Do you remember the days when a 40-hour work week was standard? We all know those days are gone. Wayne Muller, in his classic book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives states that we live in a world where overwork is seen as a professional virtue. A badge of honor, and yet with it there’s often exhaustion and a resignation that you are helpless to do anything about it. Life spinning out of control is seen as the norm. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are strategies for working more efficiently. It’s often possible to scale back those hours without reducing the amount of work that gets done. In my earlier life as an industrial engineer, I saw lots of people resigned to working long hours, and many were wasting a lot of time at work. There are lots of distractions that can fill up our days if we allow it. Try focusing on what’s important and minimizing or discarding the rest. Hint: How much time do you spend on social media, TV watching, shopping, personal email or texting?

Awareness and performance: Breaking out of prison

Change does not come easy for most of us. Overwhelm from working long hours or obsessive thinking gets hardwired in our brain. And the problem gets worse the longer we maintain negative routines. These become habits of thought and action.

So how do we move in the direction of positive change? It starts with awareness. A spiritual teacher once asked his students what is the first thing that you need to know if you want to break out of prison. Some said, befriend the guard who has the keys. Another said, find where the keys are kept. The answer however was, the first thing you need to know is that you are in prison. Without that awareness, breaking free won’t happen!

Change is only possible when we have the awareness that we are stuck. Until that moment, we aren’t ready to change and will resist it.

Lifestyle changes: Meditation …

For many of us, our lives took a dramatic turn for the better when we learned to meditate. Sitting with our eyes closed in the deep effortless calm of meditation for 10 – 20 minutes twice a day is a game changer over time. Awareness expands in every meditation. One of the first signs of change that many new meditators experience is, after just a few days of meditation practice, they begin to respond to situations in a healthier way. They realize that they are more relaxed and patient; they are seeing things from a broader perspective.

By adding meditation to our daily life, such positive changes in thinking and behavior occur spontaneously without effort. The calm awareness of meditation integrates seamlessly into our lives after meditation. For example, I began to eat healthier foods after learning to meditate. I wasn’t looking for ways to change my diet, a healthier diet sort of found me. Many others begin to get more exercise, and those that have had a regular exercise program find that they enjoy it more. Some quit smoking, and with much less effort. The desire to be well grows.

Beating burnout is a lot easier than you might think. It just takes a commitment and action to move in a new life enhancing direction. That commitment will probably, but not in all cases, need to follow the awareness that you are exhausted – a recognition that your fatigue negatively impacts the quality of your home and work life.

When I learned to meditate and started a daily practice of it in 1974, I was not aware how tired and burned out I was. I was like the prisoner who didn’t know that he was in prison. I was, however, open to trying something new to uplevel my life. What I found through my decision to learn to meditate was that the deep rest of Effortless Meditation is an antidote for fatigue and so much more. Every meditation revitalized me for the day ahead.

Steps of progress

Begin with one step in a positive direction, lean toward progress. Then take another progressive step. A few were discussed in this short article. As you continue to move forward, you will gain a momentum that will sustain you. If you stumble, just get back up and lean toward progress. Life was meant to be lived with enthusiasm and well-being. Burnout be gone.

Greg Schweitzer
Director, Stress Reduction Resources