Overwhelm Is a Choice

That may be hard to hear, but I want you to think about it.

Some of the events and circumstances we encounter are indeed very overwhelming. Illness. Death of a loved one. Fire. Flood. Earthquakes real and metaphorical beyond our control.

But they are rare.

Unless you are living in a war zone, there’s probably not cause for your day-to-day life to feel overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be that way, yet overwhelm persists. Why?

Is it possible that we kinda like it that way? We say we want to get more organized and better manage our time, but do we really?

  • What would it mean to not have “busy” or “disorganized” as an excuse?
  • Are you at all attached to the “outs” that come with the stereotypical reputation of a creative?
  • What would happen if you had to make peace with not being able to do it all?

What would you have to take responsibility for if you were not in overwhelm?

Slowing down.
Being honest.
Choosing.
Learning the difference between a yes and a no.
Saying no. Often.
Not trying to be all things to everyone.
Taking care of yourself. First.
Respecting limits.
Committing to yes.
Generating real prosperity.
Knowing what makes you happy.
Being free to do it.
Understanding how much is enough.
Accepting yourself just as you are.
Loving your life.

These are good things, but not easy things. They are kind of overwhelming themselves. It’s not all that surprising that we so often choose ordinary everyday overwhelm over these challenging responsibilities.

(Especially in a culture that treats overwhelm as normal. It’s almost as though something is wrong with you if you aren’t overwhelmed – like you aren’t trying hard enough. Bah!)

I’m not saying any of this to shame you if you are feeling overwhelmed. Just because it’s in your control to change (yay! you can do something about it!) doesn’t make that easy because…

Getting to something simpler, ain’t always simple.

Which is why I think it’s better together. Whether it’s friends, colleagues, a spiritual community, mastermind, or classmates – people helping each other gain clarity, stay true to themselves, and stick with it have an easier time and greater success with this stuff. Which is good.

Because in the end, the effort is totally worth it.

• • • • •

Overwhelmed by ending overwhelm? Here are two ways out: The True Discipline of Time Management and The Organic Business Manual. Both are about simplifying your day-to-day systems and structures in ways that are just right for you. Join us.

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9 Responses to “Overwhelm Is a Choice”


  1. 1 Jennifer Louden May 11, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Love this! So much of my personal work and my comfort stuff is related to this subtle sometimes very tricky shift out of overwhelm and over doing into something more flowing. I tried to articulate one way to do it in my last book, The Life Organizer, and I continue to find / flow / struggle/ laugh at this modern dilemma. I think I’ve even started a novel about it.

    Thanks for another great post. i am loving your blog.

    • 2 Cairene May 11, 2009 at 12:08 pm

      @Jennifer
      It’s your book and the Comfort Cafe that are helping *me* get a handle on this stuff! Definitely better together :)
      And a novel? hmmm… very intrigued.

      @Leah
      If any aha’s come from your thinking, please come back and share. Would love to hear about them.

  2. 3 leah May 11, 2009 at 9:37 am

    oooh, great post!! lots to think about here.

  3. 4 Jessica May 11, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I’m notorious for using overwhelm as an excuse. One reason is that I feel guilty taking time out for myself. But I can’t say no to someone for that reason – so I say I can’t do something because I’m really overwhelmed. And then I don’t like to lie so I run around doing all kinds of stuff that “must” be done instead of taking the time for myself that I need. Does that make any sense??

  4. 5 Cairene May 11, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    @Jessica
    Yeah, it makes sense. You’re trying to make your words and actions match and stay in integrity. But it’s more of an outward integrity. A “what will people think” integrity. Which I so get. It’s the internal integrity that is so challenging. Like I said, these are not easy things… it takes a heap of practice.

    I really do highly recommend Jen Louden’s book for help with the taking time out for yourself part (see above). She’s the best.

  5. 6 Mona May 20, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Great post! You have one in your list that I recognized in myself recently…

    If I wasn’t overwhelmed and always “behind” or “playing catch up” then I’d have no excuse for why I was saying no to doing something for or with someone.

    When I’m BUSY…then it’s always socially acceptable to say, Ehhh…I gotta get back to work.

    And everyone understands.

    But if I’m caught up with stuff and I don’t have to “get back to something and catch up” then my fear (I realized) was that I’ll have nothing protecting me from all the people who want and need my attention.

    Gasp!

    And if *that* wasn’t there, then I’d have a really hard time saying no because there’d be no real REASON for saying no. I’d be just totally exposed and vulnerable and ready to be eaten alive. That’s how it seems in my mind, ya know?

    I did start thinking about how there are other reasons I can say no to things…like I just don’t want to. I’m going to relax at home. I have something else to do – like be home by myself and chill out or whatever.

    I haven’t totally resolved this pattern of mine to hang onto being behind and overwhelmed sometimes so I can use it as an excuse, but thinking about it on my own a bit and coming across your post here all contributes to me finding my way. Thanks!

    • 7 Cairene May 21, 2009 at 8:08 am

      @mona –
      I love how you’ve articulated your emotions behind feeling attached to busy-ness, noticing what it does for you and how it helps you to say no. “I’d be just totally exposed and vulnerable and ready to be eaten alive.” I so get it – and I’m sure other people reading this will too. Funny how we feel we have to justify and explain our no’s, isn’t it? And not-so-funny how self-care or acknowledging our limits doesn’t seem to be sufficient reason…
      Best to you in shifting this pattern! (right behind you!) There are indeed better ways of protecting ourselves.


  1. 1 One way to build your choosing muscles. « How THW Gets In Gear Trackback on May 20, 2009 at 9:28 am
  2. 2 It’s faster to slow down. « How THW Gets In Gear Trackback on May 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm

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