Facing Burn-Out is something that all creatives and people trying to make it in this world in some way, face. It can sometimes be the end to our enterprise when it strikes. However, it doesn’t have to.
I was never allowed video games growing up. So much so, that I once saved up as a teenager to buy an outdated, 90-degree-angled corner, Nintendo. This was in the 2000’s so way after they were popular. My mom made me get rid of it.
When I did finally manage to get an X-Box, I didn’t want it. It was my partner’s at the time, and he introduced me to Burn Out.
You may be familiar with this game, but it is one of the few games I like. It’s a race car game. You race, and get points for racing, but the real point come from crashing. The bigger the crash, the more points you wrack up. Being completely technologically impaired and finding that anything from the Nintendo 64 and after just has too many buttons (barring the Wii), this game was perfect. I had no control over the car, which meant I was winning.
Honestly, I rocked that game.
Burnout & You
We live in a culture where it is seen to be successful if you are always busy. Always producing, always hustling, always on the go. And when you crash—and never, never admit that you’ve crashed!—the harder you fall, the harder you know you’ve worked. But the catch of it is that when you fall that hard, there is more you have to do to get caught back up, and thus, you up your game if you want to get back to maintaining that pace.
Writers do this too. We push ourselves to produce regularly. We know that the key to a successful writing career is consistency. However, a writing career doesn’t necessarily have hours. More often than not, we are our own bosses, we set the hours, we push ourselves. We regularly face criticism, either directly or indirectly, that says that writing isn’t a real job. So we work harder to show that not only is it a real job, but it’s a real hard job—look how hard we hustle!
I’ll let you in on a secret: more hustle does not equal success.
We are doing ourselves a disservice by pushing ourselves to the brink of burn out. Burn out does not mean more points. Burn out means that we are forced to stop and recover, and even worse, that we run the threat of not picking the hustle back up again.
For creatives, it can be very difficult to get back on the horse after we’ve fallen off. It is not easy to make a living or find success, however we define it, in a creative profession. The rewards are often few, and when we push ourselves to exhaustion, we wonder why on earth we do it.
Here are six ways that you can cope with and consider preventative measures against burnout, if and when it plagues your creative life.
1. Don’t Push Yourself to Burnout
The best piece of advice I can give you is just don’t do it. Don’t push yourself so hard you collapse under the weight of it all. Don’t give yourself a way to burn out.
Easier said than done, right?
I, however, am not going to give you this piece of advice and leave you hanging trying to figure out what to do with it. I have a few suggestions to help you avoid burnout.
I. Map out the goal
Create regular goals. This means long term and short term. Regularly evaluate these goals. If your goal is to write a short story a month, then take that goal and create small daily steps to get this goal done.
If your goal is to create an author platform, then break it down into small, manageable steps that can be done each day to work toward it.
The key is to have something to aim for and to create a checklist of steps to get you there. When you can cross things off the list, you feel productive. That feeling of productivity can inspire you to go further.
When you feel that urge to go further, ask yourself how much energy that will entail. If it is a lot, then hold off until the next day.
For example, I have a goal to write three blog posts a week. Along with my coaching and ghostwriting, social media posts, and general living, this is just manageable. Sometimes, I feel quite productive and get all my blog posts done and scheduled in a day. When I feel like this, it’s not uncommon for me to say, “I’ll get next week’s blog posts written tomorrow, then.”
This is a no. I will burn myself out when I do this. If I do that, then it means I’m putting off something else that is on the docket for the next day, which, in the long run, creates stress, which is energy better spent elsewhere. I have to resist this temptation.
III. Celebrate the Little Things
Give yourself a pat on the back when you achieve the steps to your goals. This can be anything, so long as it’s proportionate. If you finish your book—celebrate! Take yourself out to dinner! If you write your word count for the day, give yourself a break, or a treat of some form.
Sarah Werner of the Write Now Podcast once shared that she keeps a bowl of M&Ms on her desk. She’s allowed them when she’s written x amount of words. If you have enough self-discipline not to eat them all, this is a great trick.
The importance of this is that it helps you see when you’ve done something, when you’ve been productive. So even if you wanted to write say, 2000 words today, but only got to 1000, you celebrated every 100 words, and that will create a marker in your mind telling you that you did, in fact, accomplish things in the day.
Feeling like you’ve accomplished something can remind you that you’re not working for nothing. You’re working toward something.
2. Forgive Yourself
We will all experience burnout at some time or another, and the key, when we feel this is to forgive ourselves.
Again, easier said than done. But we are all humans. We are not robots. And whether we are the do-it-all career and family woman, or the breadwinner of the family trying to alter our careers, or the student who is writing on the side, we can, and will, over-extend ourselves at least once.
A few things can happen during this time:
A way of preventing these things is to forgive yourself before you have the chance to experience them. Admittedly, exhaustion is usually the first sign of burnout, so unless you have successfully implemented Step 1 of just not burning out altogether, it’s not preventable. However, when you do experience it, or start to experience it, forgive yourself and allow yourself the time to slow down before you take yourself out unwillingly.
Forgiveness is understanding. Forgiveness is compassion. Forgiveness is empathy.
