“All we want are the facts, ma’am”– Sgt. Joe Friday
Whenever I find myself slipping into overwhelm or feeling particularly stressed out…
Or when I notice myself spinning out in “what ifs” and living in worst case scenarios…
I remember the famous phrase from Sgt. Joe Friday in the 1950s TV show Dragnet:
“All we want are the facts, ma’am.”
By focusing on the facts and leaving the drama – aka my thoughts – out of it, I’m able to look at the situation much more objectively.
I’m able to make decisions with clarity.
And I can leave the unnecessary stress behind.
But how do we do this? How do we separate the facts from our story?
How can we reduce our overwhelm?
That is exactly what we’re talking about on episode 87 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast this week.
Check it out now, ditch the drama, and move forward with intention.
You can listen to the episode above, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:
Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.
In This Episode, You Will Discover…
- The importance of separating the facts from our thoughts
- Powerful examples of how this plays out in our everyday life
- A step by step approach to put these strategies into practice today
Links From The Podcast
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Episode #87: How to Manage Stress And Overwhelm With This One Powerful Strategy (Transcript)
In this episode, we are talking about drama. And I am not talking about drama in the theater. I am talking about drama in your life, which really means drama in your head. Because let’s be real, we all have drama, right? Now admittedly, you may not call it drama. You might hear the word drama and think of a scene from Mean Girls. And while that can certainly be drama, I am also talking about any situation in your life where you feel especially emotional. Whether you’re really overwhelmed or stressed out. Whether you’re anxious or insecure. Or whether you’re frustrated or angry. We all have drama.
In fact, when you look at the definition of drama, Merriam webster offers three definitions. The first two have to do with theatrical events, but the third is “an exciting or emotional situation or event.” Now, I have some qualms with this definition, which I’ll talk about in a minute. But the gist is there. An exciting or emotional situation or event. We’ve all experienced this.
How To Reduce Stress
And today I want to explore how we can navigate drama in our lives by separating the drama from the facts. This is a very simple concept, yet it can be quite challenging to implement. It takes practice to learn how to separate the facts from the drama. And today I want to take a deep dive into how we can do this. Because once we learn the skill of separating fact from drama, it takes the intensity down a notch. We have a much easier time deciding intentionally how we want to show up in our lives. And we approach the different circumstances we experience each day with much greater clarity.
So let’s first talk about finding the facts. When we think about the coaching model I use with my clients, and I’ve talked about on the podcast one of the first things we think about is the circumstance. The facts. The neutral data points in our story. The facts are the things that everyone in the world would agree on.
When I say it’s beautiful and warm outside today, my version of beautiful and warm – which is 42 degrees in March by the way – is much different from my client living in Texas. It’s beautiful and it’s warm aren’t facts, they are thoughts. The only fact is it’s 42 degrees.
Tips to Reduce Stress at Work
If you think to yourself, I wasted the entire day and didn’t get anything done, this isn’t a fact. Not everyone would agree on that. So what are the facts? What was on your schedule and what did you do instead?
If you tell yourself your sister is super passive-aggressive, again, this isn’t fact. That is a subjective observation about your sister’s behavior. How can we make it factual? What are the exact words that she said?
Why am I pausing on this topic? Why am I paying so much attention to this seeming minutia? We’re taking a deep dive into facts vs. story today because once you gain this skill. Once you develop the ability to separate the facts, you realize that facts can’t hurt you. It’s never the facts that are the problem. Facts don’t hurt.
What hurts is the meaning we give to those facts by what we choose to think. In other words, it’s not our schedule and what we did and didn’t do that makes us feel bad. We feel frustrated or disappointed or discouraged because we’re thinking to ourselves, I wasted the entire day and didn’t get anything done. That’s the thing that feels terrible.
Facts Don’t Hurt
It is not what your sister says or does that hurts. It is that you are thinking she’s being passive-aggressive and making that mean something about you and your relationship. That’s what hurts.
