Learning to Love Your Journey

Mandalas, if you aren’t familiar with them, are these beautiful works of art typically made from sand. They are painstakingly designed and then created with great care grain by grain. They often take weeks to complete. Today, they have been adopted by other cultures, but the practice is attributed to Tibetan monks. The design is symbolic as the mandala itself is circular, a representation of the world. When the mandala is complete, the sand is carefully swept away. The mandala is destroyed and the sand is typically placed into water, as a symbolic gesture of giving it back to the earth.

In the past, I have shared the concept of mandalas with my students as a means of discussing the importance of the process itself; the journey. While that’s not untrue, – there certainly are some lessons in being a part of something bigger than one’s self and becoming part of a community to create and collaborate – there is actually a greater underlying meaning in understanding that everything is impermanent.

Truly, everything we experience, everything that is a part of the construct of our lives, is fleeting. Our emotions; our suffering, our joy, it is all impermanent. I bring this up because I think a big part of learning to love the journeys we are on, at whatever point we are at, is knowing that we won’t be here, in this spot, forever.

Through understanding the impermanence of each day, each experience, we can learn to hold on to those things that bring us joy and happiness. These are the things we should savor! And at the same time, we can take comfort in knowing that when we are in pain, the sorrow will fade with time.

(On the other hand, I want to make a point here that feeling hopeless is very different from feeling sad. Sadness does fade, but a sense of true hopelessness may indicate depression which is a serious condition. If you are experiencing this, I urge you to connect with a healthcare professional immediately to seek help. Please send me a private message if you would like additional information or assistance with starting the process.)

Today, I want to share with you some of my best tips (and those of others) which are likely to help you embrace, and eventually love, the journey on which you find yourself. Remember, you are the only person who determines how you experience your life. While we may encounter occurrences that we don’t expect, we always have the ability to choose how we respond to and move forward from these events.

Learn to be present. Ever tried to practice yoga with cats around? It’s almost impossible to let your mind wander because your cats will keep bringing you back to the present moment whether they’re rubbing their squishy faces on your legs, or batting their paws at your hair, or trying to take a nap underneath you while you’re in downward dog. This example often comes to mind when I think of being present because it’s all about fully participating in the moment and allowing your senses to be fully engaged with your surroundings.

Put the distractions away (yes, even your phone – OMG, don’t hyperventilate, I’m only asking you to do this for a short time each day) and be present in the moment for at least a few minutes each day. This may be while you’re out on a walk or spending time with family or friends. It may be while you’re getting a pedicure or back massage. It may be while you practice an art like playing the piano, or painting, or dancing.

Whatever it is, commit to spending some time in which you allow yourself to fully engage in the moment and the pleasure of the activity. At the same time, recognize that your mind will inevitably drift away and when it does, be gracious and lovingly bring your attention back to the present moment. The more we practice this, the better we will become at truly being present (and the less we will find our minds wandering).

Practice flexibility and adaptability. I find this to be very challenging myself, but honestly, the more flexible and adaptable I become, the better I truly feel. A wonderful teacher and mentor, Carole Westerman, recently reminded me that in whatever we are cultivating through our practice (in this case, the practice of yoga), we should become more flexible, not less.

We may adopt a trend or way of life that improves our well-being, like a diet or form of exercise, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of becoming less flexible. For instance, if you adopt an all-organic lifestyle, that’s awesome for you! However, if it means that you suddenly can’t go to dinner with friends or travel or simply enjoy your life, then maybe we should be asking ourselves why we’re doing it.

This doesn’t mean that a particular practice doesn’t have value or isn’t important, but it’s equally important to develop some flexibility. Maybe this means that you have to do some research in advance and suggest restaurants that would be most ideal for you (from the example above). Or maybe it simply means having some tolerance for ambiguity and understanding that you may not be able to control the circumstances of every situation – and that’s okay.

Most importantly, I don’t think it’s healthy to create lots of restrictions for ourselves which prevent us from fully living and experiencing our lives – why not have both?!

Discover things that bring you joy. Yes, just yes! Try new things or pick up old things that you used to love doing. Spend some time doing the activities that bring you joy and savor them. Smile, laugh, share these events with others, and repeat.

