Community//

Two Lies that Cause Overwhelm

How to Conquer Overwhelm and Become Truly & Peacefully Productive

The Deluge of Modern Life

Overwhelm is a powerful emotion that leaves us feeling submerged under the weight of so many inputs, demands, and responsibilities. 

Overwhelm is particularly painful because it’s not alone; underneath overwhelm, you’ll find other painful emotions including:  

  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Worry
  • Anxiety
  • Dread
  • Confusion
  • Despair
  • Futility
  • Hopelessness

Overwhelm is both an cultural and individual experience. 

Cultural Contributors to Overwhelm

Culturally, we want to go along with the herd. But the “crazy busy” herd may be leading us off a cliff. ‘Busy-ness’ is rewarded when we should be rewarding productivity. Busy is about motion: you can busily run in a circle for five miles and get nowhere. To live a productive life, you have to banish ‘busy’ and trick your brain into adopting true productivity.

Productivity is about producing value…efficiently. The person who creates the most value in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort (and ideally, most amount of flow) should be crowned the winner. 

Individual Biology & Overwhelm

Our brains are designed for roaming the Savannah all day in a tribe, seeking food and respite. We are not equipped for our modern world with 24/7 connectivity, back-to-back meetings, sitting, and a constant barrage of inputs from email, social media, online messaging, and toxic news.

Our ancient brains—wired with five times as many neural processes for negative thinking over positive thinking—create thoughts designed to keep us safe from predators, but put us in a state of overwhelm.

Our “I’m not good enough story” leads us to say yes and no to the wrong things, leaving us overcommitted and unproductive.

Overwhelm can be cured, but first we need to understand the true causes. 

Myth & Lies About Overwhelm

Contrary to common belief…overwhelm is not caused by the onslaught of work, requests, and information coming at you. 

It’s caused by your thoughts about your capacity, how others think of you, and how you compare to others. 

Your ancient, tribal, operating system tells you two lies that produce overwhelm:

“I have to do it all.”

(aka, “I can’t drop a ball.”)

“I should be able to do it all.”

Here’s the truth: 

You have infinite potential but limited capacity.

Your capacity is limited in several ways:

  1. You have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else. 
  2. Your body needs to sleep about 1/3 of those hours.
  3. Your brain has, on average, 90 minutes a day of quality cognitive thinking (assuming you make good use of sleep, nutrition, and movement). 
  4. You have a limited number of days left to live, fewer every moment. 

No one can do it all, including you.

You have to drop (and dodge) some of the balls raining down on you. 

There’s no reason to feel guilty about this fact. Lions don’t feel guilty for napping all day. They respect their biology, as all animals innately do. 

Even master jugglers sometimes drop a ball. Jugglers not only accept their limits; they are laser focused, creative, and resilient…the show must go on. 

The best corporate athletes also embody these traits, bringing presence and perspective to their tasks and interactions with others. 

Why Time Management Tools Don’t Always Stick

You can’t manage time. You can only manage yourself. 

If you want to feel less overwhelmed, and instead feel clear, calm, in-control, and focused, it’s not enough to use “time-management” techniques.

You have to re-train your brain, and THEN apply the techniques. 

You have to sort out your priorities. 

You have to put your life into perspective. 

You have to do things that your brain thinks are hard. 

You have to say no, even if the herd is saying yes.

  • No to distractions
  • No to wanting to be in two places at once
  • No to meetings where you are as useful as a piece of furniture
  • No to getting sucked into social media sites 
  • No to checking your email first thing in the morning (thereby handing your day over to everyone in your inbox).
  • No to sugary snacks that give you a quick high, then a plunge in energy
  • No to blaming, worrying, and other emotions and behaviors outside your span of control
  • No to spending time with toxic people
  • No to binging TV
  • No to sacrificing sleep

Then you can say:

  • Yes to being fully present in one place at a time without guilt (whether it’s with a co-worker or family member or check-out person)
  • Yes to planning your day
  • Yes to doing your priority work early in the day
  • Yes to turning off all notifications so you can focus
  • Yes to sleep and your health
  • Yes to that medical checkup that might save your life
  • Yes to laughter with colleagues
  • Yes to ‘good enough’ work that adds value quickly, instead of getting sucked into the soul-sucking vortex of perfectionism
  • Yes to stress-relieving techniques that help you be mindful and present in every interaction you have
  • Yes to noticing and upgrading your thoughts, instead of looping negative thoughts
  • Yes to work that’s important, but not (yet) urgent
  • Yes to gratitude and perspective
  • Yes to fulfilling relationships where you can be yourself

It won’t be easy at first to do things that you don’t feel like doing, but you already know how. You know how to eat a piece of cake instead of the WHOLE CAKE. At least, I think you do…

You are bigger than your distracting environment and your distracting thoughts. You just need intention, commitment…and tools to make it easier to do.

It will be worth it.  

Here’s to your peace, presence, and potential. 

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.