Episode 49 – Overcoming Overwhelm with Karolyn Blume

Karolyn dropped additional nuggets of sales and marketing goodness in the EXTENDED Interview. Be sure to click here to access all of our great extended interviews, transcripts and more within our Insider's Club.

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Karolyn Vreeland Blume was born many years ago in New York City. She started her professional life as a lawyer with a successful general practice including litigation, real estate, divorce, business and estates. As a lawyer, Karolyn encountered many diverse situations involving a wide variety of issues and people. She represented Fortune 500 corporations, mom and pop businesses, and everything in between. She has vast experience navigating the treacherous waters of local, state and federal governments, as well as representing neglected and abused children. She helped spouses separate with integrity while maintaining a stable environment for their children. In her estate business she offered her clients compassion and understanding as well as excellent legal representation. She is empathetic, compassionate and gives of her expertise beyond expectation.

After 25 years, she decided there had to be a better way to resolve disputes than beating each other up in a courtroom. For Karolyn, that better way was mediation. She founded Conflict Resolution Services (www.CRSMediation.com), which is a full service mediation, facilitation and arbitration firm. With over 300 hours of training – both receiving and presenting – she has helped hundreds of people and businesses resolve conflicts peacefully and amicably. She handled a wide range of cases in the areas of business matters, divorce, elder issues, family disputes, real estate, medical malpractice and class actions for individuals and businesses.

Karolyn is a known and respected international speaker, consultant, coach, facilitator, mentor and teacher, whose presentations are filled with valuable information and engaging humor. She is an expert problem solver and gifted strategist.

She served as an adjunct faculty member for Penn State University, Muhlenberg College, and Cedar Crest College. She moderated a live, call-in program for PBS television, and is active in many non-profit and charitable organizations. She is a Founding Member of Mediators Beyond Borders International, and is listed in Who’s Who in American Law, and Who’s Who of American Women. She is the author of Eat the Elephant: Overcoming Overwhelm.

Podcast Transcription

Brian Basilico: Welcome, everybody and I got a question for you; I can totally relate to this: are you overwhelmed? I get overwhelmed a lot because there are so many things going on between podcast, and emails, and videos, and courses and all these other stuff and I get crazily overwhelmed, but I got an expert that's going to help us bring us back to a moment of the zen. Karolyn Blume, how are you doing today?

Karolyn Blume: Good, Brian. How are you?

Brian: I'm doing awesome.

When I first read your bio and your book, I looked at it and I said, “Oh, she's into law and meditation. No wonder why she could bring us back to a moment of zen.” But I got that wrong, didn't I?

Karolyn: Yes, it's law and mediation and there's a very little zen about the law.

Brian: Amen for that. So, how did you go from a lawyer and doing mediation to writing a book about “eating elephants?”

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Karolyn: Well, I guess I'm kind of a slow learner and it took me 25 years to realize that practicing law and litigating was no way to resolve disputes. Bashing each other around the courtroom and being antagonistic and hostile all the time is just not a good way to live. So, that lead me to mediation, which is a much more sane way to resolve disputes. You sit down, you can control your destiny, control the outcome, you're not depended upon people that you don't even know, who don't know anything about you other than what's presented at trials. So, I really liked doing mediation, I did that for about 10 years and I still do an occasional mediation.

What I started to discover as I was doing the couple of hundred mediations that I've done is that all conflict – whether it's conflict in the middle east, or whether it's conflict over the neighbor's barking dog – all conflict starts from how we see ourselves and how we see ourselves in the world. That was a eureka moment for me because I realized that we have a lot more power to change our lives than we think we do. We aren't trapped. Even if we feel stuck, we feel trapped, we feel like there's no way out, we are a victim of circumstance and I who have an anti-victim personality – I'm a fighter, not a victim – didn't want to accept that. I think there's a way to change.

So the first thing I looked at is what makes us this way? I just looked at myself. I looked in the mirror and I am overwhelmed all the time. So, I decided to start there and explore the whole concept of overwhelm, what causes it, how do we fix it, what are strategies to get through it – those kinds of things.

Brian: Very cool. I get hungry every once in a while. I had a bagel for breakfast, but I'm very rarely hungry enough to “eat an elephant.” So what's that all about?