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There is no judgement here. In fact, I would encourage you to connect with your inner child and really ask yourself what you find fun. Go play laser tag with your friends or just a group or strangers – don’t knock it until you try it, it’s seriously a great time. Go to a concert, go paintballing with zombies (this is something I actually just bought tickets for and I am stoked!), sign up for a 5K, take up dance lessons or learn to play an instrument, play video games, take up writing, or just go for walk!! Literally, the sky is the limit. Hey – you could even go skydiving (if that’s your thing – heights are totally not my thing!).

Don’t be afraid to be explorative. See what’s happening nearby you. This doesn’t have to be something costly (in fact, it could absolutely be free!). Consider finding an adventurous friend to try some things with you or go on your own!n Above all, have fun and discover some joy.

Find some gratitude. This sounds so simple, but we often forget to do it. A few months ago, I read The Book of Joy (which I highly recommend) and I believe it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who simply reminded readers to “count your blessings.” We (or at least, I) tend to spend a lot of time complaining about things in our lives – all of the shortcomings and disappointments, but we don’t designate much recognition or time to the things for which we should be grateful.

This may sound silly, but it honestly gets easier the more you do it. I always think of my friend and former colleague, Beth, who posted a blank sheet of paper to our shared office door and labeled it, “Things I am grateful for…” She gently encouraged me and our third office comrade to participate in her activity (which we rather grudgingly did – at first).

Amazingly, it didn’t take long for us to fill that sheet and even others throughout the building stopped to add their thoughts to the list. Tiny little scribbles barely legible appeared in the margins until there was virtually no space left. So many things I hadn’t even thought of (and can’t specifically recall now) appeared on that list and reminded me of how full my life was (and is) – how many things for which to be grateful.

This is an easy task you can do on your own or with friends or colleagues. Take a blank sheet of paper and write down one thing for which you are grateful. Work on adding just one item each day. It won’t take long for you to fill your sheet and chances are, you will often have more than just one.

Leave the past in the past. Forgive yourself and move on. When you lie awake at night, do you agonize over all of the should-ofs and could-ofs from your life? Stop torturing yourself. We cannot change the past (although sometimes we really, really wish we could). All we can do is learn from those experiences and try our very best to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Have some grace and remind yourself that you are human, which means you (and all of the rest of us) are fallible, imperfect beings. Everyone – EVERYONE – makes mistakes. Stop comparing yourself to others. We can’t possibly know all of the experiences of every person, so we should just stop worrying about other people and instead, focus inward.

If you find it difficult to have some self-compassion (like most of us do), try imagining what you would tell a friend in the same situation (and then, give that very loving and compassionate message to yourself).

Look forward to the future. Put simply, plan with intention and make it happen. Did you know people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them? It’s true and it’s actually supported by science – in fact, one study found that people were 42% more likely to achieve their goals and dreams when they simply wrote them down on a regular basis.

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What does this mean for you? First, you need to spend some time really thinking about your goals and dreams. Don’t limit yourself (at least not a first) — really indulge your wildest dreams and make a list with everything on it. Challenge yourself – it can be exciting and highly motivating to envision yourself reaching new heights. Once you’ve done that, you can start shaping your list into a more realistic set of goals, both long-term and short-term.

Recently, while standing in the entryway of a friend’s apartment, I noticed a whiteboard which hung next to the front door. There, clearly written out and even numbered (I think to indicate the priority of each) was a list of this person’s goals. It occurred to me that this is the level of commitment we need to actually achieve our goals. It’s important for us to see them and remind ourselves of what we’re working towards frequently, because it helps keep us motivated.

I’m not at all saying that you need to hang your goals next to your front door (though it’s not the worst idea), but I challenge you to actually take the time to write down your goals and keep them close. Check those goals frequently and ask yourself if you’re on track to meet them. Are there things that are keeping you from achieving your goals? Do you need to adjust your goals because of recent changes in your life? Whatever the case, commit to revisiting and even rewriting these goals on a regular basis. Seriously, the science supports it.

Fill your mind with the right stuff. Everything we take in is being filtered by our brains in some way and absolutely impacts our mood and behavior. Be selective about the music you listen to, the books or magazines you read, and even the television or movies you watch. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever indulge in watching a scary movie, but if that’s all you ever watch, you’ll probably find that your anxiety and paranoia are constantly activated.

Opt for music that helps relax you or lifts your mood. I was at the gym the other night and saw this guy who was in his own world, totally blocking out anyone else in the gym, and he was busting out some pretty serious dance moves to whatever was playing in his earbuds. It made me smile because that’s exactly what our music should do for us – it should move our souls and make us want to dance like no one is watching.

