Overwhelmed? Squash the Pictures!

This site is being upgraded and added to continuously. Feel free to visit again and browse. I have ADHD so the order of material may be confused. If you have ADHD, you know that!

I was born overwhelmed. You may be the same, or perhaps it happened later.

Being overwhelmed is no fun, whether it’s a life-style or occasional feeling.  And it’s frustrating that the things you have tried to do to fix it so far haven’t worked.

You’ve been told to try harder, make decisions, set goals, take control and lift your self-esteem.

But nothing has changed.

I changed. I found a method that works for me and my clients. There are “Three Steps to Freedom:
1. Squash
2.  Sort
3.  Execute.

By the end of this chapter, you will be able use them too. 


I like that description because it’s big, black, close, and most of us find that it keeps out the good rain of life. It has many components:

· Too many things to do!
· Not enough time to do them all!
· No way of getting them all done, paid for, or completed!
· No shape to the future that makes sense of it all!
· Where to start to get over it?

And along with that the thoughts:

· I’m not good enough.
· I can’t see a way out.
· It didn’t work last time.
· I don’t have the ability.
· I don’t belong.
· Nobody likes me.
· ……….  And more.

It turns into misery, depression, mental paralysis, and self-medication like smoking, drinking, gambling, overeating, drugs, and/or a feeling of helplessness. Certainly a bleak life.


Now, I knew a lot about change. I was a therapist. Where was I going wrong?

Then, almost by chance, I had a stunning experience.

I want to say first that you may not have my sort of overwhelm, but the problem I have is made up of a whole series of very common problems that tend to make up most experiences of overwhelm. I found a way.  It started with “Squash the Pictures.” 


I was a major procrastinator. I could put off just about anything, and it caused a lot of pain. You know: the dreadful panic to get taxes done at the last minute, the letters unwritten, bills collecting penalties … and I was overwhelmed most of the time.

So I went for a search on Google, yet again, to find some good way of overcoming all this. Unfortunately, there is a lot of rubbish out there! But I found a podcast which mentioned procrastination and overwhelm, so I downloaded it and listened. It was a doctor describing his life. It was all about lifelong poor performance and failures and underachievement and distraction. I became really involved. His life was very much like mine.

Then he said that he had found a reason. He had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.

I was stunned. I was a therapist. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or ADHD) was something that happened to badly behaved boys. But no, girls and adults had the problem too.

His problem was my problem. I had ADD. There was an explanation for my life! I wasn’t a lazy, failed, confused idiot.

I had ADD.

I danced! I shouted, “It’s brain chemistry! It’s not my fault!”  “The mess I am in isn’t my fault!”
Of course, what I did about it next was my responsibility. There was a lot to learn.
I was aware of the dangers of self-diagnosis. I had my GP find a psychiatrist who understood ADD and saw him. Confirmed.


A huge number of things fell into place. Not just about the way I could better manage myself, but also why lots of therapy didn’t work well and why many people did self-development courses and didn’t change. I also learned why so many people failed at selling, and why I had lots of clients who were addicted to everything from nicotine to food to chocolate to alcohol to drugs and a few other interesting behaviours. Why my school performance was sub-standard and why I failed out of University, although I am fairly bright. Why I didn’t finish things.  And why I had no money.


Attention Deficit Disorder isn’t really a deficit and isn’t a disorder for us. It’s a particular matrix of common problems most people have sometime. We ADDers just have more of them fairly constantly.  BUT with them come great advantages. ADHDers are classically Distracted, Hyperactive and Impulsive.  That equals a gifted life of being Curious, Energized and Creative!  We are also mostly dissatisfied with things as they are. We are the world shakers.

Overwhelm reminds me of the story of a driver who was lost in the country. He saw a farmer leaning over a gate, so he pulled up and asked, “How do I get to Highway 47?” The farmer pondered for a moment, and then said, “You can’t get there from here!”

But there is always a way.

ADHD or not, if you are overwhelmed, this chapter will show you a way to use three key steps to a wonderful and freer life. 


