Extinguish Burnout in Healthcare

Burnout leads to many negative outcomes in healthcare.  From healthcare providers leaving healthcare to negative patient outcomes, the effects of burnout in healthcare impacts all of us.  It is important to realize that the cause of burnout is not working too hard.  Many of us have worked incredibly hard and long hours and felt energized from the work we are doing.  Burnout occurs when your perceived results, what you believe you have done, does not meet your expectations for yourself.  Let me use myself as an example. As a nurse, I want to provide exceptional care to each of my patients, I expect to be able to prevent additional pain, support the physical and emotional needs of my patients and their families, and do all of this with a positive attitude.  Most days I can do this and do it well.  In crisis times, there are too many patients, they are too sick, and many of them have poor outcomes.  It feels that no matter how hard you try you cannot provide the level of care you expect of yourself.  To further complicate this, we try to work all the extra time we can because we know there are not enough nurses available to take care of the patients.  I also feel very guilty because I am not home with my family to support them, and when I am home I am exhausted.  I feel like there is not enough hours in the day to do the things I have to do, not to mention the many things I want to be able to do. This space is prime for burnout. 

The current crisis in healthcare due to COVID-19.  Is the perfect storm for burnout in healthcare and beyond.  There is too much to do, the system is stretched so that the support that is normally found is reduced.  Nurses frequently have to stand in the place of family for patients when visitors are not permitted.  While this is a fertile environment to breed burnout there are things we can all do to protect ourselves and our colleagues.

I would like to introduce you to the bathtub model.

The bathtub model really is a visual way to look at how we maintain our personal agency.  Our personal agency, or capacity to get things done is the bathtub in the model.  Burnout occurs when our bathtub is empty.  The great thing is that there are definite things that fill or drain our bathtub and each of these actions have valves that we control.  Results, Support, and Self-care fill our bathtub and help us to be resilient.  Demands drain our bathtub, leaving us susceptible to burnout.  Looking at our results realistically, accepting support willingly, and finding ways to practice self-care sound really easy.  While not always easy these things fill our personal agency bathtub and can keep up out of the pain of burnout.  Reality is key to looking at our results, we need to compare our results to what is expected or observed by trusted people, Facebook is not the place to compare our results to other’s highlight real.  We frequently view our results as less important than they really are.  The extra five minutes you spent with a patient to help them not feel alone or frightened may change their entire experience.  This is a very positive result that we frequently discount.  Accepting support, whether from other nurses who are willing to watch your patients so you can eat or even go to the bathroom, or the significant other who is willing to take over some of your chores may be hard to accept.  Acknowledging that accepting support does not mean you are unable to do something it means there are others who are willing to share your load is necessary to prevent burnout.  For me self-care can feel very indulgent.  Taking time to care for myself seems like a waste of time.  If we do not take time to recharge, whether through exercise, fun activities, or simply relaxation we become unable to care for others.  It is important to use positive results, support, and self-care to add to our personal agency.  However it is just as important to manage our demands to prevent our personal agency from being drained.  It is okay to say no or not now.  You do not have to do everything everyone asks or even expects of you.  Managing your demands and being willing to discuss options that you have the capacity are key to maintaining personal agency. 

Being a nurse is one of the most life giving and exhausting things I do.  If I am not able to conserve my personal agency I am not able to be the nurse or human I strive to be.  Take the time to do the things you need to do to have the capacity to meet your demands without falling into the pit of burnout.

Regrets Lead to Burnout

It was late spring in Boston when I stepped out of the conference center for a walk.  It was day three of a conference that was cramming information in my brain, and I needed a chance to get some fresh air.  I walked down a block, lost in my own thoughts as I looked across the river to Cambridge and MIT, when I was stopped by a young woman in her late teens or early twenties holding a clipboard and asking if I’d take a survey.  Lost in thought, I expected that she was a college student trying to complete a project for a class, so I agreed, and she walked me half a block back the way I had come to The Church of Scientology building.  I took their standardized test by filling in bubbles on an answer sheet.  Then I waited in a small room where someone came to read the results.

