Have you ever romanticized how overwhelmed you are? For many of us, the story we tell ourselves about “where my time goes” is about as real as a Disney movie. And actually, their plots are quite similar. Usually the story is a romance plot that plays out in our head about perfectionism, duty, fear of failure, or fear of judgment. These are some of the most core driving factors and functions in human nature. We get overwhelmanced at home. We get overwhelmanced at work. We get overwhelmanced just sitting alone with our thoughts. How can we break the dark spell of the Overwhelmancer casting traps of virtue and righteousness inside our heads?
First, we need to change the story. At some point, we realized that appearing as if we’re “busy” all the time came with a big payoff. We might feel more important, worthy, or validated by making people think our time is in demand. People will also generally thank us more for the extra work we do, so we feel satisfied for pushing ourselves the extra mile. Another payoff happens when our minds are occupied with complex problems. Burying ourselves in work is an effective distraction from any inner-work we might (definitely always) need to do. Isn’t it easier to fix other people’s problems than our own? Of course it is! And satisfying. Everything we do as humans is driven by a payoff. Even if we say we aren’t driven by payoffs, we get a payoff from the sense of virtue that we feel by saying we’re not driven by payoffs.
And here, we meet the true perpetrator of Overwhelmanticism: Virtue.
Do you know what I mean by “virtue” because it is an important definition within this context.
I’m gonna break out the “Mirriam-Webster” for this one:
noun vir·tue \ ˈvər-(ˌ)chü \
1 : a: conformity to a standard of right : morality
b : a particular moral excellence
2 : a beneficial quality or power of a thing
3 : manly strength or courage : valor
4 : a commendable quality or trait : merit
5 : a capacity to act : potency
6 : chastity especially in a woman
(Side note: “Virtue” was in the top 1% of lookups on the Mirriam-Webster website - considering the state of affairs in our world, I don’t find that to be very surprising. It is however, encouraging! People need to learn about and understand virtue to recognize the prison it creates.)
In this list of 6 definitions, first let’s remove the “manly strength” and the “womanly chastity” - while these are possibly relevant elsewhere (like a gender conversation, for sure), they don’t apply to our uses here.
Next, I would group definitions 2 and 4 together to mean essentially the same thing. Only difference being the “commendable” and “beneficial” words, which I would say I wrote about already in relation to “payoff” above.
“A capacity to act” is an interesting definition because it is relevant to overwhelmancy in that virtue can be a potential for action. If people know you are good at a thing, and they know you have done a thing, when you hear praise from them about it, or they need you, the feeling you feel is virtue. Potency, as listed with the definition, gives us power. But let’s leave the aspect of potential action aside for now. It will come up later.
And finally, the main definition is listed as “conformity to a standard of right.” Every word in that sentence matters. And, every word in that sentence also triggers my rebellious 16-year old punk. I can barely control my middle finger. But I will press on in service to my readers. How virtuous of me! The definition even has its own backup with a “b” definition: “a particular moral excellence” So being virtuous can be both the act of conforming to a standard of cultural morality, or the cultural moral itself. Thus, both definitions are listed together. Also, this is the core meaning of the term “virtuous” in terms of how we get trapped by way of overwhelmance.
Basically, to appear virtuous is to appear moral by the standards that exist within you and your culture. And, to be sure, virtue is deeply entangled specifically with appearance. The very root of the definition has to do with the perceptions of our actions, both by ourselves and others, in relation to our cultural values. Which cultural values are driving your sense of virtue?
Think about it. Really take time to get honest with yourself.
The first time I really confronted my own virtue traps was while reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Read Julia’s words, and get a little angry because you know she’s right! (That's how you know it's working!):
“We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world. But what we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we’re there. We may act like we’re there. But our true self has gone to ground.”
What is left is a shell of our whole self. It stays because it is caught. Like a listless circus animal prodded into performing, it does its tricks. It goes through its routine. It earns its applause. But all the hoopla fall on deaf ears. We are dead to it.. our artist has checked out…” p. 98
This excerpt is from Chapter 5: Recovering a Sense of Possibility. It was the most powerful chapter in the book for me.
I found a REALLY GREAT visual representation of the concepts of the Virtue Trap section if you need to consume it that way. I personally like imagery, and this Wild Tomato Arts site did an amazing job capturing the energy behind the Chapter, including much of Julia’s text:
Favorite: “Many of us have made a virtue trap out of deprivation. We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good. Meaning Superior. I call this seductive, faux spirituality “The Virtue Trap.”
Most of the text used in the Wild Tomato Arts illustrations are from The Artist’s Way chapter, and they are SUPER POWERFUL. I don’t know a person on this planet who wouldn’t benefit from reading through the words. To take it further, a truly courageous step would be to fill a page with how it makes you feel after reading the words. I strongly encourage anyone I discuss this with to pick up The Artist’s Way, and work through it with a group or a friend. Artist’s Way groups meet all around the world, every week. I encourage YOU, to pick up a copy of The Artist’s Way, and cry all over it.
The key point and take away from the text is how being “nice” or “unselfish” ultimately leads to self-destruction. Literally, it leads to destruction of who you are by replacing the you who has real needs and wants with a version of you who cares more about appearing a certain way to everyone else than being real. With all the demands of our lives, it can be easy to just say YES to everything, or just say NO to everything. Either way, unless we are checking in with what is “a standard of right” for our true self, first, we are failing to uphold personal boundaries. Whether at home, in the workplace, or alone, poor boundaries cause imbalance and anger.
Can I share a secret with you?
