Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Burnout Pattern

Recently I worked with a very successful manager who was on the verge of burnout. He was experiencing a really uncomfortable pattern that seemed to lead him back to the inevitable conclusion that something had to give. After exploring the issues and circumstances, I helped him develop a visual image of the pattern – calling it the “Good Intentions” Pattern. After exploring the variables, the image was helpful to show how he kept ending up in the same place:

If you can’t see the image well, here are the four loops in the pattern:
- You develop lots of energy and excitement for accomplishing your priorities and goals…
- You put forth some effort, although you’re energy and resources are not very directed or consistent…
- You experience mixed results, the initial enthusiasm for the goals wanes and then frustration and negative self-talk set in…and then
- You lose focus and become distracted from your priorities and must spend time trying to rebuild your energy and excitement toward the goal.

After assessing the pattern and spending a few weeks noticing where it showed up, we worked together on identifying the trigger and then replaced that with a new commitment. In this instance, a negative trigger that reinforced the burnout pattern was the mixed results and frustration he experienced with a particularly challenging project. He decided to make a commitment to positively explore that frustration and to use it as a teachable moment and inspiration to re-focus on "what he could influence." This turned out to be a sufficient course correction to get him out of the burnout pattern. He reported that, although it wasn't easy, it opened up new ways of thinking about other difficult aspects of his working life.

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