Now here is the deal, most of us haven’t been taught this. And when we’re just going about our everyday lives, our brains naturally want to attribute our circumstances as the problem. And this is the hang-up I have with the Merriam Dictionary definition as well. If you remember, it was an exciting or emotional situation or event.
But events can’t be exciting or emotional. If that were true, everybody would feel excited about the same events. But we know this isn’t the case. Just think about all of the events that your partner or your kids or your friends are super excited about, and you are not. Why is this? It’s because you have different thoughts about it.
But again, we aren’t taught this. We are taught that it’s our career that’s the problem. It’s our schedule that’s the problem. Or it’s our colleague or our sister or our in-laws who are the problem.
Feeling Negative Emotions
But when we slow down and question this belief, we find the truth is that those are all circumstances. And the “problem” – the feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, or annoyance – all belong to our thoughts about this circumstance. And even then, I’d argue that negative emotions aren’t a problem. They just don’t feel good in your body.
Now you may be thinking, “so what?” Why does this matter? Do we really need to get so specific like this? And the answer is yes, we do. Because when we can learn how to separate our facts from our thoughts about the situation, it changes everything. And the reason it changes everything is that the power lies within us, not in our outside circumstances. When we can look at a situation and recognize, “I see that it’s my thoughts about this circumstance that’s causing my pain,” it puts us back in the driver’s seat of our life.
And while I just alluded to this, I want to say it again – this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have negative emotions and you should just feel happy about everything. No. In fact, for most of us, there are situations in our life where we want to feel sad or we want to feel upset or we want to feel fear. That’s all good. But the power lies in knowing that you have control over that. You have control over how you feel based on what you’re thinking.
And when we become skilled at separating the circumstances from our thoughts. When we become skilled at separating the facts from the drama, it makes it so much easier to show up with intention in the different areas of our life.
So today I am going to share four examples that I’ve explored with clients recently to help show exactly how this plays out. I am – of course – keeping this anonymous. But I chose these examples because they are topics that I explore with my clients on a very regular basis. They come up time and time again in different variations for different clients. And I think that you will probably hear some version of yourself in many of them.
Busy Schedule Stress
So let’s start with one of our favorite things to blame when it comes to feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, and that is our schedule. How many times have you heard yourself saying, I am so stressed out because there is so much to do? Or I’m so frustrated because I can’t seem to stick to my schedule no matter how hard I try. Or I feel completely defeated because I just can’t keep up with everything on my plate. If these thoughts sound familiar to you, then taking a little time to separate the facts from the thoughts. The facts from the drama will really help to create some clarity, and often some relief around the situation.
For example, I was on a consultation with an incredible woman a couple of weeks ago. She is working more than full-time in the medical field during a pandemic. And she is also navigating classes for her master’s degree, and she is taking care of her family. Not to mention we have the minor details of sleeping, eating, and generally being a human.
On the consultation, some of the thoughts she shared with me were: I must not be working fast enough. I don’t know how to research effectively. And I spend so much time on the class assignments. Seriously, I can’t keep up with everything. It seems like everyone else can get it done really easily. I have to spend my entire weekend on the bare minimum in order to complete the assignments.
So when we look at this situation, we want to start by sorting the facts from the thoughts. You might notice that there aren’t a whole lot of facts here. She has assignments for class. She works on them during the weekend. But the rest are thoughts. I’m not working fast enough. I don’t know how to research effectively. I spend too much time on class assignments. And I can’t keep up with everything. Everyone else gets it down really easily. All thoughts, which create feelings of stress, overwhelmed, insecurity, you name it.
So then I asked her, how do you want to spend your time for class? What does a good class schedule look like for you? How much time do you want to dedicate throughout the week in order to keep up with the readings and do the assignments?
She told me she wanted to dedicate an hour or two four nights a week from 7 until 8 or 9 to do her reading. And then she wants to spend three hours writing out the assignments on either Saturday or Sunday. And when we looked at that schedule, she felt confident that she could complete the work in that amount of time. So even if we went to the longest amount of time – 2 hours for nights a week – we are looking at about 11 hours of time dedicated to her coursework. And when we broke that down and looked at the math of the equation. When we looked at the facts of the situation, she realized – huh, they actually recommend 15 to 20 hours per course, which means I’m getting the work done faster than what’s “normal.”
