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How to Avoid Burnout and Keep Going

How to Avoid Burnout and Keep Going

This is a guest post by Andrew Dumont via andrewdumont.me.

It was my first startup. I was 18 and we had just raised our first realfinancing round – $250,000 from a local angel group. A lot was riding on us, even though the scale seems minuscule in hindsight.

We had just upgraded from a basement to an actual office, and we were on top of the world. Numbers were rising and the team was growing, it felt like we were invincible. We were pushing hard, but it didn’t feel that way. We were fueled by constant adrenaline from the latest press hit and the signing of a big new customer. We didn’t need a break, we felt great. Better than great.

After the highest highs, the good times started to fade. We began burning a lot of cash and couldn’t stay on the path we were headed. The days got longer and the adrenaline bumps were few and far between. A fresh Red Bull only got us so far. The only way out was to push even harder, so we did. We were all topping 80 hour weeks. It just wasn’t sustainable.

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Eventually, I burnt out. Hard.

I remember coming home and curling up into a ball. I was so emotionally and physically exhausted, I couldn’t even move. My productivity was cut to nothing. The next day at the office, I found myself just staring into my computer, for hours. No movement, just staring.

I was shot.


It was a terrible feeling that took me months to shake out of. I guess I was a victim of my own immaturity. In the startup world, we push hard. It’s part of “the hustle” that we so commonly refer to. Thousands of people burn out each week, and I can assure you that number is very highly concentrated in the startup industry. So, how do we avoid it?

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Each person has their own limit, and I was completely oblivious to mine. I love to work, so spending countless hours in an office wasn’t crazy, it was normal. But burnout crept up on me, so I had to find a way to avoid it from happening again.

After much trial and error, I did, and here’s how I did it.

Morning Workouts

I start out each day with a workout. It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t matter what kind of workout it is. Some days I run, other days I lift weights. The method is irrelevant, but doing something active each morning clears my mind and provides a fresh dose of endorphins that puts me in the right physical state for the rest of the day.

An Evening Walk

Evenings were tough for me, I wasn’t sure how to turn it off. Hence, the “Always On” blog title. I would come home and hop on my computer, right after leaving the office. It wasn’t that I needed to, it was habit. I didn’t have closure to my day, so I simply extended it. To help with this, I started going for walks each evening before heading home after work. Not long, just enough to digest the day and clear my mind.

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Fiction Reading

I was never a big fan of fiction. But there’s something about it that helps in avoiding burnout. Allowing your mind to think creatively and wander outside of your everyday routine can be extremely valuable. Each night before bed, I try to read a bit of fiction to remove myself from my traditional business mindset.

A Day A Week

The past few weeks, I felt myself getting close to burnout again, so I instituted a rule for myself. One day a week, work is off limits – answering email, writing a blog post – anything. For one day a week, it’s off limits. I tend to rotate between Saturdays and Sundays, but it’s completely up to your schedule. To ensure that I stick to it, I tend to save errands and personal obligations for the weekend, forcing myself into a schedule without work.

Intellectual Hobbies

I recently bought an espresso machine because I needed to nerd out on something other than work. Roasting coffee beans, playing with the granularity of the grind, steaming the milk, it’s all part of my new intellectual hobby. Whether it’s discovering the science of taking the perfect picture, mastering your golf-swing, or studying the art of roasting an espresso bean, we need intellectual hobbies outside of work to cleanse and stretch the mind.

Small Wins

So much of burnout is mental. In order to avoid physical burnout, you need to show your mind progression for all of the effort that you’re exerting. I’ve found that one way to do this is to set small and easily attainable goals that you can reach each day. This can be parsing down larger goals into smaller chunks or just going though the motion of checking-off completed operational tasks. Anything to show your mind progression towards a finish line can do wonders.

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A Healthy Diet

We all know that we’re supposed to eat well, but it’s especially true when you’re pushing yourself hard. Eating the right food can help extend your runway and give you the needed nutritional energy to stay strong.

Limiting Decisions

After reading this article in Vanity Fair on Obama, there was one piece that stuck out to me. As the author interviewed the president, he said “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy. Operationalizing decisions in your life that are less impactful (like the clothes you wear and the fruit you pair with your cereal) allows you to invest that energy elsewhere.

Yearly Unplugs

Finally, a yearly unplug is a must. Especially when you work in technology. Having a set time each year where you can turn off the cell phone and go off the grid is a way for you to hit the ‘reset’ button on your body. I’m still working on extending my yearly unplug to more than four days, but even with that, I feel refreshed when I return.


You’re going to have to read your body to sense when you get close to burnout. Just like driving a car, using these maintenance techniques can help, but it’s up to you to know when to ease off the gas.

My immaturity got the best of me, but I’m hoping this will help you avoid the same fate. I used to feel guilty for pacing myself. I felt that if I wasn’t sprinting all day every day, I was doing myself and my team a disservice. Hitting rock bottom burnout was the only way to make me believe otherwise. Hustle is good, but it can’t be blind.

It’s taken me years to realize that overnight success is fictional. Overnight success comes after years of hard, sustainable work.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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