Are You Burning Yourself Out Accidentally?

Who on earth would want to become a victim of burnout? I know, it sounds silly. But many of us do it because of one of three somewhat twisted beliefs. Stay with me here and I’ll explain:

Reason #1 – We have a desire for success. Shouldn’t everyone have a desire for success? Of course. But not to the point that we sacrifice our physical and emotional health. When we develop a passion for what we’re doing, it is easy to become all-consumed. We think about it all the time. We spend all our extra time honing our understanding and skills. It’s all we talk about to others. When someone asks about balance or other endeavors, we look at them as if they have two heads. I know. I’ve been there.

The problem, of course, is that this total absorption can impact our diet, our sleep, our relationships and our overall health. We wake up in the middle of the night with inspirations or, perhaps, fears of what we’re missing. Over time, this passion begins to drain us to the point of exhaustion. We wonder what happened to our energy. We don’t feel the fulfillment or passion we once did. Sometimes this is compounded by the fact that we try to do it all ourselves. After all, nobody can do it as well as we can. Right? We might even feel resentful if our grand plan does not work out the way we expect. All this results in a feeling of burnout. You know, all that work for nothing.

Reason #2 – We are seeking validation. Jack Canfield, the co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, used to ask his audiences, “Have you ever compared yourself to someone else and come out exactly even?” It is only natural to compare ourselves with everyone with whom we come in contact. In most cases, we come out feeling “less than” in these comparisons. That’s to be expected. We feel like we’re not keeping up. We feel like we’re disappointing others. We might even develop an, “I’ll show them,” attitude to compensate for these feelings of inadequacy.

As a result, we work harder. We put in more hours. We work more furiously to impress others, even though we’ve never truly established what they think of us or even care. These long hours and expended energy begin to drain our reserves. We keep looking for some sign of validation from those around us which, in many cases, is not forthcoming. Over time, we become both frustrated and physically exhausted. This has an impact on our health, sleep, relationships and still does not result in the sense of validation we have been seeking all along.

Reason #3 – We use our work as an escape. Everyone goes through a number of significant challenges over a lifetime. Whether these challenges are physical, financial or emotional, we can find ourselves spending time at work as means to avoid dealing with these discomforts. We always seemed to be committed to something at work. The job has become all consuming. “My boss expects me to be on call at all times.” While some of this may be true for a period of time, using these explanations as a crutch leads to burnout. As with the previous two reasons, it impacts health, sleep, relationships and our ability to think rationally.

By the way, this escape does not have to be work-related. A colleague I know threw himself into weightlifting as an escape from his marital problems. He became consumed with working out seven days a week. It was all he talked about. You know, “Here, feel my biceps.” But over time, two things happened, the marital problems got worse, and he injured himself trying to lift more and more weight. Bottom line? Emotionally-related escapes result in burnout.

“So,” you might ask, “what’s the solution?” Here’s what I’ve seen the best decision makers do when they begin to feel burned out. First, they take a step back when they recognize the symptoms. The best thinkers are also the most self-aware people I know.

Second, they ask close friends and loved ones to speak up when they begin to see the symptoms of burnout. When you’re all consumed, it is easy to rationalize away irrational behaviors. Having a trusted friend call you on your excessiveness may be the intervention necessary. But most people won’t do it unless you have opened the door.

Third, they give themselves permission to accept that they are fallible just like everyone else. Top thinkers are grounded. They laugh at themselves. They are generally self-effacing. When they get too full of themselves, as many of us do occasionally, they accept the correction with grace.

Fourth, they make the tough choices. As I have said endlessly, the best decision makers have become comfortable with being uncomfortable. How? Read the post linked here.

Are you burning yourself out accidently on purpose? Embrace these four steps and recapture your energy, focus and health. Let me know what you think about this by writing something in the comments. I’m Bob Wendover

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