“I was scrolling through my Facebook feed…”
After my friend saw the look on my face, he followed up with, “I know… I know. But the thing is, it’s not like I’m just using Facebook all day. Actually, it’s more a form of recuperation. See, after I dived deep and did a bunch of work, I took a break. Caught up on what some friends were up to. Saw some stupid shit posted. It’s how I unwind my brain.”
Yeah, except that’s not what’s actually happening.
I understand the idea. There is a chain of logic.
Someone puts in a half hour of tough work. Okay, fine, we’ll pretend it’s an hour (are you timing yourself? I bet it’s not an hour). Then, when they begin to feel restless and a little burned out, they “take a break” by switching to the mindless puke river on Facebook.
This gives them some relief. And, after an hour (okay, fine, we’ll pretend it’s only a few minutes… you’re timing, right?) they switch back to work again.
But here’s the thing…
That’s not what’s actually happening. Internally, anyway.
You’re not giving yourself a break from burnout.
Instead, when you’ve worked with focus for half an hour, you begin inching towards the edge of your comfort zone. Your brain begins to balk at the intensity of the work. It begins to send signals of mental pain and anguish.
From here, you make a few choices.
First, you choose how to interpret those signals. Virtually all people give them a bad interpretation. They need a break!
Then, you choose what to do about it. Virtually all people give in to the Siren song of Facebook, and crash themselves on its shore.
Here’s the problem:
When you begin to feel “burnout” during some intense work, and you’re tripping towards the edge of your comfort zone, and you feel mental pain… this isn’t necessarily a danger to avoid or soothe away. Instead, it’s an opportunity to intensify your brain’s power to focus. It’s your chance to expand your comfort zone. And use both your new superpowers to build a healthier, more prosperous, more fulfilling life.
Think of it this way:
Let’s say you’re doing some bicep curls, to strengthen your arms. You’re capable of 10 repetitions with 50 pounds. As you lift the iron dumbbells over and over, the burning heats up in your muscles. By the 7th rep, you can’t ignore the searing pain. Then, during the 8th rep, as the intensity doubles… you drop the dumbbells to the floor and take a break.
“Whew, that was close!” you say. “I almost burned out! I’m glad I’m taking a break before I get back into it.”
You feel fine. And why shouldn’t you? You avoided pain, and you can claim you accomplished a workout…
… except you stopped right before the workout began to matter.* You saved yourself from going through the repetitions that would trigger your growth. Congratulations.
But, hey, you can say you’re balanced and productive.
*Exercise physiology enthusiasts can debate about what truly triggers maximal adaptation via growth – time under tension – volume – frequency – intensity – whether training to failure is good or bad… just go with the metaphor, instead.