I'm sitting at the playground watching my children play when it occurs to me. Why do I HAVE to do anything about it? Where is the pressure coming from?
Before I reveal the lesson I learned in those moments, let me rewind. I have a problem, and I'm not talking of the 'first-world' category. It is a real-world, big-picture, how-on-earth-am-I-going-to-get-out-of-this problem. It's not a new problem. In fact, I've had it for so long it almost forms a part of my identity. It is the story I tell when I face any obstacle. It feeds into every planning process and family discussion that I am a part of. And it feels like I am still up against a solid wall of miles-thick concrete. Yes, I can look back and see all of the changes that I have made, and the personal growth that has occurred, but the same damn problem persists.
I am sitting here on this bench watching my beautifully naive children play without a care in the world, racking my brains to come up with yet another 'solution'. Now, a part of me that I love and will continue to develop, is my perseverance. I don't give up. Of course, like all of us, I have moments of despair when I question what the point of carrying on is. But so far, once the grey has cleared, I have stood right back up and motivation has gone back into full swing. The thing is, there is a negative side to any strength. By that, I mean it is crucial to know when to stop using a particular strength in order to stay happy and at peace. With me, that negative side manifests when I don't recognize that I am close to burnout. After exhausting my options, and sitting in front of a blank laptop screen (as if my goal alone is enough to magically make words appear with the final solution) I - Keep - Going. And obviously all this is going to do is exhaust me, demotivate me, and lead to more disappointment.
Here are some ways you can avoid burnout and make steady progress towards your goals:
1) Make sure that the goal you are working on has some value in it for you. One of the most important characteristics of a goal that will keep motivation up is that it is heartfelt. If it is not important to you, if you are slogging ahead with zero heart-vested interest in achieving the goal, you are destined to either give up or create something that does not lift your heart.
2) Create easy, specific goals. It is great to have a dream or a vision that you know you want with all of your heart, but it is not enough. With my life coaching clients, we create really specific plans or take it one small step at a time, in order to ensure that they make steady progress. Start by thinking about the easiest thing that you can do this week in order to take you one step further towards that vision.
3) Know when to pause. Even if your goal is heartfelt, and you have a solid, specific plan, you are human and you need to take breaks. Learn to recognize when your mind and/or body are getting tired and follow their signal. Do something completely unrelated to your goal, thereby giving yourself the space you need to come up with more creative ideas and a motivation push.
4) Create life balance. Your goal may only be in one specific area of life, or even two or three - but we have way more than three life domains, for example, family, work, exercise, spirituality, financial, relationships, and emotions etc. Take a step back and make sure that all areas of your life are elevated to a degree that keeps you happy. Everybody's ideal level of life balance is different and unique so make sure that you do this with honesty and authenticity.
5) Do happy things. Make sure that you do at least one thing a day that brings you joy. Take a moment to think about the things that bring you pleasure in life, whether it is enjoying a hot coffee, going for a mindful walk, or partying with friends. This aspect is totally within your control. On those mornings when you just can't face the day, you need to do this even more so. Put on a good song, breathe, and smile.
So, the conclusion I came to when sitting on that playground bench was that there is no point banging my head against the same metaphorical wall and ignoring all the goodness in other areas of my life. I am learning to relax into my good stuff - family, friends, music, spirituality, being myself - and allow space for my mind to be happy enough to be creative and in control.
What will you change today in order to avoid burnout?
Sarah Babiker is a certified positive psychology coach, and co-founder of Soul Space. To find out more about her in-person and online life coaching services, click here, or send her an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to know more about the range of services available at Soul Space - life coaching, yoga, reiki, and events for all ages, you can find us here.