When you think, you use all your senses, including sight (pictures,) touch, taste, smell, and sound, as well as your feelings, emotions and memories, configured in sequences and associations. 

For most people, pictures are very important. Pictures can vary from being very clear to hazy to vague impressions associated with feelings or sounds. Some people are not aware that they use pictures, and may be more aware of feelings or sounds, but the pictures are there. 


Think of the face of a person that you really love or like. Most people will be aware of a picture in front of their eyes. (It isn’t in your head, unless you look backwards to see it behind eye level. The information is in your brain, but you make a picture in front.)

Point to the picture.  How far away is it? For most people it will be quite close.

Now think of the face of someone you don’t care for or actually dislike. Point to their face. It may be in a different direction, and further away. Push it much further away. You will probably notice that your feelings become less intense when you do that.

If you have the face of someone you dislike or a bad memory up close to you, you will feel unhappy. Your brain sorts your feelings by the distance you place the pictures from your eyes.

Most depressed people keep a number of bad pictures up front and close.

Overwhelm has some similar characteristics. We have too many “too big” pictures up close.

Pictures can be changed. After all, the pictures you see are just a bunch of neurons belting around in your brain. Notice what you can do with some of your pictures. Drain the color out of them. Make them transparent. Turn movies into stills and stills into movies. Move the picture around on the “screen” in front of your eyes. Put yourself in and out of the picture.

As you do this you can notice how this changes the intensity of your feelings.

Now, it’s different from depression, but notice overwhelm. Once again, you have too many pictures too close. However, they all seem to be things that you must do something about.

Here’s the trick.


Squash them down into a square about 35 cm by 35 cm (14 in x 14 in,) 2/3rds arm length in front of you, below eye level. This is the work area you are already familiar with.   Use your hands if necessary to force everything into the square.

Make sure that you get everything. Collect any vague sensations, sounds and voices. Push any feelings in your body that seem to be part of the overwhelm right out into the work area. Pretend, if you need to. Pretending is good.

This is your work area. What’s there is under your control.
When it is all there, go to:


Go through everything in your work area and decide what you need to do, one by one. There are tasks to prioritize and schedule.  So the next step is to put them into your organizer, calendar/diary, or put them onto your to-do list. (You do have a to-do list, don’t you?!)

 If there is too much, there is too much. Get someone else to do it, or abandon it. If that’s impossible, short cut. You have permission to be imperfect and untidy for the present!

If there are matters that create bad feelings but you don’t really have to do anything about them, you can shrink them even further. Spin the picture until it’s gray, and let it float away. I know a woman who has a ”toilet” in the lower right –hand side of her mind. Anything she doesn’t like, she drops it in and flushes. Try it.

The more you play with things like this, the faster your brain learns that you are in control, problems can be sorted, and the better you feel!


Sometimes there are bad feelings from the past. All the stuff that makes you feel badly about yourself. Be aware of them.  They are in the next step.

Often my overwhelm had lots of bad feelings about what might happen in the future because I had no hope of completing all that I had to do. But once I started controlling my life all that disappeared.


I love EXECUTE. It has two meanings, “Kill” and “Do!”


The KILL bit is clearing the decks, getting rid of what is in the way.
Consider tasks or people that are too much, but you can live without. Cut them out.

Tasks you have taken on because you couldn’t say no. Delete them. (That’s right. Practice by picking up the phone and saying, “I’ve had something come up and I can’t do it. Sorry.” Try really doing it: you CAN dial the number first if you want! It’s time to get rid of those tasks that you decide are not going to serve you well in the long run!)

The limiting awarenesses that you have from the past that are part of the overwhelm need special attention.

It’s time to notice how you use time. 