Karolyn: Well, the title comes from a kid's joke. When I was in first grade, I thought was absolutely hilarious and I remember it to this day, many, many, many decades later. That is how do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. My daughter is a senior strategist with the Department of Defense and we were chatting one day and I said something about eat the elephant. She looked at me and she said, “How do you know what? That's a military thing.” I said, “No it's not. It's a kids' joke.” She said, “Oh, the military, when they look at problems, they talk about eating the elephant as well.” I thought, “Well, it has more universal appeal than I initially thought it did.” And the way to combat overwhelm most effectively in my mind is to just chunk things up and do them one thing at a time. So that's where the title came from.

Brian: Cool. You and me, both being children of the '60s back in our hippie days. Right? Remember when life was all like peace and zen, nice and easy, and everything, and all this love. Now, it is like, “Oh my god, there are so much things going on.” As a matter of fact, I heard a study that said that if you think it's bad now with all the communications and stuff, within five years it's going to multiply times six. All the messaging, all the beeps, bops, booms, all that kind of stuff. So, how did we get so overwhelmed? Where did this start?

Karolyn: Oh, I think it probably started in prehistoric days. I'm old, but I'm not that old so I can't go back quite that far. Neuroscience shows that we gap between 3,000-5,000 messages a day. 3,000-5,000 things jacking for our attention, buying for our attention, “Notice me, notice me, buy this, go there, do this.” If you do the mat – and I don't do math frankly – but if you do the math and you divide 24 hours into 5,000, you get a lot. I don't know what it is, but it is a lot.

So with all of those messages bombarding us, we don't have time to take a breath. We don't have time to sit back and reflect and say, “What is it that I want to do?” One of the biggest, I think, problems is the email box. Email is a way to make somebody else's problem your problem. While I wouldn't give up my email for anything, email is one of the things that has to be managed rather that it managing you. Just as an example, social media is another one.

Brian: And that's huge.

So what are some of the main causes that are creating all this overwhelm in our lives? Because trust me, I get it. Between my family, my business, the volunteer things that I do, the demands in email and social media, it can become just mind-numbing.

Karolyn: Well, it can. When your mind is numb, that's when you really become overwhelmed. You don't know which way to turn. So with that in inundation of information, it's very difficult for our brains to sort it out. Your brain can hold five to seven pieces of information at one time, which doesn't sound like much. The trouble is when you have too much stuff going on when you are overwhelmed, when you're getting all these messages, your brain bounces back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth between all of the things buying for your attention, and you really can't get a handle on anything.

Then you start getting frustrated because you've lost your direction and you've lost your compass. So, that really is the reason we get overwhelmed. The next thing is what can we do about it or what causes specific instances of overwhelm, specific kinds of overwhelm? Because there are several. It's not just people say, “Oh, I'm overwhelmed.” But that has a lot of different sub-parts. In the book I tried to explain what some of those sub-parts are and hopefully you'll be able to see yourselves in one or more of those.

Brian: Yes, and I love that. That's a great, great step.

So, what are some of the main causes? I look into your book, I saw this list that overwhelmed me. It was a lot. What are some of the main causes of overwhelm?

Karolyn: I think that part of it are historical, how we were raised. For example, our fear or procrastinator, or if you're a perfectionist, those can contribute mightily to overwhelm. Some people have almost an addiction to being busy and business is a big part of overwhelm because you're busy all the time. The trouble is that you're busy, but you're not necessarily productive. You're doing things, but you're not necessarily getting things done. You often become a human doing instead of a human being.

Sometimes busyness can be, I said earlier, an addiction because being busy prevents you or doesn't give you the time to examine other things in your life – life that may be impediments to your doing what you want to do or being who you want to be. For example, if you are always busy, there's no time for reflection. There's no time to sit down and say, “Whoa, what do I want to accomplish today? What are the three things?” And I recommend no more than three things per day that you want to get done. Now, some of them can have sub-parts, but it's three things. You can't do 35 things in a day. It's just impossible. If you expect that of yourself, you're going to be disappointed, you're going to fail and your self-esteem is going to take a huge hit because it just can't be done.

So what I try to do is help people see that there's nothing wrong with only doing what is humanly possible to do.

