Burnout has been a big part of finding my self-awareness and healing
Burnout for me shows up in many ways. At the beginning it starts with when I start noticing that I am not completing everything I set out for the day, week etc. Insert self doubt and judgement here! This usually brings on the feeling that I am failing at meeting my goals. Now, feeling even more down on myself becomes the rocket fuel I use to push through and make it happen anyway. This inevitably leads to exhaustion, a serious lack of self care and the start of a fast running hamster wheel that now has so much momentum it would take a full spin out of control to exit.
It’s been a couple of years now since my biggest burnout crash, but it was by far my first. Not paying attention to my wellness had a huge cost for me. It began with getting really sick and ended with some major life changes to heal. Sure I could blame others or even circumstances, I had done that for so long that it was second nature. But the reality was this… if I didn’t find my self-awareness, take responsibility I would never heal. When my patterns threatened my health, like so many others this awareness and healing became my only choice.
It has taken me 45 years to get where I am now, some of it was easy, some of it kicked my butt. In fact some of it still does. And the biggest lesson? I am still on the burnout prevention healing journey and maybe I always will be and that is okay.
Recognizing your pattern towards burnout
The first step is I have to face my patterns head on and accept that I am the only one in control of my choices! Without facing my patterns nothing will change for the better. I won’t lie and tell you this step is full of rainbows and unicorns. It is VERY hard work. You see not only do you have to recognize your patterns, you also have to accept that they are yours and you are the only one who is responsible for them or who can change them.
And here is the kicker! You also have to forgive yourself for having them. No matter how you learned them, no matter who your role models were or if you developed them in a positive way. If they are not serving you now, forgive yourself for still using them.
The good news is that you can ask for help, your family and closest friends have seen your patterns from front row seats for years. The trick is picking the right individual(s) who will be non-judgmental, supportive and provide you with observations not solutions. And you want people who will have the courage to be honest with you! Who will share their observations lovingly yes, and will not shy away from the conversation.
Hindsight is also very powerful here, looking back at not what burned you out, but how you felt, what you were thinking and what you did gives you powerful insight. Think about the last time you said “I’m so tired”. Feeling tired is in my opinion the first sign of burnout. We brush it off as needing a day off, a coffee or a vacation. When in reality it is a powerful first road sign on the burnout journey.
Changing your language
What if I asked you to remove the “I’m so tired” sentence from your vocabulary?
A big part of self-awareness is being very specific in how you speak to yourself and others about how you feel. The most common complaint that burnout causes is “I’m tired”. Let’s look at what tired means exactly?
Basically either you need a nap, you’re bored or you are no long in good condition, right? So that means if you have a nap, do something that isn’t boring or you get in better condition you are good right? If it was that easy I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t hear it from ourselves and our peers everyday. The reason is that most of the time being tired is a symptom of how you are feeling, not the actual cause.
I encourage you to dig a little deeper. Why are you tired?
This is where the hard work comes in. Let’s say you always find yourself “tired” at your job. What are the chances that there is more to it? You see we feel tired when we are in need of restoring or sleep. Need to reconnect with what excites us, or stop being bored. Or we are no longer in a good condition and need to address ourselves first. When we do not address these symptoms of “being tired” the result is burnout.
There are so many possibilities and each person of course will be different in the specific details of their experience. Luckily there are some commonalities to look for as you look deeper. This is where I ask you to change your language. It is possible that you physically feel tired because you have been very active all day and your body is indeed in need of rest. Or your body could feel physically tired because you have been sitting at your desk all day and you are craving movement. Or you could feel tired because your to do list for today feels unmanageable therefor your mind is warning you that to be safe from failing to complete you are best to give up now.
So how do you find the real feelings?
One easy way to get to the bottom of your feelings is to use a technique called the 5 Whys. 5 Whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?”
- The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
- Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
- Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
- Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
- Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
- Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)
When I started using the 5 Whys something incredible happened! I started describing how I felt, what was happening and what I needed with clarity. Here is a recent example.
This past month has been very busy, being tired has become a bit of a trend. So my problem is I’m tired.
- Why? – It’s been a very long year. I have been running a business, completed 5 x 200 hour trainings, cared for a sick family member who just spent 2 weeks here having and healing from surgery. Recently a second family member had a big “C” scare. Oh and I’m a mom, wife, sister and friend.
- Why? – After choosing to have a go back to school 1.5 years a member of my family got sick. I chose to help.
- Why? – I tend to take on a lot at once without resting in between or re-assesses the list.
- Why? – I get so caught up in the desire to attain I forget to feel fulfilled.
- Why? – Deep down I don’t feel good enough, so if I keep doing I can mask that feeling temporarily. Helping others helps me greatly in doing just that.
So am I tired? Yes. But having a nap won’t change anything, it may temporarily give me some added energy, but ultimately addressing my need to feel good enough is the only way to make a permanent change. This is where I have added the 5 Hows technique, it’s the same as above except I am working in the opposite direction.
- How? – Accept and believe that I am good enough
- How? – Connect to the fulfillment of how helping others made me feel instead of what I accomplished
- How? – Celebrate each moment I feel fulfilled and identify why I feel that way
- How? – Use 5 Whys for how I feel
- How? – Journal this feeling for days I need a reminder
The next time you are feeling tired, burned out and that you just can’t face another moment. I encourage you to use the 5 Whys and get curious with yourself about the root cause.