Recovering from burnout is a major achievement that is vital to our mental health. But once we’ve recovered, it is possible to go one step further by attaining purpose in our lives. In the final post in our series, Lindsay Troxell, Senior Director, Knowledge Labs® Professional Development, discusses how she is working to reach that next level and building resilience to help prevent future bouts of burnout.
In my first post in this series, I talked about my own experience with burnout and the techniques I used that helped me heal. The second post focused on how to cope with burnout among your team by facilitating open communication, expressing empathy and encouraging human connections.
The goal of both those pieces was to share strategies for how to recognize, prevent and recover from burnout in order to get back to normal (or at least whatever passes for “normal” in these decidedly abnormal times). With this post – the final installment of the series – I’d like to take things in a somewhat different direction.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that I have recovered from my roughly 10-month battle with burnout. Now that I’m no longer stuck in survival mode where all my energy is consumed by responding to stress, I’m ready to move beyond simply feeling normal again. My new goal is to achieve purpose and to share the path I plan to follow to reach that state.
What Is Purpose?
I view purpose as an authentic set of life goals that guides our behavior, pulls us into the future and gives meaning to the moments in our lives. Purpose is the energy we give to the time we have by embodying our values given our immediate circumstances. It helps us know that what we’re doing every day will eventually get us where we want to go, and it is what we will measure ourselves against at the end of our lives.
Put another way, if burnout sinks our energy into negative territory and recovering from burnout resets it to zero, purpose can help us crank that dial up into the positive zone – with no limit on how high the numbers can climb.
Before I move on, it’s important to remember that burnout can and often does resurface multiple times throughout our lives. So while I said I’ve recovered, I realize that means I’ve only healed myself from this particular bout of burnout. I know I’ll need to continue practicing the techniques that helped me heal, while developing new habits that can take me to the next level (i.e., purposeful energy).
Connect to Your Values
So, about those new habits. In our Energize for Purpose program, we focus on four dimensions of energy: Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. To prevent or recover from burnout, we need to manage each of these aspects in unison. By doing so, we can gain resiliency when the risk of burnout is high, as it has been over the past several months as we’ve been coping with the pandemic and its related uncertainty. Effectively managing all the dimensions of our energy requires taking proactive, preventative measures so that we develop positive habits that eventually become engrained.
When I first realized I was suffering from burnout, I had been drifting along and letting life happen to me and had gotten out of alignment with my values. Finally I had an “aha” moment where I knew I needed to make a change. That’s when I set about my 75-day mission (which would end, by design, on my 40th birthday) to reset my nervous system. And I started by writing down all the habits I’d need to adopt to get me there.
In this next phase of my journey, I’m following essentially the same process and making a list of habits to develop. But this time, the goal is to tie those habits to my values. The question I ask myself every day is, “How are my actions connecting to my values?”
To maintain this connection, some of the things I’ve chosen to do are calendaring the things that are important to me to ensure I make time for them, writing in a journal and performing morning affirmations. But those are just my own habits; they are by no means the “right” or the only way to approach the pursuit of purpose. In fact, one of the most important aspects of this whole process is that it’s extremely personal – everyone’s path will be different.
Small Steps Build Resilience Over Time
My best piece of advice for getting started down this path is to notice if you’re experiencing resistance, confusion, doubt or any other emotion that is keeping you from taking action. Often what I see with my clients is that they are so afraid of not living up to their purpose that they avoid even exploring what it might look like. That’s why it’s so important to no compare your path to my path or anyone else’s.
The other common impediment to pursuing purpose is feeling overwhelmed at what it will take to get there. The key is to start small: What will your purpose for today be? Then move on to this week, then the next two weeks, and slowly work your way up to the state you hope to reach (this is what I call my ultimate mission). Progress is made by building small daily habits: Identify one thing that will give you more physical, emotional, mental or spiritual energy each day.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge that recovering from burnout is in itself a huge accomplishment that requires a lot of energy, focus and self-acceptance. I also want to reiterate that there’s a good chance that you experience multiple bouts of this over the course of your life. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. And hopefully, over time, those habits you work to develop while healing yourself will build resilience and may even help prevent future bouts of burnout from occurring.
And remember, if you’re not ready to work on purpose just yet, that’s hardly a failure, either. Sometimes, just feeling “normal” is good enough.
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