Changing your habits is much easier said than done. However, I think it’s an essential component of the overcoming burnout process.
You can talk to your boss all day long about feeling burnt out or search endlessly for the perfect job but until you’re willing to make some changes, the burnout cycle is going to continue. Maybe you won’t feel burnt out again right away. Perhaps you won’t feel burnt out again until a couple years down the road. However, my point is that at some point in the future, you will end up in this situation again. I’m saying that from experience.
Realizing I Needed to Change
I’ve felt burnt out at other times in my life and career, yes. Although at the time I wasn’t aware of how I was contributing to my own burnout and what bad habits I needed to change. Even last year, I didn’t think I was burnt out. I thought I was suffering from depression and anxiety. Looking back, I probably experienced depression and anxiety in combination with burnout. But at the time, I didn’t understand what was going on with me and what needed to happen to change my situation. It wasn’t until my therapist said the most groundbreaking thing to me that the lightbulb went off in my head.
These two sentences were so simple but yet they have been some of the most impactful words of my adult life. I felt relieved when my therapist said them because I thought “Ok, I can make changes. Let’s do that.” I hate talking and then not taking action, so “change” being an action I could control sounded great in the moment. It didn’t occur to me that I was the problem.
Where to Begin?
I was thinking more along the lines of maybe it was time for me to look for a new job. Then, my next thoughts were “But wait I don’t want a new job. I love my job! I can’t leave.” My therapist has a great poker face, because I’m fairly confident she was thinking I was insane in this moment. If I love my job so much why was I sitting in her office complaining about burnout?!
(Sidebar: Despite what my posts around burnout might sound like, I do thoroughly enjoy my job and love where I work. Not blowing smoke. I really do mean that.)
That day, I left the therapist’s office very confused. I felt overwhelmed because I didn’t know where to even begin to craft a solution to my problem. After a couple days, I realized I needed some time off to clear my head and I should probably have a conversation with my boss at some point. Although I didn’t know what to say other than “Hey, I’m burnt out and don’t know what to do about it.” If you missed my post on how to talk to your boss about burnout, never, ever say this sentence out loud to someone with influence over your career trajectory. The main reason why you shouldn’t say these words to your boss is because your burnout is not their problem to solve. It’s your problem.
Changing My Habits
During my week off work, I spent a lot of time alone trying to figure out what I wanted. Being honest with myself was hard! As part of this process, I started taking inventory of my typical weekly routine. I made lists of bad habits I knew I needed to break (like skipping workouts or eating poorly), and took inventory of the things I was doing when I felt stressed or anxious. Here’s the list of bad habits I realized I had to change:
- Reading email in bed before going to sleep
- Working late into the evening on things that weren’t necessarily urgent
- Grabbing my phone and reading email again first thing when I wake up
- Not working out because “there wasn’t enough time”
- Stress eating because it would make me feel comforted (However, I did NOT feel comforted after realizing I had gained 20 pounds.)
- Using alcohol as a stress reliever
- Always looking at my phone and checking work notifications, even on weekends or while on vacation
Taking inventory of my bad habits did not make me feel great; but it did motivate me to take action. I’ve been working on changing these habits for about a year now. Have I mastered every item on this list? No. Changing your habits is tough! Have I made significant progress? Absolutely.
The most important thing I learned over the past year is that burnout is not a permanent state. It’s a process to overcome it, but it can be done. I did, and I’m confident you can, too! Whatever bad habits you may need to change, just face them head on and don’t give up. We’ve got this!