Spending more money than you earn isn’t sustainable over time.

Yet, that’s what many of us do each day with our personal energies, and it’s worse when we’re under more intense pressure. Like we’ve been for the past two years.

We’re navigating gobs of uncertainty.

We’re on complicated deadlines.

We’re more edgy and reactive.

We’re still caught up in the productivity and performance trap.

Our frenetic pace can become so ordinary we don’t even notice we’re depleted; we’ve simply adapted.

Perpetual exhaustion is the new black.

Overspending our energies isn’t sustainable, any more than overspending our earnings. Take James as an example.

When we started working together, he professed it was essential to work sixteen-hour days, six days a week.

His cell phone was attached to his body 24/7, he barked at his staff regardless of their performance, and had long ago lapsed in essential self-care habits.

He lived his life as if all that mattered was getting the work out.

James had lost sight of his values and what brought meaning into his work and life. There was no room in his days for rest and renewal, or for pleasant moments, places, or people that might have fueled him.

When we feel stressed at work we tend to engage more, fearful that we may not be performing well.

For a short duration, that’s doable. But James had long passed that phase by the time I’d met him and had taken the slippery slope right down into burnout.

He believed he was building a strong culture and modeling leadership by grinding away at work for 90 hours per week, yet James felt out of control, ‘cut off and distant’ from his employees (and everyone else too).

He was exhausted, overweight, and grumpy. The messy moods
of cynicism (everyone’s out for themselves) and pessimism (the worst will happen) had taken root.

When those two moods show up, they can reinforce patterns of behavior in a cycle of ineffectiveness and self-judgment.

Cynicism and pessimism have become so much a part of our collective narrative that it’s easy to get caught up in focusing on all that’s wrong with our jobs, other people (kids, colleagues, partners), politics, and the economy — all the while feeling utterly hopeless to shift it.

Then it’s only a short distance to slip into self-doubt and blame, with negative thoughts shaking our self-confidence.

The low-grade negativity blinds us to possibilities for something different, eroding trust.

The takeaway is that chronically high and poorly managed stress can lead to disengagement and feelings of despair.

To be clear – none of these conditioned ruts occur overnight. Our patterns of persistent overwork sap our energy in dribs and drabs, such is the slow impact of burnout.

It’s a lack of consistent space and time for the pause that creates burnout.

Catching Yourself

James had to learn to Pause in order to ‘catch himself’ in the act of doing the same old, same old.

As an experiment, James agreed to focus his attention on how he reacted to his employees, and then to pause and notice: What did his automatic reaction reveal about his expectations? How did he feel in those moments?

Only with a bit more space could he reexamine what was actually important to him (instead of his automatic reaction), revise his commitments and take on new practices that ultimately lead to increased energy and greater connection with his people.

How about you? Can you choose to pause, now or maybe for a morning or afternoon this week, and reflect on the following questions?

Get started by taking an honest look at your automatic habits and whether they are serving you or exhausting you.

As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

  • When was the last time you took a few hours to yourself?
  • Are you getting at least seven hours of sleep, five days a week?
  • Once at home, what automatic habits kick in?
  • Are you glued to screens even during off time?
  • Do you make time to connect with people who matter to you?
  • Are you getting any exercise each week?
  • When’s the last time you had FUN? Describe your mood and energy from that time.

Then, choose one item from this list that you will slowly begin to shift this week:

A) State what you will change (Ex. I will stay off my phone after 7pm),
B) How you change it (Ex. I’ll switch my phone to silent and place it on the charger away from me),
C) Mark it on your calendar or have Alexa set a reminder, and
D) Ask for support — find someone to join you or to check in for accountability.

Like James, who learned the power of a simple pause to catch himself, you too can learn what it takes to dial down the pressure and move with powerful, decisive action.