Guest Post: What to Do the Next Time You Feel Overwhelmed

I think you’ll appreciate this helpful post from my friend Michael Warden (you can read more about him and his important work through Ascent Coaching Group at the end of this post). Michael is a wise and dedicated leadership coach, a writer, and a strong leader in his own right. Many pastors and other Christian leaders trust him to walk alongside them as they strive to offer their best to those they lead. In fact, Michael has been a leader and coach to me, and I’m grateful for his investment in my own growth. I hope you’ll benefit from his practical strategy for dealing with those moments when we just can’t deal with it.


I could feel the Tsunami coming. Frankly, it was overdue.

Like so many of us, I have a lot of different things going on at once in my life. In addition to my work as a coach, I head up the Destiny Project and BraveHeart Intensive retreats, which are presented by a team of fantastic facilitators at various times around the U.S. and in Europe. I also serve as President of WayPoint Coaching Community, a Christ-centered collective of professional “transformational workers” around the country and overseas. I’m working on the third novel in my Pearlsong Refounding trilogy. And in the middle of all this, I’m constantly striving to workout regularly, eat healthily, stay connected to each of my loved ones, build community with my neighbors and keep all the house systems (bills, laundry, repairs, cleaning, grocery shopping, errands, etc. etc. etc.) running smoothly.

Truth is, I’m thankful for my life. I feel lucky to have the life I do. But sometimes it’s a lot to handle. Every so often the ebb and flow of tasks in each of these arenas align to form a Task List Tsunami large enough and urgent enough to quickly drown me in feelings of overwhelm and resentment.

Oh, and self doubt. Did I mention self doubt? ‘Cause Lord knows I should be able to handle all this, right? Yes. Yes, you should (says my very confident and very vocal Inner Critic).

It used to be when these monster waves hit, I’d go into panic. I’d isolate, procrastinate, whine, play the victim, and binge-watch just about anything on Netflix to avoid facing reality. Needless to say, that strategy was super effective.

But now (thanks to coaching! Coaching is awesome!), instead of curling into the fetal position and tossing up an S.O.S., I activate an S.O.P.

S.O.P. is a military acronym for “Standard Operating Procedure.” The concept was born out of the heat of battle and other high-stress situations where soldiers have neither the time nor the mental energy needed to hyper-analyze a situation, evaluate a myriad of options and choose the one you hope is best, all while under a great deal of external pressure. Instead, soldiers are provided a compendium of S.O.P.s for a variety of common high-stress situations. The S.O.P.s are drilled into the warriors until they’re automatic. So when X happens, soldiers automatically do S.O.P. #37. When Y happens, they do S.O.P. #42. And so on.

The advantages to this approach are many and impressive. For one, soldiers have a clear sense of the “best path forward” in all kinds of intense situations. They don’t have to waste precious time figuring out what to do because the S.O.P. is right there in their brain telling them the next step. Most importantly, they aren’t making choices from a place of panic and overwhelm. The S.O.P. effectively circumvents the rash decision-making that would otherwise threaten to overrun everything in the heat of battle.

So I say, why should the military have all the fun? Even though S.O.P.s were designed for military scenarios, they can (and do!) work just as effectively in high-stress, curve-ball situations we all face every day.

My Task List Tsunami, for example.

My S.O.P. for when the tsunami hits is really pretty simple. I do these three behaviors, over and over, until the tsunami passes:

1. Strategically focus on one task at a time.
2. Give my full presence to that task.
3. Take mindful, unhurried action until the task is done.

Rinse and repeat. Again, it’s a simple S.O.P., but it really works! And it’s a thousand times more effective (and less trama-inducing) than eating a party-size bag of Fritos while I binge-watch 15 episodes of Friends.

So let me turn it to you. What’s the tsunami you deal with on a regular basis? What external scenario regularly sends you into overwhelm or panic or takes you out of commission in some other way?

What if you designed an S.O.P. that would help you surf the tsunami rather than get pummeled by it?

Why not give it a try? Here’s how:

• Pick a scenario where you typically get tanked.
• Write out what you usually do (i.e. how you tank)
• Then write out what you think is the best possible way you could respond to that scenario (instead of tanking).
• Turn that “best possible response” into a series of specific action steps. First I’ll do this. Then this. Then this. You get it.
• Finally, test it out. Next time the tsunami hits, employ the S.O.P.Michael Warden
• Afterward, evaluate: How’d it go? Make adjustments to your S.O.P. to make it work even better next time.

Rinse and repeat.


Michael Warden is founder and president of Ascent Coaching Group Inc., a faith-based leadership development company committed to helping faith leaders lead strong, live free, and build teams that can change the world. When he’s not coaching or writing, he loves going on grand adventures, drinking really strong coffee, and watching way too much scifi for his own good. You can find him online at, on Twitter at, and on Instagram at

© 2016 Amy Simpson.