I could, theoretically, push myself very very hard in the direction of my goals — lose sleep, live off coffee, eat irregularly, rarely see the outdoors. But…why?

In our culture, doing “MORE BETTER FASTER” is seen as the highest goal. I have friends who talk about finding ways to make sure their relaxation time is productive…I’m pretty sure that’s an oxymoron, but it reflects how we as a society think about time and effort and progress. If we’re not actively doing something to improve ourselves or our lot in life, then we’re actively, purposely failing. The only option we have is to always be “on,” always be striving to do more and do it better.

I’ve tried to live that way for many years, off and on. Some runs were more successful than others but I think it is quirk of my survival mechanism that I always burn out sooner rather than later. Some people go decades, if not whole lifetimes, pushing themselves unreasonably in order to achieve their version of “success.” I get to a point where my stress and anxiety levels collide and I fall apart. That usually results in a slow, miserable slide into dejected confusion, but occasionally has ended in spectacular blowouts.

So, at the ripe old age of 48, I know myself well enough to know what I’m NOT capable of doing relentlessly and without mercy. Of course, the other side of that is I have taken to being too forgiving of myself, too willing to engage in procrastination and self-recriminations.

Yesterday I talked about my plans for 2017 and how busy they will make me — my Four Important Things will take up significant time and energy. But there is a reason I made “self-care” one of my Four Important Things, which is so that I keep it at the top of my list instead of treating it like an afterthought. It is a critical pillar to my plans for success, and I need to give self-care the time and attention it deserves.

But there is also the matter of factoring recovery time. One does not run a marathon without taking time afterwards to let muscles heal and the body to readjust. I cannot attack 2017 like a year long ultra-marathon where I never get to stop. I’ll just collapse.

Therefore I’m planning to work around a familiar calendar: university semesters. They are 13 to 16 week long marathons of high output, high focus mental expenditure, followed by a week or two of breaking off to recover before starting up again. At FSU we have three terms a year: Spring, Summer, and Fall, and since I work there already at my day!job, it will be easy to tune my personal schedule to that. At the end of the year I get two+ weeks off for the holidays.

This, I hope, will keep me both active and progressing without the burnout I’ve gone through in the past. Because burnout, it’s not about getting tired. Burnout is about being weary from your hands to your soul, and about being angry and frustrated at yourself. Burnout neutralizes everything you do and leaves you feeling cotton-headed and exhausted.

Being tired is about getting more sleep and maybe chilling out for a few hours on the weekend; burning out is the process of shutting everything down for business indefinitely. I want to respect the former and avoid the latter.

We’ll see how this plan goes. I think it might work well, but I won’t know until I try it.

Also published on Medium.

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