The Key to Avoiding Burnout Isn’t What You Think

Want to perform at a high level, but having trouble avoiding burnout?

There’s a simple reframe that will help you out.

Check out this video, or read the full story below to learn how you can maintain high performance without burning out.

The Key to Avoiding Burnout Isn’t What You Think

There was once an athlete who wanted to be world-class.

She started working with a new trainer. And she worked incredibly hard in the gym.

But week after week, she didn’t get stronger. Instead, her body started deteriorating. It was clear she wasn’t doing well.

After seeing this change, her coach felt concerned.

“Something isn’t working!” he said. “Have you been following the protocol I outlined? We agreed you would do three things. 1) Work hard in the gym. 2) Follow the meal plan I outlined. 3) Drink at least 8 bottles of water every day!”

“You’ve seen me in the gym!” she replied. “You know I give 100% effort! And I’ve eaten the foods on your list, just as you recommended.”

Then, she opened her backpack and pulled out a water bottle. It was filled with hazy, yellowish-brown water. “And I drink 8 of these bottles filled with water every day!”

Seeing the contents of her bottle, the coach was aghast! “That’s…water in your bottle?”

“It is!” She replied. “I fill them up every morning from the drainage canal behind my house!”

Not All Recovery is Created Equal

Technically, this athlete was following the plan of her coach. She drank eight bottles of water every day.

But not all water is the same.

  • Clean water replenishes your system
  • Tainted water from a drainage canal depletes you further by making your system work harder

You might be thinking that this is an extreme example…Of course you’d notice if your water was toxic!

But what about the other ways you replenish yourself? In these cases, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re doing something effective, when in reality it’s not.

Good Breaks Rejuvenate, Bad Breaks Deplete

One place where this shows up is taking breaks. If you want to optimize your mental performance in work and life, you’d be wise to take breaks. This is a way of creating “waves” in your days.

Riding the wave up, you take positive action. You bring your best energy and focused attention to the most important task at hand.

Riding the wave down, you replenish by taking a break. You give your body and mind what they need to recover.

But not all breaks are created equal:

  • Some breaks are like clean water that replenish your body and mind
  • Other breaks are like tainted water that deplete your energy further

The quality of your recovery in each break impacts how effectively you show up in the rest of your day.

Which means you could fall into the trap of our athlete: following the right advice by taking breaks, but stumbling on the interpretation and execution in your choice of breaks.

(Or even worse, never taking breaks at all. Like an athlete who decides to forego drinking water and collapses from dehydration.)

Avoiding Burnout: How to Optimize Your Recovery

Better recovery = Better energy and attention to invest in what you care about.

You can think about recovery in three phases:

  • Micro: Taking rejuvenating breaks throughout the day. Getting restful sleep at night.
  • Mid: Using your weekends as an opportunity to replenish.
  • Macro: Taking 2-3 full weeks off throughout the year.

Let’s start with the micro, because it happens most frequently.

When you increase the quality of your daily breaks, there’s a compound effect over time.

  1. Grab pen and paper and reflect on the following questions:
    1. What activities, when performed, leave you feeling replenished?
    2. What activities feel like breaks but don’t give you that same replenishment?
  2. Make two lists, side by side. Label one list “Good Breaks.” Label the other list “Bad Breaks.”
  3. Clarify your intention to do more of the former, and to let go of urges to do the latter.
  4. Refer to your list in the moment of a break. Come back to your intention: What do you want to get out of a break? Choose accordingly.

Although I don’t use my physical lists anymore, I used to have them at my desk.

They look like this:

Good breaks = Taking a power-nap, meditation, taking a walk, moving/stretching, hydrating, eating a healthy snack, tossing a ball around, getting sun on my skin…

Bad breaks = Checking email, mindlessly scrolling on social media, eating sugar, checking my phone “just in case something came in,” playing games on my phone…

But that’s just my list.

Whats on yours? Share it in the comments of the video.

And then, let’s make this a week of waves. Present and focused ON periods, followed by rejuvenating OFF periods.


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