5 lessons I’ve learnt from burnout

Looking back I have burnt out at least three times in my life. The first two times were at the end of my first and third year at university, studying medicine. The challenges of moving away from home, being out of my depth academically, feeling isolated and alone all gradually took their toll.

The third time was around 2009. I was juggling being on the leadership team of a church with all its demands while having a growing family and working as a psychiatrist. It  all became too much for me to take. Something had to give. I wasn’t liking the person I was becoming. I could sense a critical and discontented spirit growing inside of me. It was time to step down from church leadership and re-evaluate my priorities.


In all three cases, there were significant learning opportunities and growth from these experiences. However, at the time it felt very different to that! For more on the first experience see here. After the second, I found a greater purpose and direction to stay in medicine and begin to focus on psychiatry; while as for the third, it lay the foundation for this blog and subsequent podcasts!

Burnout is a state of chronic stress. It gradually develops over a period of time and leads to:

Both physical and emotional exhaustion.
On each occasion I gradually found myself lacking energy, sleeping poorly and not able to give proper attention to what needed to be done.

Feelings of cynicism and detachment.
I became quick to focus at the negative aspects of my life, as well as feeling disconnected from others. I found myself often attributing unnecessary ulterior motives to others and putting myself in a victim mindset.

Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
I struggled to find meaning and purpose in day to day activities that became more and more burdensome. What I previously had been able to do with ease felt like an upward struggle with no apparent end in sight.

So what have I learnt from these experiences?

Where do I find the time?

Following the compass rather than the clock

In 2017 where do I find the time to do the things that I tell myself are important to me? All of us know what it feels like to be overwhelmed and rushed. We also all know what it feels like to have time seem to be moving quickly ahead and not getting to that important project or task we know we should be doing.

As someone humorously once said, ‘Life is like a toilet roll. The nearer you get to the end the faster it goes, and the more your realise you have wasted!’

In the 10 minute TED talk below time management expert Laura Vanderkam describes her work learning about how busy productive people spend their lives. She’s discovered that many of us drastically overestimate our commitments each week, while underestimating the time we have to ourselves. She offers a few practical strategies to help find more time for what matters to us, so we can, as she puts it, “build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.” Taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to watch this video could reap rich dividends in your use of time:

What is particularly fascinating is the group she chose to study and her means of studying them. She chose to look at 1,001 days in the lives of extremely busy but productive women. One woman for example, was running a small business with 12 employees as well as looking after 6 children!

The important point she makes is opposite to what we naturally think. As she says, “We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.”

The reason is that time is highly elastic….

Podcast #025: Is there a difficult person in your life?

3 steps to breaking through interpersonal conflict

To be human is to have conflict with other people. You cannot avoid it. Conflict can cause stress, as well as a host of other consequences, such as loss of sleep and even physical illness. But if you’ve had a difficult relationship, you come to realise that just ignoring it is often not the best way to handle it. So how can conflict be a means to growth and getting closer to others rather than being driven further apart? Is that even a possiblity for the difficult relationship in your own life?

On this podcast I have the privilege of talking to Linda Outka about her book, “Pebbles In My Shoe- Three Steps For Breaking Through Interpersonal Conflict.”

The 4 minute video below gives a flavour of why this is such an important subject for all of us.

Linda Outka is a certified coach, speaker and trainer. She has over 20 years experience in helping people resolve conflicts. She is also the founder of Breakthrough Solutions Inc, which creates a space  where people can feel safe to be real and discover new insights that open doors to their potential.

Do join Linda and I as we discuss:

  • How relational hurts are like pebbles in our shoes
  • How strained relationships, failed conversations and unresolved conflicts drain our energy and sabotage our success.
  • Why trying to just ignore the conflict does not mean it necessarily will go away.
  • The metaphor of mountain climbing as a simple model for dealing with conflict.
  • What it means to move from basecamp (the preparation) to ascent (the conversation) and reach the summit (the gratification of a more fulfilled relationship).
  • The importance of preparing both your heart and you mind for dealing with that difficult conversation.
  • What is at stake by not resolving the conflict?
  • Distinguishing between fact and story in the conflict. Or as Linda likes to say, “When someone spits on you, they don’t make you mad, but they do make you wet!”
  • How at the root of every conflict is the assumption of negative intention. But what the other person did made sense to them.
  • Acknowledging the role I may have played in the conflict situation and why that is so important in order to move forward.
  • Accepting it may not always be possible to satisfactorily resolve the conflict if the other person does not want to engage.
  • How to keep defences low so as to have a productive non-blame conversation.
  • Examples from Linda’s 20 years’ experience in working with a large variety of conflict situations and much more…..

