3rd October, 2023

Surprising Ways to Avoid Burnout

With Nick Petrie

Photo of Nick Petrie

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On this episode

Do you give yourself permission to rest? If you’re like many people in caring professions, you worry that taking time out to look after yourself means not spending that time helping others. That thinking may have got you to your position now, but is it serving you, or is it time to update your operating system?

The problem with rest is that we often confuse it with inaction. But rest from work doesn’t have to mean rest from activity. As this week’s guest, Nick Petrie discovered, for high achievers, rest could be going to the gym or Argentinian tango. Nick’s research shows that the way to beat burnout is not to stop doing things altogether, but to find things you love to do, but that are entirely outside of your sphere of work.

Choosing what you do outside of work needs to be done with care, however. If you’re used to working in a fast-paced and competitive environment, a gym where everyone’s visibly pushing themselves to beat their neighbour might not give you the release you need.

But engaging in activities or hobbies that give you a complete break from work and allow you to reconnect with your body and emotions could be instrumental in preventing burnout.

Show links

About the guests

Nick Petrie photo

Reasons to listen

  1. Discover surprising factors that contribute to burnout.
  2. Hear examples from high-performing people about the patterns and correlations of burnout across different fields.
  3. Find out how people successfully manage burnout by finding activities that let them switch off and recharge.

Episode highlights


Correlations of burnout


Opposite worlds


The risk of finding a world not opposite enough


Six types of opposite world


More correlations of burnout


Sharing in others’ experiences


Creating mechanisms for yourself


The burnout curve


Allostatic overload


Three degrees of burn


Catching the warning signs in yourself and others


Nick’s top tips

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Rachel: We talk a lot on this podcast about burnout and how to avoid it. But when our job means caring for others, it can be very tricky to give ourselves that permission to do the things that we know we need to do.

[00:00:12] Rachel: In this episode, I’m chatting with Nick Petrie who’s interviewed hundreds of leaders who’ve experienced burnout, and has some surprising insights about what causes burnout and what protects you from burning out in the first place.

[00:00:25] Rachel: Amongst other things, Nick shares his insight on opposite worlds, places where we can go or things we can do to top up our batteries without that guilty feeling that you’re just not doing enough. This interview genuinely taught me a load of stuff I never knew before and has made me re-examine what I do personally, to look at myself. Whether you’ve experienced, been out in the past and are determined not to again, or whether, you know, you’re at high risk, listen on to get some fascinating tips, tools and advice.

[00:00:55] Rachel: If you’re in a high stress, high stakes, still blank medicine, and you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, burning out or getting out are not your only options. I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, and welcome to You Are Not a Frog.

[00:01:16] Nick: So my name is Nick Petrie. Um, I’m calling in from Nelson, New Zealand. I live the last 10 years in the United States, uh, where I work for the Center for Creative Leadership. Uh, I did leadership development work over there, a lot of work around resilience. Um, and so we were working with a lot of the top organizations in the world, um, a lot of the top government officials, NASA, the technology companies, lots of different ones. And then during the pandemic, when everyone was sort of rethinking things, I started to think everything’s on Zoom or on Teams, now. I’m not sure why I’m sitting in Austin when we could be living back in New Zealand. So came back here with my wife and four boys and we settled down here. And I continue to do the same work with the same clients, but from the bottom of the world rather than up north.

[00:02:05] Rachel: It’s great to have you here today, Nick. I think it’s 6:00 PM in New Zealand and 7:00 AM where I am. Uh, so we’ve made it work, which is great. But we are gonna talk to you particularly about your research and your work around burnout. And obviously you’ve done lots of leadership development in the past. How did you get into researching burnout? What was it that sort of triggered that?

[00:02:24] Nick: I’d been, uh, working on resilience for a long time. I got cancer three times in my twenties and had an occurrence, a recurrence, another recurrence. And I found that incredibly stressful and overwhelming. The uncertainty of it, the high stakes of it, the fact I was so young. And so I had researched a lot on stress and I’d come, and I’d learned an approach from a British academic, which I was doing around the world with a lot of these companies, and that was, went really well.

[00:02:53] Nick: Except when the pandemic came, I saw that a lot of the traditional approaches were still good, but it didn’t seem to be meeting the particular need, which was going on at that time. And so it sort of got triggered by one of my clients, one of the big, um, US companies who said when the pandemic hit, they said, Nick, um, we’ve got all of our people, they all need to learn a whole new way of working, new way of living, through a hybrid environment, virtual, all of that sort of thing. We’re building all these resources for them. We are creating apps, we’re creating workshops ,the problem we’ve got is no one’s using anything that we’re creating. And I was like, oh, that’s interesting.

[00:03:35] Nick: And so I went in and had a look at what was going on for them. And what I saw was the reason that they weren’t using all these resources to help learn and grow was because also had to perform, they had to deliver, they had to, their clients wanted this, their bosses wanted this, their workloads were huge. So they were trying to do both those things at the same time, both perform and learn a whole new way of working.

[00:04:01] Nick: And in the course of doing that, the way they did that was they just started stealing from their own wellbeing basically. They started working earlier in the morning, working later at night. They went from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting. Lunch breaks sort of disappeared for many, exercise stopped. And the interesting thing we noticed was that it worked. And they were able to keep working and keep delivering, but it’s sort of a short term solution. And what started to happen after three months, four months, five months, what we saw is they started to burn out. And this was happening all over the place for my clients. And it was sort of happening quietly. No one was announcing it. They would’ve slowly leaving the workplace.

[00:04:42] Nick: And so I got very interested in that question. Um, how do you manage, not just how do you be resilient or how do you learn about leadership development, but how do you balance that real challenge for people between the need to perform, the need to grow and the need to do that without burning yourself out and ruining your life?

[00:05:01] Rachel: That is the, that is the question, isn’t it?

[00:05:06] Nick: Mm-hmm.

[00:05:06] Rachel: You cracked it.

[00:05:07] Nick: We’ve, um, we’ve come a long way. Yeah. We’ve, I, I mean it’s a complex balancing act full of lots of tensions, but we’ve certainly learned a lot more that we knew at the start. And we’ve seen what we’ve seen, what caused it to go wrong, and we’ve seen what causes it to, um, go right and find a right sort of balance.

