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It’s happened to all of us:

We wake up one day, go innocently about our business, and then someone says something (seemingly) innocuous to us or we have to wait a little too long for the cable guy and WHAM!, we spiral instantaneously into uncontrollable overreaction. Tears flow. Expletives abound. Or some other extreme expression of frustration.

When we tell the story later, we use the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back” to describe the alarming speed with which our world came undone.

These events can feel disorienting – like they come out of the blue and took hold with no warning.

However, if you take a closer look, it’s likely that you can track the chain of events that led up to that fateful moment.

Perhaps you’ve been working long hours for 3 weeks straight, and that weakened your entire system, slowly but surely leading to a meltdown.

Or your teen has been stressing out about college prep tests, translating to its own special flavor of stress that eventually fueled your rash outburst at a staff meeting.

THESE LAST STRAW MOMENTS PROVIDE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO BOTH UNDERSTAND WHAT IS AT THEIR ROOT AS WELL AS TO LEARN ABOUT HOW TO PREVENT THEM IN THE FUTURE.

The first order of business is curious hindsight reflection.

Rather than brushing those incendiary experiences off and “moving on,” if you slow down enough to more fully identify the events that led to the point of breakdown, you’re accumulating good information.

Information that can help you to avoid setting yourself up that way in the future.

A classic example is someone that goes full-tilt for many weeks and then gets sick. You can either hit the sickness hard with medication and anger so that you can just get to the next thing you need to do, thank you very much … or, you can pause and reflect on what brought you to this point.

What were the specific events that led up to getting sick? Your blind spots? The hopes you had that drove poor scheduling decisions? When did the scales start tipping toward imbalance?

By asking some pointed questions of yourself – and answering them honestly – you’ll begin to understand how to better regulate your schedule in the future.

Once you have a better handle on what leads to overload and breakdown, you can then invoke a powerful, on-going practice to keep those Last Straw Moments at bay: Emptying Out.

Think of it a bit like your kitchen trash. If it builds up for too long, it starts to overflow (not to mention smell funny). You have to regularly empty it out to keep things manageable and fresh.

Same thing with your psyche. If the psyche acquires too many layers, it will eventually overflow and create a whole host of problems.

THE MORE YOU CONSCIOUSLY EMPTY OUT AS YOU GO, THE BETTER CHANCE YOU HAVE OF NOT LANDING IN A MOMENT OF EXPLOSION OR IMPLOSION.

How to do this?

I call it Inventory Management.

Taking inventory of all that is on your mind and heart and getting clear where things are stacking up so that you can do some conscious emptying.

It starts with writing down your inventory. Literally.

Get out a piece of paper or your journal. Write down everything that is taking space in your mind at the moment, no matter how small. Daily tasks. Looming deadlines. Family responsibilities. Travel plans. Self-care. You get it. EVERYTHING.

(As you’ll see, the list can be fairly long, if you get everything onto the page.)

Once you have your list, ask these key questions:

What can be easily eliminated with swift, focused action? (Then do it.)

Are there things that you are suppressing because you don’t want to deal with them? (Time to step up or let go.)

Can you take a deep breath and buckle down to take care of the more time-consuming things before they come to a head? (If not, prepare yourself for an overload moment at some point.)

What are the things that are just Taking Up Space and adding to your overload? (Get rid of ‘em.)

This is the process. Identify what is threatening to send you over the edge – and take action before a meltdown moment. Use your understanding of what has built up and boiled over in the past to guide your choices.

Over time, you’ll start to see patterns that you exhibit consistently and be able to make adjustments along the way.

THEN YOU CAN BASK IN THE GLOW OF FEWER LAST STRAW MOMENTS.

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