Read books and articles that leave you with a sense of wonder, possibility, or inspiration. This doesn’t mean you have to stop reading fiction (because I love a good suspenseful murder mystery) if that’s your thing. Just consider mixing in some material that leaves you with that feel-good buzz. I already mentioned The Book of Joy, and I’m currently reading Girl, Wash Your Face (both of which I highly recommend), but there are literally tons of great books our there! In fact, just google, “great books that leave you feeling good” or “best inspirational books” and you will find many (many) suggestions.

Okay, you get the idea. Just to be clear, I’m definitely not encouraging you to ignore things that may not be pleasing to you (like the news, for instance – this is not an excuse to be ignorant), but I do think there should be a healthy balance of the type of information we’re receiving each day. This is especially true if you find that your mood is being largely impacted by these things. You know yourself better than anyone else, so listen to what your mind and body are telling you and go with what’s best for you.

Love yourself. Give yourself a virtual (or literal, if you prefer) hug. I mentioned both gratitude and self-forgiveness previously, but these aren’t really the same as actually loving yourself. Do you think you are a good person? Do you like yourself? Do you love yourself? You should! And if you don’t, you’re the only person keeping you from doing so.

That may have felt harsh, but it’s the honest truth — if you don’t love yourself, you are the only person on the planet who can change it. Start focusing on the wonderful qualities about yourself that make you awesome — Are you reliable? Always have a friend’s back? Always willing to help? Genuinely care about your friends? Trust me, there are reasons for you to love yourself and that’s where you need to place your focus.

However, if you find that your list of awesome qualities is shorter than you would like it to be, or if there’s qualities about yourself that you don’t admire, then decide if these things are really important to you. And if they are important to you (don’t worry about other people), change them! If you don’t like that you are constantly breaking your word or bailing on friends, figure out what needs to change so that you can stop doing that.

I want you to love yourself today and tomorrow and always, but recognize that we are all works-in-progress and that is completely okay. It doesn’t make us any less lovable, it makes us human.

Have a sense of humor. Practice laughing when things don’t go the way you planned (instead of exploding with anger or simmering on the inside). Our reaction to unexpected events determines how we experience the world around us. It’s definitely not always easy, but it can really help us cope with life when we approach things with a sense of humor or lightness. And I think it actually helps us with becoming more flexible and adaptable as well.

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I will admit I have a tendency to take things a bit too seriously (just ask any of my friends or family members), but I am ‘seriously’ (pun fully intended) working on this and I think I’m making improvements. And to be honest, when it feels like the only options are to laugh or cry, I would just rather laugh (because no one likes to cry).

If you’re blessed with the gift of quick wit, this can be particularly useful in providing comic relief. It’s not always appropriate, but sometimes what people really need is a reprieve from the seriousness of life and some comic relief can often provide that. I don’t really know how to tell you to read the ‘right’ situation, but I trust you to use your best judgement in knowing when and where this could be useful. It’s okay to laugh, people!

Focus on others. This may sound counter-intuitive initially. But truly, if you’re trying to find some joy in your own life, the most effective way to do that is by focusing on others (in fact, that’s almost the entire point of The Book of Joy — I’ve referenced this twice already so I trust that you can navigate your way to one of the above links if you’re interested in reading it!).

You may consider taking up a cause or volunteering at a local community center – both of which would be great ideas and worthy endeavors. However, there’s something you can easily do today that doesn’t take a lot of time or effort  and that’s to simply listen. I mean really listen to the people around you.

Most people in [emotional] pain just want to feel heard and you can offer that. It’s easy (well, maybe it’s not that easy)! Just shut your mouth, stop talking, and pay attention (you can reference my earlier point about learning to be present if you’re not sure how to do this, but I have a feeling you do).

You don’t need to have all of the answers. You don’t need to have access to lots of resources. You don’t need to provide any solutions. All you have to do is listen. Just try it, what do you have to lose?

Final Thoughts

Trust your instincts when it comes to doing things that will help you learn to love your journey. Like I’ve said before (and will definitely say again), you know yourself better than anyone else.

Remember that we only have today – tomorrow is not promised to us. Recognize the impermanence of everything and start embracing your journey today.

