Burnout: Are you trying to sprint a marathon?

Earlier this week was the Boston Marathon. Being local in the Boston area we thought this was an appropriate week to talk about the modern business paradox of trying to sprint marathons. Obviously sprinting a marathon isn't possible; you'll exhaust yourself way to early. Conversely, if you are too conservative you're leaving untapped potential on the pavement. How do we find that balance point? In business what we're talking about are work cultures which push and push employees until they burnout. To sustainably optimize productivity there needs to be balance between pushing employees enough to get peak performance and not pushing them to the point of burnout. How do we find that optimal point?

It's a tough question, especially when every employee is wired differently. That's not just a euphemism, we are literally wired differently. The perfect balance point is different for each individual. You might have different descriptive terms: extrovert versus introvert, innovator versus deliverer; what you're essentially describing is unique employee brain chemistry. Brain chemistry refers to the levels of key neurotransmitters in the brain which influence thoughts, mood, energy, and behaviors. Some you might have heard of, like dopamine or serotonin, others you might not, like GABA and ACh. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you understand that balanced brain chemistry equals optimal performance. When brain chemistry is in balance, your neurotransmitters are most efficient. That means you're most efficient. You:

·         Feel energized

·         Think clearly

·         Have positive mood

·         Have improved decision making capabilities

·         Are more creative

·         Have enhanced problem solving

But most of all, you feel good. It's the ideal balance between being under motivated and overstressed.

Unfortunately, most people don't understand their brain chemistry. They forgo healthy behaviors like regular exercise, balanced meals, and restful sleep which help keep brain chemistry in balance, and instead become driven by their imbalances. That is, once brain chemistry get's out of balance, the dominance of the imbalance makes us think we want to do more of the things which keep us out of balance. Sounds confusing, but here's an example. Have you ever been really stressed and unable to sleep? Notice how not sleeping makes you frustrated and more stressed, making it even more impossible to sleep? Then you know what I'm talking about. That's an imbalance working to keep you out of balance.  

When brain chemistry is out of balance, we are more anxious, feel overly stressed, can't concentrate, and can be irritable. Or, on the other extreme (depending on the dominant chemical) we feel lethargy, low motivation, and procrastination. Do either of these situations sound productive?

Are you with me on the basics? Good. Back to the analogy of sprinting a marathon: in our modern 24/7 connected world we have a "go, go, go" mentality. Most people think that's how they get the most done. It's not. By sprinting too early we burn out and end up crawling. It's not about how many hours you work, or how quickly you respond to emails; it's about what you get done in the time you are working, and the quality of thoughts in your communications which help you, or your team be most successful. The most effective way to be productive is to oscillate; efficiently using peak energy when we need it, and learning to recover and restore balance in between. Understanding brain chemistry can help you achieve this. That is, if you know that exercising vigorously will boost dopamine in the short term, and then elevate serotonin in the long run (in other words burn off short term stress and boost feel good recovery) then you'll know that when you're busy and feel like you have no time for exercise, taking a 20 minute exercise break can be the best thing for you - both health wise, and productivity wise.

Now this is a complex topic, and this is already a long post so we won't go into all the details. But does it make sense? Do you see how understanding brain chemistry can benefit you and how you can actually get more done if you learn to move beyond a sprint mentality?

 If this interests you, then we encourage you to learn more about brain chemistry. HBD does provide a range of health and high performance business services which utilize the science of brain chemistry. See more here, or hit the "contact us" link and ask for more information. For a visual summary of the differences between the effects of the main neurotransmitters, we found this interesting infographic. There are also a couple of excellent, easy read books on this topic by our friend Dr. Joel Robertson (link here to "Peak-Performance Living" on Amazon). Now you have an understanding of the science and benefits, in our next post, we'll explore the application and talk about some companies utilizing this science to boost employee engagement and maximize performance. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments let us know!

Stay healthy.    

Published on by Andrew Stephenson.