Influencing Your Response to Control and Minimizing Burnout

While burnout is classically defined as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, it’s inefficacy that drives burnout.  When you don’t have control, you can’t feel effective.  So, when you don’t have control, how do you stay out of burnout?

Control as an Absolute

We tend to see things in black and white.  It’s either on or it’s off.  We have control, or we have no control.  However, the truth is that the control we have is always just a degree of influence.  When we have a large degree of influence, we feel as if we’re in control of the situation.  However, there are always forces outside your sphere of influence that may get in the way.

We say that we’re in control of our car while driving.  However, the truth is that patches of ice, snow, or other vehicles may impact our ability to “control” our car.  Most people who’ve driven a boat or plane inherently have a sense for the degree to which they influence the craft – rather than the degree to which they control it.

The first thing we must do when we’re fighting burnout with a lack of control is to recognize that there is no thing called “control.”

Measuring Influence

Once we’ve let go of the illusion of control, we can begin to look at our degree of influence.  We may have a large degree of influence as in the normal case of driving a car and a lesser degree when piloting an airplane or boat.  So, when determining whether we’re effective, we need to assess how much influence we do have – and how much we expect to have.

No one would have expected that Mahatma Gandhi would have led a peaceful revolution.  He had nothing sufficient to draw upon to reach the outcomes that he wanted – however, through his persistence, he accomplished the labor reforms that he sought for the Indian people.  A self-described shy and quiet man accomplished a revolution.  How much influence did he have?  A great deal.  How much should he have had?  Not as much.

When Rosa Parks made the decision in exhaustion to not give up her seat on the bus, she became the flashpoint for a civil rights movement.  Her relationships helped connect her cause with a young, capable orator-preacher by the name of Dr. King, who would use Parks’ citation as a tool to free black Americans from what might be called second slavery.  Did Parks or King singularly have much influence before this event?  Some to be sure, but they were able to create huge influence – but only through perseverance.  Most people have forgotten that the Montgomery Bus boycott lasted 381 days.

What You Can Control

That may seem all well and good for a few isolated historical cases, but what about you and your control of your own burnout?  The answer is in the question.  If you want to prevent burnout while you’re in a situation you have no control over, find the things that you do have control over – and control them.  Influence your thoughts and behaviors in ways that are life-giving to you, and create the opportunities to stand at the moments when history can be made.

You may be thinking that you’re just a nobody.  Someone who can’t make big things happen.  However, everyone above were ordinary people.  They just wanted to go to work and take care of families – until they were moved by a passion.  They harnessed this passion to control what they did, and in doing so created more change and demonstrated more efficacy than anyone could have ever imagined.

Burnout Support in an Age of Diseases

As a society, we’ve become less socially connected than we used to be.  We have Facebook friends, but rarely can we spend face-to-face time with our real friends.  We text, snap, and tweet to each other but fail to tell our innermost fears and secrets – and we fail to touch one another.  Touching one another means more than physical contact. We’ve had to realize that even touching surfaces someone who is infected has touched can infect us.  However, we can “touch” someone without literally coming in contact with them.

The Need for Connection

Humans are created with an inherent need to connect with other humans.  We were designed this way.  We’ve survived this way.  We’ve thrived this way.  Our digital world makes it easier than ever to communicate with others, but somewhere along the line, we’ve confused communication with connection.

Connection is about knowing someone else.  It’s about celebrating them in their triumphs and supporting them in their losses.  We believe that we have thousands of Facebook friends, but far too few know the stories about being bullied as a child or even something as simple as your favorite color or movie.  Knowing other people has become a lost art.

Physical Touch

One of the proxies we use for knowing someone is knowing where they are by sight or touch.  Touch is a powerful tool that helps us feel connection with another person.  We literally share the same heat, and in doing so, we generate warmth between us.  While physical touch alone is not the same as a deep connection, it’s what we often use when we can’t find a connection.

Feeling connected helps us to feel supported – or like we can be supported if we have a need.

Burnout and Support

Burnout may be identified by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, but it’s created by a lack of personal agency.  Our personal agency is increased by the results we get (and accept), the support we receive from others, and the self-care we do.  Our tangible results may be hard to change (though we can shift our perceptions of those results).  How we perceive support, however, is much more malleable.

To get to support – someone being willing to do something for you – you must have some degree of connection.  You must have a belief that you know something about the other person – even if all you know is other people saying they’re a good person.  The tricky part comes when we expect that the only connection comes through physical touch – even in something as simple as a handshake or a hug.

Support without Touch

Whether you’re able to touch others on a regular basis through the kinds of social contacts that are culturally appropriate or not, you can form connections and receive support in other ways.  You may have seen people doing elbow bumps to make a safer physical connection.  But more powerfully, you can seek to understand the other person without any sort of touch.

Here are five questions you can ask if you want to develop a better understanding for others, so that you may support them or feel comfortable asking them for support:

  1. What’s your dream vacation?
  2. If you had all the money that you could ever want, what would you do?
  3. If you could leave one mark with your life, what would it be?
  4. What’s your greatest fear?
  5. Who is your favorite hero?

Listening to these questions – and the follow up questions that you ask for clarification – can illuminate who the other person longs to be and will help you understand how your request for support may actually help them fulfil their deepest desires.