What happens when you get burned out?

I have a confession to make.

After two and a half years of daily writing, 332 articles published, and one five month adventure around the world, I was physically and mentally drained. I came back from my big trip in June, arrived home at my parents’ place on Cape Cod, and I felt like I hit a brick wall.

I didn’t feel like doing ANYTHING.

From mid June until mid-July, I was completely burned out on everything relating to (Nerd) fitness. Every article written was a chore, every exercise was a struggle, eating right felt like an uphill battle.

Looking back, it’s easy to see what happened: I’ve been going absolutely nonstop as a one-man operation here since November, 2008.  On top of that, I had spent the past five months with the added stress of travel, living out of a backpack, launching an ebook, staying in shape, and running Nerd Fitness.  Sure the travel was a lot of fun (I mean, I did fly a stunt plane), but it also involved many late nights in crowded hostels searching for a power outlet while paying through the nose for horribly overpriced Internet to make sure things got done on time.

I had never stopped to take a breath, relax, or recover.

So, I took much needed time off from working in June and July, though you might not have known it – I made a few key decisions that allowed me to stay in shape with minimal exercise, and also allowed Nerd Fitness as a business to grow incredibly fast during my time “away,” resulting in this past month being the biggest month in NF history.

If you’ve ever hit a wall when it comes to training, business, or life, I know where you’re coming from – there is hope!

This article is going to be a little different and more business-y than normal, but you’ll be able to apply it to any situation.  Versatility FTW!

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

First and foremost, understand that burnout happens to the best of us, even Lego people. I remember reading an article from my friend/blog yoda Baker at ManVsDebt last summer about how he went through the same thing.  It’s probably my favorite article he’s ever written.

Long story short – these things happen, and they happen to everybody.

I know plenty of runners, athletes, musicians, and writers who have hit a similar wall – more often than not, it’s a problem of being too eager, too excited, and/or too driven to actually slow down until things catch up to you.

There are far worse problems to have.

So step 1: don’t beat yourself up or assume that something is wrong with you just because you suddenly lose your motivation.

Well, something might be wrong with you – but getting burned out isn’t it 🙂

Figure out Why It Happened

I haven’t REALLY taken a vacation of any kind in the past three years…even when traveling, I’m working on the website, answering emails, writing articles, and connecting with readers.  I didn’t take any time off from strenuous training either – strength training almost every other day along with other activity for 3-4 months straight.  I said in Monday’s article, my exercise became my constant; it’s what kept me sane.

However, it was this go-go-go, never-stop mentality that also lead to my burnout.

If you all of a sudden find yourself lacking motivation to keep going, it’s time to figure out why. Look back over your past few months :

  • If its exercise, have you given yourself any time off or mixed up your routine in any way?
  • If you’re burned out at your job, when was the last time you REALLY disconnected or tried a new project?
  • If its running, when was the last time you took a day off or went on a new route?

If you’ve been tracking your progress (and you know how important that is because you’re a smart and good looking Nerd Fitness reader), it’ll be easy for you to look back and see just how often and hard you’ve been training.  If you’re burned out at work, take a look back through your previous months and figure out when you last took a day off.

Once you’ve gotten to the point where you tell yourself “okay crap, I pushed myself too hard, time to figure out how to get over the funk,” you can start to do something about it.

Take a freaking break!

Depending on the severity and longevity of how you’ve been training, you might just need a break – I know I did. In my first two weeks back on Cape Cod:

  • I read four books (best of which was Richard Branson’s Losing my Virginity, which caused me to add “buy a tropical island” to my epic quest list. Yes I’m serious – it will happen.)
  • I watched every single episode of 30Rock available on NetFlix (no joke)
  • I started playing Secret of Mana on my iPhone – as good as I remember it.

I felt like a complete waste of space on some days, and loved every minute of it.

Take a day off from training every once and a while…but put it in your schedule as a DAY OFF. It’s not that you’re skipping a day – that has a way different feel to it in your mind – it’s a scheduled day off where you don’t train.

