Feeling Burnt Out? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions
I recently had a major epiphany.
I’m finally enthusiastic and passionate about my life’s work, after a long dry spell of feeling dread around all of it.
Now, this might sound kind of surprising to those of you who know me. After all, I am a woman who puts 100% of my passion into what I do — whether it’s work, mothering, being a good friend, or doing anything that engages my creativity.
But for a while, it was an uphill climb. Business partnerships that had initially seemed promising fell through. I second-guessed my primary “message” and how I wanted to put it out into the world. Red flags that I’d noticed but didn’t give much thought to turned into complete disasters. Despite the work that I’d put into my first book, which took more than a year to create, my publisher was stalling.
It felt like all the seeds I’d planted, which I’d expected to come to fruition, were remaining in the ground. Stubborn. Dormant. And, to be honest, sucking me dry of my remaining patience and inspiration.
All of these challenges told me it was the perfect time to go within, to take stock of who I was and what I wanted, as well as what was and wasn’t working. In getting real with myself, I was able to re-prioritize what really mattered to me, even when it didn’t make any sense to my logical mind.
But, wow, did it take its toll!
It wasn’t until January, when I found myself waking up in the morning with greater amounts of energy and looking forward to the many tasks in the day ahead that I realized what I’d been missing for so long: that steady enthusiasm that has always helped me to make life happen. After so many months of self-inquiry, of letting go, of turning my disappointments into spiritual compost, I was back on the horse.
In letting go of what I’d thought my life was supposed to look like, I opened the doors to what wanted — no, what needed — to come through. New relationships, new ideas, and even a new publisher!
I am not suggesting that you turn your life upside down to access your enthusiasm — for your work or anything else — after a long period of feeling “meh.” In fact, after I sat down with myself to figure out how I’d finally reconnected to my passion and purpose, I realized that it wasn’t rocket science.
I know you might say, “Kelly, maybe you just need to roll with the punches and trust that if you’re down one day, you’ll be up the next.” But I actually think we have a lot more control over those “up and down” cycles than we think.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to just feeling good about your life and your purpose after a long period of zero motivation.
But there is a process that works for me, and it begins and ends with curiosity.
I had to get very real with myself and ask the right questions. I also had to be open to different outcomes, many of which I may not have previously considered had things just chugged along on their predictable course.
The right questions gave me more patience with my journey, especially when I bumped up against frustrating experiences that caused me to lose sight of my passion. Sometimes, in order to get to the a-ha moments, you need to have the hard conversations with yourself. And sometimes, you might find yourself throwing months (or years) of hard work out the window and trusting your gut by going in an altogether new direction.
The point is, you won’t know until you really engage with that self-inquiry.
Here are some of the questions that I use as guidelines whenever I need to pump myself back up:
1. How do I avoid my challenges instead of facing what is directly in front of me? Of course, sometimes we absolutely need to disconnect and walk away from our sources of stress. In fact, walking away can rejuvenate us so that we are prepared to deal more effectively with our challenges. However, you can bet that you’re choosing to check out if you’re numbing out and avoiding your life. For example, maybe instead of putting on your big-girl panties and having that much-needed conversation with an unsupportive partner, you’re binging on Netflix or pouring all your spare hours into work. The thing is, “checking out” takes its toll because it keeps you out of touch with your source — that sweet, wise part of you that actually welcomes all your emotions and gives you the space to transform them…to, figuratively speaking, turn the shit into gold. The first step is noticing the places where you fall asleep in your life. Yes, we all know that the harsh reality usually sucks — but facing it head-on can be so valuable. From there, you break the pattern of habitual behavior and free yourself to make choices that are more aligned with who you are and what you want.
2. What do I do when I run out of steam? Some people tend to just give up. Others keep pushing…until they hit a wall. Either way, the end result is the same. You end up feeling burnt out and hopeless. We all know that we can’t drink from an empty cup; in fact, nine out of ten times, life gives us a nasty wake-up call reminding us of this. For example, we get sick. Or something in the external world forces us to stop and receive, rather than just keep giving. This is when we need to take a breather and reconnect to what really matters. In other words, put your oxygen mask on first.
3. What do my body, mind, and soul really need? This question has been everything to me. It offers me the big-picture view that lets me see how my needs are completely different from what might be happening the moment. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, what I “need” is a great mental challenge. And at other times, my body and soul crave rest and rejuvenation. Whatever the case, if I’m not getting the kind of satisfaction and enthusiasm that offer me the motivation to keep going, I know that I need to come up with new ideas.
4. When do I feel most nourished and at peace? Peace takes me into a drama-free zone where I can truly show up as me. Where I might have felt closed and irritable before, I feel more open, more vibrant, more alive, more passionate. That said, peace doesn’t magically happen — and it can be quite difficult to sustain in the midst of our busy lives. That’s why we need to have those places where we consistently feel nourished. This way, we we won’t just fall prey to numbness or exhaustion, which can happen when we are lost or stuck. When we feed ourselves with the things that we love, we give ourselves peace and the necessary fuel to keep going. Trust me, you already know what you love and what brings you fulfillment — even when it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, it’s probably so obvious that maybe you’ve even forgotten or missed it.
None of what I have mentioned is a linear process. It is a constant practice, with a lot of trial and error — not to mention, many moments of scratching your head in confusion or throwing up your hands and saying, “To hell with it all!” Sometimes, we need to go off track in order to come back to ourselves. But believe me, asking the questions above will take you home — to that place of creativity and effortless joy that is your natural state.
For a simple process you can call on whenever life feels lackluster or your enthusiasm is lagging, check out my 5 Keys to Boldly Making Life Happen toolkit, which offers simple but actionable tips for unlocking the life of your dreams.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on March 29, 2017.