Our culture seems to be experiencing an epidemic of problems such as depression and burnout, with estimates of more than 10% each year being common.
In my practice as a medical doctor and now as I moved into psychological therapy exclusively, people have come to me with different levels of these problems, from depression bad enough to be actively planning suicide, to more vague thoughts of whether it is worth going on with it all.
Sometimes it's been more about losing confidence with what they are doing, or even having full-on panic attacks. As I've explored their situations I've found there are 3 key factors to stopping their state of depression and feeling burn-out.
1) Set goals with a pre-determined end point -- Life and work can't just be an endless marathon. You need to have sprints as well as rest periods, and have some finish lines along the way. Otherwise the only rest you get is when you collapse from exhaustion, and it's better if you can do that on the other side of a finish line.
Whether you label it a milestone, or a step in the journey, or an exit strategy, you do need to acknowledge the ebb and flow of your motivation and interest and worth with it rather than against it. Even a seemingly powerful motivator such as having more money, can become burnt out when more and more is still never enough because you haven't defined what you want that money to bring you.
2) Have a bigger purpose in mind -- Life is not just about filling your days with whatever happens to get your attention, and yet there is so much around to choose from. With a bigger purpose you can select what is important for you, or it can be the other way around, what is important to you can be your bigger purpose.
Now it doesn't have to be an overly grand purpose, like solving world poverty. It does however need to be something that brings out the passion in you to help you take the day-to-day bumps and the obstacles that are in your way.
Many people can go on for quite a while without asking or finding an answer to the bigger purpose question, because it's only when things get really tough that you can realize you needed that answer. If you don't have a bigger purpose right now then as long as you're happy you're fine. Life will give you setbacks that let you show how badly you want something, and then you'll discover what is really important to you.
3) Create results that last beyond that day -- This is the most important one in my experience as a counselor. You need to build some cumulative benefits to the work you do each day. Otherwise every day is starting from scratch yet again, and it will just feel like you are "never getting anywhere", because you truly won't be.
For example, if you are earning money but spending it or going deeper into debt just as fast, are you better off financially than if you just stayed in bed?
Sometimes it is merely about paying attention to the long-term benefit of what you are already creating. More commonly however you really need to change what you are doing so that on a daily basis you are producing money that you keep, sources of passive rather than active income, habits rather than Band-Aids, prevention rather than fire-fighting, relationships rather than one-off transactions. This way you can sleep knowing you have more to wake up to the next day.
Each of these 3 aspects are vital. Missing even one of them will give you more stress than you need, and if you don't have any of them then you are very likely to be reading this because you are really needing help, starting with these 3 changes. Begin today.
Copyright © 2007 Dr. Martin Russell
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