Isn’t this fascinating? Our brain automatically assumes that we’re spending way too much time on XYZ. It automatically tells us we’re not working fast enough, and we’re clearly not doing it as quickly as everyone else. But when we take away the thoughts and the drama, and we look at the facts and the numbers, we remove that negative emotion. And during the call she realized, wait a minute. This is doable. It was all of my thoughts about myself and my ability to work quickly and time scarcity that was keeping me stuck. Not my actual schedule. Not the circumstance of homework assignments for my masters. So awesome.
Not Enough Time
I have one more scheduling example as well, which I think is helpful to explore because – again. I hear it from so many people all of the time. And I hear myself thinking it as well. This is when we look at our list of things to do and decide ahead of time that the list is totally overwhelming, and there’s no way we can get it all done. There’s no way we can keep up with such an intense schedule.
So the client I worked with this topic on recently is a fellow coach. She does work with clients and has one-on-one calls and her business is flourishing, which is super exciting. But she is also going through the growing pains of figuring out a schedule that works well for her, allows her to meet with all of her clients, and gives her space to actually enjoy her life as well.
As we talked about the influx of call appointments and tasks that she wants to complete each week, there was definitely some stress there. She was worried about how she would fit it all in without getting burned out. So again, we turned the thoughts – the drama – into math. We picked out the facts – the appointments, the projects, the tasks she wants to complete – and we put them into the calendar to see whether or not everything fit. Are there literally enough hours in the day to get these things done?
Math vs. Drama
And by doing this simple action, of downloading all of the tasks she has to do and plugging them into a schedule so she knows exactly when she was going to do them, it was like flipping a switch. After she had everything laid out, she literally said to me, “oh, now that I see everything in the schedule, it seems totally doable. It doesn’t seem overwhelming anymore.”
And again, it’s the same to-do list. It’s the same number of tasks that she wants to complete that week. So it’s not the tasks that were creating overwhelm. It was her thought about it. And when we removed the drama and we simply put the appointments in the calendar, she was able to shift her thinking from “I have no idea how I’m going to get all of this done” to “this is doable. I can absolutely get this done. This isn’t the problem.” And when we embrace those powerful time thoughts, and we practice them over and over, that is exactly what we create. We get it done. It’s not a problem. And we have enough time.
Overwhelmed At Home
So what about other situations? What about things that don’t have to do with your schedule? The other day I was talking with a client about the state of her house. According to her, her home was a disaster zone that looked like a bomb went off. And she was completely overwhelmed and stressed out thinking about having to clean it all up.
I’m guessing that some version of this sounds familiar, too. Maybe you would describe it in a slightly different way. But chances are, you’ve been in a situation where you’re convinced that your house is unbelievably messy.
But this thought was not serving my client. Because when she kept telling herself that the house is a disaster zone, she found herself getting frustrated, overwhelmed, and discouraged. And 99.9% of the time, we don’t take positive actions from the feelings of overwhelm, discouragement, and frustration. I certainly don’t.
Plus, an interesting thing about a messy house, is that – just like a busy schedule – the word messy is incredibly subjective. My messy might look very different from your messy, which might look very different from my client’s messy. So the word messy in itself – just like the description of a “disaster zone” – is very subjective. It’s not factual. And so we need to separate that out. Because these thoughts create a lot of powerful emotion.
So I asked my client, what are the facts here? What does messy actually mean to you? If I walked into this “disaster zone” in your house, what would I see?
And she started listing the things. She told me there were crumbs from breakfast on the kitchen floor. There was a full dishwasher with clean dishes and a sink full of dirty dishes. She told me there were toys everywhere, but again, that’s subjective. What does that mean? And we got even more specific. There were about 20 matchbox race cars in the family room alongside railroad tracks and 6 train cars. There were 14 books off the bookshelf. And the blanket on the couch was unfolded. Now, for the sake of the podcast, I’m not going to talk about everything here. I think you get the idea.
