Join Our Community

Are You Fried?

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Are You Fried?

Shine, don’t flatline.
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D.
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D. More by this author
Jan 10, 2011 at 09:00 AM

My friend Tom Zender is a minister, author, and business consultant with very strong values. One reason why he doesn’t burn out is reflected in a comment he made on my Facebook page. It was in response to a discussion on how getting sick is often the only way in which busy people can get a rest. Tom wrote: “We’ve got to block out at least an hour per day for meditation, silence, prayer, reading, journaling, exercise, communication with family and friends . . . er, make that two hours, Joan!”

Well, I know that all of those things are important, and I not only subscribe to them, I teach them. But when burnout takes over, values get shoved aside so that you can spend every minute working. Priorities shift from living a balanced life to chasing an unobtainable moving target. A good example of this is in the movie Avatar, where a degenerate culture (which was modeled on our own) was willing to destroy a peaceful planet (which was in tune with the natural world) in order to excavate a mineral aptly named unobtanium. The metaphor wasn’t lost on me, nor was it on the millions of others inspired by this mythical film.

When you’re single-mindedly chasing after your own unobtanium, you eventually flatline—effectively becoming deadened to the richness of life unfolding all around and within you. The little blips of joy, relaxation, fun, and spiritual refreshment that give meaning and texture to life disappear. When I’ve been in this state, nothing seems to matter anymore. I don’t care about going to the movies, seeing family and friends, exercising, getting a massage, or gardening. It’s as if all of my interests and pleasure receptors have dried up and fallen off.

I know I’m flatlining when the holidays are coming up and instead of making plans to travel and see the kids, I decide to work. I know I’m flatlining when I stop wanting to take care of the plants and delegate the job to my husband. I know I’m flatlining when the sight of skis in the closet awakens zero interest in going out on the slopes. I know I’m flatlining when meditation, exercise, being in the kitchen, and going shopping for anything—from food to clothing to gifts—feels boring.

How do you recognize when you’re flatlining?

Self-Reflection Exercise: What Did You Once Enjoy Doing?

When I was a kid, we lived about three blocks from a bowling alley. I’d been initiated into the joys of duckpin bowling by my older brother, Alan (duckpins are the smaller pins found mostly at bowling alleys on the East Coast). Because the balls are also smaller, even children, given enough practice, can get really good at the sport. I lived to bowl, which is where most of my allowance went.

As I grew older, bowling became less important, but unbeknownst to me, those narrow lanes had left corresponding grooves in my neural circuitry. Several years later, when I’d flatlined once again, Gordie and I happened to drive past a bowling alley. He turned the car around and pulled into the parking lot despite my protestations that I had too much to do and didn’t like bowling anyway. However, the simple act of picking up a ball and rolling it down the alley reawakened youthful neural networks primed by possibility, and soon I was laughing and having the time of my life.

You may not remember the joy you once felt in a hobby or activity that has fallen off your radar, so you may need to enlist a friend or loved one in helping you remember. One of my friends who is in her 70s was a dancer in her youth. During a flatline period of her own, she noticed a jazz dance class at her gym and signed up. It was as if a light switch were turned on inside her.

In 1981, Harvard professor of psychology Ellen Langer conducted a fascinating study of how we can improve well-being by doing things we enjoyed in our younger years. She calls it her “counterclockwise study,” and you can read more about it in her 2009 book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. Langer and her colleagues created a time capsule of the world as it was 22 years earlier, in 1979, setting up in an old monastery in Peterborough, New Hampshire. They invited two groups of men in their late 70s and early 80s to live in the meticulous re-creation of the late 1950s for one week each.

One group was instructed to pretend that the year really was 1959 and talk about “current” events like Castro’s victory in Cuba and Nikita Khrushchev and the Cold War in the present tense. The other group spoke of events in the past tense more as observers than participants. All of the volunteers were tested physically and cognitively before the study began and again at its conclusion. While both groups showed increases in strength, flexibility, memory, and intelligence, the group who had acted as if it were really 1959 improved the most. Living like younger versions of themselves actually rejuvenated the men, demonstrating the profound effect that our thinking has on our body.

Think back to a time before you were burned out—when you were at your prime and filled with enthusiasm for life’s possibilities. What did you enjoy doing? Choose one activity (like bowling, for example), and put it on your calendar. This is an experiment. If it rejuvenates you, add it to your regular schedule. If it doesn’t, choose another activity from an earlier time in your life. Make sure to get out your calendar and actually add this to your schedule.

About Author
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D.
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., is one of the leading experts on stress, spirituality, and the mind/body connection. She has a doctorate in medical sciences from Harvard Medical School, is a licensed clinical psychologist, and is the co-founder and former dir Continue reading