One Strategy I Discovered to Avoid Burnout (and Create Harmony In My Life)
Our core beliefs involving love and security are formed in childhood between the ages of three and eight because they are linked to survival. Peter Halligan, a psychologist at Cardiff University, says, "A belief is a mental architecture of how we interpret the world." As human beings, we make meaning out of everything, and these meanings lead to thoughts and beliefs that guide our behaviour. I attached various meanings at the age of five when I had to skip grade 1 and enrolled into grade 2:
- I am smart;
- I am different;
- I can't fail;
- My parents have expectations of me, and I can't let them down;
- My opinion doesn't matter;
- I can't say what I want because I'll get into trouble.
- I have to work hard to catch up to grade 2 because they think I'm smart.
I became an over-achiever and worked hard to catch up.
These beliefs helped me throughout my life, but they also caused problems with my mental and emotional health. I didn't know how to stop or delegate or work in harmony.
Instead, I felt I had to make it work and prove that I was capable, and in the process, I burned out. There were times that I'd take on so much because I thought I could do it, but overtime, it became overwhelming, and still I didn't complain because I felt I had to be strong. Twice, I ended up crying on the dining table while having tea with my husband, Badur, and the second time, he told me what I needed to hear.
"Why are you crying?" he asked. "I'm just so tired, so tired," I sobbed and continued. "I work full-time, I help at the wellness centre, and I'm working toward making professional speaking my career, and I don't even have time for me. I like getting my nails done like other women; I want to go to on holidays like other people, but we just haven't had the time. I'm so exhausted." "You know what your problem is? You want to do everything," he blurted out. "You can't do it all. Become an expert in one thing and focus on that. I don't need you at the wellness centre every day, but pick two days you want to be there. And get your manicure because only you can make yourself feel good; no one else can." I looked at him in amazement and kept sobbing, knowing that he was so right. He continued, "Zaheen, most of all, you need to decide what you want to do because you are dabbling in too many areas." The people who care about us the most will tell us what we need to hear because they know us better than anyone else. During this time, he also mentioned behaviours that I was expressing that were leading toward burnout. "I've noticed you start getting irritable first, like we are in your way. Then you get angry or upset easily. For example, if I ask you something, you get upset at me for no reason. This goes on for days, and it's difficult to make you aware that you are behaving this way," he explained. "It's not that I like being this way. I become more conscious of it when it's too late, like today, and I have to work on breaking this pattern. I have to recognize these symptoms earlier, and you just made me aware of my pattern."
We are so used to behaving in a certain manner that it becomes our default behaviour in a particular situation.
These default behaviours are ingrained in our brain as neural pathways and are difficult to change unless one becomes consciously aware of them or someone makes us aware of them. However, the choices one makes after becoming aware are more important.
The first step to change is noticing how our senses work. My pattern consisted of the following:
- Taking on too much and then becoming overwhelmed. Here I noticed that I'd create visual images of mountains of paperwork and housework (sensory pattern - visual -V).
- Feeling irritable and angry. Here I'd start to doubt that I could get the work done and then the fear of failure seeped in. I didn't like feeling negative, so I'd take it out on my family (sensory pattern - kinesthetic -K).
- Exhaustion and negative self-talk. I'd keep going and ignore the gremlin, but in the end, I'd get exhausted, cry, and wish things were different (sensory pattern - kinesthetic/auditory - A).
The sequence of the pattern is visual (V), kinesthetic (K), and auditory (A).
I consciously started to change this default pattern of taking on too much. Now when I get an idea or a new task comes on my plate, I choose to do the following:
- Ask myself, "Can I take it on? What else do I have on my calendar?"
- I visualize my calendar to see what other projects I have and to check if I have the time. If I know I don't have the time to take it on and/or if I know it is not a good fit for me, I pass (sensory pattern - auditory/visual).
- While I'm working through the first step, I'm also checking my feelings and listening to my intuition (kinesthetic).
The sequence of the pattern is now auditory (A), visual (V), and kinesthetic (K).
As I started to consciously practice this pattern, I realized how much more freedom I had. In fact, in one year, I delegated more tasks to a team member; I hired a coach to help me figure out my area of expertise so I could focus on one message and get really good at it; and I hired a virtual assistant to manage my queries and create awesome material. I now take time to meditate at 4:45 a.m., and create content between 5 and 7 a.m. Oh yes, and I also pamper myself with a massage and manicure once a month!
Have you gone through something similar? How did you manage? Please share your strategy or story.