Getting The Facts
But let’s really pause and think about this for a minute. Because when you describe your house as a disaster zone where a bomb went off versus a kitchen with crumbs on the floor under the table. A dishwasher with dishes and a sink with dishes. And about 20 race cars, 6 train cars and tracks, and 14 books off the bookshelf in the family room with an unfolded blanket. We take away the drama. We replace it with facts. And it becomes much less emotionally charged.
And when we talked it out, she was able to look at the facts and realize, “Huh. That’s not so bad. I can get the kids to help put away the books the cars and trains. I can clean up the kitchen. Honestly, This will probably take 20 minutes. And by pulling out the facts and leaving behind the drama she could think clearly and make a plan with so much less stress.
The last example I want to share with you has to do with separating our thoughts and facts about other people. So quite a while ago now, I had a conversation with someone who was so frustrated about their partner constantly talking to them about the sports scores. She was super annoyed and constantly found herself being short with him because she kept thinking to herself, all he ever does is talk to me about sports and I don’t care.
So whenever I hear the All or Nothing statements like always and never and constantly, I love to get super curious. I love to dig in and explore what this actually means. Because just like our other examples, words like “always and constantly” are often thoughts. They’re not facts. We can’t actually define what that means.
All Or Nothing Thinking
For example, when I heard that her partner constantly talks with her about the sports scores, I pictured him sitting next to her all day long reciting the latest sports scores from his phone. Non-stop every updates. So I asked her, how often does this happen? How often is “always”? And this took some time to get a little bit more specific about it. But what she found – and this is so fascinating – is that on Thursday evenings, he would tell her about the upcoming football games for the week in about 5 or 10 minutes. And then every Sunday, he would generally give her a rundown of the teams that won and lost in about 10-15 minutes.
So in actuality, it was something like 20 to 25 minutes a week, he might be talking about sports scores. But because she was so fixated on this idea that he’s always talking about sports. And because she is always telling herself that he doesn’t talk about anything else. The reality is that she’s the one flooding her own brain with all of these negative thoughts about him and his sports scores.
The reality is that she was spending more time thinking about sports scores than he was telling her about them. And that is why she was dwelling so much on it. That is why she was feeling so frustrated. It wasn’t the 20 minutes throughout the week when he talked about the games. It was all of the rumination. And when she realized the facts of the situation – the 5 to 10 minutes on Thursday and the 10 to 15 minutes on Sunday, things shifted. When she had the facts, her thoughts changed. The drama dissipated. Because she started thinking instead, “oh my gosh. It’s just 20 minutes a week. This is not a big deal.”
So what about you? Where in your life are you finding yourself especially overwhelmed. Where are you feeling stressed out or anxious or frustrated? Whatever pops into your mind right now, I invite you to grab a piece of paper and write out your story. Why are you feeling that way? What are you frustrated about? Why are you overwhelmed or stressed? Why are you angry?
Once you have everything written out, then go through what you wrote and identify the facts. Identify the things that every single person in the world would agree upon. Once you’ve identified the facts, look at them separate from your thoughts. Look at the circumstance itself. Notice if there’s a shift in your thinking. Notice if there’s a shift in how you feel. Because I’m willing to bet that when you take a little time to focus on the facts, you’ll have a much easier time deciding intentionally what you want to think and how you want to feel so you’re showing up in a way that feels true and right for you.
And remember. This takes practice. When we are in it. When we are really stuck in our story and feeling strong emotions, it can be challenging to separate what is fact from truth. We want to fight for our story. We want to believe that our house is genuinely a disaster. And we want to believe that there’s truly way too much to do and not enough time. It’s hard for us to see it a different way.
That’s okay. It just takes practice. And that’s also why we have coaches. It’s why I still work with my coach every week. We need that outside perspective to help us get out of our mind drama and show up as the version we want to be. Seriously, coaching is like a gym membership for your mind. It helps you build strength in your thinking and mindset so you can keep showing up and doing the things you want to do in your life. I’m telling you, it’s everything.