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How do you know if you’re running on empty?
You’re tired, irritable, nervous, worried, tense, frustrated, stressed, depleted of emotional and mental energy, spread too thin, and always have no time for yourself.
This is easy to have happen in a society that perpetuates productivity as meaning successful. This leads to burnout, however.
You wonder why you were doing it all in the first place. You forget your why.
Your burnout leads to exhaustion. You think you need to keep going, though, to prove to everyone else your worth—at the expense of your well-being. You feel the pressure to not stop, so you run on autopilot. You believe “fake it til you make it” advice from self-help gurus and keep on smiling as you run yourself ragged.
If this sounds like you, know that you’re not alone. But it’s time to not just survive but to thrive.
Stress takes a toll on your physical and mental health. The American Institute of Stress says that you’ll get headaches, heartburn, insomnia, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and have a risk of heart attack, due to stress.
On the mental health side, you risk depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and more. The cost isn’t worth burnout.
But there are ways you can go from burnout to built back up. Here’s how:
1. Make Smaller Goals
If you’ve ever played video games, you know that you don’t defeat the boss on your first try. You have to go through multiple levels and foes before you can challenge him. Incremental increases lead you to become better and stronger so you can win the game.
This is much like life. You don’t tackle a big dream or goal head-on. You get there little by little, looking at the step in front of you, not the whole staircase. This boosts your confidence and motivation as you climb each step. When you get to the finish line, you do so because you took your time.
It can be demotivational to think about that boss first. What strategies are you using to combat your current struggles? Are you thinking ahead or just dreading what you have to do to get from Point A to Point B? When you focus too much on the end goal, you become overwhelmed. Rather, focus on the steps in the process.
Make this a challenge: take a goal. Now, make it smaller. And smaller. And divide into more, smaller pieces. Start with the smallest step.
This is what it looks like:
Your goal might be to paint a picture. Well, you might have an idea of what you want it to look like. But you have to get the proper tools. You have to get paintbrushes, paint, and a canvas. You have to learn how to paint!
Once you have mastered painting after years of classes, you have to take the grand idea of what you want to create and build upon it. With your experiences, you must adapt your vision. Your end product might look different than when you first dreamed of it. But we all have to start somewhere. Your starting point might just be to pick up the paintbrush and try to come up with something unique.
Don’t copy anyone in your rush to become a great artist or speed up the process. The greatest artist is the most authentic artist. So, start small.
You do not become successful overnight. You might have some great creations and meet great teachers along the way. One day, you will teach your skills to others, and that will be a great day because that’s when it becomes full circle. That’s when you really know you’ve made it.
But all it really took? Drawing a dot or a line on a piece of paper. The willingness to start when you were inexperienced and insecure. That friend you asked for feedback from. The critiques you got at the art galleries. The sales when they didn’t happen. All of them—you took nothing and created something.
All of us have a blank canvas and an idea of what we want to paint onto it. We all have a vision. We all think we know who we are going to be and what we are going to do in the next five years. The truth is that none of us know life’s twists and turns. But with small steps, we don’t trip over those changes. We adapt and make ourselves ready for anything. That is how we’ve become an artist of life.
2. Set Aside Time to Just Do Nothing
When is the last time you scheduled a moment to do nothing? Are you scheduling breaks in your long day? Or are you finding excuses to keep making yourself productive every second of the day?
You would think it was easy to do nothing, but for many, it is not. When we think of being unproductive, we associate this with laziness and lack of worth. But the truth is you are not your to-do list. Change your to-do list to a “to be” list. What are you trying to be, rather than do?
Be kind. Be grateful. Be silly. Be sincere. Be real. Be happy. Be alive. Be love. Be here now.
When you are present, you are powerful.
You are not a machine. If you want to stop, if you want to just observe or enjoy a pause, you do not have to keep going. You are allowed to give yourself mercy.
You don’t have to fill the silence with noise or commotion. Sometimes, it’s best just to stop. Breathe. Look around. Feel. Think. Release. Unplug. Live.
Really listen to yourself. What is your soul needing? Give it a moment to stretch and speak. Then, you will find yourself at peace.
“Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear.” ~ Kristin Neff
Fear talk versus pep talk. Your inner critic is trying to motivate you to keep going. It seems like a pep talk. It is certainly motivating. But self-compassion is far more effective.
We all have an inner critic. It might make you better at what you do. It might make you stronger. It might make you faster. But it does not make you happier. It does not teach you to enjoy your life while you are here. It just makes you move when sometimes, life requires you to be still.
When you are on the go, remind yourself to be self-compassionate with yourself. In moments of stress and strife, think “self-compassion.” In struggles with your boss or a difficult situation, think “self-compassion.” When you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, think “self-compassion.”
Let “self-compassion” be your daily mantra. Let it fill you up when you feel depleted. Let yourself rest so you can rise.
It’s great if you want to accomplish big things and run the world. But you can’t run anything, much less yourself, with no sleep.
The way to move mountains is to love yourself.
When you love yourself, you let go of the need to be a people pleaser and seek approval through accomplishments. You fill your days more meaningfully and mindfully. That way, you know what your priorities are, which lead you to your purpose.
Your purpose is not to fix everything and everyone. Your purpose is to be happy. Leave some room for happiness in your life. If you even leave just a crack open, it will infiltrate your entire being and uplift you from the mess, from the burnout. When you are replenished, you can help others too.
Give others the best of you, not what’s left of you.