Energy Management & Burnout

My experience of Burnout?

I have been fascinated with the Burnout syndrome for many years now since having my own episode of Burnout.

The symptoms of burnout are; feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. This came after years of working long hours in a stressful role as director building my first company with hardly any sleep. The result was a crash! I was in mess physically, mentally and socially.

It was not until I was recommended to try yoga, cardiovascular exercises and mindfulness that I made any improvements. Then after a few weeks of getting some running in followed by yoga and mindfulness, I felt like my symptoms had all but gone. The fact was that those symptoms had not actually gone so quickly but I felt so much better so quickly it felt like I had made a full recovery.

It took a few weeks of regular mindfulness and yoga practice before I felt stable enough to go into work. When I did finally go back, I had a clarity of mind and renewed energy. In fact, I drove the company so positively that I sold it for a massive profit. What has followed since selling that business has been an insatiable desire to understand what variables within the yoga and mindfulness helped my recovery.

Even more interesting than this was to understand what about those practices had led me to perform to a better performance than I had been able to achieve previously. This pursuit of answers led me to study an MSc and then go onto a PHD researching the efficacy of mindfulness and yoga in the treatment of burnout in the corporate workplace.

There are many ingredients that make mindfulness and yoga so successful in treating stress but it’s not yet understood how these two tools also develop resiliency needed for performance. At the time of burnout, I did not appreciate how important energy was. I have always had a strong mindset and thought I was resilient but something caught me out. Peter Clough (Clough and Strycharczyk 2020) say that to have resiliency is not enough. Clough et al. (2012) state a person needs to be mentally tough. Mental toughness takes the passive resiliency and moves it forward with positive psychology (Clough et al., 2012). Mental toughness is defined as having control of emotions, a commitment to succeed, a confidence in themselves and an attitude that seeks out challenge. What I have found through my research is that when someone is managing their energy levels well their emotional control is better, they have more energy to commit to tasks, they feel more confident and they are more willing to take risks. They are more likely to be mentally tough than someone with poor energy management.

Replenishing our Energy

The revelation of how important energy management is in the work around resilience and mental toughness led me to investigate its applicability to burnout and to find Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project (Loehr and Schwartz 2005). One of Tony’s most famous statements is -“We’re not meant to run at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. Science tells us we’re at our best when we move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy — a reality that companies must embrace to fuel sustainable engagement and high performance” (Loehr 1995). Tony boldly suggests that in order to keep employees working in “Performance Zone”, we should be sprinters rather than marathoners – taking rests regularly to recovery our physical, psychological and emotional energy (Loehr and Schwartz 2005).

The Energy Project states there are four energy zones (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) and each one of these must be constantly replenished to maintain optimum performance. If any one of these four is out of kilter we run the risk of unbalancing our whole performance and with too much unbalance we might face burnout (Loehr 1995). Like an athlete, once an executive finishes goal, he needs to renew himself and prepare for the next one (Loehr 1995). If a person is not replenishing his energy or is not aware of which energy zone needs replenishing he will never reach optimum performance and will risk burning out.

In summary, the Loehr and Schwartz (2005) model says that we must be aware of what our four energy zones are and have a method of understanding whether they are depleted as well as the right tools to replenish these energies. The next point that is crucial to The Energy Project’s model is that we need to constantly renew our energy. So in a working day, if we are to work optimally and not burnout we must factor in consistent periods of recovery. So for every few hours of performance there needs to be a recovery period. Those that dont mange themselves in this way are at greater risk of burnout.

Contemporary Energy Work

It was after understanding the how the energy zones worked that I came to realise why exercise and mindfulness had such a big impact in my own rehabilitation. The combination of both exercise and mindfulness affects our physical, mental and emotional states. The Energy Project’s model also has similar comparisons in that they promote the use of physical exercise to manage physical, mental and emotional energy. The Energy Project is not explicit in drawing these conclusions but it is implied through anecdotal evidence.

Contemporary research by professor Gardener has refined the work done by Loehr and Schwartz (2005). Gardener (2021) identified to three energy zones being relevant when working on burnout – mental (IQ), emotional (EQ), and physical (PQ). Here, IQ relates to intellect quotient, EQ refers to emotional quotient and PQ is the Physical Quotient. By focusing on maintaining and recharging each one of these energy zones independently and simultaneously will create resilience to burnout. Currently, research I am involved in is testing the physiological effects upon burnout when each one of those energy zones are managed using a digital platform to interpret the data feedback. The initial finding are that there are distinct energy zones and they are all interconnected as well as affected when a person is burned out.

Conclusion

Humans work more naturally and rhythmically needing to constantly balance the spending and renewal of energy. The workplace needs to understand a person is a system of many different energy zones and if they are not addressing IQ, EQ and PQ then they will continue to risk their staffs psychological safety. To treat burnout there needs to be a system in place to assess which energy zone/s are being affected, there needs to be clear a intervention/s to treat those people with depleted energy zones and there needs to be a culture or performance and recovery.

References

Clough, P., Earle, K., Perry, J. and Crust, L. (2012) Comment on “Progressing measurement in mental toughness: A case example of the Mental Toughness Questionnaire 48” by Gucciardi, Hanton, and Mallett (2012). Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 1(4), pp.283-287.

Clough, P. and Strycharczyk, D. (2020) MTQ User Manual. 1st ed. AQR.

Clough, P.J. & Strycharczyk, D. (2010) Developing Resilience through Coaching – MTQ48. In J. Passmore (ed), Psychometrics in Coaching. Kogan Page: London.

