Overwhelmed with responsibilities and obligations

How to overcome being overwhelmed with responsibilities and obligations?

Are you overwhelmed with responsibilities and obligations? Try this!

We all know how this looks: a calendar filled with appointments and meetings. Errands and tasks that we must do before our head hits the pillow. 

As poet Robert Frost put it:

But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Does even reading this make your heart race a bit? Does your breathing get shallow?  No, I’m not trying to hypnotize you to be stressed out. I’m pointing out the ways in which you and I hypnotize ourselves by surrounding ourselves with things we have to do every day.

There is a way out of this experience. We can have a life well-lived instead of a life well-stressed. It all has to do with where we choose to point our brains. Before we do this, let’s look a little deeper at the definitions of responsibility and obligation.

Responsibility: “The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.”

Obligation: “An act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound: a duty or commitment.” Synonyms include task, job, chore, burden, and onus.”

As you read the above definitions, is there a sense of promise and possibility? Does your heart feel heavy or light? Are you happy as you think of living a life filled with responsibilities and obligations? Of course not!  

To be clear, I’m not advocating that we drop everything that we’ve promised to do and go off singing down a flower-strewn pathway.  That way leads us nowhere because we know in our hearts that we are accountable for the promises we’ve made. 

Instead, imagine carrying out these promises with a lighter heart. What if you ended up having more energy than you might have thought possible? 

I have a true story for you along these lines. It’s something that I experienced one day while sitting next to a young man I’ll call “Bill,” as we looked out over the Pacific Ocean at Esalen Institute in California.

Esalen Institute is well-known for its beautiful gardens, hot springs, healing massages, and transformational workshops. I was leading one on forgiveness at the time of this story. We were on a 20 minute break.

Here’s what happened. 

Bill: “I was with my Dad during the last three weeks of his life. It was very special for me because we talked about so many different things. Mostly he wanted to know what I was doing now and what I planned to do with my life. I know it took a toll on his energy, but he insisted on these talks. About two weeks before he passed away he called me over to his bed. I’ll never forget this.  He said, ‘Bill, I want to tell you something I’ve just seen. I want to pass it on to you. You know all of those responsibilities and duties I had, here at home and at the office? All of the things I had to do? I now see that they were all a privilege! Even taking out the garbage every week. All of it. Everything I told myself I  had to do was really a privilege to do! I see it now, plain and simple!’

“It’s the biggest gift Dad could have given me. I’m now practicing seeing the chores and ‘to do’s’ I put on my lists…all of them are a privilege for me to do. And you know what? I have more energy at the end of the day. I feel lighter. I’m actually enjoying my life more now than ever before!”

As you can imagine, this opened my eyes to what I’ve been calling things I have to do! How about you? What would it be like to change how you perceive your life? For me, the moment I see the privilege in what I’m doing, my own energy shifts. 

Incidentally, the definition of privilege that we’re using here is: advantage, right, benefit, or prerogative. Seen in this particular context, the word privilege confers a sense of entitlement to live the life you are meant to live, rather than the one you have to live!

If you’re interested in a personal experiment with this, you might try the following:

  • For the next two weeks, take the words “responsible” or “responsibility” out of your vocabulary (you might be surprised at how many times those words slip into your thoughts or speech).
  • Replace those words with “privilege to” or “get to” as in: “ It’s my privilege to do this.”  Or, I “get to” do this.
  • Notice what happens to your energy when you do the above.
  • You might replace a “to do” list with an “I get to do” list.

You may think that what I’m suggesting is too simple to do. In reality, you are training your brain to look for what energizes you, rather than what wears you down.  It’s all about where you are asking it to focus. 

Try it and see for yourself!


Wishing you all my best,

Dr. Maria Nemeth signature

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