Brian: You said a couple of things that really sparked me – human doing versus human being – I love that. The other thing is a quote from your book, it says – and this is from Albert Einstein – “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” That, I think is just fabulous. I think that's really the key thing and then saying that you can only do three things in a day. I'm Mr. 35 because I want to accomplish so much, I want to get the most out of everyday and I guess I'm over-stretching my own balance.

Karolyn: But I don't want people to think that you can only do three things in a day. If I gave that impression, I misspoke. What I mean is on your to-do list, you should only have three things. If you do other things, if you have time, if you finish the three that you have to get done or that you want to get done for that day and there's time left, then do other things. But putting 35 things on your to-do list in a day, my god, sitting there looking at the list, you get overwhelmed.

Brian: Right, yes.

Karolyn: So it's not that you can only do three, it's that you should plan to do three and anything else is gravy.

Brian: I love the bonus concept.

So, where do we start? Where is the best place to start to help ourselves get unoverwhelmed?

Karolyn: Well, where I start in the book is to do a brain dump and there are a lot of brain dumps in the book because if the stuff is out of your head and on paper, then your brain has room to create. This is something that I think is so very important. The brain is a creative device, it is not a storage device. The purpose of the brain is to think and to create, not to be a file cabinet. So, if you have all these things – and I am guilty of this. I am certainly not preaching because I am guilty of this every damn day, and everyday I have to remind myself, “Just write it down. Just put it on the list, just put it somewhere else.” So it's not rolling around in my head. But you've got to be able to think and you've got to be able to create and that's what the brain is for.

So, if you're going to have your brain clogged up with crap – so to speak – then, it's not going to be able to do what it's supposed to do and that's really where we blossom and grow as human beings. If you're in a position where you feel that you have all these things going around in your head, then do a brain dump and just sit down and write everything that you have to do every single [infintesimal], stinking, nasty, lousy thing that you think you have to do by the way – and that's a whole other issue. It's what you have to do versus what you think you have to do. Write it down on a piece of paper, just write it down. Get it out of your head. Then you can look at your list and this exercise, I'm giving you just a brief synopsis of it, it's longer and more involved in the book.

But then you prioritize. You look at it and you say, “First you group things together.” You group all of the domestic diva duties. As I call them. Group all them together, group to work things together, group the fun things together because believe it or not, you have to have fun. All work and no play is – the reason sayings are old sayings is because they're true and all work and no play makes John a dull boy is pretty true. So write down everything that's on your list and then prioritize it. What really needs to get them? You can use the Steven Covey's grid method of that helps if you're familiar with that. Anything like that.

I certainly have not cornered the market on the way to help you give you strategies, to help overcome overwhelm. There are a lot of things out there and you've got to figure out what works for you, I give several different ones in the book so that people can choose because I know that people are not all alike. What works for me may not work for you. People learn differently. Some people are auditory learners, some are better written, some are better experiential learners. There's no right way and I think that's also an aspect of overwhelm that people, they always want to do things the right way.

And sometimes the right way is the right way for you, not necessarily the right way for your neighbor. That's important to recognize as well.

Brian: I love that and I talk a lot about the auditory versus visual and you call it experience, I call it tactile. It's people that like to use their hands or their hands dirty or stuff like that. There are so many different concept that you brought up and I really love it. Yes, you can use the quadrant system, you can do list, you can prioritize. One of the things that I talk a lot about in my business is technology. You've got a smartphone; if you have a great thought, just record it. Just open up the voice recorder and just put it in there, so you've got a storage, you don't have to think about it because what happens is I get those thoughts, and I forget about it, and then I come back to my office I go, “What the heck was that? It was so awesome!”

Karolyn: Not only that, but you spend so much energy trying to remember it, but then you lose a whole lot of other stuff that comes after it.

Brian: Exactly. So, what are some of the other tips like that, that you have that people can use to pull the overwhelm and get it out of their mindset, and get it onto paper, get it to whatever technology?

