By the end of a long, and particularly trying 2018, it’s normal to feel worn out and not exactly pumped for taking on new tasks. The motivation tank is dry and the pull to shut down and avoid, stronger than ever! So we can all use some tools for clicking the internal refresh button. Here’s how!
Step I: Find Motivation From Your Values
Values are different from goals. Values are your internal GPS, and help you connect to your why. They are chosen by you, and only you, and provide you with stamina to endure discomfort in the service of the kind of life you want to design.
Values are the direction you want your life to take, and the kind of person you want to be! And…. it takes some serious intentionality to get connected to them.
Let’s Practice: Complete the following sentence for the areas of your life where your feeling burnt out: I’d like to be the kind of person whom others see as ____________________________________________. And I’d like to show these qualities in my behavior by ____________________ ____________________.
Next, keep this vision of the ‘you’ you’d like to be in 2019 in mind as you go through the following steps.
Step II: Validate the Discomfort
Our default reaction when we feel internal discomfort of any kind – such as awkwardness, uncertainty, anxiety, or frustration – is to do something to get rid of the feelings. This is natural of course. Who wants to feel uncomfortable?
But when you’re feeling burnt out, and you’ve been pushing through the whole year, it’s time for another approach. The most effective thing to do towards your long term well being is to lean into your emotions.
Rather than smothering your feelings, ignoring your emotions, and pretending you’re ‘fine’, practice getting curious and open to your experience. The Validation skill is the simple act of non-judgmentally acknowledging that the experience is present. Just like getting validated in the parking lot simply says “you were in the building.”
The easiest small step you can take towards validating your emotions is to label them. Finding the right emotion word for your emotions actually activates parts of the brain that dampens over-reactivity and motivates effective behavior. Gently allow yourself to have and hold that emotion. As you do so, notice how you feel in your body.
Step III: Check Your Thoughts: Keep them in Check.
Just like our actions, our thoughts can fall into habitual patterns when we’re stressed out. These patterns can pull us into low mood and motivation. But actually seeing your thoughts as just thoughts, rather than facts takes some practice.
What happened above when asked to visualize your ideal self in 2019? Did your mind offer up ‘reasons’ you cannot do those things? Or did you skip through the exercise entirely? Or maybe you noticed judgments about the exercise?
The key is to catch when your mind pulls you away from the things you need to do to take care of yourself – and then redirect to the present moment.
A simple way to practice stepping back and observing thoughts is to start speaking about your thoughts as thoughts, rather than as facts. Take a full minute or two to just sit in silence. Soon your mind will start generating thoughts. Preface each thought with; “I’m noticing I’m having the thought….” And then redirect your attention to your ‘direct experience’: the things you can touch, smell, taste, or hear.
Step IV: Change Your Re-Actions:
One of the largest predictors of the effects of stress on our mental and emotional well-being is how we react to the triggers in our lives. Our reactions may be larger more obvious discomfort avoidance behaviors, such as using substances, or yelling, or arguing. Or our reactions might be that insidious way we tighten our shoulders, furrow our brow, or clench our teeth.
Maybe others notice, maybe they don’t. But your reactivity has a huge impact on your stress levels and mental health.
So the key here is to control, the only thing in your control, which is your actions.
The most powerful tool in your internal refresh kit is to use the wisdom of your body to inform your mind.
Right now, as you read these words, practice with me. Sit up a bit, and place both feet flat on the floor. Place both palms on your knees and up towards the sky as you allow your shoulders to drop down. Open your chest, and soften your belly. Notice how you feel, in this very moment.
This simple practice sends a powerful message from your body and up into your mind. It says, “I am open to my experience.” “I am safe. There is no danger present.” From an evolutionary view, you simply would not take this position if there was a real physical threat.
Although it can feel very much like we’re not safe when we’re stressed and burnt out. In truth, you are safe, you’ve got this. Practice these four simple steps to reconnect to your big picture values, and mindfully master the discomfort that comes up as you pursue what matters.