Please find below highlights from Ravi Raman’s Webinar: “Leading Through Change Without Burning Out” being provided by MPUG for the convenience of our members. You may wish to use this transcript for the purposes of self-paced learning, searching for specific information, and/or performing a quick review of webinar content. There may be exclusions, such as those steps included in product demonstrations or there may be additions to further explain topics. You may watch the live recording of this webinar at your convenience.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion, both physical and emotional, resulting from prolonged stress or frustration. It was originally used to describe the experiences of healthcare professionals, but has since been applied to a wide range of industries and occupations.
Burnout is characterized by declining motivation, along with physical and mental fatigue. It can have serious consequences for individuals and organizations. In this article, we’ll explore the causes and effects of burnout, and provide strategies for avoiding and overcoming it in the workplace.
For leaders, the consequences of burnout can be particularly significant, as it can impact the entire team and the success of the project. It’s especially important for leaders to recognize the signs of burnout and take steps to prevent it, such as promoting a healthy work-life balance and providing support for their team members. By prioritizing mental health and well-being, leaders can create a more productive and successful work environment for everyone.
The Impact of Burnout on Employee Retention
Quiet quitting, or the tendency for employees to leave their jobs without announcing their departure, is often a sign of stress and burnout. The uncertain economic and pandemic-related environment has added even more pressure and stress to the workplace, leading many employees to feel overwhelmed and seek a break from work.
The high cost of burnout among employees is a concern for businesses and society as a whole. Hiring and training leaders is a significant investment, and when a large portion of those leaders feel like they have to quit their job just to avoid burnout, it can be a massive drain on businesses and society. This “tax” on businesses and society is increasingly unsustainable, and it is important for leaders and organizations to take steps to prevent burnout and promote workplace wellness.
As project managers, it is important for us to recognize the signs of burnout and take steps to help ourselves and our teams avoid it. By applying effective strategies for managing stress and workload, we can prevent burnout and improve overall productivity and satisfaction.
It is essential for us to be aware of our own levels of burnout and stress. If you are feeling run-down and drained of physical or emotional energy at work, it may be a sign of burnout. Take a moment to ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being never feeling run-down and 5 being always feeling run-down, how would you rate yourself? If you are operating at a high level, that’s great! But if you are feeling burnt out, it is important to take steps to prevent it and improve your overall well-being. By recognizing the signs of burnout and implementing effective strategies for managing stress and workload, we can improve our own productivity and satisfaction, and avoid the negative effects of burnout.
Coping Without Relying on Coping Mechanisms
If you’re feeling burnt out, it can be tempting to rely on coping mechanisms to get you through. While these strategies can be helpful in the short term, they often don’t address the root cause of burnout. Today, we’ll discuss some strategies that can help you move beyond burnout without relying solely on coping mechanisms. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. You’ll need to find a solution that works for you.
While practices such as meditation, exercise, and taking time off can be beneficial, it’s also important to consider other options such as limiting working hours, building stronger connections with coworkers, and even switching careers if necessary. Ultimately, the key is to prioritize your mental health and well-being in order to create a more productive and fulfilling work environment.
A list of coping mechanisms includes:
- Physical exercise
- Proper breathing
- Strategic use of vacations
- Three-day weekends
- Using vacation days liberally
- Taking sabbaticals
- Limiting working hours
- Connecting with co-workers
- Changing companies, bosses, and careers
These strategies can be helpful, but they are not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Addressing Burnout at Its Source
I want to focus on a different approach to dealing with burnout. Rather than relying on coping mechanisms, I will suggest ways to find peace of mind and address burnout at its source. While working with a trained coach can be helpful in deploying coping mechanisms, I will also provide some tips and strategies that you can use on your own. Remember, everyone’s experience with burnout is different, so it’s important to find a solution that works for you.
While coping mechanisms can be helpful in the short term, they don’t always address the root cause of burnout. Today, I want to share a story that illustrates this point.
A man was frantically searching for his keys on the sidewalk under a street lamp late at night. People who were coming out of nearby bars and restaurants asked him if they could help, and he told them that he had lost his keys. More and more people joined in the search, but then a woman passing by asked him where he had last seen his keys. He told her that he last used them in his car, but it was dark over there so he decided to search for them where there was light.
This story reminds us that sometimes when we’re facing burnout, we can get so caught up in coping mechanisms that we forget to look at the root cause of our struggles.
