I have been coaching people in positions of great responsibility: highly creative people with deadlines to meet, for more than 20 years. People often think that their worst nightmare would be failure: that nobody buys their gizmo, nobody watches their movie, nobody reads their book or the investors back out. But actually, strangely enough, I have noticed that people recover quite well from all of those things. The greatest challenge for anyone who really wants to make a big difference to the world is not failure, but too much success all at the same time, with the possibility of burnout.
Burnout creeps up on you all at once. A little bit like indigestion, it starts with the inability to say no to too many delicious things, all at the same time. A writer is likely to hit burnout when all the reviews are good, and they are invited on every talk show at the same time. The leader of a company is more likely to hit burnout when the stock price is up and all of the products are selling well, all at once.
For the people I work with, stopping everything for a month or two and sitting by the ocean is simply not an option. I have had to discover ways to support people to get over burnout while they continue to maintain their responsibilities. I have learned quite a lot about this in the last decades, and here are the key points.
1. Go to bed early. Everybody has at some time heard the old saying “an hour of sleep before midnight is worth double the sleep after midnight.” But it is not just something your grandmother told you as a child to pacify you at bedtime. It has a lot of validity. Electricity is a relatively recent invention in our history. Even a few hundred years ago, our ancestors would eat their main meal during the day when there was light to cook it by, and to see what they were eating. When darkness fell (much earlier in the wintertime) there were only a certain number of things you could do by candlelight, before getting drowsy and falling asleep. Our lifestyles have changed, but our neurology has not altered very much at all. Going to bed early and getting up as close to the dawn as possible will return your body to natural circadian rhythms, and reduce stress.
2. Eat your main meals in the early part of the day. Your body has maximum “chi” when you wake up in the morning. That is a great time to exercise, stretch and … eat. The best food for you to eat for breakfast is, not surprisingly, three eggs. Says John Gray, in his latest book How to Stay Focussed in a Hyperactive World: “Egg yokes are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, that creates the feel-good brain chemical serotonin and abundant with the amino acid tyrosine, which is the precursor for making dopamine, the most important brain chemical for focus. Egg yolks are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D which is also needed for focus.” Starting the day with coffee and a muffin, on the other hand, is a sure way to increase burnout symptoms.
Eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day. If you are a meat eater, that is really the only sensible time to tuck into a steak. This is, of course, contrary to many people’s lifestyles. They grab a sandwich in the middle of the day because they are working but, again, it contributes to burnout. As early as possible in the evening (hopefully before sunset) eat a light meal: ideally just soup. And then do not eat anything more after dark. These kinds of changes to lifestyle may be inconvenient and unfamiliar to you, but they have proven themselves time after time to be significant in reducing burnout.
3. Do not use electronics after dark. Again, I can hear geeks all over the world reading those words and screaming ‘whaaaaaatttt?’ I have tested this ever since we started to use personal computers back in the 1980s. All electronic devices, including laptops, cell phones, televisions (and yes, I am sorry, the iPad with your kindle books on it) are all emitting electromagnetic frequencies, which interfere with your body’s ability to return to equilibrium and to rest deeply. Maybe you do not want to follow this guideline all the time, but if you know that your body has gone into a depleted state, try going back to reading physical books, talking with friends, or just sitting staring into the fire after dark and before you go to sleep. If you do not think you can go that far, at least switch off electronics at, say 9:00pm, and keep to physical books after that.
4. Burn Moxa at CV4. People in China have often lived well into their 90’s in perfect health. One of China’s most successful train robbers, for example, was finally apprehended at 93 after a tiring chase from his captors.
While in prison, he was asked “What is the secret to your limitless energy and good health?”
“I digest fire into the body through the gates in the lower Dan Tien” he said. He was talking about Moxibustion. It is really easy to acquire and to use. You can buy Moxa sticks at Amazon.com. The point to burn Moxa is on CV4, which is two-thirds of the way down from the navel towards the pubic bone. Simply light the Moxa stick, and hold it over the point for five to ten minutes. You can regulate the intensity of the heat by bringing the burning Moxa closer or further away from the point. “Ingesting fire” in this way takes energy directly to the kidneys which are like the battery of the body. The energy is stored there for future use. You will notice more energy and reduced burnout in a week to 10 days.
5. Use supplements, particularly adaptogens. A lot of the symptoms of burnout are simply to do with the depletion of hormones and nutrients in the body. You can support the body to overcome burnout through the right supplementation. Here are some things you can consider:
• Find a tincture has ginseng, licorice, shizandra and astragalus. Such a formula may have other ingredients as well. It will support and rebuild your adrenal glands.
Here is a good one I have used.
• Find a good vitamin B supplement. Here is the one I use.
• Take extra vitamin B12 in dropper form. Here is the one I use.
• Take a good multivitamin. This one has been proven to reduce stress and improve brain performance. Although it was formulated for high school kids, I use it and I am 57, and so do many of my friends.
• Use a good mineral supplement. I particularly like the Mars Venus Minerals, one for men and one for women from John Gray because they are in oretate form, which is more assimilable to the body.
In part 2 of this article next week I will give you the remaining five tips on recovering from burnout while remaining available to your responsibilities, with a particular emphasis on the different methods suitable for men and for women.