[00:05:28] Rachel: that’s so interesting. I’m sure everyone listening to this podcast is going, yeah, absolutely. How on earth, so we carry on. Forming and delivering what we need to do and work differently and stop ourselves burning out? And I think the most popular episodes of this podcast are things around, how do I stop burning out? How do I stop burnout and repeat? How do I, how do I rest? How do I manage myself? So it seems to me that nobody has got it right. So I’m really interested in, in what you’ve found.

[00:05:57] Rachel: What are the, let’s start with the causes and then let’s start with some of the sort of modifying, modifying factors. Did you find any surprises when you were looking at the, the causes of burnout? ‘Cause I guess, you know, I would look at it and go, right, well it’s, it’s overwork. It’s not enough support. And it’s probably like sort of your own mental mindset about having to do everything. But I know that you found some quite interesting stuff.

[00:06:19] Nick: Yeah, well what, what we wanted to do was not go in with too many assumptions, um, because lots of us go, well, you know, the cause of burnout is too much work. Is it? I mean, it sort of sounds plausible, but we met a lot of people who didn’t ha, you know, had a moderate amount of work and were burning out, then changed roles, got themselves into a different situation, got much more work, but were really at no risk of burning out. So it was like, okay, you can’t just be work.

[00:06:52] Nick: Then, so what we did was we said, let’s, rather than just look at workplaces, let’s spread the Nhat wide and we will look across different fields of high performers who need to operate under pressure, um, in difficult circumstances for prolonged periods of time and see what we can learn from them. So we interviewed Navy seals, um, surgeons, professional athletes, professional coaches, CIA agents, FBI agents, uh, we went wide to elite yoga instructors, priests, and then lots of business people. And we want see what are the patterns we can see.

[00:07:29] Nick: So what we saw as we listened to story after story after story, um, we heard some common themes start to emerge. So one of the interesting, surprising ones was we heard over and over that beliefs and values that you pick up early in life help you succeed early on. So I will work hard, I’ll give a hundred percent. I will always deliver. I will always say yes. I won’t let people down. If I find myself in a bind, I’ll push through it no matter what.

[00:08:06] Nick: Well, those things are very good. They help you succeed. They help you get into good college. They help you get into medical school and then get through it. When you’re getting pushed and pushed and pushed. Um, they’ll get you a good job. And then companies love that attitude. So they’ll reward you, they’ll recognize you. So, the things which make you successful, that attitude of giving a hundred percent get you onto these big roles, but then what we saw is people’s lives changed over time. Some people had families, some people got dependents, other people got bigger roles. Life just got bigger and bigger.

[00:08:41] Nick: But what we consistently saw is what didn’t change with people’s success formula. They still had the same exact success formula that they had in their twenties. And, uh, one, um, lawyer we interviewed after she burned out, her therapist said to her, what, what do you want from your life now? And she described it. She said, no, no, no, no. Not what is your 21 year old self want? What does your 48 year old self want?

[00:09:11] Nick: So that was a common pattern. People failing to update their operating system as they went through life. Um, so relentless work ethic. As things get tougher, armoring up, cutting off. A lot of people got warning signals that they were starting to tip into burnout, but they couldn’t feel it. And a big reason we discovered was ’cause people went numb. People couldn’t feel their emotions inside their body. I was speaking to a neurologist about this in the uk and he was saying that the body sends us a lot of signals about what’s going on for us. But when the, when the body’s gone numb and you can only really feel from here up, people don’t pick up on the signals. So they get stronger and stronger, um, but no, the person’s not really listening to them.

[00:09:55] Nick: So there was a lot of individual factors, a lot of it to do with, um, a work ethic they picked up. Early in life. A surprising amount of people were carrying around the mindset that I have to escape poverty despite the fact they were millionaires by this point. Um, they were never gonna be poor, but they couldn’t, well, couldn’t, wouldn’t shake that belief, they were still driven by that. So there was a lot of individual factors.

[00:10:21] Nick: And then there was another set of organizational factors, which was toxic workplace, unsupported boss, roles and mis scoped. Uh, bullying was a big one when bullying existed in the workplace and wasn’t stamped out by senior managers. Um, things like that were, things like that were big ones.

[00:10:39] Nick: And it’s that interplay between the two. I see a lot of people saying burnout is caused by one thing. Organizational systems. Well, it’s not from what we heard, it’s the blend of the personal and the organizational.

[00:10:54] Rachel: That’s so fascinating. This I’ve got to succeed early on by, or I’ve just got to succeed by giving it a hundred percent. And that is, that is a hundred percent what, what we have, I think in medicine and healthcare, people that are very driven know that you succeed by hard work, and that’s been instilled in you from a very, very early age. And it’s absolutely spot on what you’re saying, Nick, because we see that, like you said, that operating system just ceases to function, not just because of other life stressors and families and and overwhelm, but actually when you’re in an industry where the demand is always going to outstrip. The resources that you’ve got, if you have that mindset of, I just have to work harder and harder, then that’s the perfect storm for burnout. Particularly when your organization is demanding it as well, because they have pressure on them for targets, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:11:50] Nick: That’s dead, right? Yeah. We spoke to quite a, quite a few doctors, quite a few surgeons. It was, it’s different again, in that field. It’s, um, there’s a few risk things in that field. One, one of the things we found is, um, that values alignment is a very significant factor in burnout risk. And so what we found is when people are working, doing work, which is misaligned with their values, they’re at risk of burnout. They, they tend to become angry with what they’re being asked to do and they end up feeling very resentful, and they can be at risk of burnout.

[00:12:26] Nick: That’s not what we saw with people in medicine. We saw the opposite actually. They have very high values alignment. Like it is such purposeful work. There is always a need and it’s gonna have a huge impact. Their values alignment is so high, they’re particularly at risk because it’s like they’ve got a foot on the accelerator and lots of fuel that many of them we interviewed had no break. They didn’t know how to put their foot on the brake. They didn’t know how to switch off in the evenings. Um, they didn’t know how to have any boundaries.

