Hi, my name is Kristen Ulmer. I’m a mindset Sports Coach and thought leader on fear. and I’d like to talk to you about burnout.
I used to love skiing, lived for it even, but slowly I grew sick of it and didn’t know why. I’ve seen this happen with friends and clients, they were also burned out on their favorite sports, or they were burned out at work, or even life in general.
If this has ever happened to you, or maybe it’s happening to you right now, pay attention because I’m going to share with you what worked for me and for my clients to move through burn out as fast as possible.
There are 2 distinctly different reasons why you may have burn out, and guess what? Fear has everything to do with it. Your burn out is either because:
1. You’re not experiencing enough fear in your sport, or at work.
Now whoa, you may be thinking, I want to experience joy, right? Or passion. Not Fear. Well, believe it or not, underneath your passion, you’ll always find fear.
Take skiing for example. Imagine skiing, without any element of fear. It seems ideal, but without fear, can you see that skiing would be very boring? It’s actually the process of stepping out of your comfort zone –where there is fear– that offers you stimulation. Fear is not only the source of adrenaline, excitement, and definitely aliveness, but more importantly, it’s part of the process which expands your ability and supports your growth. If you step out of your comfort zone, where there is fear, you experience adventure, excitement, growth, and learning. But if you avoid fear, these things dry up, and so too then, does your passion.
The same goes for work. If you no longer take risks outside your comfort zone or ability level, eventually –due to lack of challenge– learning and growth stops, resulting in burn out.
Bottom line: Humans are simply not meant to play it safe.
Now, the other reason why you may be burned out is very different, even the complete opposite– which is:
2. You’re experiencing plenty of fear in your sport, or work, and therefore still learning and growing, but you’re doing what pretty much everyone does with fear; which is blocking it out, trying to overcome it, or controlling it.
Here’s why that leads to burn out: The un-dealt-with fear doesn’t go away. It gets stuck looping in your system, which you then have to work harder and harder to continue to not deal with. Over time, that effort becomes so exhausting, eventually you run out of juice. Your burn out comes from the un-winnable war being played out in your unconscious mind, which saps all your resources, to the point where you feel you must quit your job or favorite sport to avoid spending another moment fighting with yourself, in this way.
This is what burned me out on skiing. I wasn’t dealing with my fear in an honest way. I acted fearless, tough, stoic, in order to ski the way I wanted. That effort worked fine for about 10 years, but then I just couldn’t do it anymore.
So, to summarize, you are burned out then, for one of two reasons, either:
1. not enough fear, or
2. not dealing with your fear in an honest way
Now, what to do about it? For starters get this at your core: Your burn out is a sign that you need to take a look at your relationship with fear, or your emotions in general. If you don’t, your burn out will persist.
So, that’s what we’re going to do.
If your burn out is because you avoid fear, here’s a one step process to turn it around;
Ask yourself: am I willing to take a risk and bring more fear into my life?
If the answer is yes, perhaps you request a promotion at work, into a job for which your slightly underqualified. Or maybe quit your job and start your own business.
In sports, this doesn’t mean take up base jumping- which if you’re a fear avoider probably doesn’t sound appealing anyway. It could mean quitting your usual activity for a while, to go try new challenges. That’s what I did. Even though I identified more with the second cause for burn out, I quit skiing and started studying Zen. I auditioned for plays without any formal training as an actor. Having been a mountain girl my whole life, this was all very unfamiliar, and therefore scary. But by taking these risks, I found new passion in life. Eventually too, I came back to skiing and the new scary thing I tried on the mountain was seeing if I could shake off my identity of being an aggressive woman skier. Sometimes allowing yourself to become a worse athlete, can be the scariest thing of all.
Now, if your burnout comes from the second cause, that you’re at war with fear, or likely other emotions as well, your process will instead be 2 questions that you ask yourself, every day, until your burnout lifts. Get out a pen because you’ll want to write them down.
But first, here’s the plan: rather than continuing to try and win battles against fear and other “negative” emotions, instead you’re going to end the war with them, so you can free up that misspent energy. Now, this is not going to be easy. You must make this a very deliberate practice. It took me years to figure out how to do this, but the good news is once I made friends with my emotions –in particular fear– my burn out ended quickly and I started to enjoy skiing again, but! not in the same way I used to. Remember, your burn out is here to change you, but only for the better.
Ok, here are your questions. Every day you’re about to do your thing, for which you feel burned out, ask yourself;
1. What emotion am I currently not dealing with? (hint: is it fear, anger, sadness?)
2. Can I instead, explore that feeling today in a mature, creative and expressive way?
How this works is: if you keep asking these questions, for as long as it takes– a week, a month, and be curious about the answers, your burn out will sort itself out, because! you’ll be learning and growing again, in new exciting ways.
And no one is ever burned out, so long as they’re learning new things.
Kristen Ulmer is a thought leader and fear specialist who facilitates groups and individuals who are seeking optimal performance in sports, business, relationships and life. She is author of: The Art of Fear; Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead (Harper Collins, June 13, 2017).