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Entrepreneur Mindset

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 badguys…  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 onto 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 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 shut 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.

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

  1. 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! 🙂

    Reply ·
  2. Corrie Lugtenaar

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

    Reply ·
  3. Gabriella

    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.

    Reply ·
    1. 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.

      Reply ·
  4. marieangili

    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 …

    Reply ·
    1. 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….

      Reply ·
  5. Terri Fischer

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

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      You’re welcome!

      Reply ·
  6. 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.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

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

      Reply ·
  7. Tara

    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.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

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

      Reply ·
      1. Tara

        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. ?

        Reply ·
  8. 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.

    Reply ·
    1. 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…

      Reply ·
  9. 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

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

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

      Reply ·
  10. 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).

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

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

      Reply ·
  11. Kathy

    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.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

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

      Reply ·
  12. 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.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

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

      Reply ·
  13. Linda

    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! 😉

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love this Linda! Take it back… <3

      Reply ·
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About the Author Marisa Murgatroyd

Marisa is the founder of Live Your Message, where she turns entrepreneurs into Online Superheroes, and the creator of Start With You where she helps people just like you to discover the business they're meant to build, not just the business they can build. At 4’11 and a quarter, she’s called the shortest woman in marketing — and that doesn’t stop her from having huge ideas. She’s the “go to” brand builder for industry luminaries and heavyweights such as Justin Livingston, Callan Rush, Danny Iny, Alexis Neely and Susan Peirce Thompson. Marisa helps entrepreneurs create a business that is authentic and aligned with who they are, to empower them to turn up the dial on their “inner superhero”, so they can be the superhero to their tribe, as well as in their own lives.

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