The mind blowing importance of positive feedback in beating burnout

2020 has pretty much affected everyone.

I’m certainly no different.

Work is slow of course – lots of my clients had exams cancelled or otherwise just don’t have headspace for coaching right now. I’m confident things will pick up. But to keep busy and productive and feel like I was contributing in some way to be part of the solution, I committed to way too much pro-bono work. I don’t regret it one bit… and it’s meaningful to know I’ve been able to help my colleagues in a very difficult time. But I forgot to calculate the impact on me.

Private projects have had their own challenges too. Things that seemed like a good idea to help others spiralled way out of control in terms of time commitment and stress. Trying to find a way to help others cope in covid isolation – ended up backfiring on my personal wellbeing.

Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that soon enough I started displaying the classical burnout trilogy:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism
  • Feeling like nothing I do makes any difference

The thing is, it’s really tough to feel like that. And it’s even tougher to recognise it as burnout rather than there being something ‘wrong with me’.

Ironically enough, I find so many of my clients in the same position of not recognising what’s going on. But in truth, it is a million times easier to help someone else through this than yourself.

I have learnt a lot about helping myself through helping others.

Lately the feeling of being ineffectual and supernumerary to the world has been really getting to me.

Instead of being able to recognise burnout, I started to buy into that story and start believing it.

Bad idea.

I really thank the people close to me for listening and just being there – even if I didn’t really believe what they had to say. They helped more than they can ever know.

Then today, I was suddenly able to see through the clouds – and see that my ‘beliefs’ about myself are very much wrong…and that indeed I, like you, have a unique role to play in the world.

It was like a Divine gift really.

First I forced myself to finish an article I’d been writing on burnout of all things. Submitted it to MJA Insight+ and was taken by surprise at the speedy acceptance.

Ha! I hadn’t lost my touch as a writer.

That was good and felt good. It showed me the importance of keeping on going even when it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere.

Next thing that happened, was a former client wrote in a medical Facebook group how much the work we did together over a year ago has had a sustained impact on her.

That was mind-blowing. Not only completely unexpected…but of course I’d had no idea about the lasting impact of the work we’d done. The idea that something I did more than a year ago to help someone and they are still feeling the benefits today was so touching to hear. It was a real blessing for me – to open my eyes to the fact that we all help each other in so many ways without even knowing. We often have to take it on faith that our efforts have been worthwhile. But when we get those rare glimpses of feedback it is really something to treasure close to your heart. I’m incredibly grateful for the gift of that experience.

So, my plea is, in this very difficult time, if someone has done something to help you – let them know. It’s not only about simple gratitude…but expressing gratitude with specific information that ‘you helped me by doing xxx and this has made a positive impact on me in yyy ways’.

I promise you, this act of explicit gratitude will change lives. It might encourage someone when they are feeling down or burnt out.

It might heal a broken heart.

It might encourage someone to transform the burning from a force of destruction to a source of light.

You may never even know the personal impact that has on someone – but trust me, it makes a very real difference.

So feel gratitude, express gratitude and share it around. Don’t be shy.

We will all be better off for it.

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