Are you self-sabotaging your way to burnout?

July 2022

Welcome to the inaugural issue of A Monthly Dose of Burnout Prevention. This is a newsletter for busy, purpose-driven leaders like you who want to make a big impact but avoid self-sacrifice and burnout while doing so. 

Each month, I’ll share evidence-based tools, tips, and strategies pulled from my own research that can help you manage work-related stress and avoid burning out. I’ll also introduce you to some amazing leaders who are putting these tools into practice, and I’ll keep you updated on all the latest research on how to protect yourself against burnout.

Today we’ll jump right in with a big issue that I’ve been curious about for years: how our thinking patterns can sometimes create or amplify our stress. I hate to break it to you, but self-inflicted stress is a thing! 

My initial research uncovered several common self-sabotage traps that ramp up our stress and contribute directly to burnout. 

Since then, I’ve learned a lot more, and in this newsletter we’ll explore three new self-sabotage traps that have emerged from my continued research: the unrealistic expectations trap, the excessive need for control trap, and the hero trap. Do you see yourself getting caught in any of these? I know I do—the unrealistic expectations trap has been following me around for years!

Identifying your personal self-sabotage trap(s) is the first step toward avoiding them or pulling yourself out of them. 

 

The unrealistic expectations trap

Shooting for the moon is OK, but it’s easy to fall into this trap when you set expectations so high that you’re not giving yourself a fair chance. 

Maybe you told yourself you’d be a CEO by age 27 or you’d get a promotion every two years without fail. Maybe you said you’d write that book in three months because your favorite author did it. 

When we set unrealistic expectations of ourselves, it can lead to us being too hard on ourselves and feeling disappointed and frustrated when we don’t meet these unreachable goals. Chronically pursuing unrealistic expectations can lead to cynicism, apathy, and ineffectiveness—why keep going when nothing ever seems to work out?
  

If you fall into this trap, try setting smaller, more attainable goals. Progress is still progress, and if you achieve your smaller goals, you’ll feel happier, more confident, and more energized to continue. 

It’s the same with expectations of other people. Like you, they have strengths and things they struggle with. Instead of asking “Why can’t they just do it?”, remind yourself that what’s easy to you may not come easily to others. Or it could be that their priorities aren’t the same as your priorities. 

Ultimately, you and they will benefit from recognizing that they likely have strengths that may be compatible with your weaknesses. 

 

The excessive need for control trap

Do you ever find yourself wanting to have a hand in every little thing? There are a couple of reasons why you may get caught in this trap. 

First, you have a bit of martyr syndrome going on. You may think, “No one else can do this, so I have to” or “No one can do this the way I want so I have to do it.” Or you may get caught here because you’re in the perfectionist trap: “This has to be perfect, so I need to try to control everything around me to make it so.” 

Or it could be that you are over-functioning because you are facing a high degree of uncertainty or ambiguity in your work, and you are overcompensating by trying to control what you can. 

If you do fall into this trap, it’s important to identify why you feel the excessive need for control so you can address it head-on. Ask yourself if your belief is really true. For example: Is it really true that no one else can do this? 


Is it really true that this must be perfect (and is it really true that perfection is even possible)? You can also do this exercise with a trusted mentor or colleague who can provide an objective view. 

Then, try letting go of control in small steps and eventually working your way up. Let your direct report write the first draft of the memo, for instance, or make yourself available as a guide rather than a member of the delivery team. Part of a leader’s job is to delegate and empower their team.

 

The hero trap 

 
Have you ever felt like things will completely fall apart if you don’t come to the rescue? That’s the hero trap. When you’re caught in the hero trap, you may feel confident and empathetic, but you tend not to delegate, and instead take on responsibility (and stress!) beyond what you’re capable of. 

Ultimately, this path isn’t sustainable, and can put you on the fast track to burnout. 

If you fall into this trap, it’s important to remind yourself that you can’t do it all. Try asking yourself if you’re the best person to spearhead that project or if your energy would best be served elsewhere. 

You can’t pour from an empty cup. Your mental health and boundaries must come first. You need to put yourself first in order to help others and be successful. 

Self-sabotage traps can block us from our goals and increase our risk of burnout. Try out my new Burnout Risk Assessment to see if you are on the fast track to burning out, and continue to use your self-awareness to pay close attention to your thoughts and feelings and how they may be amplifying your stress or compromising your work-life balance. 

And feel free to share your stories and comments with me via email.

Work can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be horrible. I’m here to help!

 

Also in this series:
Is Self-Sabotage Raising Your Risk of Burnout?
Three (More) Self-Sabotage Traps that Can Lead to Burnout


 

(Originally published on July 22, 2022. Click here to receive emails straight to your inbox!)

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

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Writing by Dr. Kandi Wiens

Dr. Kandi Wiens

I am a researcher, speaker, executive coach, and leadership development facilitator. I’m also a Senior Fellow at The University of Pennsylvania, where I teach in the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program, the Penn Master’s in Medical Education Program, and Wharton Executive Education. All of my work is deeply rooted in the latest positive psychology, emotional intelligence, and mindset research.

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