3 Magic Words to Overcome Overwhelm

Do you ever know what you need to do but have trouble getting started? There’s a good chance that there’s at least one thing that you habitually put off doing. For many, it’s exercising, cleaning, or starting their next big project. For myself, even though I love writing, I still find myself feeling wanting to procrastinate writing my next article, book, or social media post.

By looking at my own experience as well as those I’ve coached, I’ve found one common underlying feeling that sabotages people from moving forward – overwhelm.

Imagine having an entire house to clean. The thought of not even knowing where to begin can make it easy to just sit back and say “Screw it, I’ll deal with this later.” Even with small projects like writing an article, I’ll find myself overwhelmed, not so much by the amount of work, but with the worry of “What if it’s not good enough?”

There’s one thing I’ve found that can instantly take away the feeling of overwhelm and get me to take action right away. When done properly, it’s virtually impossible to procrastinate.

This trick I’ve found is to ask the question, “Can I just…?” and then insert an action so easy that I’m guaranteed to be able to do it even if I have barely any willpower at all.

Let’s say I don’t feel like doing an hour-long workout. I can ask, “Can I just do the warmup?” If even that’s too overwhelming, I’ll ask, “Can I just do the first 30 seconds?” After that I’d ask, “Can I just do a little more? One more rep? One more exercise?” I can always stop once I’ve reached a point where I’ve felt like I’ve done all I can and still feel a sense of accomplishment.

On the surface, this may not sound like it would accomplish much. After all, what would thirty seconds of exercise matter for getting in shape? The key thing to understand is that we’re not after the tangible benefits of exercise; at least not at first. We’re after the intangible benefit of momentum.

Have you ever noticed how it’s usually only after you get started with something, that then the motivation to do it goes up? I may not feel like writing, exercising, or getting to work when I’m doing something else. Once I start doing any of those things though, my desire to keep going skyrockets.

Instead of trying to get motivation, try to get momentum. The motivation will naturally follow.

It’s also important to remember that overwhelm comes from seeing all the steps in the process all at once. If I’m thinking about the 37 things I have to do to complete my next book, I’m naturally going to put it off. If I only ask, “Can I just do the next thing on my list?” such as naming the next chapter, it suddenly becomes far easier for to get going and then to want to keep on going.

Remember, you can always do more than you set out to do originally. It’s better to start small, hit your target goals every day, and occasionally go past them, so that you’re always succeeding rather, than to have lofty targets that you only hit on occasion – if at all.

This method cannot fail so long as you break it down into something so easy it requires virtually no effort and time. Even if it takes months to build momentum, using these three magic words, “Can I just,” to find the smallest step you’re willing to take, is guaranteed to take you farther than doing nothing at all.


Derek Doepker shows people how to create better habits in 5 minutes a day in his book The Healthy Habit Revolution. He is also the author of the #1 best-selling personal development book Why You’re Stuck and founder of the blog Excuse Proof Fitness. You can connect with him at http://facebook.com/derekdoepker


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

1 Response to 3 Magic Words to Overcome Overwhelm

  1. latest news says:

    Woh I like your articles, saved to favorites!.

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