When I was in the Army there were certain words and phrases that just seemed to be woven into the fabric of the culture. I’m not sure how these sayings spread so effectively and universally but it seemed that, no matter where you were, they were always around. Most are, um, colorful (and many are wildly inappropriate) but my favorite one is relatively tame:
“Get The Demons Out!”
This phrase –which is always accompanied by whoops, cheers, and applause– is invariably shouted in a cartoonishly southern drawl at someone who has overworked themselves during a PT Test and is in the process of throwing their guts up. It’s a weird bonding moment, and there is always a group of people rushing (or not rushing) over to make sure the puker is ok, but the sentiment is always the same:
Hey, your body has a lot of hurt and distress built up and it’s all coming out right now. Don’t fight it, you’ll feel better when it’s over.
Well, I was thinking about burnout the other day (you know, as you do), and this phrase just kinda jumped into my mind. Why? Because when we don’t allow ourselves the time and space to breathe, relax, and recharge, the stresses and worries of life will build and build until we flare out and crash. And, just like in the aftermath of a PT Test, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to stop the reaction once we cross that line.
You see, I’ve seen people of all fitness levels have to “get the demons out” within a few moments of completing a two-mile PT Test running course. Got an 11-minute two-mile? Cool. Hustling your butt off to scrape in under the time limit? Awesome. Fitness level doesn’t matter to the demons. If you red-line too hard in the last 30-45 seconds of that run you’re gonna spew. And in the same way, anyone, regardless of how “mature” or “prepared” they are, will ultimately have a breakdown if they push past their limits and into burnout territory.
But the comparison goes deeper than that.
The difficulty in a PT Test’s run comes from the fact that two miles is a strategically weird and uncomfortable distance. On one hand it’s short enough (relatively), that you can –and should– push hard the whole time. On the other hand, it’s long enough that most people need to be able to think and strategize in the moment, through mounting discomfort, to get the best score they can. It’s a mental challenge as much as it is a physical one, and the key is to pace your effort to just below your burnout threshold and hold on. And for less than stellar runners (like me), that often means a constant cycle of pushing and backing off to ensure a consistently higher overall pace.
And that’s where the metaphor comes in:
In life, just like in a PT test, we have to cycle between pushing hard and giving ourselves time to decompress and relax if we want to succeed.
Think about it. How many times have you known you were physically and emotionally pushing yourself past your limits, gambled too big, and burned out? Personally, I’ve done that a few too many times. Sometimes the catalyst is stress, other times it’s depression, and sometimes it’s just pushing too far into exhaustion in an attempt to “get things done”, but the inevitable burnout is never pretty and always painful. And, no matter if you’re a runner who pushed too hard or a desk jockey pulling too many hours, once the “demons” of burnout are unleashed there’s no holding them back. But if we allow ourselves to rest, recharge, and experience our emotions as they come, we enable ourselves to keep up our “pace” in a healthy way and avoid the mess and discomfort that come from burning out.
So now I invite you to consider where you are in that cycle of pushing and easing up. If you’re in a push, pay close attention to how you feel and be ready to dial back your effort when you start to flag. If you’re in a rest cycle, now is a great time to compile a list of things you know you enjoy so you can make your next down time as effective as possible. And if, like so many of my army friends, you’ve crossed that line of no return, consider this me coming to check on you as you heave your guts up. I know it feels pretty terrible now, but once you’re done I guarantee you’ll feel better. Then, once you’re in a better place, take a step back and find the pace that allows you to hold on and smash your goals.
Thanks for reading, you’ve got this,