Burning out is something that I can certainly relate to. When you’re self-employed or in a high-pressure environment, you’ll find it easy to take on too much work and try to do it in too little time. As a result of the incredible technological advantages we now have, we can do so much more therefore we are doing so much more and faster than ever.
As a result, overwhelm is an all too regular occurrence and the inevitability of what is known as burnout will often follow. We get burned out when we find ourselves overwhelmed and stressed for a prolonged period of time. Burnout feels awful and its symptoms include feeling constantly tired, bored with what you’re doing and even physical sickness. When you burn out, you stop getting enjoyment out of what you previously enjoyed and you become almost robotic in running down the clock at work while feeling shattered whenever you have whatever break you can muster.
Despite the years of experience behind me and my psychological advantage of understanding burnout, this is one condition, I have found myself struggling with periodically and a very easy trap to fall into.
Recently, in working on myself, I began to think differently about this concept. If burning out was a literal term… what would be the opposite of that? Cooling in. We don’t say cooling in. We generally say cooling down because we buy into the scales of heating systems. The higher the temperature the hotter it is. So cooling down is giving yourself a chance to lower the pressure on yourself at work. A nice idea. Cooling in doesn’t sound that good but, if we were to be imaginative about it, it could suggest cooling down inwardly so it’s not just about cooling down but working on our internal selves. So instead of just taking time off work, we actively take action to change what is going on inside our heads when we previously experienced burnout.
So, we have the following antidotes to burning out so far. Cooling down by working less. Cooling in by working on yourself to reduce stress and anxiety internally. Then, another concept came to me. What about burning in? Would ‘burning in’ be as bad as ‘burning out’?
Since I like to think in useful and positive ways, I wondered how could burning in be positive. What we know from the study of mindsets by the likes of Professor Carol Dweck and Alia Crum is that how you think about a specific concept influences your experience of that concept in a powerful way.
For instance, people who believe they are younger than they are then tested biologically younger. People who believe that the exercise they are getting is really benefiting them tend to get far more benefits from it. Then there is the whole world of research into the placebo effect.
The problem with cooling down or cooling in is that it is something we need to do because of burnout. So we have to do our best to take that action. Since burnout feels like we are burning, the idea of burning in could be a way of taking the same experience and changing the mindset on it.
So just like thinking stress is bad for you makes it worse for you and thinking stress is good for you mitigates the impact it can have on your life, thinking differently about what you are going through when you are burning out can also be useful.
Of course, the aim is to reduce the amount of time you are working by providing yourself with lots of time to cool down. It is also to work on yourself and the pressure you put on yourself mentally so you can cool in. But when you are experiencing burnout, thinking of burning in is the key.
Burning in is when you think of yourself as putting yourself under enough pressure that fuels you to perform at the highest level. The key is to identify your grander, greater purpose. When you know what your purpose or mission is, you can do a lot more work at a much higher level before even getting tired. Focus on your grandiose purpose and mission and see the stresses and strains you put yourself through as necessary to light the flame of passion inside of you.
This is a different mindset but nonetheless worth adopting. So often we fall into the trap of believing that we have no choice in the matter. We see something like burnout as the same as getting sick. We do it and then we take time off to rest and we get well. But that’s not enough.
In conclusion, here are four suggestions on how to deal with burnout and consider burning in instead:
- Stay vigilant and learn to say no so that you don’t experience burnout in the first place.
- Make time for cooling down where you can take time off and rest.
- Make time for cooling in where you can start working on yourself internally and be more effective at handling stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
- Make time for remembering the ultimate purpose you have and experiencing the stress as burning in where you see it as beneficial to your strength and motivation.