[00:12:58] Nick: Uh, one surgeon described it to me. He said it just felt like the rollercoaster started going faster and faster and faster, and I couldn’t get off. And he burned out. And then eventually he came to realize for himself the solution was he needed to learn how to stop the rollercoaster, get off and go replenish. And so he had some strategies for doing that.

[00:13:23] Rachel: I’d love to hear those strategies in a sec, but I think that is such a helpful observation. And I, I think I wrote a, an article or something or certainly did a talk a few years ago about the fact that I, I think if you have an incredibly high purpose in your work, and often things you’re doing outside of work, like running a charity or supporting a, you know, a good cause, I think people are even more prone to burnout, which does sort of go against the, the thing of, you know, Daniel Pink saying about you need autonomy, purpose, and mastery in your life, and absolutely you need purpose in your job. And if you are asked to do stuff that is against what you, you believe in, then that, that’s, that must be very, very stressful. In medicine that that doesn’t happen very much unless you’re asked not to treat people. ’cause you’ve got to rationale that would really go against people’s values.

[00:14:12] Rachel: But if you really, genuinely believe that you are saving people’s lives and if by resting, people are gonna be harmed or you can’t serve people, that’s gotta be even more stressful. I’ve, I’ve, I’ve always thought that if you think you are saving the world then to, to take a, a break, well you, you might miss saving people. And, and that really goes against your values and that’s where you get the shame and the guilt and, and everything like that. So that absolutely resonates.

[00:14:39] Nick: That’s, that’s interesting actually. A pattern, a universal pattern we found wasn’t just in medicine. For when people burned out is when they consistently put themselves last and they felt selfish if they didn’t do that. So that applied to everyone. But if you think about medicine, It’s particularly pernicious because of exactly what you just said there, Rachel. You know, what are the costs of putting myself first over a patient? And in medicine you get taught, you know, the, the patient comes first.

[00:15:13] Nick: So it is a very challenging one. And it’s hard for doctors or medical people ’cause people probably aren’t. Gonna tell you that, no, it’s all right. You should go do this. Or even if they do, it doesn’t feel true to you. That’s not the way you were trained. That’s not the role models you’ve seen before you.

[00:15:30] Rachel: Well, it, it’s a perfect storm of firstly yourself not believing that that’s the right thing to do. So you’ve gotta get your own internal things. And then when you do try and put the boundaries in and say, actually no, that’s it, I can’t do that shift, or I can’t do that. You then get pushback. You get pushback from your colleagues who you feel you are letting them down, and in the short term you might be, and they feel that as well. And then you get pushback from your department and you get your toxic work culture. Say, well, hang on, you, you, you, you’ve got to be doing this.

[00:15:57] Rachel: So, so it’s hard enough to put the boundary in for yourself, but then when you’ve just about managed to say, no, this is what I’m gonna do or gonna not do, then someone questions it, boom, boundary crumbles immediately ’cause you don’t have that backup. So it’s very, very difficult, which is probably why the, the, the sort of talk that I am doing that seems to be really hitting a note at the moment is how to, you know, embrace your limits, say no, and deal with pushback and a set of boundaries. Because until we get this right, I think, you know, you can change all sorts of things in the workplace, et cetera, et cetera, but until we change our own internal thing about that selfish, that it is selfish to put myself first, it’s selfish to take a break.

[00:16:39] Rachel: Now, the problem is, and I’d love to know how you would get people to think about this differently. If you get people to think logically about, no, of course I should take a break. I’ll perform better, of course I should rest because if I burn out I won’t be there for my patients. And they can say that logically, but when it comes to the short term, they find it then impossible to do.

[00:16:59] Nick: The way, um, I’ve sort of been doing this, it probably isn’t so logical, uh, through stories and examples. Sometimes it takes people burning out. I’ve seen before they go, you know what? I need to do this. I need to prioritize it.

[00:17:16] Nick: Um, one example that we learned from the interviews, which seems to be very popular with people and seems to be helpful for them. I was interviewing, um, an executive at one of the big technology companies, and he was saying, this is, he was saying this is a, uh, very intense culture. Um, people who survive here for three or more years are considered veterans. And I was like, wow, that’s pretty intense. I said, how did you, how long have you been here? And he said, 10 years. I said, well, how did you last 10 years without burning out? He says, well, I didn’t. I did burn out. I said, oh, well, so how are you still here? He said, well, I made some changes.

[00:17:54] Nick: And so he told me about a se series of changes, but the one that stuck in my mind the most, I said, what was the biggest thing you did? And he looked at me down the zoom line and he summ me up and he said, dancing. I said, what do you mean dancing? And he said, Argentinian tango to be precise. I was like, okay, well what do you mean by that? And he said, well, what I discovered after I burned out is I have this work ethic and I just couldn’t switch off. I’m always on and I’d go to work, I’d be in my head solving problems. Then I’d come home in the evenings and I’d have dinner, but then I’d still be up in my head logic solving problems. Then I’d do some emails and I sort of really still in work mode. Then I burned out. So he said, I realized I needed to do something to, to just switch off my work identity.

[00:18:40] Nick: And what I discovered, I tried some different things, but I discovered Argentinian tango. And he said in Argentinian tango, it is the opposite of my work world. He said, in Argentinian tango, you need to be in your heart and you need to be in your body. Two places I rarely am during my workday, I’m up in my head in logic. Second, the currency in Argentinian tango is the opposite of my work. He said, no one cares about where you work. No one cares how much money you make. No one cares what your job is, even if you have a job. The only thing they care about is can you dance?

[00:19:16] Nick: And so he said, the music’s going. I’m sweating, I’m moving. I’m with my partner. There’s all this community there. And then I get to the end of the night and I’m just sweating and I feel great, and I go home, sleep well. He said the next day I wake up and I just, I feel really recharged again to go back to my other world. He said, it’s like it’s my opposite world. I was like, huh, that’s really interesting. And so we kept interviewing people when we heard this over and over again. People who had learned to perform really full on at high levels and do it sustainably, they had this opposite world they went to.