Karolyn: Well, once thing is to be clear on your goals and there has been so much written and said about goal-setting. Often it happens around the first of the year because everybody wants to have New Year's resolutions and they want a new life. Well, there's nothing wrong with your old life that a little tweaking won't do. It's important to be clear on what it is that you want and here is another overwhelming part – that is what you want, not what other people want for you. That's a big lesson that's important to learn in terms of battling overwhelm and overcoming it, is that other people's expectations do not have to be the same as yours, or rather yours don't have to be the same as theirs.

And when you're young, parents want you to do certain things and it's not quite the same, but when you get to be a certain age and that certain age can be anywhere from probably 18-50 year-olds who haven't gotten there yet, but probably 18 to maybe 30. You grow up and you realize that, “Okay, now I have all these background information, I've thought, I've learned, I've been to school…” whatever your situation has been, “…now what do I want from me? How do I see the best life for me?” There's several pages on the book about setting your goals and examples of how you set goals.

Meanwhile, we're back at the 3,000-5,000 items a day, how do you filter those? Well, you filter them by what's relevant to what you want to do. If I see information about learning how to be a plumbing contractor – I don't have any desire to do that – so that is not in my list of goals, so that's filtered out right away. It's just kaputski. By establishing what your goals are, by knowing where you want to go, by being clear on that, a lot of these other things are easy to filter out and you don't have to be stuck with what other people think that you should do or what you should do and that's the could-have, would have, should-haves, are another cause of overwhelm. “I should have done that.” Well, says who? If you're the one who says you should have done that, then you probably should have, but if somebody else says you should have done that, not necessarily.

Brian: Yes, I'm a firm believer in not shooting all over yourself.

Karolyn: Exactly.

Brian: So with all of these distractions and things that come at us, people are so good at writing emotionally-charged content to get your attention. They know how to poke at this thing, “We want to be rich, we want to be thin, we want to be with the perfect person, we want the perfect car…” we want all these other things and it's all designed to take us away from our main goals. What are some of the common mistakes that allow people to get drawn into that kind of stuff?

Karolyn: Well, I think there are few. First of all, I think that people think they need to be fixed. I'm not quite certain what fixed is, but people think that there's something wrong with them and they need to be fixed, which is except in probably 1% of the cases is just nonsense. But having said that, they want to be fixed, but they want to do it quickly, easily, cheaply without a whole lot of work. So there's an old advertising ad that if it's too good to be true, it probably is. If you see something that says, “You can lose 10 lbs by tomorrow afternoon.” That's just not going to happen, but I think when people realize that there are no quick fixes, that they can't just waive a magic wand and have whatever they want, whatever they don't like about themselves changed, that's where they really fail. What I try to help people understand is that you have the power to change your situation, but you have to do it and you have to be willing to do the work. If you're not willing to do the work, then don't bother because it's not going to happen by osmosis.

Brian: Absolutely. There's another adage in business which I talk about all the time to my clients. It is, “Cheaper, faster, better; pick two.”

Karolyn: Actually I've not heard that before but that is absolutely true. Absolutely true.

Brian: The next thing I wanted to dig into is you talked about you having the power to make that change. What are some of your power tips that are going to help people accelerate them going from being overwhelmed to in-control?

Karolyn: Well, one of them is to realize that you have choices and I know that people are like, “Oh, you don't understand. I don't have any choices. I have to work because I have to support my kids. I'm a single mother.” Or whatever. That may be true. All those things may be true, but that doesn't mean that you don't have any choices. One thing that you have a choice about that is often overlooked is you have a choice about how you see your situation. When you think about that, that is huge because if you change your situation by a little bit, it could make a huge difference in how your life unfolds.

For example, I started a company called Parallax Living and a parallax is a phenomenon. It's often used in computers and astronomy where the appearance of something changes depending on the vantage point of the viewer. An example of that is for example, if you're riding in a car, somebody else is driving, you're in the passenger seat, you look over at the speedometer and it may say 70 miles an hour from where you're sitting. But from where the driver is sitting, it says 50 miles an hour. That's a parallax. You're still going the same speed, but it appears different from where you sit and where the driver sits.

So when you make a slight change in your outlook on things, huge changes can result in how you see your life and what your choices are. The important thing is to figure out what you want as we talked about before with goals, and then choose wisely and choose what you want. I think that that's the biggest power tip of all, is that believe it or not, you have more power than you think you do over your life. That's not to say that you have power over other people's lives and I think that that's the second big mistake that people make, and that is they try to control people, they try to change people.

