With all of the changes occuring in life and workplaces, it’s no wonder that people are experiencing burnout. So, actually, what happens to our brains when we feel burnout? How can we manage our thoughts, behaviors when we feel burnout? Managing burnout is and can be a real challenge but if we understand how our brain functions, we can manage our emotions, behaviors and calm ourselves down.
Your brain is all about safety. To prevent itself from wasting any energy, the brain is designed to resist change. To change, your brain risks burning neurons. Therefore your brain prefers to slip into old patterns – habits and behaviors – to protect it, and to use as little energy as possible. The brain simply does not like change.
When it comes to goal setting, any goal, no matter how small or big, represents a change. In order to set and achieve a goal, you need to use your conscious decision-making. The amygdala works with your prefrontal cortex to access your problem solving skills needed to reach your goal. If your goal is too big it can cause anxiety, which causes the amygdala to trigger your fight-or-flight mechanism. Neurochemicals shut down your motivation and reward system preventing you from accessing decision-making skills. The trick therefore is to focus on achieving small goals to eliminate anxiety and fear.
Your brain only learns new behavior in small nudges. This means, that you must find a way to convince your amygdala that it is safe to reach a new goal, as it represents a change. You can do this by setting up realistic goals – small steps – that you can attain. The smaller the goal, the more likely your amygdala will not get alarmed and you can access your problem solving skills in your prefrontal cortex.
Here is proven way to tiptoe around the amygdala and reach your goal:
- Write down a goal that you want to achieve.
- Reflect on your goal and make it smaller.
- Ask yourself: “If this goal is my priority, what can I do differently today?”
- List all the possible outcomes if you achieve your goal. To quiet down the negative chatter in your right frontal cortex also write down all the possible outcomes if you do not achieve your goal.
- Go back to your original goal and make it smaller and more realistic. Set the target so low that even you will initially laugh about it. Convince yourself that you can do it! If you easily reach your goal, raise the bar a little bit next time.
- Imagine yourself achieving your goal. If it feels good, continue. If not, start again from the top and work on a goal that excites you. Ask yourself daily: “What small single step can I take towards my goal now?”
- To complement the cycle, celebrate and savor your daily victories towards your goal, no matter how small or big. The motivation-and-reward system does not make a distinction between gaining one dollar or one million dollar. Become aware of the progress you make by savoring your successes. Writing down your achievements makes it even more powerful.
You achieve big changes through small steps towards your goal. Neuroscience has proven that small steps bypass the automatic resistance of your brain for new behavior. The less resistance, the less stress!