One of the first questions was whether I had any regrets.  In a moment of unusual clarity, I answered no – and then went on to explain, “I like who I am, and I need every experience to be the person I am today.  I can’t have regrets if I like who I am.”  It would be years before I realized the power of these simple remarks and how they helped me to become more resistant to burnout.

The Power of Regret

Regret is a powerful emotion that robs our accomplishments of their worth.  Our ability to get things done – and therefore our immunity to burnout – relies on the simple premise that the work we’re doing is good.  When we regret, we take the awareness of our potential and question whether we’re doing the right things even if we’re able to do them.

Burnout is defined by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, but it’s inefficacy that’s at the core.  If we feel ineffective, we’ll become exhausted and cynical.  When we feel regret, we may feel as if we’re somewhat effective, but we question whether the effects we’re having are right or enough.


There’s a degree of acceptance that we need to grant ourselves but don’t always.  This is particularly true of the actions we don’t take that we feel as if we should have.  It seems we’re more attuned to regret the things we didn’t do than the things we did.  As a result, we often find ourselves wondering if we’re doing enough – or, more dramatically, if we are enough.  “Enough for what?” is the question, but it’s the one that rarely gets asked.

Through acceptance of who we are, we can accept that we’re enough for where we are – even if we’re not exactly where we’d like to be at this moment.

A Little Bit of Wrong

Somewhere along the way, many of us have failed to learn an important lesson – that failure is okay as long as it’s not fatal.  We’ve failed to learn that we can – and will – get things wrong if we’re willing to try.  The more we try, the more we’ll be wrong – but more importantly the more we’ll be right.

If we allow our regrets to paralyze us and prevent us from doing the things we know are right and we can do, then we’ll eventually fall into the pit of burnout through our quite realistic lack of efficacy.  Learning to accept ourselves for who we are – both the good and the bad – may be one of the best ways to neutralize regret and protect ourselves from burnout.

Frozen in Fear on the Path to Burnout

It’s only a split second, but it feels like an eternity.  The eyes are glowing in the light, but everything is motionless.  For a moment, your brain stops as it tries to process what’s happening before eventually realizing that the deer is frozen in the headlights like they’re in some sort of magical freeze ray.  You slow down, honk the horn, and the spell is broken.  The deer continues on its way, and you start to realize your heart is trying to beat its way out of your chest.

We’ve all been that deer.  We’ve been on the other side of those magical headlights and been frozen by our fear of what might happen.  In our fear, we’ve failed to do the one thing that can keep us safe – to keep moving.

Burnout and Efficacy

Burnout is most frequently defined as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  We know that we can be exhausted as a part of our greatest times in life as well as our lowest.  Cynicism is a response to our belief that we’re not able to affect change – so the best we can do is complain about it.  Inefficacy is, however, different.  Inefficacy is a sense of learned helplessness or a lack of hope that we can change our circumstances.

In our moments of fear, we may feel as if hundreds of ideas are running through our head vying for our attention, or we may find ourselves completely blank without a single coherent thought.  Either way, we’re stuck, just like the deer in headlights.

Getting Unstuck

In most of our moments in life, there’s no magical car horn that can sound to break us out of our trance of fear – perhaps because in doing so it might make us more fearful.  Instead, we must rely on our awareness of the situation, the problems, and the solutions we already have to help us move forward.  That relies on our assessment of the stressor and of our resources.


In our lives, there will always be things that are stressors to us – things we fear because of their potential impact to our lives.  We may believe there’s a poisonous snake or a lion that is about to bite us, and that our best answer is to stay still and hope they don’t see us.  However, most of the things we are afraid of today are less about life and death and more about loss.  Whether it’s the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, or the loss of our home, we perceive the possibility for loss and are afraid of how we’ll cope.