[00:19:51] Nick: Um, Interestingly, we heard it from, uh, one person I interviewed, I said, what’s your opposite world, do you think? And she said, um, It’s going to the gym. I said, okay. She goes, but strangely, when I go to the gym and do the workout and I come home, I collapse on the couch afterwards and I just feel exhausted. I said, that sounds strange. What? Like, tell me about the gym. And she, she named the gym. It is. And I said, oh, what’s, what’s that like? And she said, well, you go along, basically you are competing against everyone else in the gym, ’cause you can see your metrics, how fast you are going, how fast they’re going, how long they’ve been going, what speed you’re doing. You basically compete against them. And I, I was like, how different is that from your work world? And she, she thought about, she thought it’s exactly the same. And so I said, what’s, uh, what do you think your opposite world might be? And she thought about, for a moment, she said, deep water, ocean swimming. When I do that, my mind just goes silent for 40 minutes. There’s just the creatures on the floor and the, the water on my body, and I’m just silent. She goes, that’s my opposite world.

[00:20:59] Nick: So one thing we’ve discovered is rather than logically trying to convince people, you should switch off, Hey Rachel, you should take more breaks, it is to sort of get them excited about something they want to go do. You know, an activity, an active recovery that they enjoy that is really different, but they have deprioritized. And when we do this in workshops, we hear from a lot of people, I used to have something but I stopped doing it because I’m working too much, because I’ve got kids.

[00:21:30] Nick: And the big takeaway a lot of ’em get is it’s a priority. It’s not a selfish thing to go do your opposite world. It’s actually a priority for your, your work, your performance, your health, and for your company.

[00:21:43] Rachel: Is there something about flow there as well? So doing something that, that, that gets you into that thing that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talked about in flow?

[00:21:51] Nick: That, that seems to be the pattern which happens. Um, when people are in there, they’re just completely absorbed by it and their id, their old work identity, which follows them around all the time, I am a doctor, I am this, I’m a nurse. Just it’s not there. It gets a rest. You get the rest from that identity and now you’re a dancer, now you’re a deep water swimmer.

[00:22:15] Nick: So, but it’s gotta be something you like doing, and it’s gotta be the opposite. It can’t be like I go to the gym and compete, you know, it feels different ’cause it’s physical. But no, your mindset is the same mindset you’ve got at work.

[00:22:28] Rachel: I love that because I’ve been thinking so much about identity and how we shift our identity away from what we do, because while it’s so highly fused with what we do, then when we say, no, I’m gonna take a break, I’m not gonna do that, whatever that, that starts to sort of rock our wealth and rock our values. But what you are saying is if you start to find a, you start to have breaks from that identity, it’s just gonna start to loosen it up a little bit. Bit like, like loosening a, a tree or a, or something like that, right?

[00:22:58] Nick: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Well, yeah. Mean you asked about causes um, earlier, one of them is bec you become very unidimensional. I am a doctor, I am a researcher, I am a banker, and you’ve just got this one identity. What we found that really helped people was they started to have multiple identities, you know, multiple hats I wore. For me, coming back to New Zealand, one of the hats I started wearing was I became a rugby coach of under 11 year olds. Rugby doesn’t really seem like a big deal, but to me it was because for, for a 90 minutes a weekend and in two practices, I just, I was not thinking anything about work. I was just thinking about this coaching thing and rugby and sports, which is something I love growing up that I had put on hold because it was a waste of time, ’cause here I off, I’m off in America doing this thing. So I just having a portfolio of, um, identities, hats that you wear seems to be very healthy for people.

[00:24:02] Nick: Uh, but can I just add, um, there is a risk, ’cause we see with doctors, for example, their temptation is to go do something different, but their thing is a big endurance event. Their thing is, I’m gonna climb a mountain. Their thing is to do some big achievement thing. And so their, you know, their switch off activity as some sort of driven achiever thing, which really isn’t very different for them at all.

[00:24:30] Rachel: Yeah, I was just about to say, there’s a slight alarm bell going off in my head here because a lot of the time when people say, well, I’ve got this really awful, difficult, busy piece of at work and I, I really cannot leave. I’m not gonna leave. You’ll say, okay, well what are you in control of? Well, I’m in control of what I do outside of work. Or say, well, what can you give up? Or whatever, just so that you can chill and rest.

[00:24:50] Rachel: But actually, what then happens is you give up everything that you need to replenish or you give up your other I this other identity stuff. So that is a very interesting consideration that it might not be about giving that up. It might be about working out what you are doing outside of work. ‘Cause actually some people are incapable of sitting still. You know, you say to ’em, just go sit in a field with a book. They’re like, oh, that won’t replenish me. But it’s much better say, yeah, going and, and coaching a team than the whole competitive long event or, the problem is, I can think that a lot of, a few doctors might go and coach a team, but then get really competitive with that team and then that’s what we’ve gotta do. So you’ve gotta, you’ve gotta know yourself quite well, haven’t you? And think what is gonna, what is it? What sort of hobby or other world, opposite world.

[00:25:37] Rachel: I love that phrase the opposite world. ’cause I think people don’t like the word hobbies, ‘Cause it doesn’t sound, doesn’t sound important enough. Does it really? And when I think of hobbies, I think of like making model airplanes, which absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t sound important enough. But op and op, an opposite world where you can get into flow and rejuvenate where you are not in that competitive identity of the, the working harder and harder and harder. Because sometimes we can do that because I know people that sort of set up charities or sort of, I don’t know, run religious organizations or run this or run that and that’s just more hard work really.

[00:26:12] Nick: A, agreed. It’s, um, you’ve gotta think what is genuinely opposite, I think. And when you think opposite, I think what I’ve learned is what’s the opposite mindset from your work one?. So, one, um, leader I was speaking to, he said he’s quite an extrovert. And so at the conference I was doing the speech at and he was saying to the big group. He said, I’m an extrovert. So people sort of naturally think my opposite would be to be an introvert, be on my own. And he goes, no, but it’s not. My opposite is to be around people, but in a social environment. And so I said, well, how’s that opposite? He goes, people don’t need anything from me. I don’t feel like I’m serving people when I’m in that social environment with friends.

