Part 5 – A Letter to Therapists: Burnout and the Hands-on Approach to your Salvation
Overworked and underpaid has nothing to do with burnout. When we realize burnout is between our ears, then we can stop trying to control what’s happening outside ourselves.
I remember my mother coming home and talking about her “end of month” reports she had just completed. She would always make the same comment regarding these reports which was “I feel like I just finished these.” Eventually, these repeated reports caused a level of burnout that a major factor in her retirement was “I’ll never have to do those end of month reports again!” Funny thing is that now that she is retired, she spends much of her time pruning her trees and rose bushes in the backyard over and over again… and she’s loving it. The final section of this blog is for the non-therapists whom had read through this entire series, or the therapists who are looking to help their non-therapist clients.
Motivation of workload or a paycheck are not the primary factors in burnout. Some of the most overworked and underpaid people in the world still are enthralled by the daily tasks of their work. Monotony and barriers to goals (moving end zone and brick wall) are the culprits that trigger burnout in the average person. While barriers to goals were discussed in Part 3, I am going to discuss this again here with the average employee in mind.
Everyone has goals. We may want to be liked. We may want to belong. We may want to be valued. We may want power and control of our situations. Many employees use these goals to drive their efforts and emotional energies. It’s the emotional energies that are going to get us caught up here. Using your emotion to create a spreadsheet, prune roses, or stock shelves will not improve your results. We may be tricked into thinking it improves our results or our experience of the task, but at the end of the day, task work doesn’t require emotional energy. Focusing on satisfaction of completing the task and not the emotion of the task is where we need to be.
Example: I’m really enjoying writing this blog. I’m not feeling any particular emotions while writing and I’m content that the information I’m wanting to convey is being adequately listed. When I’m done with the blog, I’m going to post it and move onto the next thing in my work life. If I’m thinking about the next blog I have to write, I’m going to feel exhausted completing even this blog. If I’m thinking about rave reviews and the response is indifference, then I’m going to feel negative emotions. Those negative emotions could be placed on writing blogs in the future or on having to write blogs as part of my workday. Instead, I’m focusing on my enjoyment of writing the blog and I’m thinking that when another blog comes to mind, I’m going to look forward to writing that, too.
Now, what if we say that I didn’t enjoy writing blogs. Most people don’t do things they enjoy for work the majority of the time. The question I’d ask is “might there be something you enjoy while doing the task?” Or we could find a way to realize that work isn’t about having fun but it’s about contributing. When we tell ourselves that the TPS reports are not valued, we may think that our work isn’t valued. When we challenge those thoughts, we can get our minds back on track. We can tell ourselves, “The TPS reports don’t seem to mean anything, but the system that I don’t fully understand is requiring them and my job is to put zero emotional energy into them and just complete the task.
Now, what if we don’t like our job? This is where monotony comes in. What if task work is like nails on a chalkboard to me? My recommendation is to find your motivation. If you feel trapped by your job because they “bought you” and you can’t go do what you truly want to do, take accountability for your decision to have “sold” yourself to the highest bidder and remind yourself what you possess that makes this worth it. Maybe driving your Audi to work at a job you hate makes the job you hate worth it. Or, you can take accountability to sell the Audi, change your spending habits, and start looking for a job that pays less but meets your goals. Or… you can do what many people are doing and try to force the low paying fun job to be high paying or the high paying miserable job to be highly rewarding. However, to me, this seems like shouting at the movie screen trying to “direct” the movie you’re watching in the theater. It’s not yours to direct, but it is up to you if you want to embrace what the movie is or make the decision to movie hop into another theater.
In summary, there are things that you can actively engage in that will help burnout. Trying to make collecting recycling from trashcans a career isn’t likely to happen. Being frustrated with inflation as the cost of recycling remains stagnant will not improve the situation. Whether we are blocked from our goals or the goals keep being pulled away from us, it is up to us to take accountability. Trying to control things that are out of our control will only further impact our burnout as it’s not likely to change. So next time you’re at your jobsite thinking “these dang regulations don’t make sense,” remind yourself that you can put emotion into that thought or you can keep calm, maybe voice the differences of opinion, and then get the job done as it currently exists.
Thank you for reading about preventing burnout. I don’t remember the last time I “felt the heaviness” of a therapy session and I frequently have heavy therapy sessions. Keeping your emotional brain in your control is one of the best decisions you will make and I hope you make it every day with the help of some of the techniques from this blog.
Jason Temple, LMFT