One of my favorite quotes is by Archimedes: “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, and I shall move the world.”
We’re going to talk about a place within yourself where you can find more peace of mind, and leverage, which is your attention, and your presence. You’re being grounded, you’re being present with me instead of multitasking, which might give you an insight or a sense of how to operate in your given circumstance. Even if there’s a lot going on, and a lot of important work happening, you can find peace of mind from the inside out, starting with your mind.
It’s how the human mind is designed – to generate thinking and feeling from the inside out.
Managing Thoughts and Emotions for Peace of Mind
Most of us view our mind like a camera, taking in the sights and sounds of our environment and generating feelings based on those experiences. We believe that our mind accurately processes the information it receives and gives us an accurate understanding of our surroundings. However, this is not always the case. In uncertain or high-pressure situations, we often feel stress and pressure, but it’s important to remember that our mind does not always operate like a camera, and the feelings and thoughts it generates are not always an accurate reflection of reality.
And that’s why, when we’re in a situation that’s uncertain, like when the economy changes, our resources are cut, the stakes are high, we need to close a deal, or you’re in a job interview and feel like you need to impress someone else. These circumstances, for some reason, seem like they create pressure on us, and most of us don’t think twice about it.
Most of us think it’s completely reasonable to be in a situation, such as a job interview, and feel pressured. In fact, we think there’s something wrong with not feeling pressured when the stakes are high, such as presenting to the board. However, it turns out that our human mind actually works more like a projector than a camera.
This is not to say that the world doesn’t exist; if we all stand up and walk in a direction, we will eventually hit a wall, mountain, or some other obstacle. However, the experience we are having at the moment has far more to do with our state of mind than anything else.
When we have a calm and settled mind, even a very dire and intense circumstance can feel quite peaceful. If we have a lot on our minds, if we’re highly distracted, if we’re multitasking, or if we’re running around in our head, even the most peaceful experience in the world can feel frenetic and stressful. Now, maybe you’ve experienced this yourself, where you found yourself in the midst of a stressful circumstance, but for some reason, you remained cool, collected, and relaxed.
On the flip side, I’ve experienced this myself: you don’t have much going on, maybe you’re even on vacation, but you’ve got a lot on your mind and you’re feeling stressed like you’re burning out, even though you’re on vacation. So, what’s going on here? Well, it’s a misunderstanding. We forget that our experience comes from the inside out, not from our circumstances.
Examples of How Our Thinking Shapes Reality
Now, I want to share just a couple of funny stories that will make the point. I have a three-year-old, and something funny happened this weekend that I want to share, to illustrate that we’re living in a world of our own thinking, not really what’s going on. And again, I’m not discounting the pressure, the circumstances you’re in, and the work you’re trying to do. It’s all important, I get it. But what I’m saying is the feeling you’re in is coming from the inside out, stemming from your state of mind. So here’s what happened just this weekend.
The Reality of a Child vs. an Adult
I was driving with my wife and my three-year-old. Normally we don’t listen to music, but I put on a Spotify playlist called “Chill Mix.” It was chill music that the company picked, not that I picked, and it was actually quite good music. As we were driving and running some errands, my wife and I were looking at each other, bobbing our heads to the music, thinking, “Wow, what great music!”
We came up to a stoplight and I looked in the rearview mirror, and my three-year-old son was in his car seat, eyes shut, teeth gritted, fingers stuck in his ears. And I said, “Bodie, are you okay?” And he said, “Daddy, the noise, the noise, the noise! Make the noise stop!”
Okay, so here I was, having the time of my life, loving this music, going through memory lane—they were playing music from the nineties. And at the same time, my son was experiencing some of the worst noise he could imagine. It just made me laugh, so I turned off the radio and we started singing some songs and were much happier with that.
So it goes to show how separate reality is generated from the inside out.
How Certain People Enjoy Golf
I moved to Minnesota recently, and I don’t know if any of you are golfers out there, but my father-in-law gave me a set of his clubs and said, “Well, you’re not a Minnesotan unless you golf.” And I said, “Well, I’ve never golfed.” He said there’s no better time than now to start. So we went out to the driving range, and what I experienced through the people at the driving range was nothing short of bliss. Everyone was having fun! Even people who were just totally whipping the balls were having fun.
