“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott
In The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler, he explains what burnout is and how to recover from it. Given the time of the year and the long hours many of us are currently working, I’d like to share some of his wisdom with you here today.
Burnout is identified by 3 symptoms: exhaustion, depression, and cynicism. It is the by-product of repeated and prolonged stress. In order for us to overcome burnout, grit is required. And since burnout leads to significant decline in cognitive function, you absolutely have to get gritty about recovery. It’s hard for peak performers to relax. If momentum matters most, sitting still feels like laziness (AMEN!). Yet, since burnout leads to a significant decline in cognitive function, when its affects are felt, we must recover.
Not all recovery strategies are the same. The main choices are passive and active. Passive recovery is TV and a beer. Active recovery is the opposite. It ensures that the brain stays off and the body can mend. By flushing stress hormones from the system, active recovery practices allow us to reset. Research shows that you can get gritty about recovery in 3 simple steps.
#1 Protect Your Sleep: You need a dark room, cold temperatures, and no screens. Our cell phone’s glow is in the same frequency range as daylight, and this messes with the brains ability to shut down completely. Shut the cell phone down an hour before bed. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but figure out what is optimal for you, and then make sure you consistently get what you need!
#2 Implement an Active Recovery Protocol: Stretching, restorative yoga, long walks out in nature (“nature-bathing”), Epsom salt baths, saunas and hot tub soaks are the traditional methods. My personal preference is yoga at least 3x per week and 1 session in a sensory deprivation tank. All of these activities help to lower stress and decrease cognitive load.
#3 Take a Break! Resets matter. Everybody has a point of no return. If your work is consistently subpar and frustration levels are growing, it’s time to step away for a few days. Personally, I do this once every 2.5-3 months. My go-to break is a solitary 2-3 day trip into nature. I have a trip planned for Yellowstone at the end of July. But that’s me. Figure out what’s you.
Most important, stay in front of this problem. Burnout costs you both motivation and momentum. In the short run, because chronic stress interferes with cognitive function, it’ll have you producing poor-quality work that needs to be redone. In the long run, it can completely derail your quest for greatness. So while inserting mandatory time-outs into your schedule can feel like a waste of time, it’s nothing compared to the time you’ll waste once burnout sets in… If you get gritty about recovery sooner rather than later, you’ll go farther faster as a result.
Enjoy what comes of today!