Episode #66: This Isn't About Self-Improvement
I see you. You think if you are struggling you must not be “doing it right.” If you could just be a “better” version of yourself, life wouldn’t feel so overwhelming or challenging. But what if I told you that the path to well-being isn’t about self-improvement?! What if I told you that this path is about nurturing the person you already are? The person who gives life your all, and who is UNDERSTANDABLY exhausted?!?
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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So I had a bit of an aha moment last week. I was talking to a friend who is experiencing some symptoms of burnout. He made a comment about being unsure what he could do in that moment to “better himself.” And the light bulb went on.
When we high achievers, highly independent, hyper performers start to struggle, it doesn’t often occur to us that the answer isn’t to DO MORE.
We aren’t struggling because we aren’t doing enough. Indeed, most likely the opposite is true. We are struggling because we have hit the point of diminishing returns.
We have spent months, years, maybe even decades pushing ourselves to perform at all costs. To show up no matter what. To give 150% at everything we do.
But performance at all costs is unsustainable. Because we are human beings in human bodies; not because we are broken, undisciplined, lazy or just not trying hard enough.
Over the course of my life, I remember times that I have received feedback that I wasn’t meeting other people’s expectations. I generally had a freak-out (at least internally) in response to that feedback. I would be flooded with shame that I was letting people down; even as part of me knew that I couldn’t possibly give one more ounce of effort beyond what I was already giving.
When I was young, it was pretty ingrained in me that if I did not meet other people’s expectations, I would suffer. Whether that suffering would come in the form of physical pain, verbal attacks on my worth and value, withdrawal or abandonment didn’t really matter to the extent that the ultimate impact was the same. The message might as well have been, perform or die--all alone with no one and nothing--because that is how I internalized it.
In the last few years that I ran a large organization, I received 360 feedback from approximately 70 staff members. I remember when I would receive the anonymous report. I didn’t focus on all the good things that were in that report. I focused on the ways I was falling short. “What do they want from me?!” I exclaimed to my HR Director. I was totally dialed in on the fact that staff in each of my three regions felt like I should be in their region more often. It wasn’t something I was physically capable of doing. But you better believe I felt like I was falling short, disappointing people, and that maybe I should just try harder.
I want to say this again because it bears repeating. You aren’t losing the battle against burnout because you are broken, undisciplined, lazy or just not trying hard enough. If you are finding it harder and harder to cope with your otherwise overwhelming life, it is because your life is overwhelming, not because there is something wrong with you.
Learning to recover from stress or burnout is not about doing more.
Learning to recover from stress and burnout is about learning to let go.
It is about replacing the messages that tell us that failure to perform at all costs is a terminal failure with habits, behaviors and practices that build resilience, sustainability and well-being; like really dialing in on our purpose and values, what we were put on this earth to do, how we define success, and what calibration of stress and recovery will allow us to show up each day as our highest and best.
It is about learning to live in the present moment and to find joy and healing there. Did you know that your body is actually unable to heal when it is in fight or flight mode? Healing only happens when the nervous system is in “rest and restore.” You know those practices for managing anxiety that I talked about in Episode 39 of this podcast (republished as Episode 61 because it is the most downloaded episode of this podcast)? Those are the very practices (among others) that can help your body return to its own healing capacity.
Responding to chronic stress or burnout it is about learning to nurture the person that you already are until that person is whole again.
Have you considered purchasing the 6 Steps to Stress Recovery and Burnout Prevention and then stopped yourself?
Because you don’t have the energy to “better yourself?”
You are exhausted with self-improvement?
You are discouraged and it doesn’t seem like anything you do helps you feel better long-term?
Have you considered any other investment in your own health and well-being but then laughed at yourself for even pretending that you have the capacity for one more thing? Or maybe you got started and then found it to be unsustainable? The mountain you need to climb feels impossible? So maybe you give yourself a good talking to for being such a wuss and put your head down and try harder?
I have good news and bad news for you. You are not going to get to the other side of burnout by trying harder or doing more.
The bad news embedded in this truth is that your old ways of responding to stress and maybe even crisis are not sustainable long term. They may have carried you to this point, but somewhere along the way you will discover that the price tag is too high.
The good news is that you aren’t struggling because you aren’t good enough.
Do you hear me?? You are not struggling because you are weak, undisciplined, a failure, or just need to be willing to “give it your all.”
You are struggling because life is HARD. The world we live in is HARD.
And most of us were not given the right tools to navigate this world in a way that promotes our well-being. We have internalized a host of messages that keep us pushing and striving while disconnected from the truth of our value and worth.
Many of us have been taught that our body (and its limitations) are the enemy or the thing we must overcome in order to reach success or to be truly happy. There is a really good chance that your body has given its all and more in an attempt to “win” at life.
But what if it isn’t about winning? What if it isn’t about performing? I mean, unless you are a professional athlete. And here’s the thing, more and more professional athletes are starting to tell the truth about what “performance at all costs” has done to their own bodies and minds.
What if life is about being?
Nurturing (yourself and others when you have the capacity)?
Healing the parts of you that were wounded long ago?
Embracing the beauty and the pain in equal measure with a whole toolshed full of tools to assist you along the way?
Restoring your body, mind and spirit so that you can realize the power of your divine purpose?
The Six Steps to Stress Recovery and Burnout Prevention are not about doing more; although I will admit that, at first, you will need to commit the time to work through the lessons. And at the same time, as you work through the materials, you will be letting go of thoughts, beliefs, and habits that are no longer serving you; creating the space and freedom to live life differently.
If you are ready to stop holding on so tight, if you are ready to stop trying to better yourself out of a sense of not being or doing enough, then the 6 Steps are for you. You can find more about this self-guided experience at boothandrews.com/6steps.
Whether the 6 Steps program is the right fit for you right now or not, I challenge you to think of ONE THING that you can STOP doing this week?
Maybe you can take something off of or delegate something from your to-do list that isn’t really important, doesn’t need to be done by you, or is no longer relevant.
Maybe you can give yourself permission to delete all those emails in your inbox that you don’t actually have time to read and don’t require a response.
Maybe you will say no (even if you said yes at first) to that commitment that you are dreading and that will cost you more energy than it is worth.
Maybe you will renegotiate roles and responsibilities at home or at work.
Maybe you will ask for or hire help with something (the thing you are “stopping” in this case is acting like you have to do everything yourself).
Maybe you will decide to stop comparing yourself to someone else (who on the surface looks like they have life all figured out).
Maybe you will decide that that goal you set no longer applies and that that is okay.
No matter what else you come up with, I also encourage you to STOP beating yourself up when you are depleted, exhausted, discouraged and running on empty.
Remember, this isn’t about self-improvement. This is about nurturing the person you already are until your well-being is restored.
Speaking of running on empty, the running empty quiz which was down for a little while during my website transition is up and running again! If you want to find out where you currently sit on the burnout scale and get some tips for what to do next, check out the quiz link in this transcript or in my bio @theboothandrews on Instagram.
Thank you for listening today. And, if you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. When you subscribe and rate, you make it easier for other people to find this content.
I look forward to being back with you next time!