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I have a confession to make:
A few weeks ago, I tested positive for every single burnout symptom.
I felt drained, just like the battery of my old car waiting in the garage for my daughter to turn 16 to drive it. I could no longer keep up with the million and one things on my to-do list.
I felt overwhelmed, like I was trapped inside a whack-a-mole labyrinth, and every time I tried to tackle one task by hitting it over the head, another popped out, sticking its tongue out at me.
I wanted to write an article about “quiet quitting” but found myself twirling words around like the spaghetti on my dinner plate the night before.
I started getting stuck in procrastination and paralysis by analysis, and the harder I tried to whoop myself back into shape, the worse I felt.
My focus, productivity, and creativity seemed to have left the building—as did the joy of my work. My usual optimism and positivity were overwhelmed by negativity and cynicism.
“Why bother? What difference will my contribution make anyway?”
Perhaps this kind of confession isn’t that surprising, considering the avalanche of problems, demands, and stressors we’re all grappling with. Except I’m a certified burnout prevention coach on a mission to arm every high-achiever who wants to do well in life without burning out with a proven roadmap to succeed.
That’s why I founded Myndzen and created the Burnout Brain Reboot program (a 10-week virtual group coaching experience that has consistently supported its participants to drop their burnout symptoms by a staggering 77 percent).
How could I experience burnout symptoms? Am I just a fraud who can’t practice what I preach?
If, as you’re reading these words, you feel slightly judgmental about my case, I don’t blame you.
And to be honest with you, when I caught myself “malfunctioning,” the first words that automatically came out of my mouth were:
“What’s wrong with me?”
I considered (quietly) quitting. But then I took a deep breath, turned the kettle on, and scooped my favorite Colombian coffee into my red French press.
And somehow—I don’t know if it was the long exhale, the intoxicating scent of strong black coffee, or the steam of the hot water pouring over the grounded coffee bean—I came back to my senses.
“Uh-oh,” I thought, “I’m getting hi-jacked by shame.”
And I know that when my brain’s getting hijacked by shame, I lose access to all the good stuff I’ve worked all my life to cultivate, like my focus, creativity, and problem-solving ability.
It’s what Daniel Goleman refers to as an “emotional hi-jack;” when my brain’s shifted to a fear-based mode and my imposter and emotional brain are running my life and my decisions on auto-pilot without my permission.
“This sucks,” I thought.
I know why this is happening, but I also know I can’t outsmart my nervous system.
So, what can I do instead of quitting?
The first thing I did was close my eyes, take a few more deep breaths, and imagine that my best friend, Tina, was in front of me, telling me she was struggling like I was. And then I spoke out loud to myself as if I was her.
“I know this is hard,” I said. “But how can you show up for yourself at this moment? How can you support yourself to feel a tad more comfortable in the discomfort of this seeming failure?
Is there a way to turn your pain into pain relief for yourself and others who may be struggling too?”
Then I took a sip of my freshly brewed coffee and picked up Chogyam Trungpa’s book The Sacred Path of the Warrior:
“The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.
If we’re willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that despite all our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is basically something good about our existence as human beings.
So, to begin with, we should make an effort to examine our own experience in order to see what it contains that is of value in helping ourselves and others to uplift their existence.
When we feel that our lives are genuine and good we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people; we can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others.
We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open but steadfast at the same time.”
I felt a whoosh of fresh air running through my veins; my heart calmed down, a half smile began forming, and I could see the light again.
“That’s what I’m going to do,” I thought.
I’ll tell you the truth, what I discovered about what really causes burnout, “openly, straightforwardly, and without fear of judgment.”
Because to be honest with you, my formal education, my family, my culture, and society didn’t.
They told me that if I “bust my hump and get all my ducks in a row,” then I will be able to relax and enjoy my life.
That “breaks are for lazy folks.”
That “self-care is selfish.”
But I realized that many such conventionally and widely held beliefs (aka myths) proved false and rather toxic. They filled my mind with ideas that clouded my judgment, disconnecting me from my own voice and my body with tension, and ultimately burning me out.
And following their directions hurt me.
Literally…I severely injured my spine.
Because what “they” didn’t tell me was how what’s on my mind can activate my stress response way longer than my adaptation capacity. How living my life with my brain stuck in stress mode for too long affects my body, mind, performance, relationships, and even my happiness.
And that releasing myself from stress and switching my brain from its reactive to its responsive state is, in fact, something within my control, no matter what’s happening that I have no control over.
But I’m here to tell you that burnout is not the price we have to pay for success.
And although feeling burnt out is inevitable, burning out is optional.
In fact, these are two very different stories.
So why don’t I briefly take off my burnout prevention coach hat and tell you the story of how I avoided burning out when I felt burnt out this time by changing my relationship with these toxic myths?
But I want to tell you my story in small practical nuggets of wisdom (a series) like roasting marshmallows on an open fire.
That way, I’m hoping you can consume each one in a way that’s easy to implement in your life to avoid burning out, especially if you’re already burnt out.
May my stories empower you and me to give ourselves a self-compassionate break.
And may they be of benefit.
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