I am in the process of gathering information for a much more comprehensive book about "How to avoid Burnout and How to stay motivated 24/7" so this blog post is an essential milestone to give the relevant information an early outlet. Hopefully through comments and links that I will add later, this post will be a valuable resource later on.
First thing first: What is Burnout and how can I find out if I have it?
"Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give."
- Every day is a bad day.
- Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
- You’re exhausted all the time.
- The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
- You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
According to Wikipedia; Burnout is not a recognized disorder in the DSM although it is recognized in the ICD-10 and specified as a "State of vital exhaustion" (Z73.0) under "Problems related to life-management difficulty" (Z73), but not considered a "disorder".
This doesn´t make it any easier, consulting a doctor about such issues can often result in being categorized with burnout, ADHS, whatsoever, these are nice names but don´t help anyone. The burnout prevention tips from that helpguide-site
are a good start, but to get into the matter of reflecting what causes it all, you have to dig deeper. The thing is: even if you don´t have burnout, it can help to read through this post to see what you can do and do just right to stay away from it.
The first step would be to find information about what sucessful people do that help them to prevent a mental breakdown. There is this post from Chris Oatley which covers around 10 minutes about "How To Avoid Artistic Burnout
". He doesn´t give any help, but rather tells what he´s doing. Probably the same that is covered in the 5 minutes that Noah Bradley spoke about in his course "The Art Of Freelancing" This means there must be something that some people have in common that help them to avoid this kind of mental issue, but what is it?
The one and only rule:
By doing countless research and empiric observation it can be said that there is one golden rule that all powerful, succesful and creative people do never break: "Focus on meaningful work all the time."
Rockstars such as Bruce Springsteen, Photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Stagedesigners like Eiko Ishioka, all have one thing in common: They give/gave their best, pushed the boundaries, give/gave more than they actually have/had, for what purpose? Meaningful work and resonance. But when resonance is gone, that what is left is the work that has to be done. Make it meaningful and it will be more fun than work.
Easy as that.
What are the habits of highly productive creative people?
I will try to break down these things in a bullet-post. All or many of those artists mentioning they had never artists or creative block, depression or burnout, due to the following reasons:
- They don´t procrastinate
They know that giving their best produces resonance, which in turn motivates to strive for even better work
- Many embrace working from home/on their own
- They are experienced with unstable situations or embrace the new, the unknown
They have no prejudices against anything or anyone until they have shaped their own opinion
Highly successful artists focus to at least 70% on meaningful work
- They get something done everyday that means something to them on a personal level (and be it just 10 minutes a day)
- Keep up self assignments at every cost (if it is meaningful)
- They blog, do podcasts or otherwise publish their experiences
- They all tend to have fun doing what they love
They all have obtained some kind of peer recognition/peer respect
- Many of these artists don´t let themselves demotivate by great output of fellow artists and get rather encouraged to get better at their own work
- They all have abandoned negative thinking from their work ethics
- Many abandoned negative media input such as televisons, magazines and newspaper
- They all share the opinion that money doesn´t matter
- Many maintain a healthy work-life-balance
- See inspiration everywhere, from movies to great architecture, to nature, etc...
- They know that even client work can be meaningful and have an even better resonance through collaborative effort
- They all have CCD (Creative Compulsive Disorder(1))
It´s key indications are:
- Inherent urge to create something new
- Urge to be creative
- A good feeling by hacking things or making up new use for old things
- Finding joy in changing small things everyday
- Finding joy in use things in a different way
- Finding solutions for problems that no one else can relate to
- Finding joy in things that everyone else would decline
- Having fun in creative recycling
This all sounds nice and good, but how do I get away from Burnout to CCD?
The solution is written above, we humans are not made of flesh and bone that is controlled by a brain, we also are slaves to our habits. And learn to focus on the rule is crucial. Find out what is meaningful to you.
Changing habits is the key.
When you are used to procrastinate because you don´t have fun doing what you do, find a challenge in it, be it to work against a timer, etc.
Most are subtle tweaks to gain some fun in your gray and dull workday.
The next step is to make some goals, make lists to achive them. One list for the goals and one list with ways to achieve them, everything is allowed, not just work related, write up a holiday location or a long neglected dream, a show, whatsoever.... This way we get to our inner core and find what we truly want. Depending on your situation this takes time. Someone with CCD has an easier time to get in synch with their inner voice because they know how it sounds. Someone who has neglected their inner voice for years, it can take time, so being patient with yourself is the first and most important thing to do.
Abandon negative media input
The first step is to abandon negative input. Sure, you can´t kick your boss or husband or brother in law, whatsoever, but you can switch off some serious sources of negativity, which are: Television, boulevard magazines, newspapers, handy and messaging platforms such as facebook, skype, etc....
Opt out for a few weeks and you´ll notice a difference, if that happens, welcome to the real world - now you probably can read on and find use in the following tips.
Nothing was built in one day
Nope, not even Rome. Depending on how long such a situation has gone (1 year, 2 or 5?) It can take a whole year until you are able to write down a list with things that come from your heart. It makes sense to carry a notebook with you to jot down things when they appear, this can be on your way to work or in the restroom in the cinema and it is important to write it down. Don´t be afraid when you jump up at night and have an idea, it can be frightening, but it is good!
