Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Avoid Mental Fatigue

This morning I was reading Brett Steenbarger's post on mental fatigue, what it is and how to avoid it. Link here.

In his words: "We have free will only to the degree that we can direct ourselves in goal-oriented ways. When we are burned out, overwhelmed, or just plain tired, we lose that capacity for direction. We drift, rather than act with intent. Even our minds drift, rather than stay focused on goals."

This excellent description connects well with points I have been making about "drift" and its antidote "grit." Link to the post on drift here.
Link to the post on grit here.

Steenbarger adds another important point: "... fatigue is not just something that happens to us, but something that we actively do: we fatigue ourselves with low-yield activities, negative self-talk, and the frustration of unmet needs."

As he says, the solution requires proper nutrition, sufficient exercise, and hard work.

Following the work of Jim Loehr, he concludes: "life is a training camp for elite performers; that is what gets them to the next level."

On these points, see my previous post about Steenbarger and Loehr. Link here. A recent discussion by Loehr is linked here.

If life is a training camp, it is not an extended therapeutic exploration of self. Nor is it a permanent psychodrama or the expression of some master narrative.

I am especially impressed by Steenbarger's notion that we create our own fatigue by involving ourselves in futile exercises, make-work projects, endless self-criticism, and constant drama.

As I sure we have all noted, people who dramatize problems-- as opposed to solving them-- exhaust themselves and have nothing to show for it.

So, there are two kinds of fatigue. The one comes from futility, the other from hard work. The first leaves us demoralized because we have nothing to show for our effort. The second leaves us contented with a job well done.

It is easy to see how people dramatize problems. If someone is late for dinner or has otherwise been rude, you expect an apology. If it is offered, this formal and ritualized expression puts the slight in the past and helps us to avoid exhausting and purposeless conflict.

An apology solves a problem. For that reason we normally accept the apology and let the matter drop.

Sometimes, however, someone might refuse an apology. He might want to have it out, to discuss the matter in detail, to plumb the depths of its meaning, and to work it through. If he succeeds, he will have drained all of the positive energy from his relationship.

The drama is unnecessary. It is solely our creation. It distracts from the task at hand and fatigues both parties... for nothing.

1 comment:

Joseph Dabon said...

A very nice essay on mental fatigue. I was expecting a more serious presentation though, not as peripheral as this.

Thanks just the same.