There are two aspects to assessing the stressor.  The first is the impact, and here our greatest challenge is recognizing the real, long-term impact.  Too often, we overestimate the impact or extend the impact forward in time forever and thus expect that it will permanently change our world for the negative when the truth is rarely that way.

The second is evaluating the probability that the imagined impact will become real.  Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”  We quite often overestimate the likelihood that something will happen once we’ve identified it.


Our resources to cope with a negative impact caused by a stressor are both our own internal capacity as well as the capacity of those around us who care for us.  When evaluating the fear that is preventing us from moving forward, we sometimes skip over the resources we have in ourselves and in our friends, colleagues, and allies.  If we give these collective resources their due consideration, we often find that the stressor, though troubling, isn’t something to be afraid of.

Moving Forward

If you want to get unstuck, move forward with your fear, and, ultimately, stave off burnout, it may be as straightforward as reevaluating the stressor that’s triggering the fear and your assessment of your capacity to address it, even if it were to become real.

Time to Leave Burnout

You just can’t seem to make it work.  It feels like there is always something wrong, and there will never be a way for you to be effective.  Maybe it is a nagging feeling that you’re just not meant to be doing this even if you’re moderately successful.   That’s when it may be time to leave – leave your job or leave the industry.  At some point, you’ve got to stop pushing the square peg through the round hole.  Deep down, you know it, even if you don’t like the answer.

Escaping Burnout

Burnout is defined with exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  At some point, you have landed in a place of exhaustion and not even realized you were there.  You no longer felt like you had the energy to fight, but you weren’t even sure what you were fighting for.  Feeling ineffective is at the heart of burnout, and you feel like you’re always ineffective.  For you, it always feels like failure or not enough.  This leads to a pervasive cynicism that the job or even the industry will never get better.

When you’re out of options, when you’re feeling like it can never get better, you’ve lost hope, and it’s time to find it or get out.


Holding back all the evils of the world, hope can be powerful yet beleaguered.  Hope allows us to continue with the belief that it will get better someday.  But what about the case where hope is gone, or, equally challenging, when hope drives you to continue to fight a fight that you were never supposed to be in?

When you can no longer find hope where you have been looking, it is time to look somewhere else.  Another job or another industry, someplace where hope may have taken residence.  That may mean leaving what you know for something unknown, but when you’ve already searched everywhere, it’s time.

There are also times when hope drives you to fight the same fight day after day, but it’s not the right fight for you.  You can do it.  You can continue to slog your way through, but it’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.  It’s not that anyone is directly saying it, but it’s just something you know.  You’d be better someplace else or doing something else.

The Last Resort

When people are feeling burnout, the desire to change jobs or industries is often the first thing that people feel.  It’s an escape.  However, it’s not always the best answer.  Too often, burnout follows them on a six-month delay.  Knowing when it is the right time to change requires separating the challenges of the day to day from the deeply-held thoughts and feelings that there has got to be something easier, better, and more suited for you.

While there’s no one answer as to when you should consider a change of roles, companies, or industries, the sign posts that lead the way out of burnout point towards something unresolvable in the current situation no matter how much support you receive, self-care you do, or even how well you manage the demands.  You simply won’t be able to feel like the results you are getting are right or enough.  When you see those signs, then maybe it is time for a change, so you can leave burnout behind.

Burned Out or Overwhelmed

I sat back down at my desk and stared at the screen.  I had plenty to do – too much in fact.  I was painfully aware that I couldn’t get everything done in the timeframes that I wanted to get them done in.  That should be good motivation to get busy and get done what I could.  However, that wasn’t the case this day.  What I realized was that I had become overwhelmed with the work that needed to be done, and I was dangerously close to pushing myself into burnout if I wasn’t careful. 


We’ve all experienced those times when our commitments – both internal and external – have outstripped out resources.  We’re juggling, and we’re in that fleeting moment when we know we’re going to drop some balls, it just hasn’t happened yet.  It happens to everyone, but we’ve not let go yet.