Take a personal day from work – I know I used to always feel guilty about taking vacation days when I had a normal job, but those vacation days exist for a reason – to keep you from going bonkers.  And I’m not talking about using a personal day for a ten hour drive to spend a hectic weekend with the in-laws.    I mean take a personal day on like, a Wednesday. Turn off your email, and play video games all day.  Read a book, go to the beach, spend all day on the couch in your pajamas.

If it’s possible to do less than nothing, do that.

Mix things up

Although I missed a few articles here and there over the past month when working on Nerd Fitness, I wasn’t completely useless – I’ve recently hired my first “employee” to help me manage some of the back end stuff and project management, I’ve been doing a lot of work setting up the rest of the projects for the year (including the next ebook on a topic you would NEVER expect out of me), and more.  So, although it might have looked like I wasn’t doing much, I was still working, just on other things.

As far as my training goes, I mixed that up too.  I might not have been doing my regular strength training routine every other day like I had done in the previous four months, but I stayed active: I tossed Frisbees on the beach, went for walks, and played a lot of golf – not very strenuous, but it got me outside and moving.

I’m the type of person that gets bored with routine and repetitiveness, which can also put me in a funk.  Mixing things up let me stay productive but in a completely different way…which allowed me to get back to my previous routine with renewed enthusiasm.

What’s important is that you do something fun that gets you moving!

  • If you are training with heavy weights – Have a “deload” week every four weeks or so where you scale back your workouts to a lower weight to allow your body ample time to recover and then get back at it.
  • If you’re doing body weight routines – mix up your exercises for a week every once and a while, change your number of sets and reps or time waiting between sets.  Do funky variations of exercises instead of the same ones over and over.
  • If you’re a runner – adjust your distances and locations. Try trail running or Parkour!

Now, what if it’s work that’s bringing you down?  Start a new project.  Ask for different responsibilities.  Let your manager know that you’re bored – honesty goes a long way (believe it or not, your bosses are normal people too) and life is way too short to be miserable and bored for five of your seven days every week.

If you don’t like something, change it.

Tread water

I didn’t want to exercise, but I made sure I strength trained once a week.

I didn’t want to write, but I made sure I published at least one article a week.

In both instances, I knew that five weeks off COMPLETELY would set me way back on my path to a leveled up life – so I kept myself afloat. I made sure I didn’t lose strength or muscle, I made sure I continued to only put out quality articles (rather than force out some crappy ones).

When it comes to training, it’s important not to completely quit and backtrack while you’re in a funk.

Keep your goals in mind (and you know how to set those, right?), and do what you need to to make sure you’re at least treading water instead of sinking. Do the best you can when it comes to powering through the rough patches…

  • One intense, full-body strength routine per week, combined with a good diet, can be enough to keep you at your current level of strength.
  • One decent run a week can keep you from completely losing all of your endurance during a month long downturn, especially if you’re doing other fun active activities on your other days.

Now, if we’re talking about work…pulling a Peter Gibbons from Office Space and only showing up every once and a while will get you fired (which depending on how much you like your job…might not be the worst thing in the world).  However, try speaking with your boss about a remote work agreement where you can work from home a few days per week.

More and more companies are allowing this these days, because they know happy employees are more effective employees.

Check out The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss for more info on remote work strategies and tactics (I actually bought NerdFitness.com two days after I finished reading that book).

Put on your hardhat

Although I didn’t want to train, and I didn’t want to write, I “put on my hard hat, and went to work.”

I powered through the weeks where I didn’t feel like doing anything until I was ready to start kicking butt again and came back with a vengeance. To use an analogy from one of the movies that defined my childhood (Top Gun), I pulled a Maverick and waited until I was ready to reengage.

I’m back, baby!

My last three articles have a combined count of just over 10,000 words.

