Mental Toughness: 2 Sources of Burnout

Mental Toughness: 2 Sources of Burnout

In the last few months I've had a lot of discussion with clients and associates about preventing burnout and pro-actively managing stressors. It doesn't matter whether you're a GP, Head Teacher, IT Professional, a Lawyer or a Small Business Owner you are susceptible to burnout.

What is Burnout?

It is a word which rolls off the tongue and is often overused incorrectly.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier in the year have recently updated their definition referring to burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The results are physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

Burnout is not:

  • Feeling rubbish about yourself
  • Being depressed
  • Having a bad day

When I think back to my time as a Branch Manager at Carlson Wagonlit Travel 10-15 years ago there were definitely times when I was close to reaching burnout or had reached burnout for short periods. I was very driven and committed, therefore, I'd often work long hours and even drive 45 minutes there and back to call into the office on a Saturday or Sunday if I was at a loose end. Desperate to make an impression and stay on top of my workload, I certainly wasn't doing myself any favours and I'd often have issues sleeping at night. I developed a twitch in my right hand (which I covered up well!) and was heavily reliant on energy drinks. It played havoc with my energy levels and confidence, on occasions.

Burnout doesn't just link to work - you should think of it as a long-term state of being out of sync in one or more aspects of your life. For me, during the period I mentioned above I experienced some relationship issues and I was heavily into playing competitive golf which contributed to my problems at the time.

Most research that looks at burnout focuses on the working environment, therefore, I'll concentrate on this in the next section:

2 Sources of Burnout

1. Your Commitment Levels

Prof Peter Clough in his work on Mental Toughness discusses that being committed is a great quality to have. To achieve your potential and be successful, setting and achieving goals, as well as making and keeping promises, are very important. However, without the awareness of the traps that you fall into, being committed can also cause you problems.

Potential downsides include:



-May miss small details

-May over-achieve in one area and under-achieve in others

-Can get drawn into over-working

2. Fighting for Control.

Another element of Clough's Mental Toughness Model is control, in this case specifically "life control." For those who score highly in this area they are more likely to believe they are in control of their destiny. They feel that their plans will not be thwarted and that they can make a difference. Again this is a useful quality to have, you're likely to have a "can do" attitude and be positive in your approach.

However, similar to being highly committed there are downside's if you lack self-awareness where you can:

  • Take on too much
  • Can fail to see your own weaknesses
  • Can micro-manage by taking over tasks when other's don’t step up

So if you are like I was (and still can be when I have a heavy workload), you may take on too much, struggle prioritising or delegating and create your own problems by overworking.

If that's the case, make sure to give yourself plenty of opportunity to rest up and do leisure pursuits you enjoy. For me, hiking a hill or a mountain is something I do with my wife every month or so. And on a more regular basis, I can often be seen out running in the countryside in the Tyne Valley. Both activities I love and help to refresh and re-energise me.

I'd encourage you to take a few moments to consider the following 4 statements:

- I am highly committed

- I enjoy setting and achieving goals

- I am positive about my future

- I am in control of my destiny

If you feel that these statements do reflect your qualities then you may experience or have experienced some of the challenges I discussed in the article.   If that is the case, I'd love you to share your experiences and tips that you can give people to manage burnout better too.

David Charlton supports individuals and organisations to improve their performance and well-being with mental toughness and resilience programmes.

Click on the relevant links for common challenges I support people with and a range of services that I provide.

Or contact me:

David Charlton, Mental Toughness Coach and HCPC Registered Sport & Exercise Psychologist

Email: [email protected]

Tel: +44 (0) 7734 697769



Leave Comment