How Do I Avoid “Hitting The Wall”? (Lesson 10)
I’ve been there myself, and I’ve sat with high-level leaders behind closed doors as they get really honest. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this.” “I wake up every morning feeling anxious. I don’t know how I’m going to get through the day.”
It’s not everyone, and it’s not all the time, but it’s real. And this is happening while most people around them are thinking everything is fine. Their results are still happening on the outside, but they are dying on the inside.
This is the result of poor self-care. It’s not uncommon for those at the top of the corporate food chain to think they are bullet-proof, invincible, but it is not so. If you don’t learn to look after yourself, your most valuable resource, you will not be able to deliver results for the long term. And, the people that pay for it most are usually the ones you love the most—your spouse, your kids, your family. They deserve a healthy you even more than your organisation does.
Everything I’ve written in this article I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve been in people-helping professions and organisations all my adult life. And I’ve burned out, not once, but twice in the process. I’m happy to say I’ve been burnout-free for more than 15 years. I’ve learned from experience what works and what doesn’t, and I would love to share a few tips with you.
Before I dive into it, you will hear many people talk about “work-life balance.”, I think work-life balance is the baby concept. We can do much better than just juggling the right number of hours around so we feel like the “balance” is right. What we are really aiming for is quality and satisfaction in all areas of our life. The foundation of that is making sure you are healthy—in spirit, soul, and body.
To unpack how to stay healthy, one of the main factors that we need to focus on is:
Fuel relates to your energy levels, especially your emotional energy levels. It is possible to be very physically fit, but emotionally burned out. Look at elite sports people who need to take time out of the game. They have the physical fitness of an elite athlete, but still aren’t coping. Physical fitness helps with emotional energy, but it is not enough on its own.
I’ve found that the majority of people don’t have the self-awareness to be emotionally healthy. They are not aware of the things they feel in their body, their mind, and their emotions when they are low on resources.
I want to suggest a key element that will keep your emotional fuel tank at healthy levels.
Read Your Own Fuel Gauge
If you don’t know how to read the fuel gauge in your car, what will happen? You’ll run out of fuel. If you can’t read your own emotional fuel gauge, you will hit the wall, then wonder why.
Everyone has tell-tale signs that their emotional tank is low. Your body is an intelligent system and is sending you signals all the time.
One of the biggest fail-points of high achievers is they try to find a way to make the signals go away (often through self-medication with stimulants and/or alcohol) rather than seeing it as a sign to refuel. It is as if the low-fuel light has come on in the car, and we find it annoying, so we disable the light rather than fill up with fuel.
For me, I become irritable at really small, insignificant things. That’s my early warning signal. (I’m normally a pretty happy dude.) If it progresses further, I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. I start to crave bad food and caffeine. I don’t let it go past that these days, but in the past, I would feel like I could either cry or throw an anger tantrum at the drop of a hat.
This is often a longer conversation in a coaching session, as it involves a level of self-awareness that many corporate leaders find elusive. For the moment, let me simply leave you with the question: Do you know when your emotional tank is low? Can you read the signs?