There’s a reason that a hamster running on a wheel inside a mesh cage has become western civilization’s icon of a wasted, purposeless life. Who wants to work so hard, day after day, just to remain in the same place? Unfortunately, this is how a lot of us feel about our lives: That we work and work and work and never make any progress or move any closer to our dreams. And that’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout.
While that may be okay when you’re at the gym and your goal is just to get in a quick workout, it’s no way to live a life. To have a fulfilling life, or month, or day, you need to have goals and have a sense of making progress towards them.
It’s simple: If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, you WILL burn out, just as a motor straining against an immovable object will eventually give out. Humans are meant to have a purpose, a goal, a destination. Even back in the days of Moses, the most frustrating thing about wandering around in the desert for 40 years was the idea that they were wandering – not making progress, just going aimlessly from Point A to Point Who Knows?
Some people may be content to show up and do the same thing day in and day out, like handing out tickets to drivers on the turnpike. But I’m guessing that’s not you. In some area of your life, you need direction and you need to feel like you’re moving that way. If you feel frustrated, like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, or just pained at the thought of spending another day of your life doing the same darned thing, then you may be suffering burnout from the lack of progress in your life.
One simple solution is to just quit – get off the hamster wheel, walk away from the dead-end job, or give up on whatever goal you were aiming for. If that works, great! Quit wandering around aimlessly and just sit down where you are. But if that’s not a viable option, read on about tracking and celebrating small victories.
Track and Celebrate Small Successes
To fight burnout that comes from frustration at lack of movement, you must have a sense of making progress. Depending on your exact goal, how you measure that progress will vary. But it’s essential for your mental well-being for you to be able to look back at your day and say, “Yes! I accomplished this!”
Tracking progress could be as simple as having a daily list of things to do and crossing them off, knowing that the day’s list rolls up into your larger goals. Or you may want a more firm metric, like miles traveled, dollars earned, calls made, pounds lost. Obviously, some goals are easier to track than others, but overall, you should know where you’re going and how close you are to achieving them.
Let’s say you want to get a promotion. You sit down with your supervisor and determine that in order to make it to the next level, you need to take a few extra classes in project management, you need to demonstrate leadership ability, and you need to be more diligent about submitting your monthly reports in the required format. Bingo! You’ve got a ready-made checklist of items to tackle.
But what if your goal is more touchy, feely, like making your wedding photography business your day job? You can still break it down into actionable chunks. What do you have to do before you can quit? Make enough money to replace your income, or $50,000. What do you have to do to earn $50,000? You need to shoot 25 weddings this year. How many couples will you need to get in touch with before you get 25 customers? You know it’s about 10 go-sees for each booked appointment, so you will need to talk to 250 customers. Bingo! There’s your progress chart.
Making progress is the first step; tracking that progress is essential, too. Some people are very visual and like to see at a glance on a chart or graph what they’ve accomplished. Others find it sufficient to look back at their calendar or old to-do lists and see what they’ve done. Still others like to monitor their bank balance on a daily basis. Whatever works for you, find a way to link your progress to your goal. When you see yourself making strides forward, no matter how small, you’ll see that the end is closer every day.
One final word of advice: Celebrate your progress! Whether it’s five pounds lost, 100 pages written on your novel, or ten new sales calls, take a moment to enjoy the completion. Reflecting on how far you’ve come will make success that much sweeter.
Photo – Flickr:fmgbain