 

References

Bluerock, G. (2017). 6 ways to love your life more. Life. Retrieved October 4, 2018, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/6-ways-to-love-your-life-more_b_8295318

Morrissey, M. (2016). The power of writing down your goals and dreams. Huffpost. Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/marymorrissey/the-power-of-writing-down_b_12002348.html

Priebe, H. (2018). 33 simple ways to fall back in love with your life. Thought Catalog. Retrieved October 4, 2018, from https://thoughtcatalog.com/heidi-priebe/2015/10/33-simple-ways-to-fall-back-in-love-with-your-life/

The Pluralism Project. (2018). Creating a mandala. Harvard University. Retrieved October 10, 2018, from http://pluralism.org/religions/buddhism/the-buddhist-experience/creating-a-mandala/

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Mandala, Photo by Bharet Dass on Instagram (@bharatdass108)
  2. Smiling woman, Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
  3. Chasing the light in Yosemite, Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash
  4. Just laugh, Photo by Jenna Anderson on Unsplash

 

Making the Most of Your Workout Routine

I don’t know about you, but I always find that my own workout routine starts to decline at this time of year because I lose motivation as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. When you can’t be outside doing the things you love, it’s easy to get discouraged and to just quit working out altogether (seriously, I have so been there).

Last week, I talked about burnout and  because physical activity was one of the things I suggested trying out, I thought it would be appropriate this week to talk about strategies for creating a workout routine that really works for you (plus, I’m hoping it will help motivate me to keep going). Wherever you are in your own fitness journey, I hope you will find some of these suggestions helpful in embarking on new goals or continuing your success.

I also want to make a quick note to say that I am not a certified trainer or nutritionist. The items included in the list below are based on what has worked for me as well as other good resources I have collected. Please consider consulting with your physician or another professional before making any changes to your fitness routine and/or diet.

I think the single most important thing to keep in mind when developing a workout routine is to make it your own. If you don’t like what you’re doing, chances are you won’t continue to do it for long. That said, here are some of my best tips to help ensure you get the most out of your own workout routine:

Choose to do things you enjoy. I LOVE running. It’s one of the few times I experience this sense of euphoric weightlessness (so weird, I know). In fact, I often find myself smiling as I run (which probably really weirds other people out). Plus, I feel immensely sexy right after a great run (maybe it’s that glowy look from all the sweat?). If running’s not your thing (you aren’t alone!), consider alternatives that may appeal to you like taking a boot camp, Zumba, jazzercise, or a yoga class.

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While working out with a group of people can be fun, you may also consider working with a personal training (even just for a session or two) to help introduce you to some new options and prevent injury when trying new things (a good trainer should always check and correct your form if needed). Working with a trainer can also be an excellent option if you have a previous injury and you’re not sure of the best options available to you.

I have a SLAP tear in my left shoulder which has taken about 6 months of recovery to be fully functional (as much as a SLAP tear will heal at least) and I’ve been working with a trainer recently to design a regimen for strengthening my upper body that won’t put me at risk of further injury. So far, so good!

If you enjoy being outdoors and the climate permits, options like kayaking, biking, hiking, and paddle boarding can also be fun. Or, in the winter months, skiing or snowboarding could be great options (depending on where you live). Of course, you may find that you want to try all of these and that would be great as well!

Integrate a good mix of cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises. While I do run most days, I also add in some strength training by stopping at our local outdoor fitness pad (check it out here) which allows me to focus on targeted strengthening for upper and/or lower body. I also frequently follow my run with a quick core workout (like this one from XHIT). On days that I don’t run, I generally take a long walk and follow it with some Yin Yoga (which provides lots of deep stretching).

When I’m unable to be outside (because it’s pouring rain, or snowing, or whatever), I hit the gym and typically do some targeted strength training for upper body, lower body, or core and follow it with some cardio on the treadmill or stair-stepper.

Again, the key is really to find what works for you — your ideal balance may involve less cardio and more strength training, or more focus on flexibility and less of the others. My routine is constantly changing based on my personal needs and goals, so don’t feel like you’re limited in any way! This is something that you can absolutely change and adapt over time as your own needs change.

Find a workout partner. Accountability can be a powerful tool for getting you motivated to workout. If you’re worried you may find yourself pushing your workout to the bottom of your to-do list, or maybe off of it altogether (or, if you just enjoy working out with a friend!), I encourage you to find someone to workout with you. This might be a significant other, colleague, family member, friend, or someone you meet during a class at your gym. Set a regular time to meet, discuss what you want to do ahead of time so that you already have a plan in mind, and then, actually show up (because no one likes being stood up).

