How To Avoid Burnout
Ankush interviews Elizabeth Lovius about burnout in business and how it’s completely misunderstood in today’s society.
Some of the questions answered in ways you may not have previously heard are as follows:
– What is burnout?
– What is the cost of burnout in business?
– What is the true cause of burnout?
– What can be done about it?
– How can we see burnout in a new way?
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To contact Elizabeth and find out more about her, visit www.elizabethlovius.com
Full transcript below:
[00:00:00.00] Ankush: Hello everyone. I’m back for another episode and today I’m joined by Elizabeth Lovius. Elizabeth is a leadership coach and educator with over 25 years experience. She works primarily with executives and their teams, and has worked with companies such as IBM, Pret A Manger, ITV and Animal Planet. I’m really pleased to have her with us today. Hi Elizabeth.
[00:00:26.09] Elizabeth: Hi, Ankush.
[00:00:27.18] Ankush: I’m so glad that you’re joining us today, and today we’re going to be talking specifically about burnout. How to avoid burnout, and what Elizabeth believes is the one cause of burnout. So, great to have you with us, I think a good place to start Elizabeth is: what do you mean by “burnout?”
[00:00:50.01] Elizabeth: You know, burnout is so common with some people at work, but not with others. So it’s like, well, what’s going on there? And I would say, I’ve experienced burnout myself, and I would say that, what I would say burnout feels like, it’s like an overwhelming feeling and a very low energy, and I think fundamentally, not feeling you’re able to meet the tasks of your life, whatever they might be. Not feeling able. Sort of having lost your sense of resilience or your capacity to meet the challenges of the day-to-day, I’d say that’s what people is burnout. Now there are all sorts of different symptoms, and I’m not really talking about the medical version of it, I’m just talking about that experience when you just feel like you can’t keep doing what you’re doing in the same way. And you know it’s taking a toll on you, so I’d say that’s what people tend to think of as a burnout, does that make sense to you Ankush?
[00:01:57.00] Ankush: It does, and would you say that it’s becoming more and more common nowadays?
[00:02:01.02] Elizabeth: I would say that, in this current climate of mental health awareness, people are more aware of it, they’re more aware of it, there’s more of a label available, which can say, “that person’s kind of on a burnout trajectory.” So I think generally, our awareness is heightened, so yeah I do think it’s because of awareness, and I think also the way that we run our lives, that combination definitely looks more burnout going on, to me.
[00:02:30.24] Ankush: And before we get onto the cause of this, I mean, what’s the cost of this, what’s the cost to the individual, what’s the cost to organizations, like why should we care about burnout?
[00:02:41.04] Elizabeth: Well burnout, clearly costs an organization money, because you’ve had somebody being paid to do a job that they can’t, don’t seem that they can do in that moment. So that’s going to cost you money right there in absence and sickness. Mental health, costs in the region of, I think somewhere like £42 billion a year to UK businesses. So that’s people going off with stress, depression or anxiety. So you’ve got a huge impact in the workforce of impending burnout or burnout really impacting the bottom line.
[00:03:12.29] Ankush: When I read in the papers and online, it seems like the awareness of this issue is becoming more and more prevalent. But I never seem to see any concrete examples of what people do about it, there seems to be a lot of theories, it seems like businesses are really trying, but the problem seems to get worse. Now, what is your view on the cause of burnout, and what can, either a company do about it, or if I’m an individual listening to this, and I’m experiencing burnout, what can I do about it?
[00:03:42.22] Elizabeth: So, for this we have to understand a little bit more about the true nature of stress and the true nature of wellbeing, and how resilience works. So, I know these are kind of bite-size chunks Ankush, so I’m going to go for it into the bottom line, and hopefully it will resonate with some people. But I’m not going to ask you to believe what I’m saying, I’m going to ask you listen into your own experience and see does it ring true. So, the first fundamental misunderstanding that people have about stress is that they think things, we humans, think that things that are happening to us, creates our stress.
So, I’ve got a wedding coming up, or, I’ve just had a new-born baby, or I’ve just got this huge job promotion and there’s more responsibility, or, my manager has halved my team, so I have to do twice much work with half the people. Or one of our clients has just pulled out, so we have to replace the income, or I really cannot stand that person in my team, they’re just always a pain in the butt, or fill in the blank. So, you could say, those are all circumstances in your life that are the cause of your stress, or you could even say, “well my mother was super stressed, so it’s genetic,” I mean you could say a lot of things, that it looks like, that’s the source of your stress. The only problem with that is, it isn’t true. And we live in a world that feeds the idea that it is true, but it isn’t true. So then what we end up trying to do is change all our circumstances, if we believe that’s true.
