By Eric Barker
July 18, 2017
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Ever wake up exhausted and just dread going to work? Do you feel like that most days? Every day?

And we’ve all seen others who have suffered the death spiral of burnout and become shambling zombies at the office. They’re not “The Walking Dead”, they’re “The Working Dead.”

Well, maybe you’re just tired. But tired isn’t burnout. Tired is tired. Get more sleep and you’re not tired anymore. So what does real burnout feel like?

From The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It:

Ah, must be time for a vacation. Vacations fix burnout, right?

Wrong. Research shows that’s like taking painkillers to treat a brain tumor. You feel better for a while but then the problem comes roaring back:

So what gives? What is burnout really? Where does it come from? And what do we have to do to avoid it? Time for some real answers.

Let’s get to it…

What Burnout Really Is

Burnout isn’t being overworked or not getting enough rest.

Burnout is job-induced depression.

From Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong:

When work just gets too frustrating and pursuing your career goals feels futile, you become pessimistic. And University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that “depression is pessimism writ large.”

Seligman’s work also shows optimism promotes persistence. When we expect good things to happen, it’s rational to be more resilient.

So burnout is actually the flip side of grit.

From Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong:

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my new book here.)

So how do you make sure you never end up as one of “The Working Dead”? Well, if the root cause of depression is pessimism…

Read more: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

Be Optimistic

Optimism and pessimism all come down to the story you tell yourself about what happens to you. Researchers call this “explanatory style.”

There are three important elements here. Let’s call them the 3 P’s: permanence, pervasiveness and whether it’s personal.

Pessimists tell themselves that bad events:

  1. Will last a long time, or forever. (“I’ll never get this done.”)
  2. Are universal. (“You can’t trust any of those people.”)
  3. Are their own fault. (“I’m terrible at this.”)

Optimists, well, they see it the exact opposite:

  1. Bad things are temporary. (“That happens occasionally but it’s no big deal.”)
  2. Bad things have a specific cause and aren’t universal. (“When the weather is better that won’t be a problem.”)
  3. It’s not their fault. (“I’m good at this but today wasn’t my lucky day.”)

Seligman explains:

Pay attention to the voice in your head. When it starts describing negative events as permanent, pervasive or personal, correct yourself.

By remembering the 3 P’s and flipping the script, Seligman says you can make yourself more optimistic over time.

(To learn more about how to be optimistic, click here.)

So you’re looking on the bright side. Good. But is there anything that can make you downright immune to burnout? Yup…

Find Meaning In What You Do

When you find true meaning in your work — when it’s not a job, it’s a calling — you don’t burn out.

From Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong:

When jobs are meaningful, long stressful hours don’t have to be the path to an early grave. In fact, the exact opposite can be the case…

The Terman Study followed a group of people across their entire lives, from childhood to old age. What did they find?

(To learn how to make your current job feel meaningful, click here.)

Rose-colored glasses? Check. Feel your work is meaningful? Check. But when the stress hits hard what’s the emotional EpiPen you need to inject yourself with to prevent burnout?

Read more: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Double Down On Relationships

When you get busy at work, you often make less time for friends and family. Bad idea. That’s the emotional equivalent of being so overworked you stop eating and starve yourself to death.

Who handles stress the best? Those who increase their social activity when things get hard.

From Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong:

But does this theory really help you avoid burnout in the real world? Yes.

From Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong:

(To learn how to make friends as an adult, click here.)

Alright, we’ve covered a lot. Time to round it up and learn the most important idea underlying all of this…

Read more: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

Sum Up

This is how to avoid burnout:

  • Burnout is depression: You’re not tired from your job; you’re pessimistic about your job.
  • Be optimistic: Remember the 3P’s. (Every one of my blog posts is always good and it is personally due to me.)
  • Find meaning in what you do: I’m writing this to help you. So I’m not burned out. (But, man, am I tired.)
  • Double down on relationships: Work stress is a poison and friends are the antidote.

What’s really interesting here?

None of these fixes actually changes what you’re doing. Optimism and meaning only change your interpretation of what’s going on. And time with friends happens when work is done.

Working less doesn’t make your job less frustrating. It makes it less frequently frustrating. You can still be quite pessimistic about things you don’t do as much.

People have jobs far worse than yours and don’t get burned out. It’s about perspective.

You decide whether the glass is half-empty or half-full.

But make sure to drink with close friends.

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This article originally appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Buy Barker’s book Barking Up The Wrong Tree here

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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