3. Be Easy on Yourself
If your friend was burning the candle at both ends, working themselves to the bone trying to make something happen and then hit a metaphorical brick wall, you wouldn’t be hard on them. You’d be urging them to take a break, to rest up, and to feel better. You wouldn’t hold it against them and tell them that they need to suck it up and keep working to make up or avoid lost time.
Scorning someone for reaching their breaking point doesn’t help anyone. This isn’t a military training. This isn’t a movie where there’s a montage of scenes where you’re working hard for what you’re after without any rest. No, this is real life, and we are human beings, and thus we, right along with our energy, are finite.
When you start to feel exhaustion taking hold, let yourself have the break. Let yourself have the rest before you push yourself too far.
And if you do push yourself too far, then don’t beat yourself up about it. If you have a racehorse on the ground after an intense race, kicking it isn’t going to get it up and back on the track. Making yourself feel worse about taking a break isn’t going to get you working sooner. Or, if it does, it won’t help you produce anything you’ll be happy with.
4. Journal the Successes
Often, we don’t see our successes because we are too focused on the next thing. When we reach burnout, we can be clouded by the exhaustion and don’t see what we’ve actually accomplished.
When you reach the burnout point, take some time to reflect on the last week or month, and write down everything you achieved, even if it was little. If you can’t think of anything, start with, “On Monday, I got out of bed and showed up.” What happened when you showed up? Did you gain five new followers on Instagram? Did you post your blog post? Did you write 250 words? Did you reconsider your brand?
Anything you do, no matter how small, is working toward the goal, and that is a success.
When I spoke to a client who relayed that she didn’t get anything done all week because she felt burnt out, I began asking her about specific things she was working on. She told me where she was at with each thing and then said, “Now that I’m talking to you, I realize I actually did get some stuff done this week.” She felt better in knowing the week hadn’t been the waste that she thought it had been.
A Note on Journaling
Regular journaling can also help with preventing burnout as well. At the end of the day, it can help you process what’s happened, keep track of your successes, and plan for the next day. If you write in the morning, you can reflect on the day before, and set your intention for the rest of the day.
Journaling is the most important thing a person can do for themselves, whether it’s by recording a video or audio account, or by handwriting it. Journaling is essential to mental health, in my opinion.
5. You Are Not Out of Time
A huge stress factor for me is time. I constantly feel like I’m running out of it. It has the potential to act as a massive trigger for my anxiety.
A gentle reminder and practice of present mindedness tells me that no, I’m not out of time. Time is not running out.
When I focus on what is present, what is directly here in front of me, time slows down. When I don’t think of the millions of things I have to do, time slows down. Being present is how we fight the ticking clock.
There are wonderful apps that provide meditation tools to help you focus on something right in front of you in order to center yourself. Or, likewise, you can list three things that you’re experiencing right in that moment with each sense.
- What are three things that you see?
- What are three things that you hear?
- What are three things that you feel?
- What are three things that you smell?
- What are three things that you taste?
The last one’s usually the hardest, but it gets you to focus on the moment, which can curb mounting anxiety, and it can be a reminder that what exists, truly exists is the here and now.
6. Listen to Your Body
Your body will tell you so much about what you need to know to get through burnout.
Let yourself rest when you get to burn out. This could be napping (not to be confused with staying in bed all day. This is a short sleep to just clear the cobwebs), going for a walk (fresh air makes the world better), reading a book, saying no to social media for a day, binging a show, going for coffee, etc.
However, when you move to a new relaxing activity, check in with yourself. Truly let yourself feel what to do.
Do this by centering yourself. Give yourself a few deep breaths and feel your body. What do your knees feel like right now? Your toes? Your shoulders? Your tummy? All of it. Work from your feet and slowly experience how each part of your body feels. This can help bring you to a present mentality.
Once you feel settled in this state, run through the list of possibilities you’d like to do, and see how your body feels in reaction.
For example, sometimes I want to read on my Kindle when I get burnt out, and my body suddenly feels uncomfortable at the thought. This is because I have a horrible habit of settling in for a boo, and instead deviate by checking emails on my Kindle, going on Instagram, checking my blog, etc. Likewise, sometimes I just don’t want to be looking at a screen.
Your body is a pretty good guidance system. Let it guide you through the recovery of burnout.
You have two pieces of homework to take away from this, though it might not pertain to you. However, I invite and challenge you to give these assignments a go, regardless.
The first piece of homework is to get a journal and begin writing in it daily. Not only will this help you get in touch with your inner, creative side and help you maintain a writing habit, but it will be how you track your daily successes.
Each day, write three successes you have had during the day. This can be anything, though try not to write the same thing every day.
Today I got up with my alarm clock and didn’t hit snooze.
I drank a pint of water before I had my coffee, which helped me feel more awake and ready to sit down at my desk and write.
I wrote 1300 words today.
Those are three things that I accomplished. I might have other days when I do more, or I might have other days when I do less. But the idea is to acknowledge the good you do during the day.
Practice present-mindedness. Made time for five minutes every day, or if you’re really pressed for time, you can even just do a minute, and consider the current moment you’re in. Again, you can get apps to help you with this, which give you something in front of you to focus on, or you can count what your senses are experiencing.
Making this a regular practice can keep the stress levels down and can put your day in perspective and thus be an excellent preventative of burnout. If and when burnout does happen, then it’s a well-oiled tool at your disposal to get you through it.
What do you find to be helpful when you reach burnout?
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