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Why Overwhelm is Actually a Good Thing (for your Business, and for You, too)

In literally every single program I’ve ever taught and every single program I’ve ever been a part of, I hear people complain that they feel “overwhelmed”.

Overwhelm has clearly earned a reputation as one of today’s bad guys…  along with the other usual suspects such as stress, burn-out, overwork, smoking, poor diet and a million other things that you absolutely must eliminate from your life unless… [insert dire consequence here].

But what if I told you that not only is overwhelm NOT your enemy…   but what if overwhelm was actually an essential and uniquely valuable part of growing a successful business, and in fact, becoming a successful entrepreneur.

And not only that .. (hold on to your hats folks)… what if I told you that without overwhelm, you literally CANNOT be successful.


OK – let’s back up a second….

As humans, we naturally want more. Whether it’s more love, clients, success, money. We crave it. But the moment we get more than we’re used to receiving, we feel overwhelmed. We can’t take any more in.

It’s funny. We say that we want more, then we shut down if we actually get it.

What’s going on here?

The simple explanation is that we haven’t built the “muscle” to deal with more yet.

In his book The 4-Hour Chef, Tim Ferriss teaches people how to become experts in pretty much anything, fast. And his secret to becoming a fast expert in anything was (perhaps a little counter-intuitively,) to learn how to be OK with the feelings of resistance and overwhelm.

In general in life, we’re programmed to stop when we feel the resistance or overwhelm begin, and the feeling of being at the edge of what we can comfortably deal is usually a negative one. And the way we deal with that is by shutting it down, giving up, walking away.

The definition of overwhelm is to “receive too much of something”…  but what if it’s ONLY when you’ve received too much of something that you actually begin to grow?

Imagine you’re at a gym lifting weights. What do you feel each time you lift the weight? Resistance, and your muscle quickly feels overwhelmed by the weight.

And what happens on the other side of that resistance? You develop muscle and strength. Of course, you feel a little sore afterward, but you’ve grown your strength and your capacity to lift heavier and heavier weights next time.

But what happens if you stop lifting the moment you hit that resistance? The moment your muscle feels the overwhelm of too much weight?  You don’t grow your capacity, and instead, you stay at your current level of strength, fitness or prosperity and never achieve your goals.

So how do you actually get the things that you want if you’re programmed to stop when you feel the overwhelm & resistance?

What if the next time you felt it happen, you were able to “flip the script.” What if, instead of saying, “Yikes! I feel overwhelmed“, what if you instead said, “Yay! I’m about to grow!“, and actively embraced that feeling of resistance and overwhelm as positive things?

It’s simply about redefining what resistance and overwhelm mean for you as positives that expand your capacity to be more, do more, feel more, have more and achieve more, as an entrepreneur, a business owner, and as a person.

In his book Emotional Equations, Chip Conley defines anxiety as “uncertainty X powerlessness.” Overwhelm can only be “overwhelming” if you choose to give up some of your power in the face of these emotions.

And the best way to overcome overwhelm is to recognize where you’ve given away some of your power, and ask yourself “What’s one thing I can do right now? What’s one thing I can do to move forward no matter how I’m feeling or what’s happening in my life?”

Action (any action) automatically changes your self-identity from the kind of person who gives up, walks away or shuts down, to the kind of person who does what they can when they can. The kind of person who gets back up on their feet and carries the ball forward, no matter what.

Even if it’s just one yard at a time.

Just move the ball forward one yard at a time and eventually you’ll reach the end zone… but you can’t reach the end zone if you give up.

The more you take action in the face of your overwhelm, resistance, fear, doubt and anxiety, the more you automatically build your self-confidence, resilience — the universal business traits.

This one simple practice will change your life and your business forever.

Who’s ready to rewrite their story around overwhelm and expand their capacity to do more, feel more, receive more, overcome more and achieve more? Let me know in the comments!

I’m also interested in hearing your strategies for taking action in the face of overwhelm.

Ready to take consistent action to grow your business? Join us in Live Your Message LAB — where you’ll get step-by-step business growth experiments PLUS all the coaching and community support you need. Because the way to really grow your business to new heights is to take consistent action 🙂

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Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Linda Avatar

    Starting now. Taking back my power over whelm. (Is that even a word?) Well, I’ll strengthen my action muscle and take small breaks only to return to task quickly. I’ve got this! 😉

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love this Linda! Take it back… <3

  2. Henry C. Shelton Jr. Avatar
    Henry C. Shelton Jr.

    Excellent article Marisa! Framing “overwhelm” in terms of growth in progress, gives one a completely different outlook with respect to this all to common feeling. Both the “receiving what you asked for” and the muscle growth analogy, totally puts “overwhelm” into a more positive perspective.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      You’re welcome Henry! And yes, overwhelm is a natural part of growth… 🙂

