How to Think When You’re Overwhelmed

by Amy on February 2, 2017


I figured out the main theme of my book. This is the theme that informs everything. It’s the big “So What?” of the book.

I was talking to my friend about it the other day.

She asked me if I knew the theme when I started writing.

“I haven’t wanted to start my book,” She said, “because I have no idea what the theme is.”

Our conversation reminded me of jigsaw puzzles.

Because I spend a lot of time on them, I’ve learned a few things about jigsaw puzzle strategy.

There’s a a definite sequence to it.

First you’ve got to turn all the puzzle pieces over.

Then you want to batch them by color or pattern.

Next you find the corners.

Then you start working on the outside pieces first.

Then, and only then, do you start filling in the rest.

Of course you don’t have to do it this way. But it will take you a lot longer and you run the risk of never finishing due to boredom or frustration.

Puzzles require patience. You’ve got to enjoy the journey, actually the journey is the whole point. Each time you find a piece that fits you get a hit of satisfaction that keeps the momentum going.

The thing that will get you into trouble and cause a lot of angst is trying to fill in the parts too far from the edges too soon. It will take you a long time to find these pieces, if you ever do, and it won’t be much fun.

I discovered that if you get the order right, the easier those inside pieces will be to find down the road.

This is a great metaphor for writing a book, building a business or any other big thing you want to do that seems TOTALLY overwhelming.

Because a lot of us begin by thinking we need to know things. Know the title, know the theme, know our niche, our target market, the exact “right” way to accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish.

We pay way too much attention to the end result without finding any joy in the journey. We are in such a hurry to succeed that, ironically, we fizzle out before we even come close (or we never start).

I’m learning how to approach my work as I would a jigsaw puzzle.

I’m learning how to just start with the most OBVIOUS first steps. To turn the puzzle pieces over, group them by color… put the obvious pieces together so the next pieces can reveal themselves to me.

Give it a try…

Sooner or later with a little patience you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a completed puzzle thinking, “damn that was fun,” and wondering which puzzle to tackle next.

“No,” I told my friend. “I had no idea what the theme of the book would be. I just knew I wanted to write it. About sixty thousand words in the theme became obvious and so did the title.”

Have faith my friend. The next piece of the puzzle is going to reveal itself. You just have to get started and remember to enjoy the journey.

Oh the things you will do.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

MC Coolidge February 3, 2017 at 1:08 am

Loved this unexpected metaphor. I’ve always wanted to write a book to. And always stopped myself because I didn’t have the heart of the book in my mind. Your blog gave me a great inspiration for just starting to put the pieces together of a book and let it come together like a puzzle. Thank you so much for this inspiring post


Amy February 3, 2017 at 1:34 am

So happy to hear it! I hope you go for it!


Mara February 3, 2017 at 2:31 am

Great post! The perfect reminder for me right now.


Lynda Dell February 3, 2017 at 3:24 am

I love your analogy, Amy! I was thinking about what you said about enjoying the journey and realized that i need to be more patient with myself and allow myself to continue putting the pieces together without knowing what the completed puzzle will look like. Thank you, Amy,for reminding us that its okay not to know every step. That’s why i started my #DareToDream2016blog to interview #dreamers and #dreamseekers so that we can learn from each other.


Amy February 9, 2017 at 10:49 pm

It has been a huge lesson for me. Glad it is helpful to you too!


John McCloskey February 3, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Loved this post! So spot on for my current situation. I just started a company that combines group travel with group therapy for divorcees and it’s overwhelming. I’m focused on the big picture of trying to sell trips, giving myself self-imposed deadlines and putting pressure on myself to be successful. This post will help me slow down, enjoy the process and focus on why I started ReThrive in the first place, which is to help people move on and live happier lives. The puzzle is slowly coming together. I need to appreciate and enjoy it.


Amy February 9, 2017 at 10:48 pm

I’m so happy it was helpful to you! I think your new company sounds UH-MAZING! Keep going and enjoy putting the puzzle together!


Harriette February 10, 2017 at 2:08 am

Hello Amy –
My dear friend Michele, from Wyoming, shared your post with me. I love puzzles and find that the quiet time spent on them offers a much needed respite from all the hustle and bustle. The time I spent puzzling over the Holidays felt like a guilty pleasure — alone time, late into the night. The activity reaffirmed some qualities about myself that I had not appreciated lately — fine sense of detail, discernment of shapes, refined color sense, etc. — oh, and patience and persistence! Thank you for broadening the lessons learned and applying them to other important areas of life. 🙂


Amy February 10, 2017 at 4:33 am

I love puzzles for the same reason. The do feel like a guilty pleasure! The gift of doing nothing. I will appreciate those things about myself too, thanks to you.


Sharon "Smokey"Gray June 9, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Amy=brazen…here’s the deal. You are funny…You know how to drive home the visuals on what it takes. You know…you’re exactly right!


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