One of the natural outcomes of being overwhelmed is to stop.  Like a deer in headlights, we don’t do anything.  We can’t move from where we are.  It’s breaking free of doing nothing that can be the hardest part and the most essential to escaping both being overwhelmed and the potential burnout it can spawn.

Deciding What to Drop

The first step is figuring out what to let go of.  Here are four strategies to release the pressure and stop being overwhelmed:

  • Do Less – Buy a greeting card for a friend rather than making a custom one.
  • Do It Later – Move back the deadline that you’ve got to get something accomplished.  The project that you wanted to get done this month can wait until next.
  • Delegate – Get someone else to help get it done.  Maybe they won’t do as good a job at it, but you just can’t get it done now.
  • Drop It – Decide that you can’t do it now or in the foreseeable future.  Even if it’s something you want to do, realize that you just can’t.

It’s not easy to decide what to let go of – but until you do that you may be stuck staring at your screen asking what is next.

The Next Best Thing

With the relief that you’ve released one of the things on your plate, you’re often not out of the woods yet.  Instead, you’ve got a brief reprieve so that you can move forward on the next best thing.  With a bit of breathing room, you can decide what thing you need to work on next.  What thing can you accomplish and get off your plate so you don’t have to worry about it any longer?  If you’re committed to doing it, it doesn’t matter if it’s the biggest, hardest, or even the most important thing that you must do.  It just needs to be accomplishable.

Once you’ve got that thing accomplished, you can move to the next best thing to accomplish.  You can move on to something else that you can get done, so you can feel like you’re effective and accomplishing things.


Feelings of inefficacy are at the core of burnout.  The generally accepted criteria are exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, but the feeling of inefficacy drives burnout.  We’re only cynical about those things we are ineffective at changing, and we’ve all been elated and exhausted at the same time.  That’s why it’s critical to approach being overwhelmed head-on.  We’ve got to remove the pressure that’s preventing us from doing anything, and then work on those things that help us know we are effective, so burnout doesn’t set in as a result of a temporary state of being overwhelmed.  It’s just being overwhelmed until we let it stop us from being effective and drag us into burnout.

Burnout and the Disrupted Routine

My palms were sweating.  My knuckles were white.  I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.  I don’t remember ever being more focused in my life.  As I gently eased the aircraft down onto the runway like I had done a hundred times, I was glad to hear the tires squeak and feel my body sink into the seat before turning off the runway and returning to my instructor.  I had taken off and landed with him in the right seat dozens if not hundreds of times.  The only thing different was that my instructor wasn’t sitting by my side this time: he was watching (probably nervously) from the airport as I circled around and landed.  I’ve come to think of landings as a critical phase of flight but nothing like the stress I felt that day.


What we know about our human condition is that we learn new skills by concentrating on them.  When things are novel, we engage resources and focus our attention on them, but this comes with a cost.  It consumes a relatively large amount of energy.  Our brains already consume 20-30% of our glucose (energy) but represent only 2-3% of our body mass.  We can’t keep our brains actively thinking.  Instead, we convert normal things into patterns and systems that can be run with very little concentration.

Your first time driving a car commanded your entire attention.  Now, whether or not the laws in your state support it or not, you’ll talk on the phone, listen to music, eat, put on makeup, shave, or do a hundred other things that divert your attention from the task of driving.  Driving has become routine, and it doesn’t demand any attention.

Once something is habituated, we can expect performance without concentration.

Concentration Disruption

In fact, once something has been habituated, any attempt to access it consciously decreases performance.  Instead of our concentration adding value, it slows down the normal processing and can make things not work.  Top-performing individuals like athletes talk about being in flow and the negative -outcomes when they can’t get into flow.

Whether we’re doing something habituated or learning something for the first time and concentrating, the performance won’t be what you’d expect from someone who does it all the time.  This performance difference can convert a simple disruption in routine into a critical burnout problem.