For more on Linda Outka and her work see here.

You may also find of interest Podcast #022: The Stories We Tell Ourselves and the blog post Is It Really That Person’s Fault They Are Irritating You So Much?

What questions, thoughts and comments does the issue of conflict raise for you?

To find out more you can also order the book from the link below.


Looking Back With Gratitude on 2016

7 questions to learn and grow forward

What a year 2016 has been! Internationally there has been the surprise and for many the shock of the Brexit vote in the UK; the chaos and hardship of the demonetisation of the 500 and 1000 Indian Rupee note and the election of Donald Trump in the United States. Less publicised, but just as significant and probably the most clearly positive event, was the end of the 50 year war in Colombia that has claimed as many as 220,000 lives.


So often in our media saturated world there is much that is negative and discouraging. Generally speaking, good news and positive events do not get much publicity in mainstream media.

For this reason and for several years now I have made a deliberate choice not to engage in day to day news as I have found it a significant drain and distraction on my energy levels and meeting my priorities. Also so often what seems significant or important in the media over the fullness of time tends to lose its impact and significance.

Avoiding the media is certainly not my prescription for everyone.  Having said that, if you find yourself sucked in and exhausted by the general negativity of the mainstream media, I would certainly recommend a media fast to see how that impacts your general mental health, energy levels and day-to-day life.

As ever there is so much uncertainty about the future. With that in mind, how much better it is to look back with gratitude and appreciation for all that has happened and which we can be thankful for. The best place to start to do that is in the area I have the most amount of personal control: my own life and the world I personally interact with.

According to Professor Robert Emmons, author and researcher on gratitude, for gratitude to be effective it needs to cover 3 key areas:
1. It should be specific: the power is in the detail. Just trying to say thank you is not enough. The more detailed and specific you can be the better.

2. Surprise: the more you find things to be grateful for in unexpected places and people, the fresh and alive your gratitude will be.

3. Scarcity: what is scarce or unusual or what we won’t have for much longer increases the value of gratitude in our lives.

(For a fun  7 minute video bringing these three together do see How Actually Expressing Your Gratitude Can Be Beneficial To Your Mental Health).

I am also grateful to Michael Hyatt for the following questions to appraise the previous year and look ahead to the coming year. I will also share my answers with you to help you think through your thoughts about 2016. I would strongly encourage you to also write down your own answers and not just keep them in your head. As we write, our thoughts begin to disentangle themselves and bring clarity in a way that is otherwise just not possible.

As I share the questions below I have added some of my own reflections to help you think through your own experiences. If you want more clarification from me feel free to ask in the comments section below. My hope for you as I indulge myself in this way publicly is that you will be prompted to have insights that will put you in a stronger positions for whatever this new year has in store for you….

The Courage of Christmas

Overcoming fear, shame and vulnerability

Courage is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to thinking about Christmas. It is such a feel good time of year, along with a sense of unreality compared to the rest of life. We look forward to the holidays and putting aside the usual worries and concerns. Everyone seems so relaxed and everything for a few days appears to slow down. All over the world, children enact nativity scenes and Father Christmas comes to jolly everyone with presents and good cheer.

So what does courage have to do with Christmas? For that we need to go back over 2000 years ago and the harsh and brutal realities facing Mary and Joseph.


Joseph and Mary had a major dilemma on their hands. He was engaged to be married to her and Mary finds herself expecting a child. Here is how the Gospel of Matthew (writing about 80-90 years later) explains the situation (1:19-21)

“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph wants to do the honourable thing and quietly divorce Mary to avoid scandal for himself at least. At the same time he must have been very scared. That is why the angel has to tell him not to be afraid. In other words he needs courage.

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage means you do what is needed even when it scares you.

Here are 3 ways Christmas at its essence is about courage:

The importance of a good night’s sleep

Reflections to make you think

“If you want to be a billionaire, sleep as little as possible.” Donald Trump.

