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11 Simple Ways To Avoid Burnout

11 Simple Ways To Avoid Burnout

    Are you exhausted, annoyed, and ready to throw in the towel on something that once made you leap out of bed with joy every morning? I know that feeling well. It’s one I suffered from often in the past and still encounter occasionally. It typically signals an impending burnout.

    Not the type of burnout you get from dropping your 93 Honda Civic into 3rd gear at 6,000 rpm’s. The type of burnout that makes you avoid work, question the value of your existence, and eat large quantities of Oreo cookies while watching bad television.

    How can you avoid burnout and stay in a productive rhythm? Here are 11 ways you can start safeguarding your life against burnout:

    1. Schedule regular social activities

    Remember when you used to spend time with people you were neither working with nor sleeping with? You watched movies, ate meals, played games, and went on trips. You were active and you had fun!

    You can regain some of that emotional fulfillment by contacting some of your old pals and scheduling regular activities. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy. Sure, rafting in Alaska would be fun but a monthly brunch with people you don’t see every day will do just fine. The point of this exercise is to expand your social horizon and crush the feeling that you’re stuck doing the same thing every day.

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    2. Follow a fitness plan

    Why we give up exercise in order to sit in a chair and work for an extra hour at a lower level of intensity is beyond me. I used to do it myself. I dealt with stress by eating and worked instead of working out. The result? Not only did I burn out but I got really chubby, too!

    If you want to avoid burnout, resurrect that New Year’s Resolution and figure out what it takes to get you exercising on a regular basis. Apart from all the physical benefits of exercise, you’ll enjoy the mental satisfaction of knowing that you’re taking good care of yourself again.

    3. Pursue a hobby

    Pick a hobby that has little or nothing to do with what you spend most of your week doing and pursue it with passion! A hobby that uses an entirely different skill set can provide your heart and mind with a satisfying break from the weekly grind and set you on a good path for increased productivity.

    You probably won’t even need to worry about picking a new hobby out. The one you abandoned when you sold your soul to the work week is waiting for you to return. Shine up those golf clubs, get out the fishing gear, or buy a new pair of boxing gloves and get moving!

    4. Volunteer

    Nothing brightens the soul or warms the senses like giving to another for no reason other than to give. If you’re feeling run down by life, I implore you to seek out somebody less fortunate than yourself and work to help them.

    Reach out to your local soup kitchen or professional organization and ask for referrals to local places that need your help. They’ll be glad to get you started and you’ll soon forget about badly you thought you had it!

    5. Write a manifesto

    Have you forgotten what you want out of life? It’s easy to lose track of time and even easier to forget about what makes us glad to be alive. What can you do to bring back that focus? Take a day or perhaps an entire weekend and write a manifesto, a declaration of purpose, for yourself.

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    The process will give you focus as you put your intentions into writing. You’ll also discover that stepping back and looking at your life as a whole has a way of putting the stresses of the moment into perspective.

    6. Ask for help

    This is a tough one, especially if you’re a resourceful I’ll-do-it-on-my-own type of person like me. But it’s worth the time it takes to ask for help making sense of something that’s been dragging you down. It’s worth the embarrassment of admitting that you can’t do something on your own to really get help.

    Whether your struggle is with a particular part of a project or with something general, like time management, asking for help will get you to a solution faster than you could ever hope to alone. If you want to avoid burnout, you’ll need to swallow your pride on occasion and reach out for help.

    7. Make others laugh

    Humor keeps us sane even through the most stressful of circumstances. Laughter is fun and a great way to reduce stress. Even better, finding ways to make others laugh doesn’t just reduce stress for all involved. It allows you to begin viewing yourself as a source of fun and laughter in your social or work group.

    You’ll find it hard to be glum and entertain unhappy thoughts when the people around you are excited and happy to be near you. There’s no need to be a genius comedian. Start out by learning a few good jokes and add as you go!

    8. Make an escape list

    An “escape list” is a list of everything you’d need to do in order to escape a situation that’s driving you nuts. In a work context, your escape list might include things like turning in a final presentation or asking for a raise. It might also include smaller things like submitting your resume to a new opportunity or drafting a letter of resignation!

    You might never follow up on the items in your escape list but the process of writing one will help clarify in your mind that you are not truly stuck. You have options. Perhaps not the best or most fun options, but you are certainly not stuck.

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    9. Embrace a morning ritual

    Are you starting your day on the wrong foot by waking up late, rushing about, and skipping out the door at the last minute? Try slowing down your morning instead. Set your alarm a few minutes earlier than usual and spend the “extra” time sitting in a sunny spot in your living room with a cup of coffee and a good book.

    As you slowly add more to your morning, you’ll develop a fierce attachment to “your” time. Why? Because you’ve chosen to start your day with a focus on taking care of yourself instead of busting out of bed like a bomb squad.

    10. Stop making excuses

    Is everything that’s dragging you down right now because of something your boss, partner, friend, or client did? Getting caught up in how much everybody else is screwing up will put you on the fast track to gray hair and a stupendous burnout.

    The fix? Accept responsibility for your part of the problems that plague you. Then start digging your way out. Once you’ve given up on blaming others you’ll start seeing more of the good in your life and the sordid claws of desperate solitary thought will no longer draw you down.

    11. Be accountable

    Accountability is something we’re all familiar with but rarely put into useful practice. You can use accountability to drive your personal development and avoid burnout. The trick is find somebody you can trust to give the down and dirty on what you’re trying to do and how you’re moving forward.

    For best results, have your accountability partner NOT be a relative or somebody you’re dating. They typically won’t have the capacity for objective review of your progress. People who love you will often make excuses for you and you want to avoid excuses at all costs.

    “Accountability breeds response-ability.” ~Stephen R Covey

    Avoiding burnout is a matter of constant vigilance and regular maintenance. What are you doing to avoid burnout? Do you have any tips to add? I’m glad for your thoughts!

    Seth Simonds is an editor here at Lifehack.org. Have a lifehacking tip and want to be featured in a future article? Follow @lifehackorg on Twitter, say hello, and we’ll go from there.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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