Performance Expectations

If you expect that you’ll perform at the level of someone who has a great deal of experience, and then you don’t, you’ll be disappointed.  You’ll naturally wonder if you’re effective at the task or if you should stop doing it.  If you’re focusing your concentration on something and it gets worse, you may wonder what’s wrong with you.  Isn’t performance supposed to go up with attention?

Rather than performance expectations going up, they should go down.  Ask any professional athlete who chose to rebuild a skill to improve their performance if they didn’t have a performance dip.  Everyone who can be honest will tell you that they did.  It’s a natural part of the process.

Burnout Inefficacy

Burnout is ultimately about our perception of our efficacy or inefficacy.  When we feel like we’re not able to meet the performance expectations we have, we feel ineffective, and burnout isn’t far behind.  If we want to head burnout off at the pass, we need to realize that if our routines are disrupted, we’re going to have a performance dip.  That performance dip doesn’t mean we’re not effective.  It means that the natural result of the transition is happening.  We just must wait to get past it – and past the critical cause of burnout.

Burnout is a Result of Lack of Skills, Not a Lack of Character

Admitting that you are burned out still has a social stigma attached to it.  While it’s more socially acceptable than admitting that you are depressed, there’s still the mistaken belief that burnout is a result of a lack of character instead of the truth that it’s a lack of skills.

In today’s world, few people know how to sew their own clothes.  A hundred years ago, it was shameful to say that you didn’t know basic sewing techniques.  Today, we don’t shame people for not knowing how to sew, we teach them how to sew when necessary – mostly through YouTube videos.  People with burnout today are sometimes shamed or shunned by society for their lack of character.  How long will it take before we understand that burnout is a lack of skills just like any other lack of skill, and those skills can be taught?

Burnout has been characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  Feelings of inefficacy are the driver in this definition of burnout, because cynicism is the result of a lack of feeling like you can have an impact, and exhaustion is simply the result of working hard – whether you’re effective or not.  Burnout is, then, as simple as becoming effective.  Like many things in life, some skills development can send you soaring to new heights.

The Skills

What skills, then, are missing?  What things does someone in burnout need to be able to evacuate themselves from the neighborhood of burnout?  Here are a few of the keys:

  1. Self-Talk – If you want to avoid burnout – or recover from it – you must treat yourself as a valuable human being.  Most people berate themselves and haven’t learned the skills associated with accepting themselves for who they are, faults and all.
  2. Accepting Self-Efficacy – It’s a skill to listen to someone compliment you on something you did and simply say “Thank you.”  No arguments about it was nothing.  Not dismissal that they don’t know what they’re talking about or that they don’t understand.  Simply, accepting that you do get things accomplished, at least sometimes.
  3. Self-Care – Put your own mask on before helping others.  We’ve all heard it, but rarely do we do it.  Rarely do we think that we’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves instead of taking care of our commitments to others.  Learning appropriate self-care is not self-indulgence: it’s a skill.
  4. Saying No – Our two-year-old selves mastered a skill that we’ve forgotten.  We knew how to say no, then as we grew and became more socialized, we forgot how to say no.  In our quest to be liked and respected, we felt like no was no longer an option.  However, no is not only an option, it may be the only option if you can’t find the personal agency necessary to meet your own needs.
  5. Asking for Help – The ideal of the rugged cowboy charging across the American plains to conquer the new frontier is a myth.  Groups of families crossed the plains in wagon trains so that they could “circle the wagons” to protect and support each other.  It’s a skill to be able to ask for the help you need from people who are safe and willing to support you.
  6. Letting Go – Buddha said that our suffering comes from our attachment to things.  Whether you subscribe to this philosophy or not, we have all held too tightly onto things that we needed to let go of.  Learning when it’s the right time to let go is a skill.
  7. Accepting Change – Our lives are filled with change.  None of us live inside a change-proof bubble.  Learning the skill of accepting change frees us from the fear that change sometimes brings.

