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This One Hidden Habit Protects You From Burnout

And this simple practice is right under your nose.

Photo by Jacqueline Day on Unsplash
One practice starts you on the road to burnout prevention.
Source: Photo by Jacqueline Day on Unsplash

No one is immune to burnout. It can hit the overworked and undervalued high-achieving executive, the frontline workers toiling around the clock, or remote workers at home trying to balance a job with homeschooling their kids.

A 2018 study by BPI Network found that 63 percent of worried and worn-out parents have experienced burnout before the pandemic, and 40 percent of the cases were significant. A more recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent reported feeling burnt out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burnt out sometimes. According to a new study at Southern Cross University, 98 percent of 1,000 respondents interviewed said COVID-19 had impacted their mental health, and 41 percent said the pandemic pushed them into therapy.

Signs of Burnout

Burnout isn’t the same as stress, and you can’t cure it by taking an extended vacation, slowing down, or working fewer hours. Stress is one thing; burnout is a totally different state of mind. Under stress, you still struggle to cope with pressures. But once burnout takes hold, you’re out of gas, and you’ve given up all hope of surmounting your obstacles.

When you’re suffering from burnout, it’s more than just fatigue. You have a deep sense of disillusionment and hopelessness that your efforts have been in vain. Life loses its meaning, and small tasks feel like a hike up Mount Everest. Your interests and motivation dry up, and you fail to meet even the smallest obligations. Here are the major warning signs that can help you recognize burnout:

  • Mental and physical fatigue and exhaustion
  • Disillusionment and increased mental distance from obligations or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Loss of motivation and a reduced interest in commitments and professional efficacy
  • Foggy thinking and trouble concentrating

Driven From Outside In: Running With Scissors

Sometimes our biggest cause of burnout lies between our own two eyes, and we don’t see the water we’re swimming in. Our inner critic bludgeons us with oppressive mandates, such as must, need to, should, ought, and have to. “I must win that contract.” “I have to get that promotion.” “I should be a better colleague.” “People must do as I say.” “Management must see my point of view.” “I should have performed better on my team.” “Life must be easier than this.”

When you’re driven, you unwittingly relinquish your personal power and become a slave to internal pressures and external demands. You grow so accustomed to being on autopilot that you’re not attuned to your surroundings or yourself. Perhaps you hit the ground hurrying and rushing from the moment you wake up, shaking your fist at the clock because there aren’t enough hours in the day. As you frantically and mindlessly toil on a project—concerned the boss won’t like the finished product or that you won’t meet the deadline—you’re out of your present mind, stuck in future worries or past regrets. These external and internal pressures backfire, undermine your ability, and create unnecessary stress.

Drawn From Inside Out: Slowing Down With Mindfulness

When you’re drawn, you are master instead of a slave to your job. You mindfully work from a centered place that puts you in charge of your busy mind, so you don’t succumb to external or internal pressures. You’re attuned to yourself and your surroundings in a calm, non-judgmental way and focus on what’s happening right now. Anchored in the present moment, an inner barometer guides your work life in a peaceful observing awareness of everything you do. Regardless of the circumstances, your self-talk is compassionate, supportive, and empowering.

The words you use can make you feel more in charge of your career instead of at the mercy of it—could instead of should, or want to or choose to instead of must or have to: “I can do my best to win that contract.” Or “I’m choosing how I want to handle that challenge.” You value “great work”—not simply doing a task to complete it or to produce a product but being in the process as you go through to completion. You’re a master of self-correction and work from integrity, admitting mistakes and fixing them.

You focus on the opportunity nested in a career obstacle instead of the difficulty. You toil with eight “C” words: calm, clarity, confidence, curiosity, compassion, creativity, connectedness, and courage. The drawn state fosters mindful productivity in which you make conscious choices. Your ability to accept obstacles, difficulty, and disappointments with calm and clarity gives you the ability to scale them.

Drawn Versus Driven: The Rx for Burnout

Anybody can be driven. It’s easy to work on autopilot. The difficult—and more rewarding—part is to find that place inside where you’re drawn. Cultivating mindful productivity—instead of placing an intense focus on the completion of the task—enriches your work life. Once you realize the inside driven voice isn’t you and that you don’t have to live up to its demands, you can take a breath, step back, and chill. And you become stronger, calmer, and more self-assured.

Five minutes a day in which you still your busy mind and center on the quiet places inside sets the compass of your heart so you can be more drawn, even in times of upheaval. And science shows it’s worth it. When you’re drawn, your heart and respiratory rates slow down. Muscles loosen. Your mind is calm, open, and clear. Decisions and actions are reflective, even, and balanced. You have better sleep, increased immunity, lower blood pressure, improved digestion, and a sense of well-being. Studies also show that a slower and calmer approach to job tasks results in more productivity, a higher-quality product, and greater success in the long run.

Contemplate how much of your life is driven versus drawn. Then ask what actions you can take so you’re drawn from a deeper personal calling instead of outside pressures. Come up for air, meditate, get outside in nature, put time cushions between appointments, exercise often, eat well, and get ample sleep. Most of all, slow down and treat yourself with compassion. These simple "micro-chillers" will take you to that place within yourself where productivity and peace of mind coexist—where you have more idle moments to chill without imperatives, nothing to rush to, fix, or accomplish. And you’re able to relax into that sweet spot where you’re mindfully productive in each moment.


Bryan Robinson (2019). #Chill: Turn Off Your Job And Turn On Your Life. New York: William Morrow.