Can’t See the Forest for the Trees: How to Take a Mental Break from Self-Improvement Overload!

Too much of anything is just not a good thing.

The past few weeks have been overwhelmingly amazing for me in the area of personal development. I have learned a lot about the brain, including the fact that we have “3 brains” with a myriad of different functions. I learned about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how this can be self-induced. I’ve revisited a couple of the personal development “greats” such as M. Scott Peck and Stephen Covey, along with countless other “tasks” that I’ve imparted upon myself along my self-improvement journey. In all of my “getting,” though (getting all kinds of information), I’ve forgotten to just relax, to step away from the table, so to speak, to let the food digest before going in for more. As a result, I nearly lost my mind this week, and had to think of a remedy quickly in order for me to keep my head about things.

I needed to get out of my head. That was the first thing I needed to do. I was thinking too much, watching the patches where I had planted seeds only weeks and months prior with an overprotective and overeager hawk’s eye. I couldn’t focus on the larger picture, the forest, because I was too obsessed with the minute details. How come I’m not bearing any fruit yet? I wondered. I know those poor seeds were like, dang, Nola, would you move, please? You’re blocking our light, blocking our water, and we’re not going to flower any faster just because you’re watching us like a mad woman! Get out of the way!!!

Hence, the image of the straightjacket…

I decided that I needed to think about something and someone other than myself because my being so self-absorbed with my growth was actually suffocating me and stifling my growth. I decided to go spend some time with two of my favorite things: dogs and children. I realized that when I take some time to get out of my head space, out of my wants, needs, plans, goals, aspirations, desires, and deficiencies and just CHILL I feel rejuvenated and ready to actually attend to my goals, wants, needs, aspirations and desires with a bit of clarity and a lot more energy.

I came up with a list of five things that people can do to get out of themselves when they are way too focused on bearing the fruits of their self-improvement journey. Just like my description of the seeds’ disgust with my overbearing approach to immediately reaping what I’ve sown, sometimes it’s good to just step back and realize that you’ve planted good seeds through action, intention, and purpose, and that they will come to fruition. Of course there are probably more than 5 things a person can do to get out of their own minds by doing something for someone else. These are just the five that I practice and would like to share with others.

Visit an Animal Shelter

My daughter and I have been visiting animal shelters since she was a little bit. I’ve always enjoyed taking her because she loved dogs, and I was not fully prepared to have one in my home. She was more excited about dogs than I was, but she taught me to love them as I watched her enjoy them so much. As I watched my bite-sized daughter fearlessly pet Schnauzers, Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Staffs and even  Pit bulls in her lifetime I became more comfortable with and loving toward these animals. I saw the devotion in their eyes, and as I petted these dogs I got the sense that they were just looking for someone to love as well as someone to love them just like most human beings. I got the impression that even if I could only be there for 5 minutes hugging on them, talking to them, and giving them attention it was better than no time spent getting affection from a human being. I also came to realize that in those few minutes spent with these sheltered dogs I was experiencing a deeper sense of empathy and compassion for these animals.

The compassion and empathy I experienced on this particular day when I was stressed over all of my self-improvement issues was two-fold; first, I realized that there are bigger problems in this world for some people, some animals, and other forms of life. I realized that I had a lot to be thankful for when spending time with these deserted animals, like the fact that my mother has always been there for me even though my father chose to abandon his children. I could have been like some of the children that I work with who have been abandoned by their parents and placed in foster care (we’ll get to that in a moment) but I wasn’t.


The second thing level of compassion I experienced was self-compassion. I chose to forgive myself for not taking it easy on myself in my self-improvement process, for obsessing over my progress, and for trying to take the butterfly out of its cocoon before its time. I had to forgive myself for not exercising some of the principles that I’m just now learning about simply because I didn’t know, or didn’t think they were that pertinent to success. I had to forgive myself for the feelings of guilt, shame, worry, anxiety, doubt and pessimism that I sometimes experience. Spending time with those animals showed me that sometimes I need to give affection and unconditional positive regard to myself, just like I do the little doggies.