The Journey

There are many more skills that are helpful, but not required, to avoid or recover from burnout.  It’s not that someone instantly learns the skills they need to become invulnerable to burnout.  It’s a journey in life that builds skills to make burnout less likely.  You’re not bad or broken because you’ve got burnout.  You’re just waiting to develop the skills you need.

What to Do When Your Personal Agency Is Empty

Burnout is what happens when you feel like you can no longer get anything done.  What do you do when you feel like your personal agency is gone – that you’re no longer effective?  The answer is to find ways to help you feel more effective.

The Bathtub

Think about your capacity to get things done as a bathtub filled with your personal agency.  If your bathtub is empty and you want to fill it, you can’t just turn on the spigot and try to fill the bathtub.  You first need to plug the drain.  Our personal agency bathtub is drained by the demands we accept.  We like to think that demands are external to us, but most of the time the demands placed on us are our own.

With a plug in the drain of the bathtub we can focus on filling it – through accepting our results, asking for help, and doing self-care.

The Demands

We all have demands placed upon us.  In most cases, the demands placed on us are smaller than the demands that we place on ourselves.  You may be asked to bring food in for a pitch in.  If you accept this demand (and you don’t necessarily have to), then you should bring in food.  However, the natural elevation of the demand is that the food must be home cooked.  Home-baked cookies might be great, but store-bought cookies work.  You’ve silently elevated the demand and made it bigger.

How can you plug the drain by not accepting any demands that you don’t need to – and not making the demands bigger than they already are?

Relishing Your Results

A pat on the back is nice.  Recognition for a job well done is appreciated, but, too often, we let the impact of those results end when the reverberation of the words leaves the room.  Everyone gets some kinds of positive results – just not all the time.  How do you relish the results that you get – and hold on to them so that you can realize you are getting things done?

More than that, how do you leverage your reputation to get to the next level?

Soliciting Support

If you want to fill your bathtub quicker, ask for help.  Ask for people to bring in buckets and start pouring some of their personal agency into your bathtub.  Maybe it’s getting a barrier out of your way.  Maybe it’s the leg up you need to overcome the next hurdle.  Whatever it is, you’re unlikely to get support from others if you don’t solicit it.


If you’re feeling that you’ve got nothing left to give anyone, it may seem like self-care is out of the question.  After all, you’ve got nothing left to give – even to yourself.  However, self-care has a magical property of increasing not only the personal agency in your bathtub but the bathtub’s size as well.  Self-care doesn’t have to be an extravagant vacation or an expensive dinner.  Self-care can simply be a few minutes of relaxation and breathing.  It can be a brief meditation – if you’re not worried about doing it wrong.  (It can’t be done wrong.)


If you can adjust all of these valves, your bathtub will be overflowing.  You can make yourself available to other demands, so that you can help others fill their empty personal agency tub and escape burnout.

Circling the Burnout Drain

In science and children’s museums across the world, there are coin donation spirals that cause coins to roll around a circle before dropping into the waiting pit below.  After being launched from a ramp, forces pull the coin ever closer to the center and into their eventual drop through the hole.  Our lives can feel like this.  We’re going along fine, pulled by an unseen force towards the burnout black hole at the center of our world.  We find that we’re spinning round and round, getting nowhere, and ultimately feeling exhausted before we drop.

Forces at Play

The forces that drive the coin drop are gravity, the momentum of the coin, and the centrifugal force that pulls the coin away from the center as it rolls faster and faster.  In our lives, the tendency towards feelings of inefficacy can pull us down an ever steeper and more treacherous slope.  The closer we get to burnout, the more ineffective we are, and the more ineffective we feel.

Inefficacy is at the heart of burnout.  It’s our feeling that we can’t get anything done.  As we spend more and more of our energy on trying to avoid the pull, the less effective we feel – and the closer to burnout we get.