I have typically struggled to find consistent workout partners in the past because I have an unusual schedule (I generally workout in the late morning or mid-afternoon), so some potential alternatives that have worked for me (in terms of accountability) include scheduling sessions with a trainer 1-2 times per week, signing up for classes at designated times, and/or marking off time to get to the gym on your calendar so that you’re less likely to compromise on making it there (because you already planned it into your schedule).

Change it up throughout the week. Even if you absolutely love a particular workout, you’re bound to get bored with it at some point. The best way to combat this it to ensure you have a variety of workouts throughout your week. A common option is to alternate focal areas such as leg day, upper body day, and core day. You may even want to consider taking alternate routes if running or walking is something you regularly enjoy.

I also try to change up the types of yoga I do throughout the week depending on my mood and needs. For example, a Yin or Hatha Yoga class can be really calming because they’re slower moving, whereas an Asana Flow class will get your blood pumping.

If you’re not sure which class to take, read the description (these are usually available on the studio website) or stop by to chat with an instructor about the best options for you. There are also some great videos available online (like those on YogaGlo) if you prefer to practice at home.

The bottom line is – don’t be afraid to try new things and to challenge yourself by adding new exercises that may be out of your comfort zone (like lifting weights, for instance). Of course, it’s always a good idea to work with a trainer when you’re trying something for the first time to ensure you don’t cause injury to yourself.

As long as you keep an open mind and willingness to try new things, you’re sure to find things that provide your routine with lots of great variety.

Work up to a more rigorous routine over time. It may be tempting to start out full force by working out 7 days a week or running 8 miles the first time you go out, but this is bound to set you up for failure. When you’re starting a new fitness routine, it’s important to set realistic (as in, actually achievable) goals for ourselves.

Start by planning 2-3 days per week for an amount of time that fits your schedule (keep in mind that it may only be 20 minutes and that’s totally okay). You may need to start out with something like walking, adding in intermittent running as you build your endurance.

You should also begin all reps and weight on the low end. Then, see how you feel over the next couple of days and adjust as needed. If you over do it, you’re likely to suffer an injury that will force you to stop working out (completely defeating the purpose). If you’re concerned about where to start, I encourage you to schedule a session with a personal trainer (again – sorry, I’m like a broken record on this).

Invest in the right shoes. A good pair of tennis shoes are absolutely necessary, but even more so if you’re someone who plans to do long-distance running. Everyone has different needs when it comes to finding the best shoe, so my best advice is to visit a store where the clerks are actually trained to help you find the right shoes.

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I’m fortunate to have the Lincoln Running Company within a reasonable driving distance. They are true experts in terms of finding the best shoe for you. They will watch you walk and discuss your particular needs (like how far you run, if you’re training for a race, etc.) as well as any concerns you may have (like if you’re prone to corns or blisters due to rubbing, or if you have back pain after you run, etc.).

The first time I visited their store, they even guaranteed the shoes I purchased and told me I could bring them back after I tried them out a couple of times (outdoors!) if they weren’t the right shoes for me. Do yourself a favor and do some research to find a store that provides this service and invest in a good pair of shoes.

Having a great playlist is a must. On days that I walk, I love to listen to audio books using Audible, but I know I won’t make it to a good running pace if I don’t have a good playlist to pump me up a bit. Whether you use a streaming service like Pandora or create your own play list, be sure to have a set that makes you want to move!

My playlist totally depends on my mood (and probably a bit on the pace I’m wanting to run). Some days, I love music that’s more along the lines of a dance mix (think Shakira, Lady Gaga, Fergie, Rihanna, Arianna Grande). On other days, I love a sort of punk rock / indie rock mix (think Good Charlotte, The White Stripes, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Fallout Boy). Whatever your taste in music, just make sure your set list is something you really enjoy and will get your heart pumping.

Workout at a time of day that works for your schedule. I know there’s a lot of articles out there that all seem to share a different opinion on the best time of day to workout. The bottom line is – choose a time that works for you. If you’re not a morning person and you think you want to start getting up early to squeeze in a workout, you’ll probably find yourself hitting snooze and sleeping through it.

I prefer to run outside, but I’m totally not a morning person. Because it’s actually quite dangerous to run outside when it’s around 100 degrees (Fahrenheit), I typically wait to work out until after 7pm during the summer. This means that I work out in the evening, sometimes rather late. For me, it works well with my schedule (as I work from home and set my own schedule) and doesn’t seem to impact my ability to sleep well.

