Synopsis & Links
Synopsis: Part of forward motion and personal growth is also knowing when to rest and reflect by going dormant for a period.
Non-stop forward motion leads to burnout
We have a tendency to always want to be growing and improving, but that pace leads to burnout.
What we can do about it:
- Take a break every couple of months or when we reach a major milestone to rest and reflect on our priorities
- Add downtime to our schedules every day
- Schedule our sleeping hours
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Kawai Kitsune by Kevin MacLeod
About the Ex-Gifted Podcast:
If you are a former gifted kid who grew up to struggle with basic adulting, then you need the Ex-Gifted podcast.
Host Ren Eliza talks about gifted kid burnout, and the damage that lasts long into adulthood. Damage like battered self esteem, decimated internal motivation, and a continued failure to live up to expectations even while we were placed on pedestals and alienated from our peers.
Ex-Gifted will cover failure, procrastination, imposter syndrome, and chronic anxiety and depression, and a whole lot more.
Each episode also offers suggestions to deal with your executive dysfunction in adulthood so you can rebuild the systems that allowed you to shine so brightly in childhood.
We’re making exceptional children into functional adults.
If you’ve ever worked yourself past the breaking point, and right into burnout, then this is the show for you. This is ex-gifted.
I’ve mentioned on the show before that I’m a gardener, and with the official first day of winter only a few weeks away for those of us in the northern hemisphere, my plants have already been through the first frost and entered their annual period of dormancy.
You probably already know more or less about the seasonal changes of deciduous trees. The chlorophyll breaks down, leaves dry out and fall from the branches in order to protect the tree from the freezing temperatures of winter. You may not know that many perennial plants actually die back all the way to the ground. The leaves and stems and basically what we think of as the plant itself all dies and disappears, but in fact the plant lives on in the root system underground, which absorbs as much nutrition as it can from the rest of the plant before going dormant. Once the warmer temperatures return, so does the vegetation. But it’s important to remember that throughout the cycle, the plant is always doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. In the spring we see rebirth. In the summer we see blooms and boundless growth. In the fall we begin to see preparation for the dormant period, and then in the winter we see….Nothing. And yet still that time is no less important than the other three seasons.
The same applies to your own growth. As humans, generally, but especially the high-achieving types who can usually relate to the ex-gifted label, it’s our tendency to look constantly to the next step forward instead of spending time content with where we are now. But uncontrolled growth fueled by nonstop action and forward motion isn’t sustainable. We need time for rest, recovery, and reflection in order to avoid burnout. We need to periodically go dormant.
Although dormancy is a period of relative inactivity and non-growth, it is a fundamental, necessary stage of the growth CYCLE.
Dormancy, of course, looks different in people than in plants. But it’s just as crucial for our growth and survival. The most obvious example is the dormant period we experience almost every night. We go into a state of relative inactivity including a slower metabolism and our bodies get that time to rest and recover. Although the exact functions of sleep are various and still a hot topic of research, that sleep is needed for human functioning is not up for debate. In fact, depriving someone of sleep is a literal form of torture.
Yet we have no problem depriving people – even including ourselves – of other forms of rest.
Another well-known example is rest day – taking a regular rest day from weightlifting and other exercise. Our muscles need a day to rest and recover in order to grow as we want them to, so taking a rest day can actually be more beneficial than committing to exercise every single day of the week.
Without rest, a person runs the risk of not only limiting their performance or physical gains, but also of mental burnout, damaging their emotional health, leading to anxiety, depression, and irritability.
But that doesn’t just apply to exercise – it goes just the same for any other kind of growth you can experience. If you’re trying to study for a test, it’s important to take breaks and get rest to allow integration of the new material. In a romantic relationship it is important to get time to yourself, and also to spend time enjoying where you are in your relationship right now, instead of always trying to move to a higher level of intimacy. If you have been working on your growth mindset with me over the past couple of episodes, make sure to make room for rest within that mindset.