Sucked In

With blackholes, it’s called an event horizon.  It’s the point beyond which there’s no chance of escape.  The amount of velocity required would exceed the speed of light, and – according to Einstein – nothing can do that.  As a result, it’s the point at which any object would be inescapably caught.  The good news is that burnout doesn’t have an event horizon – no matter how burned out someone might feel.  Well before the event horizon of a blackhole, you’ll feel the pull.  You’ll start getting sucked in.  However, just feeling like you’re getting pulled in doesn’t mean you can’t escape.

For pre-event horizon objects, the escape path isn’t to fight the entire force of the black hole by aiming away and pushing as hard as possible.  The escape path is to increase the velocity of your orbit around the blackhole.  In burnout, the trick isn’t to fight it directly; instead, we should find ways to be effective in the presence of the pull.


The quickest boost anyone can get when they feel ineffective is to call in reinforcements and ask for support.  When others help us, we can feel more effective, and it doesn’t take any more work on our part.  While many may resist asking for help, getting help can make the seemingly impossible just a bit less difficult, and the rewards for being effective are all the sweeter.

Being supported doesn’t mean that we didn’t accomplish something in the same way an athlete wins the medal themselves even if they were coached for years.  Getting support just means that we’re getting that little push we need to avoid getting stuck into the downward spiral.

Sometimes it’s not support we need.  It’s simpler.  Sometimes all we need to do is recognize our velocity and spend less time worried about burnout and instead focus on what we can do to move forward in our lives.  This added focus can make us more effective.  Eventually, this additional productivity and velocity can help us escape from burnout’s grip.

Don’t spend your life circling around burnout’s drain; start finding ways to ask for support and focus your energies on moving forward, so that you can escape the drain and move on with your life.

On the Burnout Treadmill

The alarm rings, and you want to tap snooze again.  Instead, you turn it off and stumble towards the bathroom.  It is another weekday, and the same routine repeats itself.  It doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere.  It’s like you’re walking up the down escalator or like you’re stuck on the treadmill of life.  It’s exhausting, and it feels like you’re becoming burned out.  Short of pulling the fire handle when you get to work, what can you do?

Gradual Changes

In your own children, it’s hard to see growth.  The changes happen slowly over the course of years.  While, at some level, you’re aware that they’re growing, on another level, it doesn’t seem like they’re changing at all.  The change is happening but very gradually.  We’re all bad at seeing slow changes.  Children and trees never seem to grow.  Our memories silently and subtly adjust our previous perceptions until the way they are today is the way they always were.

If, however, you go to visit a friend in another city and their children, the change isn’t so subtle.  Their children may have grown inches or feet since you saw them last, and the change is striking.  Visit an old home, and the sapling you planted may have grown to have a tire swing hanging from it.

One of the challenges that keeps us trapped on the treadmill is failing to recognize the small changes that are real – but imperceptible until you focus your interest on them.

Nothing Ever Happens

On the treadmill of life, it feels like things don’t change.  It’s like Groundhog’s Day every day with the same breakfast, drive, and endless string of tasks to be done.  It’s too easy to discount the changes that are happening because they don’t seem permanent.  Sure, you got to go to do something different or special, but it’s special, so that means it won’t happen again.

If you want surprise, look at the number of things you have done that aren’t the same – that are unique and different – go through the photos on your phone.  Look at the places, parties, and people.  Our brains find it hard to reconnect memories of the exceptions when we’re caught in the day-to-day.  We forget all the experiences we’re getting that prove we’re not doing the same thing all the time.

Stopping the Treadmill

Stopping the treadmill of life so that you feel like you’re accomplishing something isn’t as easy as pressing a stop button, but it can be as easy as looking back through the experiences you’ve had to see what you’ve been able to do and how those experiences have changed you.  If you want to avoid burnout, you must feel effective, and to do that you don’t have to look any further than the pictures on your phone.