By Barbara Poole
One of my vivid childhood memories revolves around my familys Sunday drives. Mom would peer over the steering wheel at the gas gauge and suggest to Dad that it was time to stop for gas, to which he would reply that he could drive another 25 miles before he stopped to fill up. Her response to this was always, "Henry, you cant keep driving around on fumes!"
I see a lot of people in my coaching practice who are "driving around on fumes." They may be burned out, rusted out, or simply singed around the edges, but they continue to push themselves, often to the point of exhaustion. Overwhelmed by real and perceived responsibilities, running on empty becomes the norm. They tell themselves they dont have time to stop and refuel, and yet their energy stores are depleted. Sound like anyone you know?
Like it or not, as miraculous as we humans are, we still need fuel to run. Our bodies, minds and spirits require healthy reserves if we want to be sharp and crisp enough to take care of all those obligations we have. Theres a reason why the safety guidelines on an airplane tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to assist others!
The process of refueling starts with an acknowledgement that its necessary and an honest analysis of how we got caught up on the treadmill in the first place. There are several patterns of behavior that can lead to an empty tank. The first is what I call the "Should Syndrome". This is the habit of sacrificing our own needs, wants and values to defer to the wishes of others or the things we think we "ought to be" doing. While we all have real obligations to the people that we have personal and professional relationships with, its easy to go overboard and land in that place where your entire agenda reflects what you think others expect you to do.
Closely related to the Should Syndrome is the "Martyr Syndrome" in which the individual thinks it is totally up to him or herself to handle all the large and small details of life. The Martyrs slogan is, "If you want it done right, do it yourself". Taken to the extreme, the Martyr may manifest as the "General Manager of the Universe."
Another pattern that causes trouble is "Victimitis". This one shows up in statements like, "I could get so much done around here if it werent for upper management," "My hands are tied," "I intended to get that report done last night but my computer crashed," "The dog ate it
." Blaming others and external situations reflects a natural human tendency to protect ourselves. The problem is that when we place blame rather than problem solving, we give away our power to effect positive change.
The solution to these patterns involves recognizing and reframing their associated thoughts, patterns and beliefs in a way that leads to more positive choices. Think of it as installing a "mental detector" that sounds an alarm when the shoulds, ought-tos, and poor-mes start creeping into your consciousness.
Of course, recognizing and reframing the patterns that led to the empty tank is only half of the solution. The other half involves actually stopping to refuel. This means making an active commitment to a variety of self-care practices that will restore strength, energy and vitality. The most basic of these is attending to what our bodies need. Youve heard it before, but its oh-so important: nutritious food, adequate rest and sleep, fresh air, exercise and lots of pure, clean water. Just as your car wouldnt run for very long if you poured sugar into the gas tank and never changed the oil, you cant expect your body to function well on a regimen of junk food, caffeine and no sleep.
Down time, recreation and leisure are also critical elements of an effective self-care routine. If you have young children, watch how they get juiced by play. Their natural creativity emerges, their eyes sparkle, and their engines get revved up. Identify what it is that you really love to do, and build play time into your schedule. Its not a dirty word, and you dont have to feel guilty about it.
We often get depleted because we get stale. While routines are comforting, its easy to slip beyond routine into rut. The cure for this is to inject novelty, new learning and fresh challenges into your life. Take a class, learn a new language, request to serve on a problem solving task force at work, take on a volunteer assignment.
Attend to your spiritual side. This is not just about showing up at church on Sunday. Its about getting in touch with what has meaning for you, what you believe in, and spending quiet time each day getting grounded and centered.
Communicate your needs. When we become adults, we somehow come to assume that the people around us are clairvoyant, that they should know what we need and respond in kind. Nice idea, but not realistic. Work on letting people know what you require to be at your best. Ask for help, and accept help thats offered.
Finally, if all else fails, practice the Law of Two Feet. This means that if you find yourself in a work setting or other situation that is truly toxic for you and cant be improved, get your two feet moving and find another situation that will serve you better and keep you healthy.
Theres a gas station up ahead
Lets pull in!