Shaken Self-Trust at the Start of Burnout

The degree to which we trust ourselves is an important part of our capacity to resist burnout.  When combined with our general outlook about whether the universe is a fundamentally helpful or destructive force, we have an equation that drives our ability to resist burnout. 


Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  It’s the loss of hope that our situation will get better.  It’s the belief that nothing can be done, so we descend into cynicism about the situation. 

Our hope is built on the premise that either something outside of us will make things better or we will.  There’s little that we can do to change our fundamental outlook about the universe, but it’s possible to change our belief in ourselves. 

Fundamental Outlook 

We’ve heard about optimists and pessimists and the philosophical question of the half full or half empty glass.  Similarly, some of us are wired – through our genetics and our experiences – to believe that the world is a fundamentally helpful place.  We believe that things will get better by the sheer fact that the universe will deliver us a solution at some point. 

Conversely, some of us are wired to believe that the world is a harmful place bent on our misery and destruction.  For those of us who fit in this category, we not only expect that our situation won’t get better, we expect it will get worse – unless we step in to change the outcome. 


Self-trust is our belief in ourselves.  It’s our belief that we’ll keep our commitments to ourselves, and that we’ve got the personal agency we need to overcome the challenges that are placed in our way.  This trust and determination can carry us through difficult times and even setbacks. 

Self-trust allows people who believe the world is harmful to also believe things can get better.  The good news is that we can improve our self-trust with two simple steps. 

Keeping Our Commitments – To Ourselves 

We’re all guilty of committing to one thing and doing another.  There’s a subset of us that makes New Year’s Resolutions.  Of those who do, the statistics aren’t good about our ability to keep our resolution.  Whether the commitment was to exercise, eat better, or do more philanthropy, sometimes we just don’t meet our commitments.  However, the question is whether that’s the norm or whether that’s a rare exception. 

The more we are conscious about meeting our commitments to ourselves, the more we can believe in our ability to do what we set out to do.  Rather than dwelling on the times we miss our commitments to ourselves, we can focus on the times when we do.  It’s too easy to dismiss the hard work needed to meet a goal.  Once we’ve honored a commitment we made to ourselves, we discount it.  If we want to build self-trust, we should keep a list of these successful commitments.  This way, we can realize that, most of the time when we make a commitment to ourselves, we meet it. 

Personal Power 

The truth is we don’t have control of the outcomes.  We may have a large degree of influence in some situations and less influence in others, but we don’t control the outcomes.  To increase our self-trust, we first realize that we don’t have control – but, with enough influence and time, anything is possible.  Consider that the Grand Canyon was carved by a river.  It didn’t dig it in a day, and it didn’t have ultimate influence, but the Grand Canyon was carved over time nonetheless. 

We can enhance self-trust in our abilities by focusing on what we have gotten accomplished, even when we didn’t accomplish our end goal. 

If you want to stop the slide into burnout, one good approach is to learn how to trust yourself more.  You can do that by keeping your commitments to yourself and focusing on the things that you have accomplished. 

Manage Demands to Maintain Personal Agency

This excerpt is adapted from Extinguish Burnout (SHRM, 2019) by Rob & Terri Bogue. It is the third in a three-part series on the effect of burnout at work.

Our belief that we’re personally able to change our world, that we have control of our results in life, is a deep-seated belief that some might call a delusion. It allows us to proceed through our days without the fear that we’ll be wiped out by an asteroid tomorrow. Belief in our personal agency needs to find a place in the middle between powerless and omnipotent. We need to find an understanding of what we can and cannot do. 

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Calibrate Expectations to Prevent Burnout

This excerpt is adapted from Extinguish Burnout (SHRM, 2019) by Rob & Terri Bogue. It is the second in a three-part series on the effect of burnout at work.

In the light of cynicism and the idea that nothing you can do will make things different, it’s easy to see why the lack of perceived personal effectiveness may be the start of burnout. Before it has reached its full development, where nothing is possible any longer, burnout starts as the feeling of not doing enough. 

Originally published on Read the full article here:

Navigating Burnout by Trusting Your Instruments

Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy course at Reed College, and it changed the world of computers.  Jobs took the knowledge of calligraphy to design the font system for the Apple Macintosh system, and that’s helped to transform computers from green-screen typewriters to the beautiful design systems that we have today.  Sometimes, what you learn randomly can be powerful in your life and the life of others.

Just one of the lessons that every pilot is taught can help you prevent burnout in yourself and others.

Perception of Burnout

Burnout has classically been defined as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  However, your actual efficacy makes little difference to whether you’ll be in burnout or not.  What matters is your perception of your efficacy – not reality.

If your perception is connected to and grounded in reality, then you can accept that your actual efficacy would impact your burnout – or not.  In most cases, you and your people are effective it’s just that you don’t believe you’re productive – or productive enough – and that can lead to a crash.

A Pilot’s Instruments

Even visual pilots are taught like instrument-rated pilots.  A visual pilot can only fly when they can see outside the windows.  Instrument-rated pilots are taught to safely fly in nearly any kind of weather.  However, there’s a recognition that visual flight pilots may find themselves in bad circumstances, so they receive basic training on how to use their instruments when they get in trouble.

The first part of the training – and every part of the training after it – focuses on the need to trust the instruments.  Trust the instruments when your internal perception of what is happening doesn’t match what the instruments are saying.  Your own internal sense of what happening doesn’t have the precision the instruments have.

The common complaint is “What if the instrument fails?”  Though failures are rare, they do happen.  That’s why aircraft have multiple instruments that can communicate the same information.  They are sourced off from two different sets of inputs.  If you have two instruments saying you’re descending or turning, they’re right, whether you like it or not.

Relationship to Efficacy

When it comes to our efficacy, we don’t have the kind of precision that aircraft flight instruments offer, but we can leverage the feedback we receive from others to cross-check how we feel we’re doing with our efficacy.  If we’re getting feedback from our manager that our facilitation skills are great, whether we feel good about them or not, we know that we’re effective.  If our presentations are met with high marks and positive comments, then we know that they’re good – even if we don’t feel it.

Of course, just like instruments in an airplane can fail, so, too, can our feedback fail us.  Some people, including managers, won’t give us the candid feedback we need.  Sometimes, people may feel as if they’re competing with us and will give us negative marks to bring us down.  However, for most people, the feedback we receive will cluster around the right answer.  By cross-checking the feedback from different people, we can figure out what data might be bad – and, like a bad flight instrument, we can learn to ignore it.

Testing Efficacy

If you’re struggling with burnout, the path forward relies on trusting your instruments – the feedback that you’re getting – instead of how you feel.  On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr. left on a flight to Martha’s Vineyard.  According to the official NTSB report, he encountered low clouds.  He stopped trusting his instruments and instead began to rely on his own flawed perception, resulting in a crash.  How do you learn to trust your feedback, so you don’t crash into burnout?