One thing that I've learned over my long checkered career is you have to take people as they are. You have to take them where they are and who they are. Once you do that, then all of a sudden, things are much easier to deal with because you're not fighting them all the time and you're not fighting yourself trying to change that. Those two things I think are really important in terms of not being overwhelmed and in terms of living a better healthier, more fun, more productive life.

Brian: Your keys are number one, you can change yourself and…

Karolyn: Well, it's not really change yourself, it's change your perception of your situation. Brian: Yes, but it's still changing your perception or at least what you're doing. You're changing habits, you're changing thoughts, you're changing things.

Karolyn: Exactly.

Brian: The other thing is that you cannot change somebody else, which is where I think a lot of people get mired down, is because they're overwhelmed, they feel like you said, the woman who's got to work because she's a single mom. The overwhelm falls on the kid. It's like, “I got to take care of this kid. I've got to do this.” Then all of a sudden, this resentment starts happening because you start blaming the other party, when really it's you that's in control. That's a huge point, I really, really love that.

So the last question I've got for you, which is kind of a very, very tough question and I ask this of all my guest no matter what we're talking about – how do you measure success? How do you know when the elephant is starting to be consumed in a way that's no longer sitting on your shoulders?

Karolyn: You can tell their physical manifestations and their emotional ones. The physical ones are obviously easy. For example, in the book, I talk about when I move from Pennsylvania to the DC area and my house was half the square footage of the old house. I've gotten rid of what I thought was half of my stuff and every room was just piled high with boxes and I didn't get out of bed for 36 hours. I just could not deal. This is where the “eat the elephant part” came from and I just looked around and I say, “Okay, one room in a time. Just pick one.” I picked my bedroom because I thought that would be a good safe haven. I could close the door and that would be that. You just unpack one box at a time and as the number of boxes diminishes, you can see that you've made progress. That's a way to measure success if your issues are physical things. Clutter is a huge issue these days and it's just like when your brain is cluttered or when your environment is cluttered, they have the same impact. So, that's a way to measure success in physical things.

The emotional issue which can be work things, or relationship things, or whatever is more difficult, but it's not impossible to tell because once you see that you do not feel overwhelmed or as overwhelmed – by the way, I should pace on to add you never get rid of all of them. As long as the internet is around, and email, and the pace of life that we live in now, you're never going to get rid of it, but managing it is what you can do. So, if you can realize that by filtering some of the things and realizing, “I don't have to do that. The world will not stop spinning if I don't do X, Y, Z.” They're off the list.

Then, you feel better, you feel free or you feel lighter and it doesn't take a long time. You will notice a real change in your outlook and your attitude.

Brian: Awesome.

Karolyn, you have a system that's going to help people deal with their overwhelm. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Karolyn: Sure. I have a group coaching system where there are four modules and you can do it at your own pace. There are two live group calls – question and answer calls – and we will take you through how to get over overwhelmed. It expands a little bit of what's in the book and gives extra exercises and things like that. Also on my website, there are a lot of resources, there are articles and other things that have appeared in the media or whatever that might be of interest to people who feel that they have an issue with overwhelm.

Brian: Karolyn, this has been great and now I could check something off my list. I feel less overwhelmed just talking to you. It's been fabulous. Can you let people know if they wanted to get a hold of you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Karolyn: Sure. The best way to do it is to go to my website Karolynblume.com and there's a “contact us” tab. Just shoot me an email. You can also contact me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest. I try, I do my best to respond to all emails. I also have a blog. You can sign up for the newsletter and I have a weekly blog that comes out on issues not necessarily to do with overwhelm exclusively, but to do with all kinds of personal development issues.

Brian: Awesome. For those on their iPads, or iPhones, whatever it is, it's Karolynblume.com. Is that correct?

Karolyn: That's right.

Brian: Awesome. Hey, Karolyn, thanks again so much for joining us. I enjoyed it. I know my audience is going to get stuff out of this. There are so many great nuggets and tips in this that I think it's really going to help people “eat their elephant” and that's the goal. So, thanks for joining us.

Karolyn: Thank you, Brian. I enjoyed it. Take care.

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