I already have the next four or five articles planned out (which is something I never do), I’m hard at work on the next ebook (to be announced soon – again, it’ll surprise the hell out of you). I’m writing guest posts, establishing new business relationships, and doing my darndest to turn the Nerd Fitness rebellion into a worldwide revolution.

I’ve begun my strength training with renewed vigor as well – today as I depart from Washington, D.C., for Chicago and Europe, I’m still at relatively the same level of shape as I was back during my trip. I’ve set new goals for myself and can’t wait to level up on a daily basis.

There are some days where you’re not gonna wanna train, weeks where you won’t want to do work, months where you just feel lazy.

It happens to the best of us:

  • Figure out WHY you’re burned out
  • Take a break and give yourself scheduled days off
  • Change things up by mixing up your workouts or routines
  • Tread water so that you don’t backtrack too much
  • Put on your hard hat and go to work.

Have you ever gotten burned out with your training? Are you struggling at work? Are you stuck now? What are you struggling with?

-Steve

PSChicago meetup! THIS Tuesday night (tomorrow) at 7pm (check in here on Facebook).  Still working out the exact bar, but it’ll be somewhere near Wrigley Field – that’s where I’m staying for my time in the city.

PPS The sweatshirts are coming, the sweatshirts are coming! Available in both pullover or zip up variety.  I’m getting my final samples this week, and then I hope to start taking pre-orders next week or so.  I’m working on a new store front for NF, and I’ll be buying the sweatshirts up front and having them already made and ready to go out.  For that reason, I’ll be doing a pre-order where I know how many to order of each size.

They’re super high-quality American Apparel sweatshirts, with the logo on the front, a small logo and URL under the hood, and “Level up your life.” written down the sleeve.  Stay tuned for more details!

 

photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo

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  • I’m burned out by thinking so hard about how to start a project/career/job that makes me burned out.  🙂  Great Post! Now to get out of my bartending job…..

  • I’m burned out by thinking so hard about how to start a project/career/job that makes me burned out.  🙂  Great Post! Now to get out of my bartending job…..

  • Anonymous

    Some great advice in there Senor Kamb.  I thought the comment about watching all the episodes of 30 Rock where interesting.  Years ago I read a book by Dr. Norman Cousins called Anatomy of an Illness. The book was essentially about how he cured himself of a terminal disease with laughter and Vitamin C. 

    My takeaway was the laughter part.  It really does change our physiology and consequently our emotional psychological outlook. 

    It’s one of the first things I try to do when (if?) I catch myself slipping into a place that borders on Charlie Sheen’s world (I’m kidding…Charlie if you are reading this I am just joking 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Some great advice in there Senor Kamb.  I thought the comment about watching all the episodes of 30 Rock where interesting.  Years ago I read a book by Dr. Norman Cousins called Anatomy of an Illness. The book was essentially about how he cured himself of a terminal disease with laughter and Vitamin C. 

    My takeaway was the laughter part.  It really does change our physiology and consequently our emotional psychological outlook. 

    It’s one of the first things I try to do when (if?) I catch myself slipping into a place that borders on Charlie Sheen’s world (I’m kidding…Charlie if you are reading this I am just joking 🙂

  • yeah, I definitely got burned out on blogging and fitness. I decided to take some time off while I got my life organized (currently in transition going from Chicago to DC to Atlanta). Doing some hardcore introspection and trying to figure out where I want to go next. So time off definitely helps, but spend that time, I think, planning how you’re going to rev up and take charge when you’re done!

  • Laura

    I know some very wise fitness folks who say the fitness wheel has 3 main components: Food, Exercise, Recovery.  I tend to agree… for both physical and mental fitness. 

    Glad you beat the burn out!

  • Laura

    I know some very wise fitness folks who say the fitness wheel has 3 main components: Food, Exercise, Recovery.  I tend to agree… for both physical and mental fitness. 

    Glad you beat the burn out!

  • Laura

    I know some very wise fitness folks who say the fitness wheel has 3 main components: Food, Exercise, Recovery.  I tend to agree… for both physical and mental fitness. 