And there I was, just completely up in my head, frustrated and stressed and wondering, how on Earth can anyone enjoy this sport? Again I was living in my own reality. What some people thought was incredibly fun was just really stressful to me.
The Role of Thinking in Burnout
David Bohm, a physicist turned philosopher, was a friend of Einstein, and known for his rigorous and logical approach to science. He understood that the source of our tension and stress is often internal. He famously said, “Thought creates our world and then says, ‘I didn’t do it.'”
This is exactly what happens when we face burnout. We do a lot of thinking about our work, which is particularly true if we care about our job. This is why in caring professions, whether it’s in healthcare, tech, construction, or retail, if you care about your job, you’re likely to think about it a lot. What we’re feeling is the quality of that thinking, not necessarily the circumstances we’re in.
Now, I want to do a couple of quick visual examples to show just how deeply our mind is creating a story and creating reality, but we don’t realize it. We tend to forget how powerful our mind is. So, I’m going to do a few little fun visuals. I did this in one of my earlier talks with MPUG as well.
I want you to answer as you go through each of these, and watch how even something as simple as our visual system is really generated from inside of us, and our brain is making a meaning that doesn’t quite match what’s really going on. So here’s the first one.
Well, if you’re like me, the right bar, the right image, looks longer. In fact, when I first saw this illusion, I had to take a ruler and measure it because I thought there was a problem with the image. But no, it’s just our mind generating an experience and leading us to think that the right side is longer than the left.
Do you see a solid white triangle, sitting on top of three black dots, and A triangle with a black border?
There is no white triangle, there are no black dots, and there is no triangle with a blackboard. The white triangle may just be a figment of the imagination, filling in the gaps and making it appear as though it exists.
There are no legs, and yet our mind quickly creates meaning and falls into the trap of believing in it.
And some of you may see something completely different. What I’m pointing to here is something that philosophers have understood, and that modern psychology and neuroscience are increasingly understanding as well. It is something that has been known through cultural traditions for a long time, which is that we react to our circumstances as if they are real, forgetting that the feeling of our circumstances is generated from within the mind.
If you remember for a moment, I started our conversation today by asking what you wanted to get out of it. This helped your mind relax and engage. We also did a quick grounding exercise. If you did the grounding exercise, you might have noticed a slight decrease in the amount of thinking you were doing, maybe a little less pressure. The benefit of doing these things is that it helps clear your internal system, so that what is happening in your circumstances feels less tense and less stressful, allowing you to see more clearly.
The Causes and Solutions to Burnout: A Philosophical Perspective
The philosopher Wittgenstein said that a man will be imprisoned in a room with an unlocked door that opens inward as long as it does not occur to him to pull the door rather than push it. This is why I have personally experienced working with clients.
In fact, I recently had a client who came to me. He is on his fifth job in two years, working at the director level in the technology industry. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I asked him how I could help as a coach. He said he had never wanted to leave any of his jobs, but he felt like he had no choice because they were so stressful. I asked him how things went after he left and started a new job, and he said that he felt OK for a few months but then the pressure would build and build until he finally realized he had to quit after about a year and a half.
This cycle would continue. If we keep pushing on a door that opens inward, we shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t open. We can start to open ourselves up and move beyond burnout by becoming curious about two things: the source of burnout comes from within us and is never found externally.
Finding Peace and Effectiveness in the Workplace
In our current situation, it doesn’t mean that you might never have to leave a job, change a boss, or set a boundary. All of those are perfectly acceptable options. But in addition, I hope that this conversation we’re having inspires you to look inward and do what it takes to help your mind settle a little bit. Just start realizing that in spite of your circumstances, you can and already do have peace of mind.
So, for the next few minutes, I’d like to do something that can be really helpful for you personally. I want you to remember a time when you were peaceful and highly effective at work, in spite of your circumstances. I really mean that. I want you to think of a situation where circumstances were intense, things were changing, the pressure was on, resources were cut, or whatever it was. Maybe it was a new job or a demanding project. And yet, for whatever reason, you were calm, peaceful, and highly effective.
If you can’t recall a moment like this, that’s not a problem. You can go back to your distant past, or even to your education, and think of a time when you were peaceful and effective in spite of your circumstances. But for many of you, if you just stop and reflect, you can start recalling times, maybe even from yesterday, when you were in a big meeting, or presenting to a client, and you were calm and effective.
