I was speaking to a friend recently, who was feeling burnt out, stressed and exhausted. She had been plugging away at a new project for more than a year. It had its ups and downs but overall, the toll was significant. It was draining the life out of her and she was taking some time to evaluate everything.
I know what it’s like to be burnt out and exhausted. You can keep doing all these activities that you believe should work. You may be doing the right thing but naturally, you have expectations.
So what happens when what you’re faced with is silence or rejection? What if the activities don’t seem to work? How do you know you’ve given it enough time? How do you know whether you should keep at it or quit while you’re ahead?
I’d like to share something I do that helps me.
I ask myself three questions.
I do this when confused, unsure or unsettled about the next steps or decisions I’ve made.
On the surface, these questions look easy but truthfully, they are tough questions because there are no right or wrong answers. There is no one else to guide you – you have to find your own way for your most compelling challenges. There are no simple solutions either. But if you are prepared to face these questions and work your way around them, you will very likely find yourself in a better place.
1. What do I want to do with my time and energy?
I ask myself this to be clear about my mental bandwidth.
Your time and energy are your biggest assets and the choices you make about how you support these assets have a tremendous impact on your mental health and happiness.
I want to be clear about what I focus on – the activities I will undertake, the decisions I will make and how this sits with me. I choose to be succinct too. If I am vague, I merely delay the inevitable frustration or unhappiness lying below the surface because I would not have dealt with my situation in any meaningful way.
One of the biggest lessons I learned many years ago and which has opened up my landscape in so many ways is to start with the dream. Dream the unfettered dream which means to say that you don’t think about all the ways in which something can or will go wrong. You don’t think about the 15 different ways this cannot happen.
You think of the one reason why you need this dream.
You focus on the possibilities, not the limitations that may arise. You’ve got all the time in the world to deal with limitations but first, you need to know what you want and how badly you want it.
What I used to do was dream badly.
I muddied my dreams with all the ways in which things can go wrong. Mind you, these were merely thoughts but powerful enough, they turned into eventualities because I allowed it to. I let the myriad number of ways something could go wrong colour my dream negatively. It changed my dream. It shortened, restricted and twisted the dream to the point it no longer was a dream – it was just reality.
And it’s easy enough to do this.
It’s easy enough to allow things, people, circumstances and expectations to change the dream. It’s just “the way it’s always been done”. “You’ll never make it because no one has succeeded with this so far”.
But to hold on to a dream so big and vulnerable takes guts.
So when you’re confused, unsure or unsettled about the choices you’re making or the situation you’re in, go back to this question to allow yourself to reframe and calibrate. Be gutsy enough to be clear about your direction even if you don’t know the whole way. Be gutsy enough to take a chance to discover what may happen because often, that’s just about the only way to find out.
Doing this activity is extremely beneficial. In order for you to say yes to that thing, you then know what you need to say no to.
2. Where do I want to go with this?
When I ask this question, I work to be clear about the outcomes I am looking for.
The more specific and accurate you are in describing this to yourself, the better it will be. You’re looking to get into more detail that takes you from your actions and energy (what do you want to do) to the end result (the outcomes you’re looking for). Be bold to think it and then say it out loud. Remember that you’ve got to have an idea of where you want to go before you can get there.
3. What will I do to make it happen?
I’ve made up my mind about what I want to do. I’m clear about the outcomes I want. Now comes the test of my resolve – what will I do to make it happen?
How serious am I about what I decided?
Realise that you will be tested and that’s a good thing. Testing provides more confirmation and validation.
Testing also provides clarity. You may discover that you’ve now changed your mind and no longer want to move in a particular direction. There’s no harm in that, everyone has the right to change their mind from time to time. At least you now know how you feel and you can make the adjustments necessary.
When I ask myself this question, I think in two directions. I think about my attitude and what I need to steel myself for. Then I also think about the kind of activities I will pursue in support of the direction I am taking.
I love this approach because it goes beyond theory. You don’t want to just be thinking about things you’re grappling with – you need action to make it real for yourself. All three questions help you. You either make decisions or take specific actions. It is also empowering. You’re not sitting around waiting for things to happen to you. You’re taking charge. Try these three questions and see if it works for you.