However, the time that works most ideally for you will depend on your own schedule and energy patterns. If you find that you’re tired in the late morning, but have plenty of energy in the afternoon, it may be most ideal to fit in a workout right after work at 4 or 5pm. I would even recommend trying out some different times (if it isn’t too disruptive to your schedule) to see when you feel the most energized and mentally prepared to workout.

Be kind to your body – always replenish yourself. Just as important as your actual workout plan is to your physical health, is the other stuff in your life that helps support your fitness needs. Things like getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating nourishing foods.

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There are plenty of great resources out there to help you find the best diet / food lifestyle for yourself (like the Whole30, for instance). However, I generally subscribe to the idea of clean eating which focuses on eating nutrient rich, whole foods and avoiding processed and sugary foods. I also try to go through the Whole30 once a year to check what’s working well for me and what may need to be adjusted within my diet.

Again, this should be a decision that works for you and it may take trying out some different options to find the right fit. You may also consider meeting with a nutritionist or your regular doctor to discuss options. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle be successful on your first attempt to follow a diet plan. Part of any process is failure as it allows us to adjust our behavior and become successful!

Check yourself out. Seriously, notice the changes in your body and admire them (like, actually look in the mirror and tell yourself you look good – repeat after me, “I. look. awesome!”). Applaud yourself for your efforts and your successes when you make it to the gym every day you intended this week or when you complete an extra hard work out (you’re a machine!). Celebrate your goals along the way when you drop a pound or lose body fat or when you just freaking feel better!

Final Thoughts

Above all, remember to focus on what matters to you.

Create a workout routine that is completely your own and don’t be afraid to keep making adjustments until it’s perfect for you (which may mean it’s continually changing).

All my best to you as you create or improve your own fitness plan!

If you have a workout plan that works well for you, I would love to hear about it – comment below and feel free to share your own post-workout photo!

 

References

Fetters, K. A. (2016). 13 ways to get the most out of your workout according to research. Time. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from
http://time.com/4237126/13-ways-to-get-the-most-out-of-your-workout-according-to-research/

Robinson, K. M. (2018). Top 10 fitness tips. WebMD. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/fitness-top-10#2

Smith, J. (2017). Dr. Oz’s top 10 health and fitness tips of all time. Shape. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/dr-ozs-top-10-health-and-fitness-tips-all-time

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Into the street wild, Photo by Oscar Söderlund on Unsplash
  2. My post-workout picture, Photo by me
  3. Shoes on stairs, Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash
  4. Emptying a glass bottle, Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Are You Feeling the Burn[out]?

This past weekend, I went to a friend’s backyard barbecue. Sitting around a fire, surrounded by friends – the evening was nearly picturesque – kids running around, adults enjoying cocktails, all while playing some fun yard games.

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As the night wore on and we all began to wind down, a familiar topic of conversation emerged which has prompted me to write today’s blog post. Over the past several months, I’ve been hearing many of the same frustrations and concerns from my friends, family members, colleagues, and even students (plus, I’m pretty sure I’ve said these exact words more than once):

I’m exhausted

I’m working all the time and just can’t get caught up

I go to work early and leave late, but it’s not enough

It’s never enough

It seems we’re facing a huge problem as a society, but nothing is changing. We continue down the same destructive path, hoping that if we just spread ourselves a little bit thinner, stretch a little bit farther, we’ll achieve some miraculous act which will allow us to finally find some relief.

We’re burnt out. And the truth of the matter is, there isn’t some magical fix around the next bend.

What is almost certain to happen is that we will exhaust our bodies and minds to their breaking points. We will face health issues that impact us physiologically and likely, psychologically. Our bodies will demand that we stop the madness — that we finally get some rest! Unfortunately, it will be at the cost of lasting damage which will set us back even further than our previous starting point.

Not to mention the strain that this lifestyle is likely to place on our relationships with others (your SO, your kids, other family members or friends).

And the cycle begins again.

Unless, we choose to change.

Perhaps, even worse than the sentiment of burnout are the feelings of failure that we seem to adopt as a result:

I’ll never make enough money

I’m always letting my family down

I hate what I do, but I don’t have another option

I will never do better than this

If you’re still reading this and you find that you can identify with one or more of these statements –  please, stop lying to yourself.