Think of something that happened five years ago.  It doesn’t need to be dramatic, just something that you remember. Point to that picture or awareness. For this timeline work it will be outside your body. If you feel that a picture is inside you, push it out in front of you. Now remember something that happened three years ago. Point to that or notice where it is. Do the same for one year ago, six months, three months, and last week. Yesterday. Then, from the point of your present perspective, join all these points and run it back all the way to your birth. This is your past timeline. It may be straight, it may wriggle, but you are aware of its shape.

Come back to the present. Some people are outside the present, “today,” and some inside it. This is normal. Now repeat the process of possible events through tomorrow, a week into the future, three months, etc., and you have your future timeline. It won’t be as clear as your past, of course, and some people don’t have a clear future at all.

For many people their “past” timeline will flow from the left and their future timeline up to the right. However, there are many possible variations.

There is a great deal that we can do with timelines. I only want you to experiment a little.

I would like you to swing your past timeline around so that your past is behind you. (You can swing it back if that feels uncomfortable and just send back bad memories!) You may want to stretch it out so that anything you don’t like is well in the past a long way behind you, where it belongs.

As you do that, make sure that any bad emotions attached to particular events are stuck back in time with the event. If, for example, you had an explosive fight with someone when you were a teenager, all the feelings about it are back there and back then, not here today. Remembering the event might include the fact that back then you were very angry. But it doesn’t have to make you angry now: leave it back there.

On the other hand, any events that produced positive emotions, pleasure, achievement, or pride can be replayed in your mind along with those emotions. Why not? And replay them often.

Your troubles are now behind you.
Notice how that frees up the present and future?

The space that was taken up by the past is now available for the present and the future. It’s a big space and you are free to step into it. When I first did this process, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  So you are naturally flowing into your future as if your past is pushing you forward.

Now you are free to picture a big, bright future, and you can handle it.

Psst! If you feel lost or uncomfortable when you get rid of overwhelm, good! You are growing. Keep at it. It gets better!


It’s time to take action.

Now that the pictures of your tasks are smaller, below eye level, and scheduled, they are much easier to complete.

You worked out your future timeline earlier in this chapter. Make sure the tasks you desire to complete are included in your future timeline, or you won’t do them.

I had to create a working timeline. I had a picture of the future going up to the right, but it was just composed of dates in years to come, and wasn’t effective. I made a working “executive” timeline straight in front of me, below eye level, so that I could see events out into the future. My plans are now a series of pictures ahead of me, bright, strong, and attractive. (Be careful not to put your working timeline right up in front of your eyes because you can only see your next action. It locks you in the present!)


Our unconscious mind has a way of keeping us sane and safe. I call it Brain Boxes.

§ BOX 1 is real fantasy. This is where you keep Father Christmas, fairies and the like.

§ BOX 2 is where you fantasize about “could be real.” You win the lottery; inherit $100 K from an unknown uncle or Miss Universe falls in love with you.

§ BOX 3 is where you think about all the things you would like to do if you could, all the things you ought to do, and you keep all your good intentions: “I’m going on a diet, starting at the gym .…” But somehow they just don’t get done.

§ BOX 4 is the winner. These are the things that you DO!

Life is about shifting intentions from BOX 3 to BOX 4! 


For ADDers like me, motivation is a problem because a neurotransmitter in the brain, dopamine, doesn’t always do its stuff. It’s as if there isn’t enough juice in the battery to turn on the light. However, here is an effective solution that works for a lot of people – not only those with ADD, but anyone who finds it challenging to motivate themselves.

Picture or become aware of the task. Concentrate with focused attention for at least five seconds. Then, as you hold it in mind, steadily begin to lift your enthusiasm deliberately for the task until it feels and looks like something you really want to do.

You know from other experiences what enthusiasm feels like. Just replay the feeling.

As you feel yourself becoming more enthusiastic, focus on the benefits of completing the task and the satisfaction you will have. Make them bright and powerful. This even works for doing your taxes!

So this is what you do.



3. EXECUTE  …Kill

                   ….. DO!

And rightly feel fantastic when you have done it!

 Join me and the other people who are no longer overwhelmed. Welcome to a fuller life.

 © David Townsend 2014