it takes to earn the funds to pay his bills. As soon as he has the money he needs, he'll close his store and go and lie on a hammock near the ocean. This man hasn't learned the concept of busy-ness being good. So he chooses, instead, to take care of his needs as much as he takes care of the needs of the community. Once you have realised that it's often your choice to be busy, and that you are entitled to say no when it suits you to do so, you will be empowered to make the necessary changes to your daily activities.
Question: What is the best method for setting limits that determine what others demand of us?
Kim Forrester: I like the 80% Full Rule. A financial advisor will always tell you to pay yourself first – put away your savings before you start paying others. As a wellbeing advisor, I am going to tell you to do the same with your time, energy and emotional resources. Don't allow your schedule to fill up to 100%. 80% is -full' and the other 20% is there for you, or for those inevitable emergencies and unexpected events. The same is true with your emotional capacity and energy – if you have friends or loved ones that tend to drain you with when you speak to them, it's ok to make yourself unavailable for some of the time. In this way, you'll ensure you always retain some emotional and spiritual capacity for your own life, your own needs.
Question: Can you provide some advice on how we can learn to say no?
Kim Forrester: For anyone who has grown up believing that goodness is giving, always, all the time, learning to say "no" is going to feel awkward and wrong. It's important to understand this, because a vital step in moving from overwhelm to wellbeing is moving through those feelings, into a more balanced approach to giving. When you start saying "no", allow yourself to feel like you're selfish, or wrong, or a downright bitch… because none of that is true. Know you are moving into a more self-full phase, and all you're feeling is the gap between over-obligation and healthy giving.
There is a great piece of advice I once read (it's not my great advice!) that it's easier to say "no" to people if you use the word "don't" instead of "can't". What this allows you to do is depersonalise your rejection – it's not me, it's the rules. It's not that I'm thoughtless, it's that the plan doesn't allow me to do this. For instance, instead of saying "I can't help tonight because I have to catch up on my ironing" which may feel to you like a poor excuse, say "I don't make plans for the evenings until I've got my housework fully completed." It's a very empowering way of getting used to saying "no".
Question: How do you successfully manage your work and mum-life?
Kim Forrester: My children are older now, in their late teens, and I live in South East Asia with a housekeeper … so life is a lot calmer now than it was for many, many years. But I lived in overwhelm for many years and it was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef that opened my eyes and motivated me to banish busyness. I limited my and my children's activities to the one or two things I/they loved the most, and decided not to worry that, somehow, I was undermining their development if they weren't involved in everything. Time has proven this to be a very wise decision.
I also allowed my children more independence. There is concern that today's children are over-protected and molly-coddled. So, I began to free up my time by allowing my children to explore their independence and responsibility. If they were able to catch a bus to and from an after-school activity, or a social date, I let them do it. I would use that taxi-ferrying time to catch up on other important tasks.
And I started saying "no", a lot. And, guess what? I didn't lose any friends, or my job, or the respect of others, and rumours didn't start flying about what a complete bitch I was. In fact, when I spent time with people, I was more present, more relaxed and more fun to be around.
Interview by Brooke Hunter