In the midst of particularly hard days when I feel I can not endure, I remind myself that my track record of getting through hard days is 100% so far.
On my birthday many months ago, when Google and I were both much younger, I googled “how to change your life when you burn out” to see what would come up. I had felt hopelessly trapped in a cycle of business – as if I was competing in circles every day without any meaningful progress. And it was time to find a better roadmap because I literally got depressed with the same old grind.
Apparently I worked 60+ hours a week, struggled with a failed business and dealt with the recent deaths of my two loved ones. The stress and pace of life just seemed to keep me busy from sunrise to midnight every day without much time for self-reflection or mindfulness, and from the inside I knew that the main spinning, circular path I was on was not sustainable.
As I flipped through Google’s search results, I became fascinated by overwhelming amount of books, articles and quotes that are all designed to motivate a person to take positive action and make positive changes. Messages from “Drop and move on” or “Be present” were plentiful! But nothing really clicked on me. I was looking for guidance that was a little more specific – guidance like “Walk seven blocks down Main Street and turn right onto Sunshine Drive. Your” better “road starts there.”
Find space to self-reflect
I kept reading and looking for a new set of directions I could follow, and then it struck me. My losses and personal worries made me drive and hide from my problems. I did an incredible job of being incredibly busy, but I had never stopped to sort out my thoughts and find out exactly why I did what I did. My need to provide for my family and ease the pain of failure and loss drove my insanity. I used these circumstances as an excuse not to sort out my priorities, and thus I got caught up in a cycle of pointless business ventures that burned me out.
I realized that I had to step on the brakes first to really take my life forward. I had to give myself time and space to sort things out.
When I took a break, I started thinking about the summer after my high school. My thoughts traveled back to the days when I felt that opportunities awaited me in every conceivable direction. I had been accepted for a good university, I was young and ambitious and ready to conquer my dreams. But remembering this did not make me feel better. In fact, more than a decade later, trying to look at the world through this youthful lens for more than a few minutes just made me feel more restless.
The good advice I needed
It may be life lessons that I had to learn the hard way or the pain and failure, but I had to admit to myself right there and there that the youthful world of possibilities felt much scarier and more risky this time. I wanted to be passionate and productive again, but I did not know how, until my wise mother gave me some good advice. She told me that she could still see the positive, passionate young man inside me, but that I needed to do a soul search to reconnect with him.
When I tried to follow my mother’s advice, I remembered that I used to have two quotes written on post-it notes that hung on my bedroom wall when I was little:
- “Accept what is, let go of what was and believe in your journey.”
- “Do not be afraid to walk alone along the ascending path less and do not be afraid to love every minute of it.”
So I wrote the two quotes again just as I remembered them and put them on the wall above my bedside table. I woke up to these quotes every morning for several years thereafter, and they helped keep me centered.
I also took small steps, day in and day out, until I knew I was finally moving in the right direction again. For anyone else who feels burnt out and without a real sense of how to take the next step forward, I offer the following ideas. These are simple, actionable lessons that made me move forward when I decided it was time for a change. Maybe they will help you too …
Let visual reminders keep you focused and on track.
You can post meaningful quotes on your bedroom wall, or find a coffee mug that has a motivational message about it (mine says “Every Day is an Opportunity”). But you can also take it a step further than that too …
Some good things come easily, and when it gets tough we often take the easy way even though the easy way takes us the wrong way.
To combat this, I create concrete reminders that pull me back from the brink of my weak impulses. For example, I have my laptop’s wallpaper set to a photo of my family, both because I love looking at them and because the work gets really rough, these pictures remind me of the people I finally work for.
And I’m not the only one who successfully uses this strategy …
A friend of mine who has paid off nearly $ 100,000 in debt over the past five years has a copy of his credit card balance taped to his computer screen; it serves as a constant reminder of the debt he still wants to pay off. Another friend keeps a photo of herself when she was 90 kilos heavier on her fridge as a reminder of the person she never wants to be again.
Think of moments when you will most likely give in to impulses that will eventually burn you out and take you further away from what is most important to you. Then use visual reminders to interrupt the impulses and build speed and inner passion that keeps you on track.
Your ultimate goal is to live a life that is blurred by most of the impulsive distractions that people fill their lives with, giving you space for what really matters. A life that is not constantly busy, rushing and opposing, but instead conscious contemplation, creation and connection to people and efforts that really matter.
Stop waiting for the elusive spark of passion.
Even with a healthy set of visual reminders and good focus, grinding will sometimes burn you out …
Your body may eventually get tired, you may lie awake for a few nights and listen to your past regrets, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you considered over by negativity, or know that your respect has been trampled on by unfriendly faces. That’s life! And there is no doubt that it gets difficult sometimes.
As I said, there is a daily healing and “breakthrough” measure that works every time: BE passionate about the little task in front of you. It is the only positive effort that an abused mind can never exhaust, never promote, never be tortured by, never fear or doubt and never dream of remorse.
And you do not have to wait. You do not have to search around or “find passion” anywhere outside of yourself. You can simply include passion in the next thing you do today. You can put your whole heart and soul into it! Again, but that’s easier said than done. Think about these questions I presented in a blog post a few months back:
- When was the last time you sat down, or picked up the phone and talked to someone you love, with zero distractions and 100% focus?
- When was the last time you trained and you literally put all the effort you could put into it?
- When was the last time you really tried – I mean TRULY tried – to do your very best?
Be honest with yourself right now. If you’re still waiting to “find” something to be passionate about, you need to do just the opposite!
Put your heart and soul into the little task!
I’m sure you have plenty of your life right now that’s worth living for. You have people and lots of small circumstances you take for granted. You have an infinite container with untapped potential in you, just waiting.
There is no next option, just the one you have right now.
Put your heart and your soul (and gratitude) in what you have right in front of you!
Give things you can not control a little more space.
“If you want to control your animals, give them a larger pasture.” It’s a quote that Angel and I heard at a meditation resistance recently in a group discussion focused on the power of changing your attitude to the things you can not change or do not need to change.
I see the “animals” and their “larger pasture” as a form of letting go and leaving things as they are – instead of trying to control something, you loosen up, give it more space, a larger pasture. The animals will be happier – they will roam around and do what they naturally do. And yet your needs will also be met – you will have more room to be at peace with how the animals are.
The same philosophy applies to many aspects of life –Going back and letting certain things happen means that these things will take care of themselves, and your needs will also be met. You will have less stress (and less to do) and more time and energy to work on the things that really matter – the things you can actually control – such as your priorities, your self-care and your attitude to everything.
In the end, as you move forward, you want to remember that one of the biggest secrets to peace and happiness is to let most situations be what they are instead of what you think they should be and then make the best of them.
(Note: the three points above are part of a skill set Angel and I honed with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module in Getting Back to Happy Course.)
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