The Burnout Kickstart Program: Step 4

Over the last three steps, you’ve been setting aside time for self-care. How have you found that experience? How has it made you feel?

For some people, it can create some discomfort.

Being busy can distract you from thinking too much about your problems. Sometimes, when you pause to deliberately think about this things, it can be confronting and upsetting.

Worrying can be a mechanism for control. Our minds love to worry about things because it feels like it’s doing something. Simply “being” can make you feel vulnerable. It can allow suppressed emotions to surface, and be felt.

And if you’re used to putting everyone else’s needs first, then any act of self-care can bring up feelings of guilt, or unease.

If this sounds like you, be reassured that it’s a common experience, and that it will improve over time. You need to push past these difficulties so that self-care can become a normal part of your routine. Once you start seeing the real benefits you get from it, it will become something you want to maintain as part of your daily life.

Let’s take a bit more of a look at the changes you might have noticed so far, and what you’ll be moving onto in step 4.

Task

The first thing I want to invite you to do is to identify which specific issue is creating the most difficulty for you in terms of your day-to-day function at the moment. Watch the video below to help you in exploring the issue before formulating a strategy.

Write that hardest thing down in your journal.

Then, set aside 10 minutes to brainstorm all the possible things that could help to modify or improve that area.

Try not to assess any of the ideas as they come to you in terms of how practical they are, or whether you think they’re achievable. Get any and all ideas down on the page, no matter how far-fetched they seem.

Consider things that would eliminate the problem altogether, or reduce the magnitude of the problem, or in some way off-set the effect the problem has upon you.

Once you’ve finished your brainstorming session, I want you to take a break before moving on to the next step of assessing those ideas and choosing what you’ll do to move forward. The reason taking a break is really important here is because I want you to have a little mental separation from the ideas you’ve come up with, and look at them again with fresh eyes.

When you’re ready, watch the video below.

Setting a SMART goal:

Specific

The more specific you can be about your goal, the easier it will be to practically implement it.

For example:

  • If you think that getting up earlier will help the morning preparations go more smoothly and allow you to start your work day less stressed, then decide upon a specific time you want to get up.
  • If you decide that you need to learn to say ‘no’ more, think about specific circumstances or issues that you need to say ‘no’ in, and how you’d actually achieve that. Does this apply within certain contexts or with specific people? Consider specific strategies or phrases you could use.
  • If you want to make better use of your evening time to relax and recharge, plan specific activities you can do during that time to fulfill that need.

Measurable

You want your goal to be something that you can actually know whether or not you’re achieving it.

For example:

  • If you’re getting up earlier, will this apply to only certain days when you need to get to work earlier or have extra things to arrange in the morning? Or will you do this every day?
  • If you want to say ‘no’ more, then you may measure this by paying attention to whether you feel pushed into taking on extra work or agreeing to things you don’t want to. Or you might measure whether you’re agreeing to extra work requests by whether you’re staying back at work plate, or missing lunch breaks.
  • If you’re intending to use your evening time better, do you plan to spend a specific duration on an activity, such as a 15 minute walk, or read a book for half an hour? Or you might measure it by the quantity of an activity achieved, such as read a chapter of a book, walk around the block, or call a friend.

Achievable

Make sure that your goal is realistic, especially considering your low energy and emotional state at this time. Because we often have low motivation with burnout, it’s good to try and push yourself a little bit so that we can move forward with recovery. But be gentle with yourself, and don’t make it so unachievable that it just won’t happen. It’s better to err on the side of starting really small, so that you can feel good about it when you start making progress, and then you can incrementally increase that goal as you go if you want to.

For example:

  • Can you really get up earlier if you’re already getting up at 5am to exercise before work? Or if you have a small child who wakes you regularly during the night, and it will make you even more sleep-deprived?
  • Are you in the right mental state to begin standing up to a bully at work by saying ‘no’ to requests, especially if you are concerned about the impact it could have on your job or a performance review or promotion? Of course, I am absolutely not saying to accept bullying behaviour or to not set boundaries and say ‘no’, but consider the timing and your emotional capacity right now. It may be something you need to work towards with some quality professional support.
  • If you planned to run 5km after dinner each night, or read a novel a week, or contact a friend each evening, then consider whether that’s too much right now or not. If you think it might be a little too much to start off with, then change the frequency (eg call a friend twice a week), or the duration/amount (eg run 2km each night).

Relevant

This is a chance to just check back in and make sure that you think this goal will help with that one biggest challenge each day, and with the overall goal of recovering from burnout. Is this goal actually going to address that big issue directly, or is it related to that problem without actually getting to the core of it?

For example:

  • Will getting up earlier really make your mornings less stressful? Or is the real issue the conflict between family members? Or is it anxiety about the day of work ahead that creates the unsettled feeling all morning?
  • Will saying ‘no’ to extra work and setting those boundaries make a big difference? Or is it actually our own self-imposed perfectionist standards that are driving you to work too hard on projects? In this situation, working on those boundaries would be a great first step, but with the awareness that you will need to address other areas as well to make the progress you need to overall.
  • Will changing the way you use your evenings help? Or are you so mentally drained by the evening that those activities will actually make you feel even more depleted? Would these activities be better schedules for the morning, a lunch break, or on weekends?

Time-bound

Have some sort of a time-frame to work towards. Again, be gentle with yourself. Now is not the time for massive goals and pushing yourself super-hard. Small, incremental goals, so that you can move foward.

For example:

  • You may currently get up at 7:30 and then rush out the door. You might think that a 6:30 wake time would make the morning time much more relaxed. Instead of jumping straight to 6:30 from tomorrow, you might aim to move your wake-up time 15 minutes earlier each week, until you get to 6:30.
  • When setting new boundaries, you might decide that you’ll spend this week rehearsing responses to work requests and experimenting with them; from next week you’ll try to use them consistently; and within a month you aim to not be taking on extra work that you know you can’t fit into your workload.
  • In the evenings, you might aim to finish a novel by the end of the month, or to have contact 3 close friends by the end of next week.

These time-based elements of the goal give you something specific to work towards and help to keep you motivated.

The completed goal

Once you’ve worked through each of the steps above, you should be able to write down in your journal a clear goal to work with. Try to include each of those SMART elements as you write it.

For example:

  • I will make my mornings less chaotic by waking up 15 minutes earlier each week until I am waking at 6:30am.
  • I will stop taking on extra work requests by setting clear boundaries so that by the end of June I am in control of how much extra work I take on.
  • I will use my evenings to recharge by reading a novel for 20 minutes, three evenings a week, starting from tomorrow.

Spend a few days experimenting with this goal, and then move on to Step 5, in which you will reflect on that experience and look at how you can respond to challenges which come up and strengthen your chances of continuing with it even when it feel hard.