Mental Strength: How to Build Confidence that Fortifies Against Burnout

Lack of confidence causes stress; prolonged stress causes burnout.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, a recent Harvard Medical School study revealed that 96% of senior leaders reported feeling burned out on some level, with one-third describing their burnout as extreme. That’s what happened to Paula Davis.

Splash. Orange

Action increases confidence.

Symptoms of burnout:

Paula said, “I started to feel ineffective. I never lost confidence in my ability to be a good lawyer, but I started to think, ‘Why bother?’ and ‘Who cares?’”

Other symptoms* include:

  1. Alienation.
  2. Hopelessness.
  3. Increasing stress.
  4. Growing frustration.
  5. Headaches.
  6. Stomachaches. (Paula ended up in the emergency room with this one.)
  7. Avoiding work.
  8. Lack of concentration.

Why burnout**:

“I didn’t want to be perceived as a weak lawyer who couldn’t hack it.” Davis

We burnout when we don’t take breaks. But there’s more.

  1. Personality traits. (Obsessing over problems and catastrophizing.)
  2. Unrealistic deadlines.
  3. Excessive workload.
  4. Insufficient support.

5 steps to building team confidence:

Catastrophizers imagine worst-case scenarios. “… in five minutes, your brain spins a story that ends with you living down by the river in a van.” Davis

Replace catastrophizing with…

#1. Discuss what’s in your control.

#2. List resources including people and lessons from past experience.

#3. Explore how you might reduce the potential down-side.

#4. Discuss the upside. What good can come from this? Where are the opportunities?

#5. Design action. What can you do in the short term? Long term? What can you do today?

(Adapted from Beating Burnout at Work.)

The best confidence builder:

Catastrophizing increases fear. Action increases confidence.

The best way to build confidence is to act. Any small action will help as long as you have reasonable confidence it won’t cause harm.

(This post is based on my conversation with Paula Davis.)

What drains a team’s confidence?

What builds a team’s confidence?

*Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry – Maslach – 2016 – World Psychiatry – Wiley Online Library

**The Science of Why We Burn Out and Don’t Have To (