Burnout has helped me develop self-awareness; I have learned to recognize it, rest, and heal. It starts when I notice that I am not completing everything I set out for the day, a week, etc. Insert self-doubt and judgment here! This usually brings on the feeling that I fail to meet my goals. Now, feeling even more down on myself becomes the rocket fuel I use to push through and make it happen. This inevitably leads to exhaustion, a severe lack of self-care, and the start of a fast-running hamster wheel that now has so much momentum that it would take a whole spin out of control to exit.
It’s been a couple of years since my biggest burnout crash, but it was my first. Not paying attention to my wellness had a massive cost for me. It began with getting sick and ended with some significant life changes to heal. Sure I could blame others or circumstances; I had done that for so long that it was second nature. But the reality was that I would never heal if I didn’t find my self-awareness and take responsibility. Like so many others, when my patterns threatened my health, awareness and healing became my only choice.
It has taken me 45 years to get where I am; some of it was easy, and some kicked my butt. 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 toward burnout
The first step is to face my patterns head-on and accept that I am the only one controlling my choices! Without meeting my patterns, nothing will change for the better. I won’t lie—this step is not full of rainbows and unicorns. It is challenging work. You have to recognize your patterns; you also have to accept that they are yours and you are the only one 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, who your role models were, or if you positively developed them. Forgive yourself for still using them if they are not serving you now.
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 correct individual(s) who will be non-judgmental and supportive and provide you with observations, not solutions. You want people in your life with 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. 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 particular in speaking to yourself and others about how you feel. The most common complaint that burnout causes are “I’m tired.” Let’s look at what tired means.
It would help if you had a nap, were bored, or were no longer in good condition. So if you have a rest, do something that isn’t boring, or get in better shape, you are good. If it was that easy, I’m sure we wouldn’t hear it from ourselves and our peers daily. 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 constantly find yourself “tired” at your job. What are the chances that there is more to it? You see, we feel tired when we need restoring or sleep. We need to reconnect with what excites us or stop being bored. Or we are no longer in good condition and need to address ourselves first when we do not manage these symptoms of “being tired, ” burnout results.
There are many possibilities, and each person 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. You may physically feel tired because you have been very active all day, and your body needs rest. Or your body could feel physically exhausted because you have been sitting at your desk all day and craving movement. Or you could feel tired because your to-do list for today feels unmanageable; therefore, 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 to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the method 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 hectic; being tired has become 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 training courses, and cared for a sick family member who just spent two weeks here and healing from surgery. Recently a second family member had a big “C” scare. I’m a mom, wife, sister, and friend.
- Why? – After choosing to go back to school for 1.5 years, a family member 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 feel tired, burned out, and can’t face another moment. I encourage you to use the 5 Whys and get curious with yourself about the root cause.
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