  3. Kathy Avatar

    I coach a lot of people in overwhelm and anxiety, and they are only feelings. I went into your program knowing I’d have that overwhelm feeling, because I’m launching a book, helping my daugter apply to college, and working full-time. I told myself that as long as I got enough time to sleep, exercise and meditate, I’d get through it. The worst that could happen was that I would have to slow down, and I’d still have made a great product by the end of the year. I’m sprinting, for sure, and some days I don’t get enough done to please myself. But I’ve made huge progress forward, and I’m grateful.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love this Kathy… that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes we have to hustle a little…and hustle can be good. 🙂

  4. David Holliday Avatar
    David Holliday

    I was in line to buy a burger at a restaurant in Houston International (1980), on my way back home after a (very)frustrating trip. While trying to get money out of my carry-on my frustration must have been evident: a voice behind me said: “Persevere, persevere”. It came from a little, old lady, who I swear was a disguised angel.

    To this day, I remember and am thankful for her, especially when I feel an onset of “overwhelm”…which has occurred in this program. I step back, rearrange a bit, and start forward: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, it works! And you like yourself at the end of the day (and the next morning is easier as well).

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Great words to remember! I love how you picture that little old lady every time you hear the words “persevere persevere” David.

  5. Nancy Albright Avatar
    Nancy Albright

    Marisa, This could not have come at a better time! I have so much going on that I felt the ceiling of the Wonder woman hideout start to cave in on Thank you for once again rocking my world and changing my view and perspective on overwhelm. Moving forward and at full speed aheadxx

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Aww… take to the skies, it’s your time to fly Wonder Woman. 😉

  6. Virginia Reeves Avatar
    Virginia Reeves

    Yay – I’m growing. Such a strong concept Marisa. Thanks.
    Overwhelm is also in the eye of the beholder. I am feeling pressure due to being a central person during my 63 year old brother’s operations and recovery from a bad motorcycle accident on 9/13. He’s still in the hospital. When I feel ‘overwhelmed’ I think: OMG – what Jim is having to go through. Quit whining!
    When you are being a supportive, positive force for someone else, your perspective changes with regard to whatever you are going through. Sometimes it’s good to remember that we almost always have a choice – many people don’t.
    You’re so right that new and bigger ‘stuff’ can slam dunk us or it can make us stand up straighter and say: I can do this. I wanted my life to be different so grab on and fly with it.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      That’s absolutely true. We almost always have a choice… and are very fortunate to be in a place where we can choose. Stay strong…

  7. Tara Avatar

    Excellent article! When I was in a wheelchair for many years with no hope to recover, I would think of the song from from the Rudolph the Reindeer Christmas special. They sang “put one foot in front of the other and soon you be walking out the door…” I still think of that song often. ? We have to step into the uncomfortable sometimes to grow.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      That’s a powerful story Tara. It sounds like you got back on your feet, something that few people can do.

      1. Tara Avatar

        Yes, I did… ?? Two years ago I wrote a book, “The 180 Degree Wellness Revolution; Simple Steps To Prevent and Reverse Illness”. It’s been a #1bestseller, still remains on the bestseller list for two years now and is a #1 top rated book in multiple categories on Amazon. Now I guide others who are ready. ?

  8. Stefanie LaHart Avatar
    Stefanie LaHart

    I have begun to view my overwhelm situations as if it is a large wave in the ocean about to break over my head. At first I am scared and get the urge to flee as fast as I can but once I choose to stand in my position of power and acceptance while the wave comes crashing down then my endorphins kick it in. I FEEL EXHILARATED! And I want to experience it again. That is my re-frame.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      That’s a beautiful metaphor for moving from fear to acceptance Stefanie. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Terri Fischer Avatar
    Terri Fischer

    What a helpful reframe! I love it! Thank you.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      You’re welcome!

  10. marieangili Avatar

    Marisa must have another superpower of getting into people’s heads,minds and hearts. She must have looked into us ( for most of us anyway) and heard us saying,thinking and feeling … “This is overwhelming ..I’m overwhelmed!”. Now she managed to turn our heads and heart (mine at least) and turn this ‘OVERWHELM’ on its head. I will certainly never feel or see Overwhelm in the same way again. It is now for me something NOT to be OVERCOME but something to embrace as an enabling force to expand me to the maximum possible to accomplish the most in front of me. This is not rhetorics because I was feeling like I got myself more than I could handle was feeling it was a mistake … but it is now feeling like: IT IS NOT! Just a matter of seeing things differently. Right Perspective matters! Thanks for shifting our minds toward that …

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love that you took this lesson to heart Marie and made this reframe. That’s how you make progress towards creating the life and business you really want….

