Written by: Diane Bolden, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
You’re thoroughly exhausted but feel like you can’t afford to slow down. Instead, you take it up a notch. “If I can just power through this,” you tell yourself, “all will be well.” But even though you’re running faster and harder than ever, you just don’t seem to be getting anywhere… And you may be driving yourself straight into the ground. How do you stop overwhelm and prevent burnout before it’s too late?
We live in a time where the things we own tell us when they need maintenance. Our coffee makers have descaling alerts. Computers tell us when updates need to be installed. And low fuel lights go on in our cars when they need gas.
We too have indicators of when we need to take better care of ourselves. But many of us habitually overlook or ignore those signals – and are often too busy running around to even notice them. We’re far more likely to act on things that are in our faces, like urgent client requests, a looming deadline, or a ringing phone.
The Peril of Ignoring Your Maintenance Signals
When we ignore maintenance signals, we often reach a point where things just stop working. The coffee machine no longer makes coffee. The computer freezes up. And the car won’t get us where we need to go. But when we ignore maintenance signals from our bodies, we may not easily recognize the impact. Worse, we seem to have a way of acclimating to it so that our tolerance grows – prolonging the damage that can be done.
The problem is compounded by the fact that most of us are conditioned to push ourselves beyond any indication that we may be at risk. We’re led to believe that the busier we are and the harder we work, the more successful, effective, and important we’ll be. It’s no wonder so many of us feel like we can’t afford to slow down.
If you’re a high achiever, these messages can become unconscious programming. When your fuel indicator is running low, you’re likely accustomed to leaning on the gas and doubling down on your efforts. You may not even realize that though you’re working harder than ever, you’re not getting much done.
In that state, you’re at risk for a whole host of issues that will just make things worse. Mental acuity declines. Cognitive processes and decision-making become difficult. Emotional reactions become inflamed as patience runs low, and agitation is high. Relationships get strained, both at work and at home. And your quality of life can slowly begin to deteriorate.
All this in the pursuit of performance that will steadily continue eroding, despite your best efforts.
When you’re tired, frustrated, beaten down and not running on all cylinders, you’re likely to continue in a default mode consistent with your unconscious programming… which is most likely a kind of autopilot that’ll have you bouncing from one thing to another. And that’ll just get you more of the same.
To Stop Overwhelm and Prevent Burnout, You Have to Address the Real Cause
You may also attribute the cause of your frazzled state to your circumstances… your job, your boss, your customers, your subordinates, or any number of things outside of yourself. And though circumstances likely do contribute to the amount of work that is on your plate, the real problem isn’t out there. It’s in the programming that leads you to say yes when you really need to say no. It’s the belief that your worth as a professional (or a human being) is tied to the achievements you have and the status you can create for yourself by becoming indispensable.
The pressure you put on yourself can become unbearable, but if those unconscious beliefs are running the show, you’ll tell yourself that only wimps can’t deal with that pressure. You’ll beat yourself up for doing the very thing you must do to break out of that crazy trap.
Lily Tomlin was once quoted as saying, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
It may seem like a trite piece of advice. But there is so much wisdom in it. It’s not just good for the short term… allowing yourself to catch your breath, get some rest, and refuel your body and your brain.
It’s also good for the long term.
How Slowing Down Allows You to Speed Up
When you slow down long enough to become conscious, you move from the point of view of a player to that of an observer. You begin to recognize the patterns and pitfalls you are falling into and their impact on your life. You feel the pain to the point that you begin looking for a better way of doing things. And you get curious as to what that better way may be.
Awareness is a catalyst for change. Even a self-cleaning robot vacuum changes its trajectory when it bumps into something. It’ll keep bumping into things until it finds a new way.
As a human being, you’ll not only become aware of obstacles but also experiences that you want more of and less of. When you take the time to recognize that something’s got to give in your work and your life, you allow yourself to become more intentional. Knowing what you don’t want allows you to get closer to what you DO want – and opens the door for you to receive insights on how to go about getting it.
Those insights will come to you when you aren’t running around like a banshee trying to get everything done – or collapsing in a heap with nothing left. They will softly fall into the space between your thoughts when you relax your mind and indulge your spirit in doing something that feeds you instead of depleting you.
The Power of Insight
Insight brings clarity. And clarity saves time.
Imagine walking into a room blindfolded and swinging a baseball bat wildly at options – hoping to hit something that works. Insight allows you to bypass that frustrating and time-consuming process. Instead of expending all that energy only to partially hit a couple of things that may or may not be effective (and creating a huge mess in the process), you’ll take the blindfold off and calmly go straight to the solutions that are most fitting for you.
That’s the power of insight.
Insight is the Beginning of a New Trajectory that Sidesteps Burnout
It’ll likely guide you to do things differently than you did before. After all, doing things the same way you always did is what likely got you in trouble. The changes may feel daunting. But you can’t think your way out of it. You must act.
To stop overwhelm and prevent burnout, we must become conscious and courageous. When the pain of continuing on a path that is bringing misery is greater than the resistance to going out of your comfort zone, you’ll be ready to do something different. If you’ve read this far, you are probably already there.
And you are most likely not alone. Stress and burnout have been steadily increasing over the years, particularly since the start of the pandemic. In 2021 the American Psychological Association reported that 79% of the adult workers they surveyed had experienced work-related stress resulting in lack of interest, motivation, or energy and lack of effort at work, as well as cognitive weariness, emotional exhaustion, and physical fatigue.
Similarly, a survey conducted by Indeed in 2021 found that 52% of respondents reported feeling burnout, up from 43% in their pre-COVID-19 survey. These factors have combined to bring things to a head, highlighting the importance of helping people stop overwhelm and prevent burnout in the workplace.
The Real Leader Revolution is Upon Us
I believe we are on the verge of a revolution in the way we work that is coming from the inside out, one that I often refer to as “The Real Leader Revolution”. The revolution is not against a person or group, but rather the conditioning we’ve internalized and unwittingly propagated in the workplace that has us running ourselves ragged.
Though organizations and businesses can assist in making necessary changes, the transformation must begin in the minds and hearts of people who will ultimately model the shift businesses need to make by starting with themselves. These people are Real Leaders, who regardless of their vocation, title, or role will begin to stop overwhelm and prevent burnout by addressing the underlying beliefs that get us there.
We can all start by becoming aware of how these beliefs are leading us to bypass our maintenance indicators and run ourselves into the ground. This conscious awareness of the pain those patterns have perpetuated will lead us to envision something better. And the time we take to nurture those visions will cultivate the insight necessary to create a different future, not only for ourselves but for others.
If enough of us do this, we can create a ripple of change that will allow a whole new experience of work to emerge – one that allows us to liberate the power of the human spirit in the workplace. Together we can break the vicious cycle of feeling bogged down by all the work in our lives, and instead bring more life into our work.
Learn more by downloading your complimentary copy of The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto: How to STOP Doing Business as Usual and START Liberating the Power of the Human Spirit to Achieve Unprecedented and Sustainable Success. Click here to get it.
Diane Bolden, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Diane Bolden is an executive coach, speaker, author and organization development professional with more than 25 years of experience in leadership development, coaching and consulting, Diane has worked with managers, directors, officers and boards in Fortune 100 and 500 companies and nonprofit organizations to achieve higher levels of performance and success by helping them bring out the best in themselves and everyone around them. Her book, the Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader - How to Unleash Genius in Yourself and Those You Lead, was published in 2011. Diane has a Masters in Business Administration and is a Certified Corporate Coach. She is CEO of Synchronistics Coaching & Consulting.