Avoiding Burn-Out: Making Conscious Choices

Posted on Jun 17, 2013

I define burn-out as an emptiness inside.  If you are burned out, you have emotional hunger pains that you feel helpless to satisfy.  You feel like you are just going through the motions.  Being tired is a component of burn-out, but you can be tired without being burned out.  Sadness and worry may also be components but burn-out is not clinical depression-it is a milder, everyday unhappiness.  It is the melancholy of a mundane life.

People who suffer from burn-out typically have unrelenting standards for themselves.  They are often perfectionists who operate under the illusion of control.  They may have difficulty relaxing in general.

Instead, they tend to over-schedule themselves and multi-task on top of their hectic schedule.  Physically, those prone to burn-out have a tense posture, using more muscles than necessary to complete the task. For example, shrugging your shoulders or tensing your jaw without realizing you are doing so.  Emotionally, burn-out sufferers are often hostile and driven by a sense of obligation rather than their own wishes.

Luckily, burn-out is avoidable.

As you go through your daily life, stop and check in with yourself.  Assess how you are feeling physically and emotionally.  Do you feel scattered? Are you gripping your muscles?  Are you finding it difficult to slow down long enough just to check in with yourself?

As you notice your feelings, consider your needs and wants.  Have you been concerned with everyone else’s needs all day?  Do you remember the last time you were doing something just for yourself, something where time flew by in a good way?

Now that you have checked in with yourself, begin to make a conscious choice on how to proceed.

A conscious choice has three components:

  • You know what you want or value.
  • You know the potential cost.
  • You accept the price.

For example, saying “yes” to baking a cake for our daughter’s birthday instead of buying one means saying “no” to an hour spent otherwise, like relaxing or reconnecting with your spouse, friends, or family.  For some, usually those who like to bake, this price is acceptable.  But others will say yes without considering that the hour of relaxation or reconnection is more valuable to them.

Many of us have become so accustomed to saying yes that we do not realize it is at the expense of ourselves.  We do not consider what we really value and therefore do not make choices that reflect those values.  Eventually, this results in a life that is not very fulfilling.  You may have heard the “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  I don’t know if it is not worth living, but it certainly is not very satisfying.

If you have been on auto-pilot for a while, come back to yourself by contemplating how you really want your life to be.  Feel free to let your mind wander and allow all the possibilities to be considered.  It is a good idea to write your thoughts down.  Nothing formal-just jot them down. Once you have some ideas, start living with them in mind.  Ask yourself as you make decisions, will this get me closer to my goals or farther away?

While it may sound simplistic, this is not easy.  It requires brutal honesty with yourself.  Making the best choice requires courage and discipline.  Start with small things like that birthday cake dilemma.  You will see that by aligning your values and your actions, the feelings of burn-out or emptiness will fade, leaving a sense of satisfaction and contentment in its place.

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