  11. Gabriella Avatar

    Marisa–Thank you for this. For me, overwhelm indicates resistance to change and rapid growth. Sometimes my brain actually feels hot. We just had to evacuate for four days due to hurricane Matthew. We went to a new place. There I had the enlightening realization that part of my overwhelm struggle was resistance/DENIAL to making a BIG CHANGE–as in moving to a new location after 19 years at the beach. In EPM I am moving into a higher level of service. This requires me to be closer to the airport and live within a population of my ideal clients. Hallelujah!
    and Yikes! I am learning to love overwhelm.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Awesome that this change of environment allowed you to discover what you were resisting and make a change. And yes, falling in love with overwhelm is a very good thing.

  12. Corrie Lugtenaar Avatar
    Corrie Lugtenaar

    Marisa, thank you! This is so helpful, joyful it makes me feel like “ Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (written by Richard Bach).

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      We doesn’t want to feel like that Corrie? <3

  13. Tony Dee Avatar
    Tony Dee

    I absolutely love this Marisa. I was in a car accident as a teen. Doctors predicted I would never walk again and lose the ability to learn any more than I knew at the time because of a head injury. I learned this after I woke from two weeks of unconscious existence. I determined I wasn’t going to accept that as my fate, so I read everything about how humans heal. Nutrition and exercise were at the top of the charts, oh, and I love me some omega 3 fatty acids. I’ve never understood the term “Overwhelm” since that accident until a few days ago. I was working on Copywriting Basic: Writing Headlines, Bullets & Copy That Sells, and it was time for Wisdom Wednesday. I explained to my wife how it upset me to have to stop working. She used that opportunity to explain how that was overwhelm. After listening to her and reading this, I finally get it. Overwhelm is a good thing! 🙂

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Wow! what an incredible story Tony. You really are the superhero to your tribe.

  14. Robert Blue Avatar
    Robert Blue

    For me, when overwhelm comes back, I go back to my planning board. I check if what my mind is plagued me with question is put on the planning board. If not I add it, this way I stop have the feeling. If already there, I reevaluate the position. I can then check the next step to progress and think of. This to have the teams in my mind to offer me the solution or how to do it. I can also look at what was already be done. To see that I’m not procrastinating, and all is progressing. but I really like this idea of changing the feeling of overwhelm from a bad point of view to a new positive point of view.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      That’s a great system Robert! Get everything out of your head and onto the page! 🙂

  15. Cynthia Mae Fromm Avatar
    Cynthia Mae Fromm

    Funny thing… I was unstoppable as a child. Then…I spent decades in “the cubicle world”. EVERY aspect of that culture had regimented limitations. I’m certain your post has awakened the action beast in me. Thank you.
    Fear of failure be damned!

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Cynthia you can definitely get your unstoppable back! 🙂

  16. Kim A Jobst Avatar
    Kim A Jobst

    Magical Post Marisa – thank you – “I feel Overwhelmed” overwhelmed has passed my lips so many times when asked how i Am – each time I know it is about growth and a desire so deep to “breakthrough” and to not give up but there is a lightness to your words that encourages and supports and most of all ACKNOWLEDGES that it has ever been thus and ever will be on the journey to fitness in my business and my life and to the unique enjoyment of actually making the top of the mountain I have chosen to climb!

    1. Shannon Goodell Avatar
      Shannon Goodell

      You’ve got this, Kim! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Jeff Viola Avatar
    Jeff Viola

    I was just discussing this “”overwhelm” word with a colleague on the subject of project management. I’ve done some small projects but every time a new one lands on my lap, I do feel overwhelmed. I have this tendency to look at it from the outside visualizing a giant ball and the effort needed to move it.

    My friend says its either I’ve done too little or none at all on leading a project. Which made sense and would explain why I avoid it like a disease.

    But on the few instances that I did, it was planning, communicating, and delegating that made it possible. And I still recall the feeling of satisfaction after a job well done. It is true teamwork makes the dream work.

    1. Shannon Goodell Avatar
      Shannon Goodell

      Absolutely, Jeff! Thanks for sharing!

  18. Jim Bloodsworth Avatar
    Jim Bloodsworth

    WOW!! Marisa, way to smack that nail right on the noggin!! Here I’ve been overwhelming my muscles for the past couple of years in order to make them grow stronger so I don’t wither away and die as I enter my golden years, but it didn’t even occur to me to use the same strategy on my brain and my emotions!! Double WOW!! Thanks a million for that lightning bolt.

    1. Shannon Goodell Avatar
      Shannon Goodell

      Hey Jim, so glad you had an “aha” moment reading this and thanks for sharing! — Shannon

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