“Sleep is a criminal waste of time. A heritage from our cave days.” Thomas Edison.

“Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Bill Clinton


Sleep. So easy to take for granted, but so essential – especially if you are not getting enough. And yet there is so much bravado and neglect when we think about sleep. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump and Thomas Edison, their opinions on sleep are way off the mark when it comes to what the research and even what common sense shows. And whatever your opinion of Bill Clinton there is much wisdom in his reflection on sleep and making errors of judgement.

Indeed in November 2008, just after the US election, former President Bill Clinton was asked by CNN Talk Asia correspondent Anjali Rao, “If you had to give one piece of advice to offer President-elect Obama, what would it be?”

Podcast #024: Making sense of time

What we never seem to get enough of

Time. Such an important part of our lives and yet so hard to get a grasp of! We all have the same amount – 168 hours or 10,080 minutes a week or 86, 400 seconds a day. But we all struggle and wrestle with it.


On top of that time is such a strange concept to grasp. What do we exactly mean by time and why does it seem to go at such a varying pace during different periods of our life? As someone once said:

If you want to know the value of one year, just ask a student who failed a course.
If you want to know the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
If you want to know the value of one hour, ask two lovers waiting to meet.
If you want to know the value of one minute, ask the person who just missed the bus.
If you want to know the value of one second, ask the person who just escaped death in a car accident.
And if you want to know the value of one-hundredth of a second, ask the athlete who won a silver medal in the Olympics.

Do join my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we discuss:

  • How do we make best use of the limited time we have?
  • How the fundamental issue is not managing time, but handling the explosion of choices that we are constantly confronted with.
  • The dangers of partial attention and inner restlessness when it comes to time.
  • Thinking about energy management rather than time management
  • The significant role of rest and recuperation for living in the knowledge worker age.
  • Self-identity and time.
  • A spiritual view of time that enables me to be fully engaged in the here and now while at the same time having a heart fixed on eternity.

You may also find of interest:

Is it Work-Life Balance or Integration?

Podcast #001 Wisdom

Podcast #003 Stress

Podcast #010 Stephen R. Covey

Time Management Part 1

Time Management Part 2

Time Management Part 3

What thoughts, comments and reflections does this discussion on time raise for you?


Daring Greatly

Finding Freedom from shame and embracing vulnerability

At first glance these seem pretty heavy subjects – vulnerability and shame. Actually they don’t just seem heavy they really are! But please don’t stop reading!  According to Brene Brown in the TED talk below vulnerability and shame also hold the key to living a whole-hearted life – that is a life of courage and authenticity. If you are a regular reader of this blog my hunch is that you too hunger for this.

If courage and authenticity is something you aspire to then please don’t allow your initial negative reaction to vulnerability and shame hold you back from watching the talk if you haven’t seen it yet. Quoting Brown from her book, ‘Daring Greatly How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead’:

“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

So what do we actually mean by vulnerability?

Brown defines vulnerability as ‘uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.’ From the original dictionary definition the root word includes ‘capable of being wounded’ and ‘open to attack or damage’. So it is far from comfortable and not a place any of us naturally want to be.

Here are some examples of vulnerability Brown received from her research. As you read them do reflect on the feelings and emotions they provoke inside of you:

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort;
choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy:
and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
Brene Brown

A different kind of freedom fighter

Overcoming deep rooted feelings of shame

To my mind Brené Brown is a revolutionary and freedom fighter. Maybe not in the conventional sense of the word, but still very much a freedom fighter. She is a fighter in the cause of understanding and harnessing the power or weakness and vulnerability to live a full life. Our world desperately needs more of this kind of revolutionary and freedom fighter.

Who is Brené Brown? She is an American scholar, author, and public speaker. She is currently a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. In this 20 minute TED talk she talks about her journey, both personally and professionally, in understanding the paradoxical power of weakness and vulnerability.

It is paradoxical, because so much within ourselves, in the media and the world around us emphasises being strong and confident, while at the same time hiding our weaknesses. Yet her talk has clearly struck a chord having had more than 27 million views.

Centuries before Brown it was Rousseau (1712 -1788) who said, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”

Brown has spent more than ten years studying the human emotions of vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. For six years she focussed on issues to do with shame and empathy. She is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls wholeheartedness. In this talk she poses two very important questions: