Observations on Overcoming the Overwhelm Trap

For 11 years, I’ve had a front-row seat to observe entrepreneurs do something new, hard, and sometimes scary—creating quizzes for marketing. It’s a type of marketing that isn’t familiar. People aren’t taught quiz writing in school, and fear and self-consciousness can accompany the process. 

The customer feedback we hear most frequently is that the process can be overwhelming. So, today I’d like to share my observations on what overwhelm is and how it plays out in real life, and the system some entrepreneurs develop to climb out of the overwhelm trap. 

Overwhelm Trap: When the fear of not getting something right prevents you from doing anything at all

There are other definitions of overwhelm, to be sure, but this is the one I’m most familiar with. It’s not about lack of ability, skill, knowledge, or anything like that. It’s quite simply about the fear of not getting something right. 

graphic showing the steps to overcoming the overwhelm trap

How some people overcome overwhelm 

They launch quickly and iterate quickly

In the book The Antidote, there’s a tragic story about climbers who died on Mount Everest— their deaths were entirely preventable. In analyzing what happened after the fact, researchers found that one facet of the tragedy was the climbers’ inability to make choices on the fly. 

The climbers died because there were delays on the final ascent, the day they were supposed to reach the top of Mount Everest. Instead of re-assessing the situation and waiting until the next day to finish the climb, the climbers persisted.

The sun was going down by the time they reached the top. Unfortunately, they got caught in a storm as night fell, and they froze to death. Later, researchers observed that the climbers failed to make the right choices along the way; they were so determined to reach their original goal that they paid for it with their lives. 

Yes, this is an absolutely extreme example, but I see the same mentality with people creating quizzes, and I’m right there with them on this. We’re so determined to create the perfect quiz that when obstacles come up and difficulties arise, we can’t let go of that perfect initial image we had in our heads at the start of the project. 

The resulting experience is that it can take weeks, months, or even years (some folks have been working on quizzes for three to five years at this point). And then, by the time we release the quiz, we’re so tired of working on it that if it’s anything other than a smashing success, we have no energy left to improve it. 

On the other hand, the people who’ve seen raging success with quizzes are the ones who put something together in minutes—quite literally—and start running their audience through it. They improve the quiz over time, building it out as they get customer feedback. 

Two clients, in particular, come to mind who have done this wonderfully. One of them launched their quiz in a weekend, the other in a few hours. They each modify and update their quizzes often, conversion rates increasing each time. 

Perhaps the best way to sum up what these people do is with Eminem and Jay-Z’s “Renegade”: “I drove by the fork in the road and went straight.”

Observation: the people with successful quizzes launch them quickly and iterate them quickly, making decisions and adjustments as new information comes in.

They constantly build positive feedback loops

How discouraging is it to work day in and day out without seeing results? Many employees are willing to give up huge amounts of salary to leave jobs where their work never sees the light of day. 

In fact, one of the primary reasons that engineers—paid absurd amounts of money for their jobs—quit to join smaller companies for less pay is to see people use their work, to see it make a meaningful difference. 

The same is true for people who successfully overcome overwhelm. They have a habit of building in positive feedback loops. For example, one Interact client wrote quiz questions and ran an ad through the quiz within two hours. They were surprised at how well it worked. Then they re-invested in building out that quiz while launching even more quizzes with it. 

However, I’ve also seen people get stuck in the trap of being overwhelmed, scrutinizing every line of quiz copy, not getting it in front of anyone for months. Often, these folks end up never launching their quizzes, and then they feel negatively about their work and themselves. 

Of course, you should never launch truly awful products that don’t help anyone. To this, I defer to Rand Fishkin’s EVP model: “Exceptional Viable Products” are greater than “Minimum Viable Products.” The exceptional viable product is genuinely useful for the customer rather than just something that’s up and running. 

Observation: People not stuck in overwhelm find ways to get positive feedback early and often, which creates a wave of energy to carry a project forward. 

They are not attached to outcomes

Attachment to an outcome ties self-worth to how a project progresses. If the project goes well, you’re smart and capable; if it falls flat, you’re inadequate and will never figure it out. 

People who overcome overwhelm have developed a healthy non-attachment to their projects, meaning they don’t tie their value as a worker to projects. Instead, they focus on the goal, which, for quizzes, is typically list building and driving sales. 

In experiments, the people who don’t fall into overwhelm will see a “failed” test as one that simply did not work. They quickly try another approach rather than spend time feeling down on themselves. 

For example, let’s take a look at another client, a sales consultant who uses Interact quizzes for list building. They’ve had four different iterations of their quiz over the last year, and they’ve promoted those quizzes in five different ways. Instead of focusing on what is wrong with each iteration, they simply try a different approach. The result? Their business is growing at a massive rate, and not just because of the quiz, but because of their testing and growth mindset. 

Observation: Those who overcome overwhelm live in a growth mindset, seeing failures as learning rather than judgment. 

Conclusion: Overwhelm is living in your mind

According to Eckhardt Tolle, most people who feel really down live in their minds. He recommends observing your mind instead of living in it. That’s a subtle distinction: thoughts don’t stop, but as an observer, you see them go by instead of being taken for a ride by each thought. 

That’s what people who don’t succumb to overwhelm do. Sure, they have thoughts of struggle, self-worth, and perfectionism, just like every human being. But they focus on outcomes and work toward goals, which allows them to show up and build things, test, and methodically move forward. 

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