A cure for burnout

Last updated on: Published by: Sarah Dobbs 0

I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all tired, and we’ve been tired for months now.

Even before the pandemic, life sometimes felt like an unending slog, a constant treadmill of tasks that needed to be accomplished with no way of stepping off. We’ve got deadlines to meet, bills to pay, laundry to do. Somehow, even the supposedly relaxing stuff started to feel like a to-do list, as unread books and unwatched TV shows piled up endlessly. The restrictions of the last year or so have only made things feel worse, as we rattle around inside our homes, unable to see friends and family, all hope of holidays vanishing into the abyss. Exhausting, right?

It’s tempting to think that the answer to all this tiredness is to stop doing things. But I’ve got a radical suggestion that I think might work better: let’s do more.

Not more of the stuff we hate, to be clear. Instead, we need to find ways to do more of the things that light us up. What are you really good at? Is there something you love doing, but never quite find enough time to fit in? Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s teaching, maybe it’s cooking, maybe it’s making art. Whatever it is, do more of it. Carve out space in your life to give yourself a new project – a secret one, if you have to. Because that’s the thing that’s going to make things seem manageable again.

A few years ago, I was working in a job I hated. I had a long commute, and miserable days, and I just wanted to lie on the floor and refuse to do it. At the end of a work day, I just wanted to go home and vegetate. But when I found something fun to do with my evenings, even if it meant staying out later and getting less sleep, I felt less exhausted.

It’s a control thing, I think. We’re not talking about revenge procrastination here, by the way. (That’s the thing where people stay up later, not really doing anything but watching TV or scrolling the internet, because they need to push back against the ennui of the wake-work-sleep cycle.) That’s unproductive, and feels bad, and ultimately doesn’t even let you wrest back any control. No, I’m suggesting you do more of the thing that excites you.

For me, lately, that’s been working with Leila on a new product we’re planning to launch as part of our general mission to put some magic back in the world. (Sign up to register your interest here). In the past, I’ve launched a magazine around my day job, or created podcasts on my weekends. Technically, it’s more “work”, and most of it has had to be done during what could otherwise just be downtime. But when you’re doing something that puts that fire in your belly, tiredness doesn’t come into it.

I think we’ve all probably got some reserves of energy left. It’s just that we’re too bored and stressed to access it when all we’ve got going on is the same old work, with the same old people, in the same old walls we’ve barely been allowed to leave for a year. That tedium sets in when we’ve got nothing fun to do, and so we fill our time with things that just make us feel miserable. Give yourself permission to do something different. Enthusiasm is fuel – joy is fuel. Do more of what you love.

Just do one

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0

What do you really want to do? That thing that you bottle up and suppress because you know it would be such a good idea, but the thought of it feels so overwhelming – what is it? Maybe you want to start something up. Or read more books. Maybe you wish you could be a bit healthier? Or just dearly want to stop feeling a certain way about a situation, person or personality trait?

This sense of looming overwhelm is one of the big things preventing us doing things we want to do, or don’t want to do right now but know will be beneficial in the longer term. It’s not even actual overwhelm, is it? It’s the anticipation of overwhelm – “If I start on this, it’ll soon be too much”.

We can’t really claim to have invented this, as it’s the sort of wisdom your gran might have passed down, but it bears reframing for the modern world. And maybe someone needs to hear it right now, and maybe that person is you. So here it is. Whatever it is you think you can’t do…

Just do it once

You don’t need to make going for a run every day your goal, but you can do one and take it from there. Then at least you’ve done it once! You don’t have to transform yourself into a different type of person overnight, like in that Kafka story. But doing things once gives you a trial and error research project; you can narrow down your hopes and dreams, and work out what to focus on, over time.

Make it about doing, not feeling

There’s something about taking action which is key to all this, too. For example, if a situation keeps bringing out a negative or obstructive emotion in you, why not try behaving like someone who isn’t bothered? For a moment, let yourself forget about what you’re feeling, and focus instead on what you’re doing. Let’s face it, this isn’t easy! Negative feelings are absolutely convincing – we’re programmed to listen to them and believe them, and we may never be able to see through their wicked illusions! The key is not to try. Make this a behaviour war to be fought on behavioural grounds. Bad feelings want you to think you need them, and that they can help you logic some sense out of things. We may never be able to put them aside forever, but remember: we don’t have to commit to giving up feeling angry or upset or self-defeating forever. What have we got to lose by trying to behave like someone who doesn’t feel those things in these situations, just once?

Having a reference point

We are explorers, as we go through this life. The more things we try, the more potential we have to understand others and subsequently make the world a better place. And when we’ve done something once, we have evidence for ourselves that it can be done. We can look back and say, hey – I didn’t think there could ever be a different outcome in this situation, but there was that one time I successfully surprised myself and jumped out of the plane (proverbially or actually!) If you did it once, you can do it again.

So… what are you going to try today?