Low Energy and Burnout

By Jim Selman | Bio

I think the most common complaints I hear from folks in corporations these days is that they are ‘just tired’, have ‘low energy’ or are ‘burned out’. Usually these declarations are accompanied by a compelling story that there is ‘too much work’ or that they are pressed to produce without having the resources they need. It seems people are working in a condition in which they are being constantly called on to produce more for less. The results: poor morale (at best), an environment of stress (at worst), breakdowns in people’s health, lower productivity, and even (in extreme cases) sabotage. But what do these statements mean? And what can we do to change our experience at work (or in life) for that matter?

These statements reveal a particular relationship with our circumstances, based on a point of view that there is something ‘causing’ us to feel this way. When we say our workload is the cause of our low energy or tiredness, we are connecting two separate things (amount of work as cause and energy levels as effect) and collapsing them into a story that leaves us suffering in a self-fulfilling interpretation. This way of thinking will keep us stuck being victims of the situation we believe is causing our experience.

Now I don’t want to minimize people’s experiences and I don’t doubt they are sincere when they report how things are for them. But I would invite them simply to stop for a moment and reflect on what they are saying and what they are feeling.

I am not talking here about genuine physical fatigue or illness such as the flu. I am talking about the kind of ‘low energy mood’ that we can all experience when we are feeling overwhelmed or not in control of a situation or our own lives. Think of what happens when we resist being tired or having low energy. Generally, it will make our mood worse. We may suppress it for a while, but it will always come to the surface (and usually stronger than before). So how can we shift our mood?

I propose that we can alter moods like these by changing our point of view (our attitude). But, as we all know, changing an attitude or point of view isn’t easy. It is not easy because our attitude is a habit—a habitual way of being in relationship to our circumstances and ourselves.

A mood is what connects our stories about the way things are and our experience. The mood locks us into a particular relationship with the past and the future. If we see a positive future, we are generally in a good mood. If we see a negative one, we’ll easily fall into a bad mood. The key is to stop trying to get the circumstances to be positive or negative, but to master how we ‘see’ the circumstances.

In a way, it is the old ‘glass half full’ or ‘glass half empty’ dilemma—the glass is neither until we see it one way or another. This isn’t about positive thinking. To think positively, we’d have to see the glass as half empty first and then pretend it is really half full. The question is not which way it is, but what point of view are we committed to.

How to resolve these moods on Monday…

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.