Overcoming Overwhelm Part 2: Shifting Your Systems Towards Sustainability

Uncategorized Jun 01, 2021

Harnessing Systems Thinking To Get At the Root Causes of Your Overwhelm

If your biggest source of overwhelm is other people's demands and expectations, is there any hope for finding your own pace of grace and overcoming that feeling of overwhelm in pursuit of your calling to serve?

What if you feel like you're caught in a power system that doesn't give you the space to implement your pace of grace?

In this post we are returning to the topic of overcoming overwhelm in your work as a change agent.  The first time we talked about this, we explored frameworks and tools for how you can work on your own mindset to overcome your feeling of overwhelm.  This time we're going to harness the tools of systems thinking to look at what to do when the source of overwhelm is coming from the larger system around you and you want to address those feelings of overwhelm at their roots.  

Here are some highlights from the video:


Mapping The Three Parts of Your Own System for Producing Overwhelm

As you think about the repetitive patterns that contribute to your sense of being overwhelmed, it can be helpful to break the system down into its three elements in order to see if better.

1. Components of the system

e.g. you, your boss, a high stakes deadline or decision

2. Interconnections between the components in the system

e.g. the relationship you have with your boss is:

  • Hired help: you paint between the lines under ongoing supervision
  • Faithful steward: you make sure the paint goes between the lines even when the boss isn't looking
  • Trusted advisor: you focus on what to get done and why, including advising the boss to paint outside the lines of their comfort zone when that's what it takes to maximize impact
  • Delegated decision maker: you decide what to do, how to do it and make sure it gets done--potentially consulting with others before acting, or simply informing them after the fact

3. Outcomes reliably produced by the system—the system’s functional results no matter what its stated purpose is supposed to be

e.g. regardless of everyone's state intent, your organization's monthly board meetings are producing burnout, not breakthroughs

  • high stakes decisions almost always made outside of board meetings
  • lots of late night work by you before every board meeting preparing briefing materials
  • disengagement by board members during meeting


Once you get a feel for how the system around you operates to produce your feelings of overwhelm, it's time to think about where you have the greatest leverage to change that system, so that you shift it towards sustainability, so that you can operate more consistently at your own "pace of grace."  And it turns out that where you have the greatest leverage to change a system may be somewhat counterintuitive.  Most of us look first to change the components of a system, but that's actually often the hardest thing to change.  It may be much more powerful for you to work on changing other's PERCEPTION of the system's outcomes.


So, rather than trying to change the components of the system, or even the way people within that system relate to each other, try focusing your energy on changing the way people understand what the system is actually doing in contrast to what they want it to do.  That mindset shift on the part of the people who are stakeholders in the system can be the most powerful lever of all when it comes to getting at the root causes of your overwhelm and  shifting the systems around you towards sustainability.


Additional Resources

There's lots more on all this in the blog and the members area


50% Complete

Sign up below to receive free access to the Joyful Impact Members Area, where you can access all kinds of learning materials and content to help you step up your game as a change agent. 

These are the same materials we use with the social entrepreneurs in our accelerator program and the funders we coach one on one.  The world has never been more in need of a new, greatest generation of change agents and that's why we're opening up free access to these materials to anyone who's ready to make use of them!