Using your pen and paper or opening up OneNote for yourself, I want you to ask yourself: from that experience of peace of mind when you were being effective, what were the capabilities and qualities that were coming through you? Think of these qualities as adjectives, ways of describing yourself. So, for example, you might have been clear, communicative, connected, decisive, or confident. Make a list of 3-5 of these qualities that were coming through you from peace of mind.
Managing Stress and Achieving Success with Mindfulness
One of the things that you’ll notice as you start looking at your state of mind is that your mind has a natural capability to drop into a low-pressure, high-performance mental state. I know this might sound like wishful thinking, but it’s not. I’m saying that the mind has a brilliant design where, in spite of circumstances, you can experience this.
For example, this actually happened to me the other day. Someone cut me off on the road, and here in Minnesota, we’ve been getting some snow. We got seven inches yesterday and the roads are a little bit dicey. Someone cut me off in the turn lane coming into my home as we wound through my neighborhood. And I felt this wave of reactivity bubble over me, a kind of pressure bowl over me.
And then, all of a sudden, I watched myself and just settled down. I realized that I don’t know who this person is. They may not have seen me. They probably weren’t doing it on purpose. Who knows why they were doing it? And I just fell back into the peace of mind. It turned out that there was an elderly lady driving and my heart went out to her. I hoped she was safe on the rest of her drive home, and my mind just dropped back into a low-pressure, peaceful state.
It got triggered and then dropped back. The mind has that ability. So, if you haven’t done this exercise yet, I encourage you to take a few minutes to reflect on a time when you were peaceful and effective at work, in spite of circumstances. As you go through the next few days and weeks of work, try to notice all the moments when the peace of mind occurs, and you are able to access the qualities that are useful and relevant for the moment. Like a seesaw that moves up and down, when our mind is de-pressured and relaxed, our performance rises.
The Importance of Paying Attention to Your Mind
People often ask, what do I do to beat burnout? Do I have to meditate and become a Zen monk? Do I have to change my job? What I want to encourage is that there’s a brilliance to how the mind works, and there’s a lot to be said for paying attention to how the mind is really designed for success.
The mind has a tremendous capability for stasis, clarity, and de-stress. But we’ve lost touch with that capability. Instead of asking yourself what you should do, ask yourself what you can notice about how your mind works. By paying attention, you might just get an insight into how your human operating system is actually working quite well. In addition to that, you can use any tactics or techniques that help, whether it’s going for walks, taking breaks, or changing jobs.
The idea is to pay more attention to how your mind operates – and how it operates quite well – if you just give it a chance.
Creating a Peaceful Mind for Improved Performance
You might be wondering how to create a peaceful state of mind. How do you work to make that happen? I’d like to invite you to consider the fact that, just like yesterday, when I was triggered, then my mind naturally un-triggered itself and settled down, almost like a snow globe. When you shake up a snow globe, it gets fuzzy. But then the snow globe settles and becomes clear again.
That’s what happened to my mind, and I was back to a clear, high-performing state of mind. The same thing happens to all of us because our mind has a built-in capability for homeostasis, equilibrium, or peace of mind. The metaphor I like to use with my clients is that, in the same way a sailboat has a keel – a very deep fin in the bottom of the boat that contains ballast – our mind has a built-in capability for peace and high performance. By paying attention to it, and working with it, we can access this natural state of mind and allow it to work for us very well.
As we wrap up here, I’d like to leave you with a few key points.
The first is to notice how your experience of your work is generated from inside your mind. Just notice how you’re living in the feeling of your psychology and thinking, and far less has to do with the external circumstances. Every time you experience a challenging situation, and you notice yourself becoming a bit more calm, that’s the proof you need to see that your state of mind can be peaceful in spite of the circumstances. And realize the potential when you can have a peaceful mind regardless of the circumstances.
When you’re peaceful, you may start to be curious about how high-performing you are when you’re low-pressure, calm, and even-keeled. You’ll connect better with people, your communication will improve, you’ll understand people better, you’ll problem-solve better, and you’ll create better.
The last thing I’ll say is, explore and experiment with any activities and habits that support you feeling grounded. Being grounded simply means being more calm, relaxed, and present. The little mindfulness exercise we did at the beginning, where I asked you to put away distractions, find a nice calm state of mind, and just be present with me, might be all you need to give you an edge over burnout, and help you find a way to show up day to day, without suffering from the cumulative effects of repetitive stress on your career.