We try and change all our circumstances which creates a lot of energy, a lot of work and a lot of thinking, which in and of itself, creates more stress. Because there is only ever one source of stress, and that is this: our thought-feeling in the moment. So we have thoughts, we know we have thoughts and feelings, everybody has them, that’s called being human. And what happens is, we go about our lives and we have thoughts and feelings, and they arise in us, and those thoughts and feelings shape 100% our experience, but they happen so fast, that we don’t really notice them, so we attribute them, to what’s going on around us. Let me give a very small example in my own life.
I have two teenage boys, sometimes I walk in and they’re doing that thing they do, where they, two teenage boys, try and best each other, I don’t know if anyone’s got teenage boys listening to this, but if you do, you’ll know what I mean, siblings often get into various different ways of, “I’m going to best you, I’m going to beat you, no, I’m going to beat you.” So they do this thing that they do, which looks to me like arguing and fighting, and I walk in, and I’m tired and I’ve got a low mood myself, and I lose it, I lose it with them, I get frustrated, I get annoyed, and I absolutely think they’re the cause of my stress. On a completely different day, I walk in, I have a different frame of mind, they’re doing that very same thing, it doesn’t bother me at all, I think it’s amusing. Now how can that be possible?
That’s because, there’s a hidden variable that’s at play inside of me, that’s determining what I even see as a problem. And that is called, “the power of thought.” And “the power of thought” it’s got a wide definition, I’m talking about thought, perception, sensations, feelings, anything that’s happening inside of you, created inside of you, is all a function of this power of thought. And we don’t realise that it’s our thoughts about things, that create our experience of them. So, one person, when the client pulls out, and there’s a huge income gap to fill, can experience that as a disaster and another person on the same team, can experience that as a challenge and opportunity. And here’s the rub: even that same person, who experiences it on one day as a disaster, on another day could experience it as an opportunity for creativity. So we are never stuck with anything, any circumstance, we are living in the feeling of our thoughts, not the feeling of what’s happening out there. So that’s quite an unusual way to see stress, Ankush wouldn’t you say?
[00:08:25.24] Ankush: Absolutely. I’m listening to this and I recall a course that I went on around stress, at a former employer of mine, and what we were taught on that course was, there were certain circumstances which are more stressful than others, and what we were taught, was, to be aware of that and support each other. So, I remember I think some of the top causes of stress, that I was taught, were things like the death of a partner, moving house, loss of income, I think those were sort of the top common causes of stress. Now, what you’re saying is, whilst it can look like that, that’s not actually what’s going on, it’s about the thinking we have about those circumstances. And what you’re saying is, that, people can think differently about the same circumstances, regardless of how severe they are. Which is quite unusual, it’s very different to, certainly a lot of training that I had before I became a coach, and certainly I now totally agree with you, but I know it is different to a lot of stress training and stress books and stress courses that are out there. Have you got any examples, because this might sound, someone might be listening to this and go: “that kind of sounds nice in theory, like oh it’s very nice to think it’s just my thinking, but hello, I’m in this particular circumstance Elizabeth, and this is real for me, and I feel really stressed.” Do you have any examples of where you’ve worked with people, I know we’ve only got a short amount of time, but, where you’ve worked with people maybe in a little bit more depth and detail, which has resulted in a fundamental shift in how they view the world?
[00:10:19.17] Elizabeth: Absolutely, and I’d just like to clarify, that we’re not talking about changing your thinking, which it can sound like we’re talking about, what we’re talking about really is understanding how our experience is actually being created moment-by-moment, which is created by thinking, so the more we can understand that it is our thinking, and the more we think about that thing, the more likely that’s going to take us in the wrong direction. See, the amount of thought, is also really what’s going on with the burnout situation, having a lot of thought, whether that’s positive, negative or in-between, is a precursor to a stressed-out state, it’s a busy mind, and a busy mind, we have been sold the lie in our professions that a busy mind is a good thing.
I mean, my name’s Elizabeth, and I used to call myself “Busy Lizzy,” like a badge of honour, and actually, what I’ve come to see over time is the busier my mind, the more at risk of stress and feeling driven and urgent I am in, the quieter my mind, the more I’m likely to be able to get new fresh thought, that is likely to point me in the right direction, and give me the solutions to whatever I’m dealing with in front of me. So let me tell you about Sue May, one of my clients, who works in Asia. Now, in Asia, there’s a very high work ethic, they are very driven to perform, to achieve goals, and very responsible, and take their work and commitments seriously.
