Ever feel like December is rushing up at you like a crazed reindeer with a firecracker in its antlers?
I will never get used to Christmas decorations appearing in shops literally the day after Halloween. One day your grocery shop is watched over by cobwebbed skeletons and menacing pumpkins and the next day you’ve got smiling Santas and rosy-cheeked elves beaming down at you from the rafters.
Meantime, your brain hasn’t quite accepted that September is over yet, and you have literally 4,358 things to before you take your year-end break. Which is now… next month. In addition to getting all this work done, you need to assist your kids with their exam preparation and/or attend a myriad of year-end activities, plus finish off all that admin that you really don’t want to drag into a new year.
Ironically, when you need your energy and focus the most, it can be at its lowest ebb. You’ve got your foot flat on the pedal, but your energy tank is blinking empty, and your car is sputtering forward at a snail’s pace. Though you are working hard, you find yourself feeling constantly anxious and increasingly fractured.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Don’t wish the last few weeks of the year away. You’ll never get that time back.
Here are three creative ways that you can beat year-end burnout.
I recently felt myself slipping into this end-of-year fatigued state when a podcast shifted my thinking. It was a conversation about ‘why time stress is crippling your success’ between entrepreneurs Marie Forleo and Amy Porterfield. Their discussion about managing time stress struck a chord with me.
In short, they put the onus to resolve the stress firmly in our hands, rather than in the magical cloud of an upcoming holiday which we hope will change us into a new person. We usually help to create the overwhelm by saying yes to too many things, taking on too much, overpromising or people pleasing. We can also fail clarify what’s truly important for the particular stage and season of our life that we are in, and therefore fail to make a robust not-to-do list. (Never heard of that? Here’s an example of a not-to-do list.)
When in comes to time stress, we are usually our own worst enemy. In Taylor Swift’s words, “It's me. Hi! I'm the problem, it's me.”
“The bad news is that time flies. The good news is you're the pilot.”
What is the story you are telling yourself? Is it what I’ve been telling myself and what I’m hearing all around me? “I am soooo busy.” “I don’t have enough time.” “My life is so hectic at the moment.”
One of the fascinating things we’ve learned through neuroscience is that our brains will believe whatever we tell them most. Your brain is like a supercomputer that follows the directions that you programme it with. Try changing your inner narrative. What if you constantly told yourself: “There’s always time for what’s important.”
A story that Forleo tells herself daily is: “I don’t do overwhelm.”
Why is it that we tend to push ourselves beyond exhaustion before collapse into bed and sleep?
Somehow, we get it into our heads that a break either means a Christmas holiday or a weekend away. Even a long lunch seems out of reach in our busiest times. Yet, our creative brain can be refreshed even by ‘micro-breaks’ of 3-10 minutes.
Organisational behaviour Professor John Trougakos at the University of Toronto has found through his research that fatigue tends to worsen over time.
“The more fatigued you get, the more effort you have to put in to keep performing. So you actually are expending more and more effort and doing it less and less efficiently. Short breaks, whether it’s a 10-minute break, a 5-minute break, standing up and stretching, you’re kind of giving the person a chance to stop the depletion cycle, but also re-energize themselves a little bit,” says Trougakos.
In addition, we know from creativity research that our brains are more likely to come up with insights and ideas when we are in an ‘un-focused’ mode. We need to unplug from thinking about the problem and do something completely different. Here are some of the things I do in my micro-breaks:
My dog, Popcorn, loves spending time with me outside
Your creative intellect is often referred to as your ‘creative inner child.’ It’s easy to see how the humility, curiosity and wonder of children makes them incredibly creative. According to Dr. Stephanie Carlson, an expert on childhood brain development at the University of Minnesota, children spend as much as two thirds of their time in imaginative play.
Sadly, as we grow up, stress, time-pressures, deadlines, and responsibilities tend to sap our creativity. Like a neglected pot plant, our creative energy withers and shrivels up.
Happily, just like a Johannesburg lawn, a little rain shower can bring back green-sprouting joy again.
To beat the year-end burnout, bring to mind what you are curious about and give yourself the space to follow that curiosity – just for a little while. Imagine that you are a dear friend and allow yourself a special treat to indulge that inner child. This does not have to take long but could be something that you do for half an hour or an hour from time to time. For example, you might: browse an old bookstore or antiques shop, take apart a radio, listen to music from a genre you’ve never explored, do some carpentry, try out some new software that intrigues you, join an online group or read articles about a topic you’ve always wanted to discover more about.
The form that this takes is completely up to you. I recommend you take 90 seconds to make a quick mind map of everything that brings you joy. I guarantee your brain will see ideas in that map of what interests it.
Delighting your inner child is making a different and unusual choice from the world around you, because our society tends to tell our inner creatives to pipe down and be sensible.
Speaking of breaking our own convention, I recently came across a picture of some very unusual shoes. I followed my curiosity and traced them back to their origin, finding a shoe brand I’ve never heard of before which I find hilariously delightful. “Irregular Choice” founded by Dan Sullivan certainly feeds his inner creative!
The team at Irregular Choice creates shoes to surprise and delight their customers
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