How To Overcome Overwhelm

A guest post by Ande Waggener of Up From Splat

Last week, Mary Jaksch issued her readers a challenge.  “Want to be fit, or even ultra-fit?” she asked.  “Join the 8-week Fitness Challenge.”  She set forth her fitness goals and invited us to join her to make a measurable change in our fitness level over the next 8 weeks.

The invitation both galvanized and enervated me.

“Yes, yes,” part of me answered.  Whenever I see a competition or challenge to get fit or improve my life, this part of me has a puppy-like eagerness to join in.  I want to be fit.  I want to improve.

“Oh man, where would I start,” another part of me groaned.  This part views challenges as long roads stretching into the distance far beyond my line of sight.  I want to plunk down on my butt and sit this one out because it’s just too overwhelming to contemplate the effort required.

When overwhelm strikes, the stricken tend not to move.  In order to take action, the first thing we need to do is overcome the overwhelm.

When The Road Is Long

The eager part of me was in charge for most of my life.  Lately, though, my health and weight issues have become, well, super-sized, and the plunked-on-the-butt part is in control.

I am over 150 pounds overweight.  How did this happen?  I used to be slender and fit, and I did aerobic and strength training daily.

Who stole my body?

The how I got here story is long and negative.  It involves a couple severe accidents, a money crisis, and self-medicating with food.  But that story isn’t important.  How we got to the starting point is never as important as where we go from here.

When you create an intention or accept a challenge to create a life change, you come face to face with the enormity of necessary action to create that change.  Even if the goal is seemingly small—to drop five pounds or “get in better shape” as perhaps defined by not huffing and puffing when you go up a flight of four steps—you know that you’re going to have to do something to set off down the road to the new you.

That knowledge can be extraordinarily overwhelming when, like me, you know the ultimate road is a long one.  So what if you lose five pounds if you have 150 to lose?  So what if you can get strong enough to rise out of a chair if you ultimately want to be able to have well-toned muscles?  Little goals are just steps to big goals, and we all know that.  So even the smallest goal can seem overwhelming.  To overcome that overwhelm, we need to resort to a little self-trickery.  Like this:

Three Steps To Awaken Eagerness

Life change boils down to getting eagerness to trump plunked-on-the-buttness.

Discipline and will-power will only get you so far. And when the road is long, they won’t even get you off the starting line.  Resistance is far too powerful.

Puppy- or child-like desire for fun is the only thing that will get you moving and keep you moving.  Because who cares if you get moving if you’re going to stop in a day or two or ten.

Here’s how to rev up your inner kid (or puppy or kitten or whatever happy little critter lights you up) to be ready for a fitness or any other kind of seemingly overwhelming challenge:

1.  Play Make-Believe
Of course you know about visualization.  You understand that it’s easier to move toward a goal when you have a vision.  But the overwhelmed part of you isn’t going to be easily swayed by a vision of a future victory.  It will, however, be impressed by a memory of a past triumph.

Playing make-believe involves creating a scene that captures what your life will be like when you attain your fitness (or any other) goal.  As with plain old visualization, it involves seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, and tasting what you’d experience if you achieved what you want to achieve.

Unlike visualization, though, playing make-believe is about pretending it has already happened.  You want to create not a vision but a memory of how awesome it was when you got to the end of that long road.  Memories of things already achieved have much more power than visions of desires not yet realized.  And these pretend memories have the power to create.

2. Do Your Own Thing
One of the ways to let overwhelm shut you down is to start comparing your efforts with those around you.  When I read about Mary’s experience with her 83-year old neighbor, I was beyond intimidated.  Strength work, bag work, running, yoga.  Whew.  I’m challenged by an hour walk at a moderate pace with my dog.

To get past overwhelm, you have to be able to ignore what others are doing.  Do what feels right to you, even if it’s a tiny little step toward a goal that’s a long way off.  Author and speaker, Barbara Sher, an expert in pushing past resistance, says that sometimes we need to break down action steps to their most infinitesimal minimum.  You don’t resolve to do ten crunches.  You resolve to do one.

My own first fitness steps for Mary’s challenge include adding to my daily routine:  five minutes a day on my rebounder, five minutes of breathing and isometric exercises, and a couple servings of fruit a day to my diet (to replace less healthy choices).  Quantum steps are right for me right now.  It doesn’t matter what’s right for anyone else.

3.  Treat Yourself For Doing Instead Of Achieving
The eager part of you isn’t into delayed gratification.  Long term goals like improved fitness are about a goal that’s a ways off.  It’s tough to get a sense of accomplishment along the way, even if you’re doing your best to enjoy the process.

Find a way to reward yourself for taking steps.  I love to check things off of charts or lists.  It makes me feel virtuous.  So creating an action chart and placing a nice perky check mark next to each thing I do to move down the long road to achievement makes me feel good.  This in turn keeps me eager to continue to take more action.

