Those Emotional log jams

Emotional log-jams

Reading time 5 mins

Sometimes life seems just a bit too complex: lots of things to attend to and lots of problems to deal with. Thoughts in a whirl. Producing feelings.

And they all bunch together to produce an ’emotional log-jam’.

We go into freeze mode like a rabbit caught in car headlights – so instead of systematically working through things, we think and think and think, and go round and round in circles.

This is when a lot of people turn to approaches such as NLP looking for a simple magical solution.

And there is a solution.

It’s not magical but it is simple and it’s aimed at eradicating the log-jam’s disempowering effect:

  1. Get things out of your head and on paper
  2. Deal with the things one at a time
  3. Focus on today – and deal with tomorrow when it arrives.

Although the approach is simple it does have a ‘catch’ – for it to work you have to take action… rather than plan to take action.

Lots of us try to get out of the thinking/feeling overwhelm – by doing even more thinking.

Mostly this just makes things worse.

Start with ‘Boxes’

The problem with trying to think our way out an emotional log-jam is that the thoughts contaminate one another – which reinforces the log-jam feeling. So we need to get the thoughts nailed down and separated:

Make list of everything that’s bothering you right now. Everything – large and small. Don’t analyse – just keep listing until there is nothing more to be added. (Though it is quite likely more will occur to you later.)

Get some paper and a thick black marker and draw lots of boxes – well separated from one another. Write one topic from your list of ‘negatives’ in each box. This is a visual reminder to keep each tropic separated from the others so, in your thinking, you don’t allow them to contaminate one another. (You can, of course, do this digitally if that works better for you).

By having the thoughts ‘outside’ your head you no longer need to keep going over them mentally. Now they’re in their boxes rather than swirling about in your head! It may help to place your sheets on a wall where you can see them every day.

Now take action

Begin with the items that you can do something about e.g. make a phone call, speak to someone, etc. Discipline yourself to only focus on one thing at a time – even if there are a few dozen more items awaiting attention.

Make a little note of what you have done in that items box – to remind yourself that you’re on your way and taking action. And once the issue has been resolved draw a line through the box.

Yes, there will be items about which you cannot take practical action – either right now or at all. These require a different approach – you need to change your attitude towards them. But such items will be easier to deal with when the ‘practical action’ items have been dealt with and you have a smaller list. Plus, taking practical action will boost your motivation and determination to deal with everything in a more positive manner.

Live in Day-tight Compartments

Once you begin to get out of the emotional log-jam it’s important to avoid slipping back. And one sure way of slipping back is by thinking of the immensity of the task and, perhaps, how long it will take to resolve.

The answer? Live in day-tight compartments!

Learn to live in day-tight compartments was the advice given to Yale students by the renowned Canadian physician Sir William Osler back in 1913.

He said the advice was based on his own experience as a medical student of dealing with an emotional log-jam. He also told them that this advice was based on a comment by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle: ‘Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand.’

I came across the day-tight compartments idea in Dale Carnegie’s How to stop worrying and start living. The advice helped me to deal with an emotional log-jam at the time (mid teens) and has been valuable ever since whenever things look like they’re beginning to pile up! Carnegie;s book changed my life – and introduced me to the idea that we can change our thoughts and our feelings.

How to live in day-tight compartments

This is a valuable habit to develop.

You begin to discipline yourself to focus your thinking on the here and now – and on taking action.

And when your thoughts begin to stray, when you find yourself worrying about tomorrow or next week, you rein them in again – ‘No, I’ll come to that later – right now I’m dealing with things one at a time’.

Yes, it does take a little time to wire-in this habit – just like any new habit.

And in the beginning the ways will kick in again and again.

But the more frequently you rein in your old ways of thinking, the quicker the new ways will take root.

Unfortunately the opposite applies – dropping your guard and slipping back into worrying about tomorrow and next week and next month will mean you may have to start all over again.

(Incidentally, the day-tight compartments approach doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from longer-term planning. This is a strategy for getting out of emotional log-jams and getting back into action mode.)

Action empowers

Action empowers – it takes us out of our heads.

We move from thinking to doing. Even if the action doesn’t solve things, or doesn’t even improve the situation, we have acted – we have moved out of thinking about and got into dealing with.

Thinking about negative issues is passive and we can feel as if things are happening to us – or even become more passive and wait for others to rescue us. But when we begin to take action we empower ourselves. Now instead of wishing, dreaming, hoping, waiting, wanting, asking, etc. we are having an impact on things.

One more tip

There’s another little piece which will make this work even better.

Review your action! After you have taken action on one of your Box items review the results. Figure out what worked well and decide to use this more often. And identify what didn’t work so well and come up with a different way of doing this next time!

Reviewing the results of what we do is a great way of continually refining our skills – in any area. It is especially important in dealing with log-jam issues because, let’s face it, not everything will work as expected. Many of our strategies won’t work out.

However the most important thing to recognise is that we have shifted in our approach. We are in action mode – doing things rather than just thinking about things. And we learning from what works and from what doesn’t work – so that we can continuously adapt our approach…

Which is a lot better than sitting in that log-jam.


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