Burnout is very real, and can come from any number of things; hormone imbalances, stress, lack of sleep, over working, under eating. Despite being in a professional capacity to help people navigate this type of adversity, I was hypocritically neglecting myself as well. Client relations suffered, friendships suffered, and my relationship experienced times of strain—short tempers, impatience, lack of tolerance.
So, as a friend, athlete, and coach, we decided last year (and now this year) to commit to a deadline; a powerlifting meet in 14 weeks. Here are some ways competing in anything will set you up for turning this burnout around, and finding successes that are measurable, and happen more frequently.
1. Setting a deadline allows building on incremental goals.
A deadline means there’s also a finish line. I wouldn’t run a race without knowing how far I was running, so why set a goal that’s not actionable, or doesn’t have a hard-deadline? It’s one thing set a goal of “I want to squat 300 pounds.” It’s another to say, “I will squat 300 pounds in 14 weeks.” Both imply that squatting 300 pounds is an outcome, but only the latter implies you’ve given yourself a window of opportunity to accomplish that.
The former gets us in the gym squatting. This is a step towards squatting with any intensity. Yet, the latter gets us in the gym with actionable goals, like squatting twice a week with incremental increases in intensity every 4 weeks. The nice thing about this is we get to measure each step on the path, meaning:
2. Achieving these small milestones reach larger milestones.
We can’t squat 300 pounds without having squatted 100, 150, 200, or 250 pounds. If we squat 100 pounds right now and want to squat 300 pounds, what happens if we don’t give ourselves a deadline? It leaves us to the “eventually” problem—it will happen, but only eventually. And eventually can stretch out until we haven’t accomplished it. It’s why people don’t save for emergencies; it’s why parents reach midlife and regret not spending time with their kids (and lose them in the process); it’s why people retire having never traveled.
It’s why each small milestone leads to bigger ones; saving $10 each month and having the money to pay for a new tire; it’s leaving work an hour early to take your kid to the park; it’s not buying that thing now, so you can travel to Costa Rica later. All of these small “wins” pile up.
3. “Winning” incrementally gives us more momentum to win frequently.
It may seem difficult now running a mile; it may even seem more difficult running three. But what if we run a mile three times? What if, by doing so, we can run two? And now three?
If we didn’t know we wanted to run three, we’d have no reason to run. If I don’t know I want to go to Costa Rica, I won’t save for Costa Rica, regardless if I tell myself “I want to travel.” If I don’t tell myself I’m going to Costa Rica 10 weeks from now, I won’t know how to begin saving for that Costa Rica trip. It becomes a priority.
This small priority is difficult, and may even mean less money in my pocket now (or soreness from running)—but it does mean I’ve set myself up for success by saving $100 this week. Maybe I packed myself lunches; maybe I traveled out of town less; maybe I drank one beer with my friends instead of getting wrecked and Ubering home—all of these things, while challenging now, pay off later because I can get wrecked in Costa Rica in 10 weeks. I’ve prioritized it. But I digress.
4. By prioritizing competition, we treat ourselves better.
Choosing to compete in anything also means I choose to respect myself enough to accept challenge. It’s easy to shirk challenge when no one’s watching—but in competition, everyone’s watching, even if that “everyone” is you.
By signing up, paying registration, and beginning an action plan, you’ve set yourself for a commitment. This means you’ll respect the commitment and respect yourself enough to plan for that commitment, by choosing better food options; prioritizing recovery; making it a point to go to sleep earlier; enjoying a little less craft beer. And when we respect ourselves…
5. We treat others better!
When we prioritize something and challenge ourselves to succeed, we start seeing dividends on those small successes along the way. When we get into a pattern of success, more successes follow-- like saving these dollars now compounding into retirement; squatting twice a week compounds into 300 pounds on game day; prepping food leads to weight loss; regimenting my schedule leads to a cleaner house, less stress, more opportunities to invest in myself by reading, or by building something for my partner.
If we’re surrounded by road blocks and negativity, we start feeding on this energy and it pours into everything we do—having an unclean house, eating on the go, self-medicating with booze, or ingesting too much media; or envy, jealousy, projection. If our own grass is cut and clean, we don’t even look at our neighbor’s.
This negativity will eat us from the inside. It will lead to burnout. It will lead to poor sleep. It will lead to pain, and anger, and missed opportunities. So what we need, always, are small, actionable goals that lead to big things. And the only way to put those small things in place is to challenge ourselves.
Competition is a vehicle, as are most things. It’s up to us to drive the vehicle on a purposeful route… and enjoy the scenery on the way.