When I went to work that day I decided to hang out a little longer with my client and some of the other children in the center where we met. I chose to be of service that day off the clock, and hoped that my presence and what I had to contribute was a valuable installment into the development of these children. I played games, I colored, and listened to vivid stories of kids with the wildest and most colorful imaginations. I was privy to levels of intelligence, curiosity, and sheer excitement about life that many adults have lost in all of their pursuits in life. I realized that children are the most amazing creatures that I’ve ever encountered, and that adults can learn so much from these little people. I also found myself envious of these children because even though they had difficult beginnings in life, their eyes were still full of optimism, unlike the jaded eyes of adults who’ve experienced one too many disappointments.

These kids taught me to lighten up, to remember to laugh, to tell crazy stories that stimulate my mind, and to remember that today is only today and that I’m not promised tomorrow. These kids, in their overall lack of experience with what the statistics say about kids in their particular situations remained hopeful, optimistic, charismatic, engaging, and ready to live life without fear or restraint. To me, these kids represented living life to its fullest. The reminded me that anything is possible if one is smart enough to forget most of what she has learned.

 I say volunteer because I’m sure your work with any population of people in need will have some lessons that are applicable to where you are in life, where you’ve been, and where you’re trying to go. If you need to obtain a list of volunteer organizations, click here. I say volunteer because it’s important to remember, again, that life is not all about you, and that there are others out here whose life depends on you remembering that.


It may sound cheesy or just outright unappealing if you claim to dislike meditation, or claim that you don’t “know how to do it”, but it’s effective. There are numerous types of meditations, so perhaps you need to find one more suitable to your particular taste. To view a brief list of different kinds of meditations, click here.

Meditation, whether it’s done for 5 minutes for 50, has the effect of helping you center yourself when your thoughts want to go rogue and cause chaos in your mind.  This is more effective the more often you practice meditation. What I notice for me, a novice practitioner, is that when my thoughts want to drift off to irrelevant things or things that I realize I just don’t want to think about or dwell on for the moment my meditation practice helps me control my thought-drift. I’m able to tell my thoughts “no ma’am” so to speak, and get back to having a calm mind.

Whenever I’m not meditating, my thoughts tend to run amuck! I also realize that it’s best when I’m meditating at least once a day, at a minimum of 5 days a week. That’s relatively low, too, but otherwise, I have no mind control over Debo, if you will.

Random Acts of Kindness

On this particular day I also chose to perform random acts of kindness as best as I could. I chose to allow people to make turns and get in front of me in traffic. I also said “hello” to a lot more strangers than I normally would on an average day, and was on the lookout for an elderly person I could offer assistance. If you live near a toll booth, paying the toll for people behind you is, like, my favorite. Picking up extraneous trash in your path is another thing that makes me feel good, too. Whatever your random act of kindness is, exercise it whenever you feel like your mind is going crazy with too much self-consideration. Research shows (look it up yourself…*insert chuckle*) that when you do nice things for others you, in turn, feel better, too.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.  ~Dalai Lama

Cater to Your Spouse/Child/Significant Other

I remember when I used to allow my daughter to be “Queen for a Day.” I came up with this idea because I was an overworked single parent who was often exhausted and sometimes didn’t have the physical energy to take my daughter to the park and to go play outside. One day I decided to let her be “Queen for a Day” and catered to her every need while in the home. She got to eat all of her favorite junk foods, we got to watch her favorite TV shows and movies, played games, and did whatever she wanted to do. My daughter had no idea that I chose to make her Queen that day because I was exhausted; all she knew was that she felt wanted, appreciated, and valued. It felt good to me to watch her enjoy the little things that I could always provide anytime I wanted to. It makes me feel good now to know that my daughter valued those experiences and views them as important bonding moments in her life.

I hope any of these little tricks work for you. They are good to practice more often than not, but any dosage of compassion for others will do.

Let’s Do Better.

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