If you like more visual strokes, get some gold stars.  If you like more concrete rewards, pick a few things you love like candlelight or bubble baths or indulging in a novel or favorite TV show or whatever soothes you, and treat yourself every step of the way toward your goal.

No matter the length of the road in front of you, you can complete the journey … if you begin.  When you get in touch with your natural eagerness, you can transform overwhelm into overdrive and make that make-believe memory a reality before you know it.

Ande Waggener is the author of both fiction and nonfiction.  She encourages people to keep on toward their dreams even after setbacks and disappointments at Up From Splat, a site that helps you get back up when life slams you down.

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  1. Hi Ande,

    I definitely agree that comparing ourselves with others is a certain recipe for overwhelm.

    The thing is that (obviously) everyone has different skills and abililities which lead to THEIR success, not ours. We can get caught in knots of envy and worry when we fail to live up to others’ performance.

    Perform to the best of your abilities – that’s always enough 😉
    .-= Scott McIntyre´s last blog ..5 Side Effects of Settling for a Second Best Life =-.

  2. Greg T says:


    Great insight. Very helpful.

  3. katie says:

    Awesome, Ande. I love your idea of embracing your eagerness and switching it from overwhelming to motivating, one step at a time. I’m with you on doing it your own way and for me, I have to work hard on letting my daughter find her own way to do things. Sometimes the “mom know best” approach can be overwhelming for her because it is not her way. Thanks for the lesson in parenting – which likely wasn’t intentional but I’m always searching for ways to be better at it.
    .-= katie´s last blog ..How to Consciously Alter Your Truth and Change Your Internal Dialogue =-.

  4. Sandra Lee says:

    Ande, That’s an incredible story about intention. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I too believe everything starts with intention. And thank you for helping us break a challenge down into baby – kitten – puppy steps. In these crazy days and age, we all need that support. I really like focusing on the power of one change at a time. I’m grateful for your inspired and inspiring article.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last blog ..The Heart of Reality =-.

  5. Rosemary says:

    Hi Ande, thanks for this inspirational article…and by the way I’ve visited that splat planet a few times myself.:) In my make-believe memory I have not just written the best selling novel, but I’m working on the movie! Only problem is that in reality it’s all going to take years and that’s only for the first draft…I think it’s the bit where you have to then write and rewrite it a hundred and one times that tips me into overwhelm and I let it slip away…again. So from now on, I will take your advice and generously reward myself at the end of every 3 chapters. 🙂 I also agree that comparing ourselves with others can leave us feeling horribly overwhelmed at times and is a definite no-no…I’ve just written about that in my latest post. Thanks again Ande
    .-= Rosemary´s last blog ..5 Ways To Kickstart Your Magical Mojo =-.

    • andewags says:

      @Rosemary, Why wait until the end of 3 chapters to celebrate, Rosemary? 🙂 When you’re working on a novel, every page is a victory because all those pages add up. Keep that memory in place, and you’ll see that novel on shelves and that movie in the theaters. I work with many writers who talk about being “blocked.” i always tell them they can manage just a little sentence. And when they do that, they generally tack on another, then another, and that block disappears. Love the name of your blog. I’m off to read about Magical Mojo. 🙂
      .-= andewags´s last blog ..The Cluster Theory Of How To Break Bad Habits =-.

  6. gina restivo says:

    Great story that we ALL can apply in some way. Have found that little bites are easiest to swallow and as long as I enjoy what I’m eating, the little bites are every bit as valuable as the big ones….maybe more. Love how you write about YOU, and how it feels like you’re writing about ME!! Thanks, Ande!

  7. Treating yourself after every step where you have progressed is a great way to show the yourself seriousness. It’s a big pill to swallow, but self gratification only after you have achieved your goal ,like a bowl of a ice cream after losing 15 lbs is a great way start.

  8. Hi Ande! The awesome idea on “treating yourself for doing, not achieving” is helpful. Particularly in these days where so many people are bent on being successful over things they can hold, have, attach themselves to, such lesson is very enlightening.

    It’s true. We need to value the processes we go through in the aspirations we make, instead of pushing ourselves to just appreciate the triumphant experience at actually being successful. After all, while we aspire for our goal, we also learn, discover, evaluate and appreciate everything around us, as well as ourselves. It is in that same process that we get a grip of realities, instead of that seemingly difficult aspiration we’ve built.

    So thank you, Ande. This is truly helpful, not just for me. But many others!

    Keep it up!

    .-= arina nikitina´s last blog ..What Major Change in Your Life Led You to Have Greater Self-Belief =-.

  9. Excellent post. Appreciation and gratitude are things that are difficult for many, but make a huge difference with overcoming overwhelm. If you are interested, I’d love for you to share your thoughts with my readers on my recent post on overcoming overwhelm. I think your thoughts above would be a great addition to the post!
    To your success
    .-= Stephanie LH Calahan (@StephCalahan)´s last blog ..106 Thoughts on Overcoming Overwhelm in a Freaked-Out World =-.

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