[00:26:56] Nick: So you’ve gotta identify what is the core opposite part that needs to shift? If you’re going off run a charity, if you’re going off to do fundraising, Is that still being the responsible one who is serving everyone, putting yourself at the service of everyone? That’s probably the part you need to do opposite. When I, I wrote a LinkedIn post on it and it got the most interactions, comments, likes of any post I’ve ever done. And the final question I’d ask is, what, what’s your opposite world? And hundreds people. Opposite worlds below it. So it was good little research tool I went through and categorized, like, do they fall into different buckets? And they did.

[00:27:38] Nick: So the six buckets that you might consider, in order of popularity really, physical activity, artistic, crafts, music instruments, painting, that sort of thing. Nature was third. Home tasks, um, renovations, doing something to your house, that sort of thing. Animals was the fifth one. Doing things with animals, with pets on the farm. And the sixth one was volunteering.

[00:28:13] Nick: And so that’s a sort of good place to start if you’re like a lot of people would go, I just don’t know. The second thing to do is think about when you were younger, before you got so busy in life, what did you used to love to do, but you’ve stopped doing because work, family, other commitments became too important?

[00:28:33] Rachel: That’s a very interesting question and I, again, a lot of us when we were younger used to love competitive sports or. Music to a high level because that’s what we’ve done. And so it’s, I, I think that’s quite difficult to actually pull out which bit that we used to love to do is the achievement based bit and what is, what is a hobby, but it’s doable. And I think actually people just need to go, go and try it, right? But yourself to an evening class making pottery and see like that or go, go sing in a choir or you know, go play tennis. Just work out what, which bits build you up and which bits don’t, right?

[00:29:10] Nick: Yeah, it, it, you’re dead right. It is an exploration. Um, that’s what I had to do. I had to, you know, I learned about this and I thought, this is really good. And, you know, I started teaching it and then I’d think, Nick, what’s your opposite world? And I was like, Well, I don’t have one because I gave up things because I was focused on work and so I, you know, when I came back to New Zealand, I explored, that was the thing, to try something. So I tried mountain biking because I live in a mountain biking town. Sort of. It was quite good. I sort of liked the people I was with, but it wasn’t me. Um, I tried guitar and then I was like, this is actually really frustrating. Then I stumbled across, um, coaching and then later I’m like, that’s so obvious. That’s what I did growing up and loved it. Um, sports was a thing, was sitting right in front of me. So I think it does require experimentation in those different buckets.

[00:30:03] Rachel: if we go back to some of the causes, um, And I, when we spoke before, you were talking about these sort of six main causes that six or seven main causes that you’ve, you’ve found. And one is people that don’t, don’t really have hobbies. And I, I presume that’s what the opposite world thing comes, comes in. And we’ve talked about the, the old story that we have, the old success story that we have. We haven’t changed that success story. If it’s still about how much I achieve and how much money I’ve got, then that’s not gonna work. Um, were there any other causal factors that were surprising or helpful?

[00:30:36] Nick: Yeah, there were. And so I’m sort of, they feel to me more like correlations. Um, ’cause they might be causal, but we couldn’t say for sure. But certainly when we did these interviews, we heard these again and again in the interviews, which made us say, these are patterns that are definitely worth paying attention to.

[00:30:54] Nick: So, people who couldn’t switch off from work at the end of the day, and just kept going and going and going. Um, worrying about upcoming or past events over and over and ruminating on and on and on. Lack of boundaries between work and home. They just blurred together. Work ethic that is hard to turn off. Weekends, evenings, they just couldn’t stop having that urge to keep working. Fusing your identity with your work. Not like I’ve got a career, but I am my career. That’s who I am. I’m a doctor, I’m a lawyer, I’m a banker. And then lack of time or lack of prioritization in activities that recharge you. Basically opposite world activities.

[00:31:45] Rachel: It’s very difficult, isn’t it, when you find it that it’s not being able to switch off being anxious and worried, that is, that is correlated with burnout. It, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, isn’t it? I think if you can’t switch off and you’re anxious and worried you, you’re gonna be pro to burnout. But also the, the nearer you are to burnout, the more anxious and worried you often get. And so that’s very difficult to know if it’s that that’s caused it or the burnouts, burnouts causing that.

[00:32:12] Nick: Yeah. And I, based on the sort of work we’ve been doing with people, I don’t know if you need to know, you sort of look at it and go, eh, it feels about right, but it’s not, so, the solutions aren’t so linear as it’s this one. Therefore, the thing for you to do is.

[00:32:30] Nick: For example, um, we’ve been running these burnout, burnout and balance groups. And so it’s free sessions for people over a four month period, and they came together as a community. It was a bit of a pilot, bit of an experiment to see, um, based on our research insights, could we help people come together and help each other? And it turns out them just being able to talk about their experience for the first time with some other people they’d never met before. Um, that alone without any solution was enormously freeing and relaxing for them, and they felt like, oh, I’m not alone. Um, I’m not crazy. And the reason I’m doing some of this stuff is because this stuff used to make me successful or has made me successful at this point. So it’s sort of become ingrained in me. And we also had speakers come in who were sort of a couple of years ahead of ’em on the path. They were successful people who had burned out and here’s where they went next and how they got out of it.

[00:33:33] Nick: So without saying you’ve got a boundaries thing and let’s work on boundaries with you, and seemed more holistic. People can work it out for themselves if they’ve got the time and space and the sort of collisions with some other people.

[00:33:47] Rachel: I do think that people hearing stories, like you said before, is, is so, so powerful. And we hear this time and time again not related to burnout even. I was talking to, um, someone on the podcast about being the second victim and, and how if you make a medical error or something happens to your patient, you often the doctor or the nurse or whatev, whoever’s done it, often suffers a lot as the, the, the second victim. And on the podcast it was a, um, a trainee talking about when one of her patients had committed suicide. And everyone was very sympathetic and said to her, oh, don’t, you know, these things happen? But nothing made her feel better until her trainer came up to her and said, that happened to me.