So, there’s high standards, and high levels of commitment, as a kind of cultural context. And that’s true in many businesses, but I’ve noticed it particularly when working with my Asian clients. And Sue May was a rockstar, she was absolutely, any time they had something to give, they needed somebody who could really deliver, or that somebody who would work and find that solution, or someone who’d put the hours in, they gave it to Sue May. Because she was always in her quest for the best possible outcome, and she was also very attached to that, she really wouldn’t let it go, unless she could prove that she could deliver something, and be perfect really.
That was very much how she felt in life, and she would get visibly frustrated with herself when things didn’t go to plan, and sometimes she would self-question herself, and have self-doubt on the inside, which would lead to a slight irritability with her colleagues. So, Sue May, she was really a person who desired to do her best at all times, now, when she came to me, she knew that she was burning out, she knew she’d lost her joy, and she wanted to find a way, to be happier in her life and work, to have more clarity and to grow as a person. So we took a look together, at how she saw life, and she saw life through a lens of “I have to be perfect, and I have to meet my standards, and I have so many high standards, I have to be strong, I have to solve everything, I have to push through no matter what, I have to take responsibility.” Now the consequence of that amount of thinking and thinking in that direction, overtime, left her exhausted.
So we started looking at the true nature of her experience, and how life works for all human beings, and that her way of seeing, and her thought process, in a way, was the thing creating her stress, and that there was something inside that she could draw on, her natural well-being, her inner wisdom, her inner sense of okayness, that if she could tap into that, and align with that, she would have a naturally more harmonious, clearer, more enjoyable experience of life. And I started that process by getting her to think about, we saw that she did a lot of judging in her day-to-day of herself and those around her, and we started the conversation with, “well what would happen if she stopped judging?” And she started to see something, she started to see the nature of her own expectations being the source of so much frustration, and her own standards, and she started to see that right at the heart of it, was the message that she’d given herself, that there was something to fix, there was something inside her she needed to fix, that was missing. And that she needed to do it now. And when she saw that that wasn’t true, and that really what was true inside, was that she had this capacity to draw on, that freedom of mind, that peace of mind, and that the actual source of the busy mind was not realising that’s what she had inside her.
When she started to see that, she settled down, she had less thinking and she started having huge insights, insights that people had been telling her all the time, “just need to let go Sue May, you just need to trust people, you just need to drop the guilt.” And she couldn’t hear those truths, she needed to see them for herself, and after she sort of settled inside of herself and touched that place inside that we all have, which is just her innate well-being, she started to have her own insights, and I quote her directly, “I don’t need to look for something to fix, I realise that my thoughts are creating my feelings and I do not need to give power to these feelings, the feelings will pass all on their own.” Every person has their own experience, they’re not seeing what I’m seeing, they’re seeing their own thought in the moment, and that does not need to affect how I feel, how I am. So she started to have these insights, and as a result, she started to settle in the job, enjoy it more, and be more effective. So that’s a real-life story.
[00:17:02.07] Ankush: Thank you for that Elizabeth, that’s quite a powerful turnaround, and I know we haven’t been able to go into as much depth as you did with your client, but what is the one takeaway you’d like people to reflect on or take from this short conversation?
[00:17:20.06] Elizabeth: That when we get in a low mood and feel overwhelmed, it looks really really real, and it looks permanent, and it looks like the dark truth of who we really are emerges. And I could not tell you that you could not be further from the truth, all of those things are not true, yet they seem true, we really are, the thoughts are temporary, the feelings are temporary, they pass all on their own, if we don’t give them a lot of airtime, a lot of oxygen, they do pass, and we will return to our natural, wise, clear minded state, and if you need evidence, just look at small children, who go down, but go straight back up again. Bounce-back-ability, we were all born with it.
[00:18:06.27] Ankush: And if anyone’s listening to this and they’d like to contact you, and find out more about the work you do with burnout or anything else, how can they do that?
[00:18:14.12] Elizabeth: It’s www.elizabethlovius.com, you can get in touch.
[00:18:22.04] Ankush: Thank you very much again for joining us today, it’s been an absolute pleasure, and I’ll be back next time, with another interviewee and another topic.