    Glad you beat the burn out!

  • Laura

    I know some very wise fitness folks who say the fitness wheel has 3 main components: Food, Exercise, Recovery.  I tend to agree… for both physical and mental fitness. 

    Glad you beat the burn out!

  • Great article (again!), Steve.  Yours is the only fitness blog I bother to read anymore!

  • Great article (again!), Steve.  Yours is the only fitness blog I bother to read anymore!

  • Word, Steve.  Word.  It seems like half my posts lately are about fighting burn out and not pushing yourself too far.  Last year my body started shutting down because I wasn’t getting adequate rest and down time.  It’s JUST as important as the actual work you put in.

    I’m glad you did, too!  You’re gonna need that rest with your European adventure right around the corner!

  • Jessica Broughton

    This article could not have been posted at a better time.

    I am completely emotionally fried and it’s manifesting itself as frustration.  I’m frustrated because I don’t know what my next step is, or how I can get from my dead-end day job to writing for a living.  It hasn’t been for a lack of trying, but I just lost my biggest freelance client (I wrote and edited their entire magazine).  I’d love to work for myself and yet I’m not seeing a business model in my skill set (any thoughts/ideas would be MUCH appreciated, hint, hint!).

    The good thing is that I recognized that I needed to hide out this weekend, and yesterday had a “Buffy” marathon, complete with sushi.  Surprise, surprise, today I was ready to write.  Still frustrated and feeling stuck, but at least I’m writing and work out!

  • Jill Losingitoutloud

    Ah yes…this article could not have come at a better time.  I am suffering from the dreaded burn out.  Thank you very much, Steve, for helping me realize I am not alone and there is nothing wrong with me.  I have been working on the 6 week challenge on the forums and realize that my goals are not clear enough.  Time to amp things up!

  • Liam Gooding

    I’ve got to say, I’ve been a big believer in offering the guys in my team the opportunity to work from home every now and again as a “wind down” as well as when they just need a ‘duvet day’!

    A few tips from the ’employers perspective’ to get an ‘authorised duvet day’:

    – be free and available to talk on Skype/Msn throughout the day. For employers new to this way of working, it helps them feel more comfortable until you build trust
    – define clear milestones, it’ll help demonstrate that ‘the job still got done’
    – dont ever break the trust once you have it! Be honest if you got distracted by the tv for a few hours, your boss will be able to tell by your workload

    A relaxed and happy employee is FAR more productive 🙂

  • Thanks for posting this – I’m definitely burned out right now..

  • Dawsy

    Seems like this is happening to a lot of people that I know at the moment, so a very timely artilce indeed. I’m about to do a 14k run with several guys from work, and even though it’s been on the books for months, none of us have trained much at all. It’s been a rough year at work, several of us have new babies and/or hectic travel schedules, so it’s not surprising that this is the case.

    Your advice to take a break is spot on….any thoughts on getting babies to sleep through the night so I can take one? 😉 Welcome back mate.

  • I always wondered how you seem to just go-go-go! Amen to this blog, though. I’m super burnt out myself, but I somehow still have the motivation to gym it up 6 days a week. Life can blow sometimes (marriage problems, life issues…and moving from state to state to state!). Like you said though, we all go through these funks.

  • I always wondered how you seem to just go-go-go! Amen to this blog, though. I’m super burnt out myself, but I somehow still have the motivation to gym it up 6 days a week. Life can blow sometimes (marriage problems, life issues…and moving from state to state to state!). Like you said though, we all go through these funks.

  • yup, about to go on a “vacation” myself. not because i’m burned out – more because as humans, we NEED longer opportunities to rejuvenate. part of the yin and yang of it all. nicely put, and excited to see what’s comin’ down the road for ya!

  • Anonymous

    There are 3 components to all “growth”, whether that be fitness or otherwise: work, fuel, and recovery.  We all neglect recovery from time to time, because we love the work so damned much.  Keep kicking ass brother!