Back to the lists: When you are able to shape a list, one should cover short and long term goals, the other list should be filled with ways and possible approaches to get there. Color your lists in "Green" for short term goals and solutions and "Red" or "Orange" for long term goals and their respective solutions.
Possible goals can be: Learning a new language, visiting XY show one day, exhibiting with this or that artist in a group show, publish a book or two, etc.
One common denominator of successful creative people is that they have goals, lots of goals and ideas. In fact many have more ideas than time in their lives to fulfill a small percentage of these.
The wrong idea about us is what we need to change
One thing I often have to explain is that it is vital to have an idea of ourself that the subconsciousness can adapt to. If we have the wrong idea about ourselves, how can anyone else perceive us as different?
If we want to change our "self-image" we need to find a rolemodel, someone we can think of - that represents the habits and ideals we are deaming of.
I personaly have many rolemodels, to name just one would be wrong, it is from each one attribute and in the past 1-15 years they have become me. These habits have changed the person that I was into the person that is on their way to be the best they can possibly be.
We all tend to be fooled by perception, I am no exception, but it is helpful when we can trust our inner voice in a split second. This gut feeling reveals the truth about someone or something that no google search can replace.
Getting to that point takes years it is neither helpful to generally distrust people, nor is it good to trust everyone. It is a practice and this practice is a challenge - everyday. Make it a fun challenge and you are good to go.
If you see these challenges and perceive them as something that can teach you, tell a story, help you to get better or simply enjoy distilling the essence out of things that someone tells you, you are on a great journey!
Any coin has two sides
It is vital to understand that the above mentioned disorders "Burnout" and "CCD" both are two sides of the same coin! IT is on us to find the edge, we will always tend to be more on one side than the other, but in the long run those walking on the edge will last.
One secret to overcome demotivation is to branch out. Literally.
In terms of style, as an artist this is easy, you can try several approaches, different medium and techniques, whatever makes you happy. By doing so it can occur that something totally different makes you happier than painting or designing, for example teaching, writing or speaking. This is totally OK. In the best case your actions and outlets look like a tree, build up from the ground and one big stem unto a variety of branches which are all turning towards the sun. In the best case you should update your "Goals list" .
Staying with one style for a long time can be limiting, not just in creativity it can also turn into a burnout as well, because motivation to keep up the work will decrease. The other problem is that by sticking with one style, copycats work has a bigger influence towards causing burnout as it is a downward spiral that aims to find proof in devaluing ones own work.
When you are branching out, there are several irons in a fire and if one is popular that is good, but it can get cold as easy as it got hot. The only way to stay with both feet on the ground is focusing on other branches. these are the true challenges. Sure it will keep you from fast success and from a high paid salary, but in the end health benefits and regular inquiries are more worth than a fast career with a fast exit.
Generally speaking, everyone has expectations, silent and loud ones. Silent expectations are the ones you keep for yourself, no one lives up to them except yourself. The loud ones cause in a good relationship positive stress, while unfocused, slammed into the room kind of expectations can cause pressure and negative stress, the same works for critique.
The latter works in a similar fashion, when you form a critique in your head and do that consciously, it can help you to get better with your own work, spoken out loud it can turn into misunderstanding and negative responses.
So it is really crucial to decide what you keep for yourself and which thoughts and be expressed loudly.
One final conclusion is that expectations in general are a bad thing, better is an opportunity based kind of anticipation that is far from a fix imagination of how things should be looking in your concept or worldview.
Make lists not war
A strong will and some self discilpine combined with a smart use of lists can work wonders.
In addition to the long-term-goals-list and the list on how to achieve these, you can do small daily lists, I suggest to use post-Its. The reason is they simply have not much space. If you write down things you have to do, limit yourself to the most important things, if you need two post-It´s, write another one for the next day.
Limitations are per se not a viable option, from a psychological point of view all human beings and also animals get angry if something we are used to is cut back. It is in our nature. To avoid being angry we need to change our perception and turn limitations into branching. Divide things we can do and want to into one branch and things we rather should not do on a list that involves necessary things, for example: When we are used to stay up long because of work overload, which caused a big part of burnout, we can force ourselves to make useful things if we have to stay up that long, for example listening to audiobooks and making larger breaks concentrating on non-work-related things such as blogs, etc. When we have to stay up that long it is probably in our nature, holding us back only makes us angry. But putting the fun back can make the overal impression that it isn´t work and thus result in a more relaxed stance which is productive to avoid burnout.
Surround yourself with motivated people.
Probably the most important advice, many of us struggle with a career in art because we hear the doubts of our parents and friends at any given time. What we really need are encouraging and honest words from friends that are constructive. There are a lot of vampires out there and trolls who just wait to suck out the valuable lifejuice and hope from you, avoid these people and you avoid burnout.
That´s it, I hope you found that useful.
If you have experienced burnout and want to addres or critizize some points, (constructive hopefully) then feel free to contact me or jot it down in a comment!