How to Keep From Burning Out

During my regular morning routine, I saw something I rarely see.  Most of the time when I have actually seen a light bulb blow out, it’s been right when the switch was turned on. Yesterday, however, I sat down on the chair, turned on the lamp and over the next ten minutes watched it slightly waiver. I doubled checked the plug and twisted the bulb, which was already tight.  About ten minutes later, I saw a slow fade and heard a “bzzzz” sound and the light went out.  It was much slower process than I have many times experienced.

But this process is probably more in line with what a person experiences with burn out. It’s often not one thing that burns someone out.  It’s a slow and steady decline of decisions and desires are no longer fueled.  Some of these decisions come from the person, other times they are part of the circumstance and beyond anyone’s control. Either way, here are some thoughts about burn out:

1)      Change the bulb before it’s out.  Maybe you need a new structure or way thinking about things. Maybe you need to take some time to delegate, re-organize, etc. There’s an analogy in scripture that says, old wine skins can’t take new wine because they’ll burst.  But, new wine skins will stretch and make room.  Before you reach the point of burnout, change something so that you are able to continue on effectively and passionately.

2)      Is the flame really out?  Burnout is when the flame is totally gone.  But if you have even a small glimmer, you’re not burnt out, you just need to fan the flame.  How do you fan the flame?

– Taking time to rejuvenate.

– Take time to read, pray, study.

– Take time to think about how you got into what you are into – what made you originally jump into this?

– Take time to assess your gifts, what others have said about you, and how your life is being lived.

– Take action. It’s not a magical flame.  Paul said to Timothy, “fan into flame the gift…”  It requires some action on our part.

3)      It may take a while.  Just as slowly as a person moves toward burn out, it takes a while to move back toward a full fire.  Do one thing today.  Then another thing tomorrow.  There probably will be the catalyst to get you going again, but it won’t come back overnight.  Don’t worry if it’s going slowly.


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2 thoughts on “How to Keep From Burning Out”

  1. It’s interesting how imperfect analogies can create new insights. Most of us know that electric lights don’t actually burn out because they don’t burn to begin with. Maybe “wear out” would be more accurate, but now that “burn-out” has stuck, we might as well stick to it.

    What we call burnout comes from the German word “brennschluss” that was used by actual rocket scientists to mark the time when a rocket motor shuts down. There was no word in the American language that fit, so “burn-out” was born. During the Space Race, pop psychologists quickly picked up on the term, and before long its new meaning emerged.

    An interesting fact about the rocket science version of burn-out is that it’s a carefully calculated and planned event. Some rocket motors have throttles, similar to those found in cars, to control the rocket’s thrust. As a rocket hurtles towards space, the earth’s atmosphere presses back against it, creating enormous pressure. If the pressure becomes too much, the rocket comes apart in a bad way. Sounds a lot like how people can react to their own pressures in their lives!

    Astronauts deal with the dynamic pressure by throttling down their engines so the maximum pressure is within what they can withstand. In the analogy above, that could go like “dim your lights to a more comfortable level.” In practical terms we weren’t made to run at 100% all day long. Sometimes that little voice inside us our bodies telling us not to push so hard.

    On a completely unrelated note, one thing I like to do to recharge, repair and reconstruct myself is to turn everything electrical off for a while. No TV, radios, music or anything that beeps, flashes or does anything except tell me the house is on fire. I’ll even turn off the lights and sit in complete darkness. It leaves me alone, undisturbed and free to think, meditate and pray more freely. It’s my mini-vacation from the increasing number of things in our lives that vie for our attention.

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