[00:34:31] Nick: Ah.

[00:34:32] Rachel: That was the turning point for her, that it happened to someone else. She wasn’t effective in some way, and that it, it was, it was, it was okay. And I think with, with burnout, if you’ve got someone else saying, that happened to me and this has happened to me, and, uh, and then maybe a few, few steps ahead of you, it just sort of normalizes it and it, and, and it take, that takes away the shame and the guilt and the feelings of self-deprecation that you get when you think you are burning out. I’ve lost count the amount of doctors that have said to me, why can’t I cope? What is wrong with me? I’m weak.

[00:35:06] Rachel: So you get that double arrow, don’t you? Not just the I’m, I’m burning out, which is horrible enough, but I’m burning out and it’s my fault because I’m weak. Which is totally ridiculous. You could take that bit off and just say, oh, I’m burning out. Oh, now I can do something about it. But while you’ve still got the second arrow of, oh, and I, I’m just completely defective because that’s happening to me, I’m pathetic, I’m weak, take, take that away, then you actually got a chance of, of addressing it.

[00:35:32] Nick: Yes. I, I think that’s right. And that the story of the, um, the trainer, coming up and telling that story, you can’t script that as a solution. All it seems to me is you can create the conditions for those sorts of conversations to happen, which could be in some groups, which are happening over time, which is what we are doing. It could be in the organization itself, having mechanisms which promote those sorts of conversations happening or some forums for them. but that’s not something you can just go and teach people.

[00:36:04] Nick: So, :::::um, I’m sort of a proponent based on what we’re learning of people who are going through similar situations to each other can help each other enormously. And you can add in, here’s what we’re learning and here’s the patterns and here’s some tools and all that sort of thing. In addition, there’s a real power, it seems to be with the people being together. ‘Cause they feel so isolated. We heard so many just say, I thought it was just me and I thought I was going crazy. And they’re really not. It’s, it’s super common.

[00:36:33] Nick: Um, someone told me a story actually, when she left the organization, and she wrote a post on LinkedIn to say, um, about her experience. She burned out, you know, URA is very successful, but then she burned out. She left the organization. And so here’s what happened to me. Put it out there. Said she had all these, um, emails from people going, oh, that was, I’m so glad you wrote that post. That’s exactly what happened to me. She was like, Hold on a second. That’s not what happened to you. You went off because you wanted to go and pursue this great new opportunity. You went off because you were so excited about this thing you were gonna do outside of, it’s like, she was like, no one said that. I thought it was just me. But it turns out that was happening to everyone. So I think there’s something about sort of normalizing it, making it so we can talk about it and making it safe.

[00:37:23] Rachel: So, Nick, with all this new understanding of actually the factors that that lead to burnout and the factors that will sort of help mitigate, was there anything else apart from the this opposite world stuff that you found was really super protective or would really help somebody recover and make sure that they didn’t go off into burnout again?

[00:37:43] Nick: Yeah, there’s, there’s some sort of tactical things and then there’s the sort of deeper, more profound path. So the ta, one more tactical thing, which was useful, came from the same, um, guy who, uh, told me about his opposite world.

[00:37:58] Nick: He talked about mechanisms at his workplace. They used mechanisms to create certain sorts of behaviors. And he said that he could never get himself to take vacations or take breaks and everyone would say, take a vacation. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But he would never do it ’cause there was too much work on. So the mechanism he created for himself, he said that one thing I am good at doing is following my calendar. If it’s in my calendar, I will do it. And so the mechanism, mechanism he created was called the 1 1 1 mechanism, which was he started booking at the start of the year. Every year he booked in a long vacation. Every quarter. He booked in a short vacation and every month he booked in one day off. And he says, because it was in the calendar, it just happened automatically. I did it. I didn’t need to willpower, I didn’t need to remind myself. I just did it. I was like, that’s worth great. I thought I could do that. So I copied him and for the first time in a long time, took a very long surfing vacation with the whole family. The four, uh, my wife and our four boys. And rather than the boys being on screens and us arguing about getting off screens, everyone was in the surf every day. And the boys get up every morning, can we go surfing? Can we go surfing? And we’d be out there in nature as a family laughing, learning. It was really good. And we came back super refreshed. So that’s one thing you might consider or your, your listeners might consider, is could they use a 1 1 1 mechanism? Very simple. Very easy, really.

[00:39:27] Nick: Those are some of the tactical things you try. People want tactics. The real work is this. Um, we found there was a sort of a burnout curve that people would slide, slide down first. They had a, a great work ethic. They ended up in an organization, um, where there was endless work. Didn’t matter how much they worked, there was always more given to them. Um, they’d start to get some warning signs, which they ignored. When they started to become less productive, their solution was work harder, ’cause that’s what had always got ’em through. They did that and they get worse and worse and they’d slide down. Eventually they’d end up with a state called allostatic overload, where they borrowing resources from their body and you stay in that state for too long. Your body will shut you down and your mind will shut down. And that’s what happens to people. And that’s sort of the, the dip.

[00:40:18] Nick: The interesting thing from the people we’ve, um, interviewed who came out the other side of it in a really healthy way and continued to perform really well, they had a common pattern out the other side, and it was, they realized the trap was for people to think the solution is rest. What I need to do is take a week off, a month off, or even a year off, and then I’ll feel better. They did that and they did feel better, but then they went back unchanged to an unchanged workplace, an unchanged culture, and they worked exactly the same way. And that’s just the same cycle. They burned out again.

[00:40:56] Nick: What actually worked is people had to think, I need some outside perspectives. I need to work out how to work differently. ‘Cause the way I’m working isn’t working so consistently, they got. New ways of looking at their situation from, could be counselors, could be coaches, could be therapists, could be Pearse, could be family members, but they needed some outsiders to knock them off their old groove. Challenge their thinking, question them. Why are you thinking like that? That’s crazy, Rachel. Why are you doing it like that? Lots and lots of things which collide against you. Um, then they need to reflect.