Stop lying to yourself today. Make the commitment to yourself to stop being your own worst enemy and to instead, have some self-compassion.

Think about all of the great things you are…

Intelligent

Hard-working

Problem-solving

Self-motivated

Bloody brilliant

You’re practically GD super human!

You (and only you) have the power and ability to change your life. To make it what you want.

You can improve your circumstance and you can become a happier person. It won’t be easy, but you’ve almost certainly been through harder things in the past – and you survived!

Reading over these last few lines, I realized how much I’m sounding like one of those self-help books or motivational cassette tapes (yep, I remember those). The truth of the matter is that you already know all of this – I’m not saying anything you haven’t already told yourself. But, maybe seeing it here in text, written on this page, will push you one step closer to actually making the changes you want to make. Maybe today will be the day that you commit to yourself to actually take some action.

You can start today.

As you probably already know, burnout is the result of sustained stress and exhaustion. It will not resolve itself or get better on its own. The only way to tackle burnout is to work on decreasing the underlying stress and to help ensure your body is able to get the rest it needs. Below, I’ve pulled together some of the best practices for learning to cope with (and hopefully recover from) burnout which I hope you find helpful.

Best Practices for Coping with Burnout:

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Ask yourself what’s most important to you – What are your non-negotiables? What must be done today? What can you let go of? What can you delegate to others?

Once you have a list of your true priorities, you can begin breaking them down into realistic goals. Maybe you need to shift or adjust your goals to better fit with your current place in life. It’s important to be honest with ourselves during this process because over-committing or setting our goals too high, will only land us back in the same spot again. It’s much better to start with small, attainable goals, than to feel defeated by unrealistic goals.

If you have difficulty gauging what you can actually accomplish in a week, break it into days. Then, break those days into hours. Do whatever it takes for you to regain control of your goals and to begin feeling a sense of accomplishment. I use todoist.com to help me stay organized and on task, but there are lots of great resources out there. So, find what works for you and take control of your priorities.

I will likely write more about goal setting at a later date, but one approach that tends to work well for people is setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Here’s a page from MindTools that will give you a quick rundown of the SMART Goal Strategy to help you get started.

Find restorative outlets. While the very best thing is likely to take some time away from the source of your stress (e.g., work, school, etc.), I realize that this may not be possible in many cases. If taking a restorative vacation is out, then look for things that can bring some peace and calm throughout your week.

It may be as simple as making time to take a walk or calling a good friend to catch up. It might be getting a massage or taking an afternoon out on the lake to fish or paddle-board. It may be enrolling in a yoga class or practicing meditation at home.

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Whatever it is, it should be fun – this should be the thing that brings you joy, the thing you look forward to throughout your week. I know you’re probably thinking that you don’t have time to fit another thing into your schedule – after all, that’s what started this whole mess – but, I assure you, carving out some time each week (even if it’s just one hour on a random evening) will exponentially be worth the investment for your health.

Learn to say no. This is something that I definitely struggle to do. I’m always worried that turning down an opportunity could mean less opportunities in the future. So, I say yes until my plate is so full that I can’t really give my best effort to anything.

Here’s the truth: We cheat ourselves and we cheat the projects we work on when we don’t protect our time.

Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean we have to be jerks either (because I know sometimes it can feel that way) – it can be as simple as saying, “Thanks for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to designate to helping with this project right now, but I hope you’ll keep me in mind for future opportunities.”

People really do appreciate honesty and they would rather have you turn them down up front, then to watch you bail out half way through or do a haphazard job. And, if you’re really as amazing as I know you are, the opportunities will continue to present themselves in the future.

Show some self-compassion. Believe it or not, most people really struggle to show self-compassion. We’re so hard on ourselves – we push ourselves to set extremely high goals and then, berate ourselves for failing when we aren’t perfect (because no one is!!). Give yourself a break. Try thinking about what you would tell a good friend in the same situation and then, practice some positive self-talk.

Did you miss a goal? Were you unable to complete your to-do list today? Focus on the positive – remind yourself of everything you did accomplish today and then, adjust your goals for tomorrow (and so on) accordingly.

Avoid thinking of goal adjustment as “lowering” your standards and instead consider how goals can be fluid; something that we can adjust and adapt over time. We don’t have to give up on a goal if we don’t quite reach it when we face obstacles. We can simply shift our goals to account for the new information we have acquired and then, continue forward.