  • Burnout is where I’m at at the moment. Fulltime job, part time study, and organising an international move, with health issues thrown in just for fun – I didn’t get a minute to myself between Christmas and July, aside from when I literally passed out or collapsed (on average a couple times a week since March), and that doesn’t exactly count as recharge time! I’ve been kicking back for a couple of weeks – well, kind of, aside from all the stuff you have to do once you get to a new country, and getting started on this semester’s study – and I’m starting to feel a lot more positive. Another few weeks of this, and I’m hoping to start feeling like my old self – creative, active, and ready to take on the world. 

  • that was such an amazing post
    i also loved the images you used, so creative 🙂

  • that was such an amazing post
    i also loved the images you used, so creative 🙂

  • Danielle Sigman

    Oh man, This article came just in the nick of time! I ‘ve been so drained with family, upping my hours at work, taking on two summer classes, trying to choreograph for my dance troop and on top of that being in my gym for 3+ hours everyday working on my fitness and helping others work on theirs. Needless to say, I’ve taken on a little too much. These two classes are over next week and before school starts up again at the very end of august I’m going to take some much needed me time… Thanks steve! PS: Can’t WAIT for the sweaters!!!

  • Great post! I’ve been burned out for the past month but just dragging myself along anyway. I was talking to Lachlan Cotter about it, and he hit the nail on the head: “Can’t sharpen the saw cause you’re too busy sawing, eh?”

    Right. I leave for vacation tomorrow. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this post! Sometimes we need to know its okay to feel burned out and also need some advice to get out of the funk. By the way, I always love the lego pictures. 🙂

  • Great post! Burn out does happen to anyone at any time. The key is knowing what to do when it happens. Good looking design on the sweatshirts too!

  • Heath

    Last week I found myself getting really burnt out with work and family schedule, so I took a me day.  The wife and kids went and did their own thing and I just hopped on my bike and peddled around town, hit the beach, and did whatever I wanted to do.  It really recharged my battery.  I felt like I had taken a two week vacation, and it was just a short 8 hour me session.  

    P.S. There is no better place than Cape Cod to make this happen ;0)

  • Heath

    Last week I found myself getting really burnt out with work and family schedule, so I took a me day.  The wife and kids went and did their own thing and I just hopped on my bike and peddled around town, hit the beach, and did whatever I wanted to do.  It really recharged my battery.  I felt like I had taken a two week vacation, and it was just a short 8 hour me session.  

    P.S. There is no better place than Cape Cod to make this happen ;0)

  • me

    loving the 1st jumper. it should have the level up thing on the arm.

  • Props for owning up to this. Everyone needs rest, even Superheros. Also: Loving the sweatshirts!

  • Props for owning up to this. Everyone needs rest, even Superheros. Also: Loving the sweatshirts!

  • Amyloudean

    That is an AWESOME article!!!!! Thanks for being so transparent!!!!

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  • Great post Steve. Love the honesty in this post. I think everyone gets burned out at some point but has to find their own way to recharge.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m burned out on life.
    After accomplishing everything I’ve wanted, life is now just walking in an endless circle.

  • Steve

    I’ve recently started getting into fitness and jumped from a poor diet and literally no exercise (I work from home) and jumped into a calorie deficit food plan and hitting the gym 5 straight days a week for the last 3 full weeks. This week, week 4 I’m feeling a bit burnt out and felt guilty about deciding to skip the gym today (went yesterday) but reading this has helped with the mindset. Today is a rest days, maybe I’ll alternate and do 3 days this week. I guess it’s better to see this as treading water and keep pushing on, than a failure event that needs punishing. Over keen was probably my issue. Not giving up is the cure here I guess.

  • Krysten Whitby

    Informative discussion . Apropos , if anyone was looking for a IRS 1120-RIC , my assistant filled a fillable version here http://goo.gl/AWjs96

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