Updated: Mar 16
Image Source: Unsplash- Konstantine Trundayev
Several years ago, I was in the midst of a “let me help you clean your room” projects with my then eight-year-old son, Caleb. I was happily organizing his shirts and folding his pants. Caleb, on the other hand, was not so happily making his bed and put-up books. About an hour into the room project, I found myself sitting on the floor in front of a drawer full of broken crayons, construction paper, and old drawings ready to tackle another piece of the project. I began pulling things out and rearranging them when I heard Caleb sigh and exclaim, “I’m tired". Instinctively, I rolled my eyes and said, “you can’t be tired”. I am sure that I am not alone in my reaction as a parent.
We all want our children to persevere and get things done even when they might not feel like it, but something about my reaction also troubled me. Something in his admitting that he was tired rubbed me the wrong way. It was as if the words themselves offended me. Sitting with it now, I realize that the words “I’m tired” were ones that as a child I was never allowed to say. To be honest, they are words that to this day I have difficulty saying. It was as if there was an unspoken rule that said, “your feelings don’t matter as long as you get it done”.
I am a huge advocate for perseverance in the face of challenge but at what point does our not talking about how we are feeling, get in the way of our ability to know when to stop. So often I would push through a task without taking a break. What I have learned is that what often burns us out is our inability to notice what's happening and admit that "I am tired". In my drive to “just get it done”, I ignored my need to grab some food, step away to clear my head or just go to the bathroom. I would think, “Your almost done, just a little more to go, and then you can have a break”. It was as if the break was the reward that I was entitled to when I was done. Ignoring my tiredness often left me spent and unable to muster up the energy or brain power to tackle anything else. The result was that tasks often took longer and sometimes were not at the level of quality that I wanted them to be.
It was as if my admitting to being tired was somehow saying "I am lazy, not capable, or incompetent". None of those things are the truth. Instead, the simple act of admitting that you need a break is a part of this beautiful experience of being human AND it's a part of the process of slow walking yourself back from the brinks of burnout. The judgement that we place on our admittance of being tired is what keeps us from taking the actions we need to help the tiredness. So, let this be a judgement free zone and give yourself the grace you need when you are tired.
Over the last couple of years, I have been experimenting with giving myself permission to be tired and here’s what’s been working for me.
Stop and notice what's happening with your body,
Notice how much time you have spent on the task. Was that time productive?
Notice your energy level.
Give yourself permission to feel what you feel.
Give yourself permission to take a break, grab some food, go for a walk, or rest.
Determine if you want/need to continue.
Are you done or is this good enough to stop now?
Determine your next steps based on what additional things needs to be completed and any deadlines that need to be met.
Break what else needs to be done down into manageable next steps.
To determine the manageability, notice how you are feeling. What’s your energy level with each piece of your next step list? Break steps down until you are comfortable with each of the next steps.
Schedule a time when you will come back to the task to either complete it or to complete the steps.
Keep your promise and return to the task.
Consider what might be needed to make it fun, more interesting, or less dreadful.
Consider adding music.
Make it a game or
Phone a thought partner to help you think it through.
Hopefully, you will find that the more you give yourself permission to stop and come back to the task later, the more energy and less dread you will feel.