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?


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!


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