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The Midweek Motivator – Conquering Fatigue

Life is a forced march through a series of career and family eras. As opposed to a continuous unbroken chain of events, for most of us, it’s a sine-wave of highs, lows, and the in-between. Semanticist Sidney Harris defined it: “A winner paces him or herself; a loser has but two speeds; hysterical or lethargic.” 

Think about it: at the opposite end of the “peak performance” hallway lie periods of time where fatigue sets our mood and pace. At that moment we’re led to say or think, “I’m too tired to deal with this right now.” Somewhere in the last couple of decades American society discovered a term and embraced it as if it were a cure for the common cold. Suddenly we heard it everywhere: “I’m burned-out.” At archaeology’s dig-site for words and meaning, we’re hard pressed to fully grasp a complete interpretation of what it really means to be “burned out.” Fair to say, the term did us no favors as a class of working people in a culture of success. Yet it didn’t stop there…leading us onward to disconcerting terms such as “meltdown.” And does that mean “burned out” is a preface to a “meltdown?” 

“Burned out” could apply to legendary United pilot Al Haynes when losing all of his cockpit controls, incredibly he calmly landed his mammoth aircraft using only throttles and yaw damper, saving almost two hundred lives! Or on a given day, a crisis at a Bronx SWAT precinct also qualifies. A temporary loss of music software or a talent’s resignation doesn’t. So we ask have we come to exchange an honest dose of mental, even physical fatigue, for a state of personal effectiveness. How did we get here? 

Think about it: consider the view that simply “being tired” should not derail our pursuit of important objectives and ultimate success. Being “tired” is not a hall pass for quitting, even coasting (at least not for very long). Actually fatigue can be a helpful barometer in our ongoing campaign to survive and conquer, whispering to us that it’s time to temporarily shift our energies from a high-intensity challenge to one that requires less energy and brainwork. When recognized and managed fatigue is not a malady but instead an important tool for self-navigation. 

Consider what behaviorists have now defined as the “fatigue cycle.” It’s real. Alertness and fatigue routinely occur in ninety minute cycles. Over a given week when you experience fatigue be assured the cycle is always short, followed by an “awareness window.” By shifting your focus and energy to another less demanding parallel priority, you naturally override fatigue then return to a state of peak performance. 

Each of us has a slightly different pattern but the important lesson is not simply that “fatigue is normal and to be expected,” but instead to personally grow and extend our talent and self confidence. They say Churchill-often credited as the greatest leader of the Twentieth Century-regularly took twenty minute naps that made his staff crazy, yet in the darkest hours revivified his intensity and uncanny leadership to the very end. 

Assess the difference between normal fatigue cycles and being “burned out.” Use fatigue cycles to enhance your performance instead of dictating the tempo of your life and career. Giving in to fatigue means “giving in.”