Hands up if you ever get that feeling of “it’s all too much” or “I don’t know where to start”, or even “I REALLY don’t want to do this – but I have to”?

If you don’t, please write to me, because I will need to verify that you are human!

It’s extremely normal to feel overwhelmed by life, especially in this day and age when there seem to be so many demands on our time and attention. It’s part of everyday life for most of us, facing up to things we’d rather run away from. If you never feel a sense of overwhelm, I’d guess that you are either an exceptionally robust individual who can handle absolutely anything, or you’ve chosen (consciously or not) to stay well within your comfort zone (see my article on extending your comfort zone).

I am all too familiar with the feeling of overwhelm – every morning on my rowboat. I’d wake up after a night of ocean-disturbed sleep, often having dreamed of family, friends, and invariably food, and as consciousness dawned my first thought would be, “Where am I?”. Then I would remember, and I couldn’t help but sigh as I realised I had another day of rowing ahead of me. For a non-athletic, landlubbing person, the prospect of 12 hours of rowing was not top of my list of fun ways to spend my day.

Now, I know, I know. I’d volunteered to be there, so I had nobody to blame but myself, and also there are much worse things in life than rowing. Other people have to face financial difficulties (actually I’ve had my share of those too), illness (either their own or that of someone close to them), bereavement, legal problems, work problems, loss of reputation etc etc. So when they say “worse things happen at sea” I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.

Anyhow, the point is, we all have crosses to bear. How to lighten the load a bit? I found a few techniques that help.

1. Begin before you think about it too much.

A job begun is a job half done. How often have you found that you’ve procrastinated on a particular task, already anticipating the overwhelm, but when you get started you find it’s actually not as bad as you thought it was? (And then there are the other tasks, the ones you thought would be really simple and straightforward, but rapidly turn into a nightmare – but that we’ll come to those some other time!) So leap before you look. JFDI (Just … Do It!).

One oarstroke at a time...
One oarstroke at a time…

2. Find a routine

When you are facing a huge task (like rowing an ocean, for example), it’s a good idea just to chip away at it, a little at a time, day after day. Even if you only spend 15 minutes a day working on something, you’ll get there a lot faster than spending 0 minutes a day on it. Set an alarm, and do your daily dose. Who knows, you might even find yourself enjoying the sense of progress and want to carry on for a while after the alarm has gone off? And how good will that feel?!

3. Hold a vision of finishing

Virtue may be its own reward, but sometimes we want a bit more than that! We need a big vision of the happiness and sense of achievement that will accompany the completion of the task. When I was rowing the Atlantic, I held a vision of a gorgeous tropical hotel room, with a big soft bed with crisp white sheets, muslin curtains billowing at the shuttered windows, a bathroom full of white fluffy towels. That was what I was rowing towards, my ultimate reward, and strangely, when I walked into my room at the Admiral’s Inn in English Harbour, that is exactly what my room looked like. You might want to visualise a crowd cheering you as you complete your task, or plan to treat yourself to a shopping spree/day off/ice cream sundae when you finish. In my experience, self-bribery is an entirely valid way to keep your motivation high!

So, don’t be daunted. Be determined – and good luck!

[Featured image: The Scream, by Edvard Munch]


  • Hmmm, I don’t really feel that way much anymore. My strategy is a) find a piece that’s small enough to start with (if it’s a big project you might need to discard it later, but at least you started the process). and b) remember “It is what it is” – when you try big things sometimes you fail, but there is nothing wrong with failing. The important thing is that you tried.

    • Wise words, Lorne. And at least if you’ve broken the project into small pieces, you can win some of the battles, even if you don’t win the war. 🙂

      • “It is what it is” has been my mantra for a long time now . . . I do what I can and move on. Also . . . some of my greatest joys have come because I took a risk . . . that leap of faith as it were.

  • Roz, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. Since moving to the Big Island of Hawai’i in June the enormity of all the little details that invariably go with such a move have at times been overwhelming. Sometimes I find myself wishing for the full time RVing life I gave up and at others I’m ecstatic with joy over the beautiful place I now live. Just yesterday the prospect of weeding the garden seemed daunting (remember this is the tropics) but once I got going on an area it became far less of a chore than my mind made it out to be–I actually had fun.

    • I can remember that feeling of moving into a new home, and suddenly it all seems like a whole load of work – especially compared with an RV, I would imagine! And yes, weeding in the tropics….. I suspect that at that point I would develop a very flexible concept of what’s a weed and what’s not! Glad you found fun in the challenges of your new home. Hope I can come and visit one day!

      • Roz . . . you are welcome at my Hale anytime! I’m just about 10-miles out of Hilo to the north on the mauka side of the highway. You’d have your own guest apartment w/ kitchenette and ocean view. 🙂

        As for weeding . . . I’m trying to do a little every day. The pineapple patch and the banana grove sometimes take a bit more time but . . . I often have more bananas than I know what to do with (the food bank gets the excess).

        Malama pono Roz!

  • Amen to the “one oar stroke at a time” philosophy ! That, coupled with my best friends mantra of “we are where we are”, is a huge aid to getting things done.
    We walked the Thames path together…there were two “treats” at the finish, the sense of achievement and the drinks in the Marriot Hotel in County Hall 🙂 OH…and a third , recalling the glitches on the way!
    David C

  • Roz, you wrote: “When you are facing a huge task (like rowing an ocean, for example), it’s a good idea just to chip away at it, a little at a time, day after day.”

    Precisely! Some tasks take long than others. At some point, huge tasks may require a change of course. That’s where I am at now with http://TellRex.com … entering a new phase with a new approach, also with daily persistence — even while behind the scenes.

  • Thanks Roz, I really needed to hear this again. I am on a wellness journey that will culminate with a solo row in the 2016 Pacific Race. For now, just getting back on track is my goal. In fact, my log is titled “Rowing An Ocean, One Stroke at a Time.” Cheers!!

  • Hmm, For me point 1 has to come with a health warning to prevent pain later on. Without JFDI we wouldn’t do anything challenging but if you jump in blind then you will end up with something that ends up as a bit of a nightmare (bit like my Uni studies).
    Some thoughts come to mind.
    Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
    A problem is just a solution waiting to happen. Whether you like the solution is another matter (one of my thoughts)
    And my particular favourite I learn’t from some Army boys, the 7 P’s (Proper planning and preparation prevents pis* poor performance)
    Personally I don’t just like an option B, I like a few ideas about what option C might look like before I start.
    By all means stretch yourself, have vision, do what your heart wants to do but do your homework and it will be easier. If you’ve done this you don’t need to be overwhelmed by it. After that follow points 2 & 3.
    An example. Would you decide to row an ocean without any experience of rowing? probably not, but if you’ve been a class act rowing at Uni then yes you might, you have an idea what it’s all about.
    Keep it real?

    • Fair comment, John – although actually being able to row has very little to do with rowing an ocean, but I take the point of principle.
      I particularly like “a problem is just a solution waiting to happen”. Nicely put!

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