with Hannah Garland

  • Hannah Garland

Mental burden snowball: gain momentum when everything is overwhelming

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Women are always thinking, planning, and worrying - about everything! How do you get started when there is so much on your mind that you feel too paralyzed to do anything?

Women tend to think about multiple things at once and solve problems before our husbands or children are even aware of them. Back up boxes of cereal magically appear and clothes are magically mended or purchased. While solving these problems, we’re wondering how to pay the bills, prepping for our next meeting at work, remembering that we need to call the doctor, and wiping a runny nose. Years go by and we don’t consider the toll this mental burden takes on us.

We don’t have control over all of our circumstances. But we do have control over how we manage them in our heads - this is how we react and how much stress we let ourselves carry. The way we work through that mental burden can become more efficient.

Have any of you heard of Dave Ramsey? He is a financial coach with a popular book, podcast, and more, and he has a concept called the debt snowball that helps people optimize their available cash to pay off debts faster. In a debt snowball you take the sum of all of your debts and only pay the minimum on the larger debts while you pay off as much as possible on the smallest ones first. Then, when you’ve paid off the smallest debt, you apply what you were paying on that debt to the second smallest debt until it is paid off, and so on. Your snowball is your ability to pay off debt and it gains steam as it rolls downhill.

While I can’t take credit for the snowball imagery, I have come up with the idea of the mental burden snowball. It’s not quite as catchy of a term, I know. I firmly believe that, like money, we have a fixed amount of burden that we can carry in our minds and that too much mental burden causes mental, emotional, and even physical problems over time. We can’t change the fact that there might always be at least 20 things to do or worry about at any given time. But if we try to tackle them all at once, we will be less effective than we would be if we put all of our energy into one or two problems first. You see, when you spread your mental energy across 20 things you open yourself up to more distraction and more anxiety. When there are too many problems, the anxiety can be paralyzing and you may not even know where to start.

At work, we’d call this “driving things to done.” In project planning, you are doing poorly if you have multiple items being worked on in parallel. It is a highly inefficient use of resources. You do well to drive a few to done and then devote your resources on completing the remaining items even faster.

In a mental burden snowball, you:

  1. Take stock of everything on your mind - solvable and unsolvable problems. Write a list.

  2. Organize that list from smallest or easiest problems to solve at the top down to the big, hairy unsolvable problems at the bottom.

  3. Fix only the smallest and easiest problem first. Do not allow yourself to get distracted.

  4. Then move down the list.

A mental burden snowball is a tactic to help you get started and gain momentum. Then, as the snowball barrels downhill, you gain the mental space and confidence you need to tackle the harder problems. Of course, your list of problems is not going to be finite. Unlike debt, it will grow again, whether you want it to or not. But hopefully this tactic helps you get un-paralyzed the next time the problems mount.

Hi, there! I go deeper into topics in my podcasts. Each are about 20 minutes long and they drop weekly. Please check one out here!