[00:41:31] Nick: Next step up the curve was they need to reflect deeply on their past. How had they got into the situation? What was the, what was driving them so hard that they would drive themselves into the ground? What was those beliefs or stories? Um, then they needed to think deeply about their future. They need to have a new vision for how they wanted to be and work and live. Who do they wanna be for the next 10 years? Then they had to take action, experiment, try some new things you haven’t done before. New ways of working, new boundaries. And that those new actions produce new insights.

[00:42:07] Nick: Eventually the people kept going down this path. They ended up in a state where they could get back to some sustainable work, but they ended up experiencing post-traumatic growth or post um, burnout growth. They described looking back that they weren’t the same person they were, who burned out if they found themselves in the same situation again, it wouldn’t be the same. ’cause that’s not who they were anymore. They, they didn’t even bounce back in terms of resilience. They bounced forward. They were, they were someone new. They were the next version of themselves. Now that’s quite hard work to go through that curve, but ultimately that’s what the people did who had a sustainable path out.

[00:42:51] Rachel: Allostatic overload. Can I just ask you a bit about that? Can you just explain a little bit more about that? Um, on, that’s on the curve going down, isn’t it?

[00:42:59] Nick: Yeah, it is. So Allostasis is a, um, it’s a state when you, uh, your body can go into to lend you short-term reserves to get through a crisis. So you get into a fight or flight state, your body will release, um, different hormones, adrenaline, cortisol. And it’s helpful ’cause it can give you extra energy, but it’s sort of like a, uh, bank overdraft or a credit card debt. You’re not designed to live on that sort of energy. It’s very expensive on your body. But what we saw during the, um, during Covid and during other times as people sort of got into energetic debt and just stayed there and kept spending, and it’s fine in the short term, but if you stay in there, you are at real risk of burnout.

[00:43:45] Rachel: Okay, that makes sense. So you, you really, really deplete yourself and you deplete your stores. Because this is really challenging that the solution is not rest. Well, I mean, you have to rest. I mean that the short term solution is rest, isn’t it? And I’m just thinking of our listeners might be saying, yeah, but Nick, I can’t take that much time off. I can’t rest that much. And I’m gonna go back into exactly the same situation. Because if you are a, if you’re a neurosurgeon working at tertiary center and you’re settled in your family here, you, you’re not gonna go work anywhere else. It’s gonna be very difficult to change. And this takes a lot of time and doing. And there’s not a an an easy, you know, you’ve gotta go find a coach, you’ve gotta go find a therapist, you’ve gotta go and experiment. And if I go back to work and do this highly stressful job, I’m just not gonna have time to do any of that. So how on earth can I do that? Is there not a shortcut through?

[00:44:37] Nick: Um, depends how much change you require.

[00:44:41] Nick: We sort of found three different degrees of burn. First degree burn was sort of, um, you’ve got some stress, a little bit of overwhelm, but you are coping and you are still delivering. For that sort of thing, an opposite world. Uh, you know, the typical self-care things would be very good. You know, all the stuff everyone’s heard about. Those are ideal solutions. You don’t need to make big changes.

[00:45:04] Nick: if you’re down at second degree burn, the stress is chronic. It’s never going away. You can’t switch off from work. It’s sort of there all the time. You’re starting to feel overwhelmed. You don’t need to do something more serious.

[00:45:15] Nick: If you get down to third degree burn your body starts shutting down. Well, you might not have a lot of time, but you are in a serious situation at that point, and you are not becoming, you’re starting to become not much help to people.

[00:45:31] Nick: So this, if you are a, you’ve gotta fit it to your circumstances. It might be, um, that you are going to do it through self-reflection. I don’t know. How much time is it to get a coach these days? They’re everywhere.

[00:45:43] Rachel: The thing I’ve noticed that that’s a very difficult thing is yeah, I would it be encouraging people to get a coach when you, when you’re in that first degree burn or even, or even seeing it’s help, think, think things through. But coaching, it’s, it’s not really finding a coach. There’s lots of coaches out there. It’s actually the time it takes to have the coaching. That, that, that seems to be the, the issue because there’s lots of. Free coaching resources in the NHS, but people just don’t access them because they don’t think they have the time. But the more urgent it gets, the more you’re gonna put the time in. But the more urgent it gets, the harder it’s gonna be to get out of those, those patterns, isn’t it?

[00:46:19] Rachel: That’s the problem. It’s a sort of vicious, vicious cycle. You know, if you, if you’re in third degree burn, you’re like, I have got to sort this out ’cause I’m feeling so. So atrocious and then you might, you know, start to, so you know, it’s just trying to encourage people, do it early, recognize, like you said, recognize the signs and those warning signs early so you can start on this journey, right?

[00:46:38] Nick: I think that’s a good point, Rachel. Actually, one of the things we noticed, you know that curve I described, you don’t need to go all the way down the bottom to actually get the growth on the right hand side. We saw that people could sort of circumvent the big dip and just go straight across, get the warning signs and go straight across and start doing some of that reflection with a coach or on your own, and then going up towards the growth. It’s a lot faster and a lot less painful, frankly, than saying, I’m not gonna do anything until I’m at third degree burn and everything’s falling apart.

[00:47:11] Rachel: Yeah. And a lot better for your family, patients, work colleagues as well, I would think if you can circumvent the getting right down to the bottom of that curve, right?

[00:47:21] Nick: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No doubt about it.

[00:47:24] Rachel: Nick, this is, this is totally fascinating to me. There’s so much to think about and that that concept of first and second degree and third degree burn I think is really helpful for people to recognize. And I actually, I always think that by the time people recognize they’re in burnout, they’re a lot further down than they actually, than they actually think they are.

[00:47:43] Nick: I think that’s dead right. We heard from people who looking back said, oh god, what was I thinking? It was so obvious. Um, someone said my hair was falling out and even then I didn’t recognize it. And so yeah, that’s very common pattern. They don’t recognize it until later and they look back and they go, it was so obvious.

[00:48:02] Nick: The, then it’s partly, um, have you got people who can point it out to you? Is it safe to do that in your culture? Are you the sort of people, person that people would feel comfortable saying it to? Or would they feel too scared to say it to you? So a culture of being, I’ve seen this in medicine, people just being able to say, Hey, how are you going? I’ve noticed lately you’ve been a bit off, you’ve been a bit short. And people have said, wow, if he or she is saying that to me, it really gets their attention. But is it, are you in a culture where that’s safe to do?

