Essays & Confessions

What “Ambition Paralysis” Is, How It Hurts You, & How To Fight It

By | Monday, August 06, 2018

Some days, I feel like I’m up to my elbows in ideas and ambition, which seems like a great thing at first — until it’s too many ideas, too much ambition. Then, I don’t even know where to start, and nothing gets done. I’ve come to call it “Ambition Paralysis”: the plight of having the drive and desire to achieve something, only to become completely overwhelmed by what you actually need to do in order to make anything happen.

I’ve learned that feeling overwhelmed sometimes is completely normal. I’ve also learned it’s completely conquerable! Maybe you’ve had an idea for a business or side hustle that you’ve been thinking about for some time, but can’t find a place to start. Or, maybe you’ve already started a business and your to-do list is so long that you have no idea what to focus on next. Regardless of where you are on your entrepreneurial journey, here’s a step-by-step plan for getting back on track when your ambition becomes overwhelming:

1. Capture your ideas with a brain dump 

The best place to start when you’re feeling overwhelmed by ideas and tasks is to do a “brain dump.” You don’t need fancy equipment to do this; just a pen and a notebook will do the trick. Remove yourself from any potential distractions — then put 15 minutes on the timer.

For those next 15 minutes, write down every idea you have, every item on your long to-do list, and every perceived obstacle. Don’t get hung up on details. Don’t try to organize your thoughts. We’ll get to that later. For now, simply let everything out on the page, using simple phrases of three to five words per item. Try to capture everything that comes into your head. No thought or idea is too small to write down! When the timer is done, put the pen down. You’re ready for the next step!

2. Map it out 

Take your brain dump and organize it by grouping common tasks or ideas together. Personally, I love using Trello for this part. Trello is a free online task management tool for collaborating with others through lists and cards. It’s also a fantastic way to map out your ideas and to-do lists. (Plus, you get to customize the background picture to something calming and de-frazzling, like trees in a meadow.)

For example, my board has separate lists for my writing/virtual assistant work, my blog, my website, reading lists, etc., with several items or “cards” assigned to each. Here’s a snippet of what it looks like:

Use Trello to overcome ambition paralysis
Ahh, look how calming that meadow is. (Also, a sneak peak on what you can expect from the Fit Careerist in the next few weeks/months!)

By this point, you’ve started to map out a plan and have the beginnings of an actionable list.

3. Take an exercise break 

Before you continue to the next step, take a break and get moving. Why? You’ll need to return to the process with a fresh mind, and exercise will help you clear out any mental cobwebs. Getting your heart rate up produces mitochondria, the cells responsible for giving you energy and focus. Cardiovascular exercise, in particular, is fantastic for clearing brain fog, reducing stress, and increasing productivity. Go for a run, a bike ride, or even a brisk walk.

If you’re not able to do much in the way of exercise for injury or health-related reasons, some light yoga or stretching is an excellent alternative. Studies show that stretching also helps cognitive function (although to a lesser degree than cardio), and prompts the brain to regulate your blood pressure, mood, and emotions. Aim for 20-30 minutes of physical activity, then get back to your workspace with your renewed focus!

4. Start with something you can do right away 

Once you’re back to your project, break through the barrier of overwhelm by setting yourself up for success. Pick one or two easy tasks right off the bat that can be completed in less than half an hour — then get ‘er done! Next, congratulate yourself. Because no matter what else happens today, you took a step in the right direction and got something done.

5. Give items an action plan and timeline 

Time to make a plan for everything else on your brain map. With Trello, each item on your list can have attachments, checklists, comments, or due dates to help keep you on track. Look at every card on each of your lists and determine what needs to be done to complete them. For example, if it’s a to-do item like “build a website,” add a checklist and a timeline to get it done. If it’s an obstacle you’re concerned with, assign a due date to have it resolved by. You can even link relevant documents to the cards for quick access.

Uh-oh, this post is almost due! (How meta is this?)

Then, focus on which lists you want to tackle first and move those to the front of the pack. Next, take the most pressing items from each list and move them to the top. Voila! Now everything is organized, prioritized, and in one place.

6. Work down your lists 

All that’s left now is to follow the path you created on your action plan, sticking to the deadlines you set for yourself, and marking off each completed item as you go. You will likely find yourself tweaking the lists and adding more items.

The key here is to focus on one thing at a time. Now is not the time to multitask! As the cliche goes, Rome was not built in a day. Be consistent and patient! As long as you have an action plan (which you now do) and are moving forward (which you will be), you’ll have conquered ambition paralysis and will be well on your way to achieving your goals.

Corrie Alexander is a content creator and customer service manager from Toronto, Ontario. Her climb up the corporate ladder cultivated her interest in the topic of career development, a passion rivaled only by her love of exercise and strong coffee. Visit her website,, and follow her on Twitter here.

Image via Unsplash 

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