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The burnout paradox

If you or your people are experiencing burnout, taking your foot off the pedal might just get you there faster.

Imagine this. It is the middle of the work day and your mind is like a blank sheet of paper. Your body is aching and everything inside you is screaming to stop; to lie down, to close your eyes. There is not a single drop of creativity, brain-power, or motivation left within you and the thought of the week ahead and your endless list of tasks makes you feel slightly sick. You are burnt out.

When we find ourselves at the precipice of burnout, our instinct is often to double down and keep going, fuelled by a core belief that we must keep pushing on. Maybe we feel that our own self-worth is tied to our productivity, or that we would be letting others down if we stopped. In this society, one way or another, most of us are conditioned to believe that success comes from maintaining a perpetual forward motion. We must. Keep. Going.

Now, imagine you’re on a cross-country journey. You have been driving nonstop for hours. The tank is nearing empty, the engine is sputtering, and you’re feeling fatigued. Every so often, your eyelids drift downwards and it takes all your strength to pull them back up. At this point, what’s the logical thing to do? You wouldn’t push harder on the accelerator, hoping that somehow the car will keep going. You wouldn’t put your own life and others in danger by driving in a state of exhaustion.

You’d pull over, shut off the engine, and give it time to cool down. You would take a break, close your eyes and recharge. In the same way, when we notice burnout rearing its ugly head, we should start to see it as a bright red STOP sign. It’s a signal to step away from the wheel of life, take a break, and recharge.

This practice of pausing is an art that’s often overlooked in our society. We’re praised for our ability to hustle, work tirelessly, and produce results. But true wellbeing comes from understanding that there’s a time for action and a time for inaction. And, when we ignore all of the smaller signs, burnout is the way in which our body gives us its final warning: slow down, this is the time for a pause, not a sprint.

Stepping back and resting is an act of courage, strength, and wisdom. It’s the realisation that good wellbeing is the foundation upon which all your ambitions and future successes are built. And, it is often the most challenging work to do, because it goes against the beliefs we have held since childhood. But resting does not mean giving up. It means giving yourself the space to find your inner rhythm, reconnect with what truly matters to you, and to rekindle your creativity, passion, and motivation for life. Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to take time to simply exist. 

If you want to learn more about how to support your people to take ownership for their wellbeing, register for our upcoming event all about wellbeing in organisations.

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