[00:48:37] Rachel: as a GP, we constantly had people coming to us for to be signed off sick with stress, and the opening gambit was always my friend told me to come. My boss told me to come. It was like someone, someone had said something or given them permission to come. Very interesting.

[00:48:55] Nick: Yeah. That is interesting. Yeah. Uh, that’s what it requires. Often we are often the last to notice.

[00:49:00] Rachel: Yeah. So if any listeners are noticing this in their colleagues, please say something. I was having a conversation with someone the other day, actually, I think I mentioned it on, on one of the other podcasts that I’ve done, but their very close colleague, they could tell that they were burnt out. And I said, well, why didn’t you take, so, why didn’t you say something? Oh, we can’t say anything. ’cause it would upset them too much and might sit them over the edge. I’m thinking that’s almost the opposite of what you need to do. Sort of, it’s, it’s, we care for you so much that we have noticed this and how can we help? ’cause actually this person’s just gonna continue until, you know, people do burn out quite spectacularly and bad stuff happens, unfortunately, and ugh, it’s quite, it’s quite scary.

[00:49:43] Nick: We’re Not very educated or sophisticated in this area. We are in other areas of society and we’ve become much better at, you know, in this space, and we know what to do if this happens. I’d say in this particular area, We are very early on in our understanding of how to talk about it, what to do about it, um, how do we speak to someone else about it. So I think any work that’s being done here I think is quite valuable.

[00:50:12] Rachel: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. So encouraging listeners to go talk to people if they feel that they’re on the edge of burnout, but also if they see their colleagues just mention it. It could be the one thing that makes ’em go and get coach or seek help or go go see their doctor.

[00:50:27] Rachel: Nick, oh, this is so fascinating. Talk to you forever. We’ll probably have to get you back, if that’s okay. If you, you happen to, to jump on one, one evening again. But just to sort of sum up what would be your top three tips from everything that you’ve learned in your research that you would really want people to understand or or to do in order to sort of get themselves away from that downward, downward dip?

[00:50:49] Nick: I’d say is when we started this research, it wasn’t about burnout, it was about growth. And so, because that’s my field was, um, leadership development, so I was very interested in growth. So our focus was on how do you grow. Let’s do interviews and work out how do people grow. And in the course of doing this, what we heard as well, I mean, growth’s nice, but I need perform. And then we said, okay, we’ve gotta have that there. The third thing was people said this whole issue about getting overloaded and burning out, and we just heard story after story after story. So in some senses the solution to burnout is very simple. It’s just stopped working and you’ll be fine.

[00:51:29] Rachel: Simples.

[00:51:30] Nick: Simple problem with that for my clients and I’m sure your listeners is, one, they’re not able to because they need a salary and they’ve got people who are relying on ’em and they’ve gotta pay bills. And two, they don’t want to. Like, their career is an important part of their life. So the, the question you’ve gotta think about is, how do I get the balance right, not just with how do I not burn out, but how do I perform and grow slash learn and then not burn out? Think of those three things together. ’cause it’s gotta be holistic. Um, would be one starting point.

[00:52:06] Nick: The second one is clearly just recognizing the importance of switching to another zone. And, you know, rest doesn’t quite sound right. You know, you should rest, you should recover. It just, it doesn’t motivate people, it doesn’t get people into the right space. So something which is motivating, like finding your opposite world I think is crucial, ’cause we’ve seen people will go out and do that and talk about it and role model it. Busy, ambitious people will do that. Um, so I think that’s an important one.

[00:52:43] Nick: The third one is there are periods in your life when you need to evolve. The thing we see that gets people in trouble is they don’t evolve. They’re still living like they are 23 years old. Um, life changes. Values changes. You go through life stages. Don’t be afraid to update your operating system, because there’ll be periods of your life where that’s actually the solution. The solution is not rest. The solution is growth. And sometimes it’s scary for people, but the way out is to grow.

[00:53:21] Rachel: Wow. I think that is, well, that’s incredibly helpful. Personally, Nick, actually, and particularly the thing about rest, because I tell people to rest all the time, but they don’t. But I, I can see a very driven person going, well, I’m not gonna rest, but I can go and find my opposite world. Something that they can do. And people like to get into action, don’t they? And rest doesn’t feel like getting into action, even though it’s really important. But if they could go find that opposite world, which will then help them to rest, I think

[00:53:52] Nick: Yeah. What does risk look like? a c e o of one of the finance companies, you know, when he heard about this, he started writing, he is writing on the LinkedIn post, actually motor racing. It, not as in watching it, doing it, so motor racing, and I’m like, okay, that would not be it for me, but for him, it was like, you couldn’t, you’d never call that rest. He didn’t wanna rest, but get him driving really fast cars, it did the same job as rest. It was active. There was adrenaline, but it was not, there was no work, there was no emails, there was no responsibility of being a CEO. So I think that is much more doable for people.

[00:54:30] Rachel: Nick, it is been such a pleasure having on the podcast. Now, you mentioned you, you, you blog a lot on LinkedIn and how can people find you if they want to find out more about your work?

[00:54:40] Nick: Yeah, that’s the best way. Um, just Nick Petrie on LinkedIn, The insights, the opposite world, all the other things we’ve found are on there.

[00:54:49] Rachel: Great. Okay. So if you wanna find out more, then I really encourage people to have a look at that. And con, presumably people contact you through LinkedIn if they, if they want to.

[00:54:58] Nick: Yes.

[00:54:58] Rachel: Great. Nick, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. We’d love to get you back another time ’cause I’m sure there’s much, much more we can talk about. So will you come back?

[00:55:06] Nick: Yes. Very happy to, Rachel.

[00:55:08] Rachel: She said putting you on the spot, but brilliant. Thank you so much for your time and have a good evening.

[00:55:13] Nick: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.

[00:55:14] Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. And if this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at hello@youarenotafrog.com. I love to hear from you. And finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.