Looking back, I think I went through a really intense period of burnout last year (in many aspects of my life, not just training). As a result, I found that the second I encountered meaningful challenge in my training – whether that be psychologically or physically – my body would just shut down, and kill the session dead. The best way I find to describe it is that my ‘spare emotional bandwidth’ is severely reduced, and things I would normally take in stride or even relish the challenge of instead boil me over into stress and anxiety much quicker. Consequently I’ve had to curtail the intensity of my training to the point that my criteria for success for a day will sometimes be as as little as “did a single push up” or “went for a walk”.

~ James Adams from, https://jmablog.com/post/parkour-challenge-burnout/

Last year I had a conversation with Adams for the Movers Mindset podcast. I had found this article (in July 2022) as I was doing my prep-work for the conversation and have only just gotten around to reading it. I really appreciate (both “hey, thanks for writing that” and “yes, I too have burnout”) him sharing the reality of burnout from pushing oneself.

Most of my days’ activity is no more than, “went for a walk.” Unrelated, last week I strained a muscle in my lower back—one of the lateral ones that’s connected to your pelvis and is involved when you twist and bend-forward. I was sitting, improperly with my lower back “collapsed”, turned my torso to my left and *twang* To be honest, it’s simply where the stress and burnout “came out”. It’s taken me a week of careful recovery work and today I’m back to: I can bend over, very nervously, with no pain but wondering at which instant it will hurt. Injury and recovery; I’ve done that countless times. But the real problem started in my head.



You’ll know it when you experience it

Yet while the application and discussion of burnout has greatly expanded, what burnout is, exactly, and what causes it has remained stubbornly difficult to pin down. There is no clinical definition of burnout, no universally agreed upon yardstick for what constitutes it, no official diagnostic checklist as to its symptoms.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/career-wealth/career/a-counterintuitive-cure-for-burnout/

McKay draws our attention to a feature of burnout that spans all the various types of people, epochs, living situations, employment and work where we see burnout: Sameness. Monotony. Repetition without variety. This is clearly a feature of what causes me to burnout. I don’t think it’s sufficient to cause me to burnout, but it’s definitely necessary.

If I can change this feature, for whatever-it-is that I’m approaching burnout with, I can avert the catastrophe. When burnout approaches, I’ve tried planning, thinking that wrangling with the process to reduce the cognitive load might help. I’ve thought that better planning—break this huge long thing into manageable steps—would give me space and energy to recharge. But this never works. The long slog which I can clearly see, after I do a bunch of planning, simply makes the onset of burnout accelerate.

Instead, if I figure out how to bring novelty into the mix, that seems to always work. (I say “seems” because, although I cannot think of case where it did not work, I’m a pragmatist.) Often this works if I simply find the aspect of whatever-it-is which represents the biggest amount of work, and delete that. Whatever-it-is was going to slump to non-existence anyway, when I burnout, so I may as well cut to the chase. I find that having stripped away something that I thought was essential, whatever-it-was turns out to contain a little nugget of, “huhn, that’s interesting.”