More than once during my graduate program, my timeline has shifted because of my research. Of course, hind sight is 20/20 and I might choose a different research path based on what I know today. But, I didn’t stop doing research and I certainly didn’t quit my pursuit toward finishing my Ph.D. when faced with these challenges. Knowing my research will be worthwhile in the end and that I have the opportunity to investigate something I’m truly passionate about has helped me realize that my goal hasn’t really changed, it’s just adjusted a bit. And, in the end, I will still have those 3 little letters after my name. 🙂

Lean on your support network. Spending time with those who genuinely care about us and who lift us up is all the more important when we’re experiencing burnout and feeling down. It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it’s important to socialize – even if it’s just a night out (or in) with one or two of your closest friends.

Your support network should consist of people who help provide objectivity and clarity. People who act as a sounding board and can provide compassion when you have a hard time being compassionate with yourself.

You don’t need a large group of friends to establish a strong support network. Draw on those around you who are authentic, the people you can count on when things are tough. This may consist of people who are colleagues, your siblings, or friends from college – whatever the case, whoever makes up your support network, spend some time with these people to help pull you through the difficult times.

Get enough sleep. That’s basically it – just get enough sleep (as in at least 7 hours). You would be amazed at the difference a good night’s sleep makes on your overall mental and physical state. There’s an excellent book by Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution, that is simply a great read and provides a much more in depth explanation than I could possibly provide here. If you’re short on time to read, consider listening to the audio book version on your morning commute.

Seriously though, prioritize your sleep schedule and watch the positive impact it will have on your life.

Fuel your body with nutritious food. I think nutrition and diet are extremely important and I will probably talk about this more in future blog posts, but what I want you consider today is how food makes us feel. If we’re always carb-loading (despite their awesome deliciousness), we’re likely to feel heavy and sluggish because that’s the type of food we’re putting into our bodies.

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It’s important to eat a balanced diet that provides us with the energy we need to make it through the day. (This means actually taking the time to eat meals throughout the day and not just refilling our coffee mugs!) Our diets should be full of colorful fruits and vegetables as well as healthy proteins.

In terms of diets, there are lots of great options out there and plenty of information (plus some amazing recipes) available at no cost to you. I encourage you to do some exploring to find what works well for you. Clean Eating, Paleo, Whole30 (based on Paleo), and the Keto Diet are some reputable ones that I would recommend as starting points.

Get up and move. Most of us sit in the same spot all day, every day. We sit at desks, in front of computers, and barely get up to move unless we’re compelled because nature calls. I know it may seem like just another thing to fit into your already tight schedule, but finding time to move each day is important, not just for our bodies, but for our souls (or whatever you call that inner part of yourself that feels deeply satisfied when you do something that’s truly nourishing or fulfilling).

It’s important for us to see outside of our office walls, beyond our computer and phone screens (this totally includes late night binging!). Make a commitment to yourself to spend some time being active each week. It doesn’t have to be something you hate – if you don’t like running, consider doing some yoga, or go kayaking, or go for a scenic walk (or – hey, why not have sex?!) .

Bottom line: Find something you love, that makes you feel good, and get active — it will be so worth it!

Final Thoughts

I know there’s a lot of suggestions here and the last the thing I want for you is to leave this post feeling even more overwhelmed than you already do. I recommend choosing 1-2 things from this list to start working on immediately and then, over time you can work toward integrating more things into your own life.

Choose to start with things that get you excited (like finding a restorative outlet or getting active) as you will be much more likely to actually stick with them. Set realistic goals for yourself like trying to get enough sleep at least 2 nights a week.

Whatever the case, recognize that no one is perfect and it’s okay if you don’t achieve your goals on the first attempt. Don’t let this defeat you – instead, have some self-compassion and commit to giving your best effort again next week.

I welcome you to post your personal goals in the comments section below. All my best to you as you start this journey!

 

References

HelpGuide.org. Burnout prevention and treatment: Techniques for dealing with overwhelming stress. Trusted guide to mental and emotional health. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm

Mind Tools Content Team. Recovering from burnout: Recovering passion for your role again. MindTools. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/recovering-from-burnout.htm

Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 5 ways to cope with burnout. PsychCentral. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/5-ways-to-cope-with-burnout/

 

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Female head from behind, Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
  2. Camp Fire, Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
  3. Path in the Woods, Photo by Me 🙂
  4. Fruit Tree Harvest, Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash