How Self-Talk Leads to Burnout

Negative self-talk can accelerate us towards burnout.

ecstatic and fanatic football fan man watching soccer game on television in red team jersey celebrating goal crazy happy on couch at home with ball and beer bottle eating pizza dark light set
ecstatic and fanatic football fan man watching soccer game on television in red team jersey celebrating goal crazy happy on couch at home with ball and beer bottle eating pizza dark light set

We all talk to ourselves, at least inside our heads.  What we tell ourselves can help us recognize our accomplishments or cause us to believe we will never be good enough.  Negative self-talk can alter our perspective about our results and value and accelerate our journey down the path towards burnout.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is typically described as a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  Of these three, inefficacy is the causative factor leading to burnout.  We frequently use the bathtub model to describe burnout.  The bathtub is our personal agency, or ability to get things done.  Self-care, support, and results all increase our personal agency, while demands drain our personal agency.  We know that self-care, support, results, and demands all have valves that we control.  We can increase our self-care, support, and recognition of results, and we can decrease or limit our demands to maintain our personal agency and prevent burnout.  As we listen to the voice in our head, our ability to maintain our personal agency is impacted by recognizing our results, increasing self-care, and providing support for yourself.

What Do We Say to Ourselves?

Have you ever really thought about the things you say to yourself?  How often do you tell yourself what a great job you did or what a great friend you are?  Too frequently, we remind ourselves about the things we do not feel like we are accomplishing or doing well enough.  It is important to note that the voices in our heads are telling us how we feel about what we are doing.  How we feel about what we are doing may have little to do with reality and much more to do with how we view ourselves.

In my world, I frequently tell myself I am not a good enough wife.  I believe my husband listens to me better than I listen to him, goes out of his way to help me be successful, and, in general, is great support.  If you were to ask my husband, even if I am not present, he will tell you I am a wonderful and supportive wife.  In this case, who is correct?  The truth is he gets to decide if I am a good wife to him.  The voices in my head are not consistent with reality, are not helpful, and are not truth.  The voices cause me to feel bad about myself and believe I am not good enough.


We talk about the importance of self-care in preventing or recovering from burnout.  Listening to the voices in our head without evaluating them for truth results in self-harm.  The things we say to ourselves we would likely never say to another human being or even our pets.  Yet, daily, we tell ourselves that we are a failure or stupid.  We must change the way we talk to ourselves to build the resiliency we need to avoid burnout.

Change the Story

We hear the stories we tell ourselves, but we do not have to believe them.  We can even change them altogether.  Learning to hear the stories, evaluate them for truth, and change them to provide self-support and self-care is key to preventing burnout.  We cannot accept our self or our positive results when we consistently minimize them, saying anyone could do that, or it wasn’t that great.  Recognize the amazing things or even the good things you do and choices you make.  Maybe you are trying to eat healthier; you have one piece of candy but not the typical two or three.  Instead of telling yourself you are such a loser and can’t even resist a single piece of candy, you can compliment yourself on being able to limit yourself to a single piece.

The more we validate the stories we tell ourselves and use self-compassion, the easier it becomes to recognize the results we are getting, increase our personal agency, and stay off the path to burnout.

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