Lboro.ac.uk. (2021) | PQ one of three University spinouts | School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences | Loughborough University. [online] Available at: <https://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/ssehs/news/2020/pq-one-of-three-university-spinouts.html> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

Loehr, J.E. (1995) The New Toughness Training for Sports, New York: Plume Publishers.

Loehr, J & Schwartz, T (2005) The power of full engagement, New York: Free Press.

What Is Resilience Anyway?

Having read an article and done some work with the Mental Toughness team at AQR I became very interested in why potential clients were asking me for resiliency training when in fact they actually wanted work that more closely aligned with positive psychology. In the article I read by Dr Doug Strycharczyk he describes the term resilience as being misunderstood. Dr Strycharczyk says that the term resilience is being used like the term Hoover is used to describing all vacuum cleaners when not all are Hoovers.

Indeed, an expert in this field, Suzanne Kobasa, defines resiliency as “the ability to recover from an adverse situation” which is a personality trait meaning that people have an ability to cope but not necessarily thrive. Over time the term resiliency has become like the Hoover. It encapsulates many concepts from positive psychology that are not resiliency and passes them off as if they are. Research by Kobasa into workplaces shows that although many describe themselves as resilient they responded differently to stress pressure and challenge. She went on to find some responding positively to adversity and even looking out for it. This passion for challenge and risk has been given many labels over time with one of the most popular coming from the work of Dr Carol Dweck into Growth Mindset.

However, this is not actually resilience. This is more aligned with Mental Toughness and is congruent with the work that I have done into stress which has found that the more mentally tough a person is the more they are likely to have burnout. Mental Toughness is “a personality trait which determines in large part how individual deal with stress, pressure and challenge irrespective of circumstances”(Dr Doug Strycharczy). 

Resilience and Mental Toughness are related but they are not the same and when we are trying to develop specific qualities in a person it is better to understand the variables and their component parts to ensure the treatment can accurately predict its effects.

When I work with clients use the Mental Toughness framework to develop my interventions rather than just resiliency because the outcome is more positive leading to:

  • Better performance
  • Better and sustained wellbeing
  • Development of positive behaviours

By using Mental Toughness what we are doing is introducing psychological well-being and positive psychology into the explanation.

Mindfulness Technique – Focussing

Our words, our language are like a map of our reality. Language is a mixture of concepts, ideas and statements that other people have created and which we use to make sense of our environment. Like a map, the world that the described is not a true reflection of reality. Reality is directloy experienced and things like language are a barrier to our direct experience. However, when using a technique such a focussing language is discarded in favour of the felt senses – our natural way of understanding our world. Through this technique we can connect with our reality in a way that is not distorted but is pure and true. The end result is happiness and a greater awareness of the beautifu world in which we live.

The key concept of Focusing is the felt sense: a body sensation that is meaningful. Examples include a jittery feeling in the stomach as you stand up to speak, or a heaviness in the heart as you think of a distant loved one.A felt sense is usually experienced in the middle of the body: abdomen, stomach, chest, throat–although felt senses also occur in other parts of the body. A person may get a felt sense of “this relationship,” or “that creative project,” or “the part of me that has a hard time with public speaking,” and so on. Felt senses are different from emotions, although they are likely to contain emotions. If emotions are like primary colors, felt senses are like subtle blends of colors. The emotion might be “fear,” but the felt sense of the fear would be more like: “jumpy, almost excited,” or “frozen like a rabbit in the headlights,” or “clutching in my throat, won’t let go.” There is a uniqueness to a felt sense, a quality of “here is how it is right now, for me.”

Felt senses are often (but not always) elusive, vague, temporary, subtle, and hard to describe. One of the most difficult aspects of learning Focusing, for most people, is the shift of attention from experiences that are definite, clear, and unmistakable (like headaches) to experiences that are, as Gendlin puts it, “indefinable, global, puzzling, odd, uneasy, fuzzy.”

People typically come to learn Focusing from two ends of a feeling spectrum. On the one hand, we have people who are troubled by feeling “too much.” Their stomachs tighten each time they assert themselves. They have a constricted throat for hours after a difficult phone call. Such people have no doubt that their emotional life has an impact on their bodies–in fact, they often wish it didn’t! To them, Focusing offers a way to have a friendlier, more positive relationship with feeling experience. They learn to acknowledge their bodily felt senses without becoming overwhelmed by them. Further, they make the almost miraculous discovery that when these felt senses are listened to and “heard,” they lighten, soften, relax, and often release completely.

The other type of person who comes to learn Focusing is someone who feels “too little.” This person has thoroughly learned the lesson of our culture: that the body is devoid of meaning and should be ignored whenever possible. When he or she puts awareness in the body, it feels blank, like nothing is there. This is the person who simply cannot answer when asked, “How do you feel?” For this person, learning Focusing means learning how to feel (rather than ignore) the body’s meaningful reactions.

Many people now understand that our bodies “know” what good health is, and can show us the way to optimum physical health if we so desire. But to see the scope of the body’s wisdom as exclusively physical is to take too narrow a view.

Our bodies are wise in ways hardly ever acknowledged by our culture. Our bodies carry knowledge about how we are living our lives, about what we need to be more fully ourselves, about what we value and believe, about what has hurt us emotionally and how to heal it. Our bodies know which people around us bring out the best in us, and which do not. Our bodies know the right next step to bring us to more fulfilling and rewarding lives.

Learning Focusing means returning to a kind of nonanalytic knowing that connects us to our wholeness. We build a better relationship with our emotional life. Trust in our own process deepens. Focusing becomes an inner “compass” that points the way more and more reliably the more it is used.