You are very powerful, provided you know how powerful you are. – Yogi Bhajan
For most of my life I was an achiever. I pushed through, made the grade and impressed – or tried to. It made me feel important and valuable. Worthy.
It gave me purpose.
I was going after success.
So, I soldiered forward marking time with achievements like gold stars and new lines added to my resume.
That’s what one does, I thought. So that’s what I did.
In return for my exceptional loyalty to productivity and achievement, I expected a kind of happiness like the people in those commercials walking across a lawn of green grass, all white teeth smiling and glowing health. I expected that. I expected the feeling that makes one feel sure footed and vital in this world.
But I didn’t get that!
What I got was crooked shoulders and lower back pain. I got a system so charged with cortisol that I fried out my nerves and triggered an avalanche of doctor’s visits and supplements. I got fights at home that I later had to apologize for, and regret.
And, in the end, I got a chance to try again.
Before I got that, though, everything had to fall apart.
One day, during the Reign of Achievement, just as things had hit a nice groove – the kind of groove that made me feel like I had solid ground beneath my feet – the foundation I had built my life on shook me to the ground and I broke into a million little pieces.
I lost my husband, my spiritual community and home, and a job in a little less than four weeks. I had a bad case of the dominoes. I fell hard.
And like a storm that sweeps through a meadow clearing old things and spreading new seeds, it was necessary. If what I wanted was health, vitality and the kind of satisfaction that comes from living well then then I needed to start from the beginning because the disjointed way I was living wasn’t going to get me there.
Reclaiming Your Definition of Success
First thing I had to do was reclaim my definition of success. Was it money in the bank? A page full of gold stars? A house full of family?
I decided success for me was feeling good – about my choices, about my relationships, about the work I do and why.
I also decided to call off the assault on my body. For one, the warning signs that things in my life were out of place had originated in my body – smarty pants system that it is. For two, I wanted feeling good to – well – feel good.
Now, saying I wasn’t caring for my body already is a bit of a misnomer. I mean, I was a successful yoga teacher for pete’s sake and had been vegetarian for the better part of two decades. But I had been caring for my body like one plays ping pong.
I’d work, push, achieve … and then stop and take care of my body. It was usually one thing, or the other. My body was what always came after the proverbial comma. I fell into the common routine of ignoring my body for 8-10 hours of the day while I worked, then binging on yoga, green juices and weekends of sunshine and rest.
As normal as that seemed to be for people around me, I never quite felt good. That feeling of being totally rested eluded me. I existed in a relative daze.
Starting With Pleasure…
So how do you break that cycle?
It’s actually quite easy. It’s also slow and cumulative.
I started with pleasure. And that begins with the senses. Turns out, your senses are like built-in heat seating missiles for pleasure. And your body is a glutton for whatever feels good. Opening to these nuances I discovered ways to reconnect and feed my body what it wanted most: fully saturated senses that fed my soul.
So eating a piece of chocolate became less a frenzy of half-tasted brown squares shoved down in a cloud of stress, and more an full bodied experience that relieved tension, relaxed my body and – to my surprise – fueled productivity and creativity.
Same went for looking at the trees and flowers outside my office window. When I really saw them it became less a daze of unseeing disconnectedness and more an experience with things like appreciation and wonder.
From there it just exploded into nearly every single minute of my day. The possibilities were endless. Every sense came alive – and so did my brain. I was flooded with ideas, creativity and feelings of feeling good.
Even better, by integrating the senses into my day I don’t hit burnout like I used to. I’m tapped into the body and listening. I can actually do more work than I used to and still feel good.
The difference is that I don’t power through and ignore the signs. I listen. I give my body smaller doses of attention more often.
Best thing about this is that the senses are yours, always available, always free. You just have to reconnect and the pleasure is yours for the taking.
Preventing Burnout on the Way to Success: 3 Smart Steps
Here are a few ideas to get you going:
Look Up & See
Right now look up from your device or computer and find three beautiful things. Even in a windowless concrete block room you can find beautiful things: your hands, the texture of the concrete, the particular shine of the light bulb on the floor. Relax and fully see these things. Let them come in.
Tune In & Hear
No matter where you are there are sounds. No place is silent. If you’re there, you can hear breathing. And likely, there is more than that to listen to. Close your eyes and identify the different sounds. Hear them. Listen to them fully before moving to the next sound.
Tune Out & smell
Our sense of smell is powerful. Our memories are inextricably linked to this sense. But it’s one of the first senses we shut down in favor of the others. So, close your eyes and focus on your nose. What do you smell? You can do this with food in front of you, or a lover. Smell these things you love.
This is transformative, yes. And it’s fun, playful and opens you up to a new kind of wonder for the world around you!