Anger is the key. Anger is a map. Julia also talks about this in her book, because getting angry is how we know our boundaries have been violated. Reminder: We can violate our own boundaries - and, in fact, we should start with establishing those boundaries as practice before we stand our ground with someone else. Saying NO can be hard, and scary. Take baby steps.
What do you want that you are depriving yourself of?
Feel your way into it.
The answer is waiting there for you. Your life, and the people in it, are part of a culture that YOU created, and continue to create every day. Wherever you go, you are your own culture. What does that look like? What do you want it to look like? Start now!
BE SELFISH. GET ANGRY. YOU ARE WORTH IT. NOBODY IS MORE DESERVING OF YOUR TIME THAN YOU ARE.
Of course we need to take care of our children, of course we need to spend quality time with the family and friends we care about, and of course we need to transmute some energy into work that sustains us in some way financially, but focusing on those activities alone can easily become a passive existence. At the risk of self-destruction, we need to carve out time and permission for ourselves. We must let our inner artist out to play!
In Legacy Command, the Campaign Planner allows us to track how we spend our time. Do you ever wonder, “where did all my time go?” - me too. By using the Charge Crystal Map, you can record your activities and start to notice patterns. As you record these activities, you collect Charge Crystals to power the Champions you will use to defend the Prisms against The Dominion. The very first activity we perform with the Campaign Planner is to take an inventory of what we spend our time on. Then, we load those items into The Regulator to balance our activities and create a clear sense of our schedule load. Using the Campaign Planner makes it a black and white matter as to when you can say NO to something new. Further, if we must say YES to something new, we can first check our Regulator to determine if anything else can be easily deferred to The Battery; a place for long-term storage of goals and activities. What if when someone asked you to take part in a new and exciting activity, you could give them an answer that was based on a factual representation of your availability? Sometimes saying “not right now” is as good as saying “yes” - and you also have every right to drop a flat out “NO” at any time. Just check the Campaign Planner, and it will tell you if you have the time and space for it, or not.
My favorite part about using the Campaign Planner over time is that eventually you don’t even need to check it. Eventually, you just gain a true sense of how much time the commitments of your life inhabit, and you can easily say NO to something you know won’t fit. Saying YES to something big means saying NO to something big that already exists. We aren’t just talking about time, either. We are talking about attention and energy. Attention is compounded time. Attention is time multiplied by energy. When you have big projects in your life, even if they don’t take a lot of time, they might take a lot of attention, and thus, energy. We are not robots, we are not machines, we must rest. We must do fun things, and we must do nothing. The basal ganglia is the part of the brain that provides the juice for switching between tasks, activities, bodily functions, thoughts, and pretty much everything else. Eventually, that magic switcher juice runs out and we start making lazy decisions. It helps to have some support to help us defend against would-be bad commitments.
Along with a reliable tool like the Campaign Planner, the key is listening to the Self. The pilot. The voice inside that is like HEY - RED ALERT - WE’RE NOT COOL WITH THIS. Check in with your ANGER. Anger is a tool, and a gift for true enlightenment. The people who seem the most “nice” or accommodating, or even peaceful, might be putting on a front as part of their Virtue Trap. You do not have to live up to what anyone else can or can’t do, you need only to follow your own boundaries. Mark them with red flags reading, “No Thank You.” You have your own map, and you don’t need to navigate using anyone else’s. In truth, other people are hiding their maps behind the righteous morality facade Julia talks about in her Chapter 5. True enlightenment, true harmony, comes from AUTHENTICITY. That means laying out your real map for all to see, including the parts that might make you angry, or sad, or uncomfortable. The better we are at AUTHENTICITY, the less we will betray ourselves. AUTHENTICITY is the ONLY “enlightenment” there is. Everything else is just an advertisement for a sparkly Virtue Trap for you to buy into.
Once again, I am going to borrow from Julia Cameron. She provides a Virtue Trap Quiz at the end of Chapter 5. If you feel a perpetual sense of overwhelmancy, you can be sure that the cause is rooted in virtue.
Are you ready to break free from the Virtue Trap?
Take the quiz! Take half the quiz! Heck, do even just ONE of these a day! But if you relate to any of what I have written here, do SOMETHING.
Julia Cameron is a legend for a reason. Trust her.
The Virtue Trap Quiz
The biggest lack in my life is:
The greatest joy in my life is:
My largest time commitment is:
As I play more, I work:
I feel guilty that I am:
I worry that:
If my dreams come true, my family will:
I sabotage myself so people will:
If I let myself feel it, I am angry that I:
One reason I get sad sometimes is:
I feel like it has been so long since I’ve done a blog post because last week was mostly me gushing over The Peak Work Performance Summit. No updates there yet. I found an affiliate program for it, so I may start pushing that program officially. But in other news, I am a week or two away from having a physical prototype for both the card game and the Campaign Planner. I was trying to get the Campaign Planner printed by September 1st, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. After working on it for so long, I decided to revamp the first two pages from months ago. The good news is that I think the changes will really improve the usability. They are very important pages. I promise I am NOT being a perfectionist here - trust me - I am over that. But I do want it to be an accurate representation of a developed, retail-ready product that I can get in the hands of testers. There were a few design inconsistencies that were easy to identify after working on it for 3 months straight. I think we really made some significant improvement. The rest of the pages are in their final draft form, so it really is SUPER close to being REAL.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for being patient as I finish Legacy Command. This product will change my life, and has changed my life, for the better. I hope it will change the lives of many others the way it has changed mine.