Because the thing is, taking a break won’t do you any good without also working on your mindset and allowing yourself to take that break. I hear it said often that “if you just stop procrastinating, and do the thing you’ve been avoiding, you’d be able to feel pride instead of stress, and isn’t that enough to make you just get up and do it?” People don’t realize the fact that – well for one that even once you finish it there’s probably something else on your to-do list right after it, but even if there’s not – when you’ve been existing for years and even decades in a constant state of stress over whatever thing you “should” (massive air quotes for my audio-only friends) be doing, that just finishing the thing doesn’t actually do anything to make that stress go away on its own.
The stress isn’t actually coming from your to-do list, it’s coming from inside your brain! If your mindset doesn’t have space for dormancy, then your stress level will be high whether your to-do list is full or empty. Even once you’ve completed the list, your mind is still gonna tell you – either consciously or not, that there’s something else you are supposed to be doing.
You have to intentionally, consciously build that space into your mindset and into your days. Here’s some ways you can work on that.
First of all, when you get a win and you accomplish a goal – slow down and celebrate it. Don’t even start thinking about your next goal until you have stopped and given yourself time to appreciate and reflect on your achievement. Maybe that’s a day, maybe it’s a whole month. In the morning when I finish my morning routine, I take about ten seconds to give myself snaps before I worry about what might come next. For bigger goals though, you really want to take some time to make sure that you’re getting – for one, the rest and recuperation you need, and for two the chance to reflect on your goals and priorities.
So embrace that dormant period after you reach a goal, and goals not withstanding, every few months anyway make sure to give yourself some time to stop, take a step back, and reflect on the direction you’re going. Because what you definitely don’t want is to be working hard and pushing yourself in a pre-determined direction that isn’t even the way you want to be going anymore. That is a surefire road to burnout
And that leads me to the second thing. You absolutely have to schedule time to rest. Don’t just let it happen – choose it. Make it intentional. On a daily basis, and also on a longer timescale of once every month or three. This is one of the reasons I keep a planner even when I don’t really have any events on it. I’ll be completely honest, my days contain a lot of watching TV, scrolling social media, or playing games on my phone. This may look like rest on the outside, and for some people I’m sure all these things are restful, but the way I tend to do it is out of avoidance, which isn’t at all restful.
It’s not a period of conscious, intentional, purposeful dormancy, but rather a period of stagnation. And that’s okay. We all go through periods of stagnation. It’s not a moral failing and I’m absolutely not suggesting that you should be focused on using every moment of your time off in the most productive way possible – even down to resting efficiently. I’m only acknowledging that it does slow my personal growth – both directly by not taking steps forward, but also by preventing me from actually getting any kind of restoration. You know, you spend the whole day doing nothing productive and also not getting even a moment of rest because you’re just stressed out all day. That’s not a fun way to live, and I know because that’s how I have lived a lot of my days.
The line between being dormant and being stagnant isn’t always clear cut, but one way to help ensure that you’re leaning more toward the former than the latter is to have that time on your calendar, so you know that you’re doing exactly what you chose to be doing: nothing. Set aside an hour if you can, but fifteen minutes if that’s all you’ve got. Put down your phone. Try journaling or meditating for part of the time if you’re into that, but if not that’s fine too. Take a nap, listen to music, work on a puzzle, or even just sit and think – but most importantly ANY time your body brings up that tension, or your brain tells you that you you ought to stop wasting time and do something worthwhile, address it directly and remind yourself that you’re already doing what your’e supposed to be doing and you can actively release that pressure to do something “productive.” This is how you can make space for rest in your mindset.
But when I say to put it on the calendar, that’s not only for a few minutes of downtime. I already went over the importance of those hours of sleep every night. Put your sleep on your schedule too – whether that’s a literal schedule or even just a verbal agreement you make with yourself. But of course I recommend writing it down because that makes it way more real and more likely you’ll stick to it.
So make time to go dormant. Part of moving forwards is stopping for rest when you need it, so you can avoid burnout and keep your forward motion in the long term.
One final thing before I go. I’ve talked a lot in this episode about how rest is crucial for growth. And that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that you should go take a break because it’ll help you come back more productive than ever. Even if it doesn’t make you any more productive, you still gotta take a break because you’re a human being and you fucking deserve it just for that reason and nothing else.
Whatever you do, keep growing.