January 2020. Pre-COVID, I was just exiting my business and experiencing a punishing burnout. As someone who prides himself on learning through error, this was not my first and I was frustrated. How could this happen again?
So as gardening leave and covid restrictions co-incided, I was able to recover and strategise how to prevent this from happening again. For me, burnout was a combination of fatigue, intense pressure, living against my values and some unresolved issues. Once I figured out the formula it allowed me to prevent myself from experiencing all four at once.
Moreover, I was able to create the Tomorrow Principle, a set of rules that act both as a preventative measure for burnout as well as a leap towards a more fulfilling life. It’s critical at this point to say this works for me. I cannot with any confidence say this will work for everyone, but it can act as a useful guide to originate your own set of principles.
Time | Organise | Motivate | Originate | Rest | Replenish | Oxygenate | Win
Take it. Make It. Spend It. Save It. Never Waste It.
From the moment we are born to the moment we pass, we will not be judged by money or status. Judgement, both internal and external, will be focused on how we spent our time. Time is our greatest commodity. With that in mind, what are we waiting for? Why do we waste time in comfort zones? Why do we stay in relationships, jobs, situations that make us unhappy. The time is NOW. So act. Don’t let fear negate fulfilment.
OK so time is our greatest commodity. Now we have to decide how to use it effectively and efficiently. Religiously I am Jewish but spiritually I aspire towards Buddhism. No regretting the past, no fearing the future, just being. However, I find this challenging and like many, control eases my anxiety. The one thing I can control is time so I try to use it productively. Diarising everything, creating routine, using efficiency tools, I am able to limit certain triggers that drive anxiety. It allows me to create space for what’s important. Me. My Family. Health, Exercise, Nutrition. Social Connection. Meaning & Fulfilment.
The older I get the more I realise that motivation is driven by energy. For some that is drawn externally, for others internally. And I’m not referring to energy in the obvious sense. Yes, I have to be careful not to drift into an energy deficiency but for me this is more about understanding what actions, behaviours and circumstances drive positive energy. I find now that if I follow the energy it rarely leads towards a stray path. Wondering what job to take, follow the energy. On the flip side, if you are surrounded by negative energy, it is best to explore alternatives. In a fuel economy, we must create it, not expend it.
It is so important that we use our creative muscles. For me, I am inspired by change. Taking old principles and updating them so they are relevant for today. That is my fuel and that’s why I have created a job that allows me to do something I love, that I’m good at, that gives me an income and gives something back to the world (see the concept of Ikigai). That is my way of originating. Others originate through artistry. Find moments to step away, to dis-connect. Embrace boredom and in those moments, your mind will do the work for you. I don’t know about you, but I feel the most energised when I am creating something new.
This one feels very obvious but its surprising how many people rest ineffectively. I have been guilty of that for years. There’s no point sitting in front of a TV if your mind is going round in circles. There’s no point sleeping if you wake up feeling unreplenished. Rest needs to be effective and it needs to work for you. For me, I have to force it. From natural herbs, to sound healers, to regular massage, I have created a support group of people that help me rest effectively. Think about how you rest and recover.
If rest is an output, the input has to follow suit. We simply cannot rest effectively if we are drinking caffeine at night or eating the wrong foods. I find this one the hardest of them all and the discipline I need to make this work is sometimes intolerable. However the outcome is always worst if I succumb to my vices. For me, I have to create the time to walk 10,000 steps a day, the discipline to eat well, the will to control my sleep patterns. More so I have to continue to remind myself that avoiding vices that clearly impact my energy negatively will pay off in the long term. In a burnout your body and mind are inflamed. Reducing that inflammation is an essential ingredient in bouncing back.
Have you ever had your breathing checked? No kidding, my breathing has always been incredibly shallow. A doctor had to remind me to breathe once. That’s anxiety at play. At its worst, it can make you feel like you are constantly running uphill and getting absolutely no-where. This creates frustration and sometimes futility. Learning to breath, and for me that involves meditation, is an essential part of driving positive mental and physical health. It clears the mind, creating space for origination and prevents anxiety. For me, quietening the noise in my own mind was the single most effective strategy towards creating a path forward.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I am very competitive, I want to win. Whether thats at work, or in the school potato sack race, I have always hated coming second. But that is changing for me now. I realise these aren’t the wins I need. The final principle is understanding how to win, and even what to win. Winning for me looks like being a good father - which I can’t be if I’m not present. Someone who finds joy in life - not constantly judging or being cynical. Someone who can give back - not someone who constantly takes. In the first half of my life I often lived like a cynical taker who judged others by his own standards. And I hated myself. I go to therapy every week and my main focus is how to challenge my core schema. How to knock down walls, instead of building them up. How to be open to new ideas, new approaches and other opinions. How to be curious, never closed. I am a work in progress, always.