Overwhelmed? Here Are the 8 Things I Do to Get Unstuck.


“Why is my eye twitching?!”

It’s 5:45AM, and I’m lying in bed with my eyes closed. I’m exhausted because I managed to have one of my recurring nightmares the previous night where I dreamed my bed was covered in spiders—this happens once every few months, especially when I’m overtired.

It’s real enough to me that about 50% of the time I actually jump out of bed and run into the other room.

And yet, despite being sleep deprived, there’s no WAY I can go back to bed either. Because I have far too much on my mind. It looks something like this:

“ACK! I was supposed to call the dermatologist yesterday to schedule an appointment—it’s been on my to-do list for 10 days weighing me down and yet I can’t get myself to pick up the phone. Why am I so averse to talking to a human on a telephone? Just do it, idiot! Call them today at 9AM.

“Why the hell did I dream about spiders again last night? I have to write thousands of words today. And I have that awkward meeting planned stressing me out. OH **** I forgot to send my mom a mother’s day card! I did send her flowers. Is that enough? She loves cards. Can I express ship one in time? AHHHHH!

“Is that networking event I agreed to tonight or tomorrow night? Why did Past Steve commit Future Steve to that? I hate that guy! Wait, is today Wednesday? Sonofa, today is a training day at the gym too. Good luck finding time for that. Oh GOOD, I’m out of clean underwear. And the fridge is empty. And how do I have a pimple inside my nose? I would like to curl up into the fetal position and opt-out of all responsibilities today.”

They say depression is worrying about the past, while anxiety is worrying about the future.

Like many who read this site, I’m quite good at both of those things!

Even though I’m generally a happy person with a very positive outlook on life, life can get overwhelming at times and my brain likes to take over and shut everything down.

What the inside of my brain looks like: take my crazy stream of conscious above and read it in the style of slam poetry, while a Tasmanian devil plays the bongos with no discernible rhythm in the background. He then eats the bongo and starts Irish step dancing. To salsa music. While setting off fireworks.

The days where this happens are shitty.

And many shitty days in a row only seem to compound the problem.

I can get so overwhelmed that I can’t seem to make any progress on anything, and yet I know making progress on stuff is the fastest path for me to escape this maniacal prison my brain has trapped me in!

I am a logical, rational, scientific person, which means thinking through this logically, rationally, and scientifically makes sense to me.

And yet in those moments, emotions sit in the command chair and start calling the shots.

At this point, you are either nodding your head going “Steve, WTF are you talking about?” orrrrrr ”OMG I totally know what that feels like.”

I’ve been running Nerd Fitness for close to 10 years now. I’ve seen and heard it all, and been through some shit.

In that time, I’ve come to a few universal truths:

“Busy” and “overwhelm” are serious problems that don’t go away without a plan to tackle them. Having a Strategy Guide to deal with these scenarios can be huge.

Knowing that, I’ve created a personal checklist (yes, a real checklist) for myself of things I can do when I can’t seem to get out of my own head.

These ideas help me break through overwhelm—and get back to a more natural state where I can start making progress on tackling what I need to for the day.

And today, I want to share that personal checklist with you!

#1) GET AN EARLY WIN

For me, the best early win? Making my bed.

When I’m stuck in a rut, lying in bed, and faced with a daunting day ahead of me, I try to give myself a quick momentum-building win to start the day.

I learned this philosophy from William H. McRaven, retired US Navy Admiral and author of the book Make Your Bed: how you do the little things will impact how you do the big things. And by starting with a simple little thing, it can help me build momentum and show myself that I do have control and can affect the outcome of things.

Sure, I don’t make my bed with military precision (sorry Admiral!)—I simply pull the covers up as neatly as I can, I put the pillows on the bed and make sure it looks presentable. This takes less than 2 minutes and gives me a quick win before I’ve even left the room.

WHY IT WORKS: “Look, you already did a thing today. Today can be different. What’s next?” It’s an instant, quick, gratifying win that is the first action meant to build momentum.

Note: Comically, this is often the suggestion I get the most vitriol or controversy for. I’m going to ignore the argument of “this makes it easier for bed bugs Steve” or “I read that creative geniuses have messy beds and I’m unique and blah blah blah” or “nobody else sees my bed; why should I waste valuable time making it?” or “I get up early and my spouse is still asleep and thus I cannot make my bed.”

Okay, that last one is totally valid. I hear ya!

If you are vehemently opposed to making your bed (or there is a person still asleep in it!), pick another thing like cleaning up your room, cleaning out the sink, cleaning off your kitchen table, etc. as soon as you wake up to give yourself an early win. OR, just make your bed, take the win, and move on!

#2) QUICK HYGIENE FIX

At this point, I’ve already started off my day with a win in the bedroom.

Wait, that came out wrong.

Next up: self-care! This term is hot these days, like “bitcoin” and “avocado toast.”

But I’ll be damned if it’s not an actually important thing that falls by the wayside when life gets busy. And I imagine if you’re a mom or a dad, you have plenty of other people to care for, and caring for yourself is often at the bottom of the list.

And yet, a little bit of work can go a long way.

Although I work from a home office and often type these articles without pants on (too much? cool), I still find it to be incredibly valuable if I treat myself like an actual adult:

So I take a shower. I shave my face. I put on moisturizer that makes me smell like I have my act together. I actually comb my hair.

Oh, and the big one:

I floss.

Yes, I know you’re supposed to floss every day. I do not floss every day. As the late comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “It’s as hard [to quit smoking] as it is to START flossing.”

RIP Mitch.

But I’ll be damned if my teeth don’t feel great after a good floss. For whatever reason, flossing is something that I avoid, until I actually do it and realize “that wasn’t so bad, I’m glad I did that, I feel better.”

I like to think this primes my brain to tackle other undesirable tasks later on in the day. Flossing wasn’t bad, and I’m glad I did it. What about that other task I’ve been avoiding? I bet it’s not as bad as my dumb brain has built it up to be.

That first tooth is always the hardest, but once I do one, I know it’s all downhill from there to do the rest of them.

WHY IT WORKS: They say dress for the role you want, not the one you have. And I don’t currently have a spacesuit. So I’m stuck with dressing like a more grown-up, put-together version of me. When I’m showered, shaved, shampooed, conditioned, and flossed, I just feel like a better human being worthy of some compassion and also a guy that can get things done.

Plus, I know flossing will avoid my nightmare scenario laid out here.

#3) WATCH A MOTIVATING YOUTUBE VIDEO

I have a love-hate relationship with motivation.

Mostly hate.

Motivation is a consistently flaky friend that shows up when things are good and abandons me when I need it most.

So I don’t let myself be victim to the ebbs and flows of motivation. Instead, I make motivation work for me, and use it to strategically get me out of my own way and back on track.

It’s a video I can put on that takes 5 minutes or less that makes me want to run through a brick wall. In lieu of a brick wall being readily available, it inspires me to start actually getting things done and getting closer to my goals.

So before I do any of the next steps, I often put on this SINGLE VIDEO: