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Use Positive Psychology to Prevent Burnout

I receive Harvard Management Tip emails every morning. I just read an adaptation of Kate Northrop’s Burning Out and Dialing it Back article. It’s excellent, and it made me think of positive psychology and how we may find ourselves misled by the idea of just “dialing it back.”

It is effortless to say stop, think, do the following. That is not always how it works, though. Some people need a fuller understanding of when they are “overworking” or about to burn out.

I bring in positive psychology because sometimes, the state of flow makes us reach this idea of burning out much quicker than otherwise. Are we burning out? It’s always a negative concept, but we do need to listen to what Ms. Northrop says, understand it better, let’s say. We tend to fall into these states where so much is going well that we refuse to stop. We are “in the zone,” or we’ve gotten to that moment where things are just flowing so well that we do not want to stop.

Alright, so we don’t want to stop. We want to keep it “flowing” because it’s working well, looking good, and we (may not be here again). That’s not true. Stepping back is a good thing. However, it would help if you understood that positive psychology and a flow state do not necessarily align with burnout and need to stop. Doesn’t burnout mean there is a trying feeling? There is a moment of darkness and just no congruency in thinking? You need to be able to distinguish one from the other. And not be afraid to do so.

I was an aspiring doctor at one point. A medical doctor, that is. I would stay up all night reading biology books, sleep during the day, and be so burnt out that I took the same class 3 times. That’s burning out. That’s not being in a state of flow where being up and studying feels good. A form of flow does not include physical strain. Even if your state of flow were running miles in seconds, your body would not be physically strained. It’s the power of diminishing that feeling because you are psychologically not there. You are in the moment of running and not in the moment of stressing your body so far it aches in the end.

Take the step back. Northrop states to rewrite the narrative. Yeah, agreed. Rewrite what you are doing. Make it a positive state of flow, and be in the moment. Be in the moment by controlling yourself within the moment enough to hold the moments also. Control your mind, your actions. Know when to stop. And always move forward health-first.

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