Ever roll over and smash the snooze button countless times. Does getting up for work feel like a drag? Are you struggling to get through to the weekend?

And I bet you have seen those people at work who have suffered to burnout spiral and become sleep walking shells of their former self.

Well, maybe you’re just tired. But tired isn’t burnout. Tired is tired. Get more sleep and you’re not tired anymore. So what does real burnout feel like?

Studies show that three things happen: you become chronically exhausted; you become cynical and detached from your work; and you feel increasingly ineffective on the job.

So ah it must be time for a holiday right, that’ll fix it?

Nope… Research shows that’s like a band aid on a bullet wound. You feel better for a while but then the problem will come back in fine form.

…work engagement significantly increased and teachers’ burnout significantly decreased after vacation. However, these beneficial effects faded out within one month… job demands after vacation sped up the fade-out of beneficial effects.

So what does all of this mean? What is burnout and how do we avoid it? Time for some real answers…



Burnout isn’t being overworked or not getting enough rest.

Burnout is job-induced depression. We commonly refer to the problem as “burnout,” but what’s fascinating is that psychologists have realized that burnout isn’t just an acute overdose of stress; it’s pretty much plain ol’ clinical depression. The paper, “Comparative Symptomatology of Burnout and Depression,” said, “Our findings do not support the view hypothesizing that burnout and depression are separate entities.”

When work just gets too frustrating and pursuing your career goals feels futile, you become pessimistic. And the father of Positive Psychology,  Martin Seligman explains that “depression is pessimism writ large.”

Seligman’s work also shows optimism promotes persistence. When we expect good things to happen, it’s rational to be more resilient.

So burnout is actually the flip side of grit. When you’re not clicking with your role, you’re overloaded, and your duties aren’t aligned with your expectations or values, it’s not merely the stress that gets to you; you actually experience a perspective shift. You feel you can’t make progress, you disengage, and you eventually become cynical and pessimistic. Martin Seligman, finds that resilience often comes from optimism. Burnout is the result of a pessimistic attitude toward your job. “This isn’t getting me anywhere. I can’t handle this. It’s never going to get any better.

So how do you make sure you never end up in this boat? Well, if the root cause of depression is pessimism…

“Burnout isn’t being overworked or not getting enough rest.”


Optimism and pessimism all come down to the story you tell yourself about what happens to you. Researchers call this “explanatory style.”

There are three important elements here. Let’s call them the 3 P’s: permanence, pervasiveness and whether it’s personal.

Pessimists tell themselves that bad events:

  1. Will last a long time, or forever. (“I’ll never get this done.”)
  2. Are universal. (“You can’t trust any of those people.”)
  3. Are their own fault. (“I’m terrible at this.”)

Optimists, well, they see it the exact opposite:

  1. Bad things are temporary. (“That happens occasionally but it’s no big deal.”)
  2. Bad things have a specific cause and aren’t universal. (“When the weather is better that won’t be a problem.”)
  3. It’s not their fault. (“I’m good at this but today wasn’t my lucky day.”)

Seligman explains:

The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about. Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder.

Pay attention to the voice in your head. When it starts describing negative events as permanent, pervasive or personal, correct yourself.

By remembering the 3 P’s and flipping the script, Seligman says you can make yourself more optimistic over time.

So you’re looking on the bright side. Good. But is there anything that can make you downright immune to burnout? Yup…

“Burnout is the result of a pessimistic attitude toward your job.”


When you find true meaning, engagement and flow in your work it becomes a calling and you don’t burnout! Researchers Cary Cherniss and David Kranz found that burnout was “virtually absent in monasteries, Montessori schools, and religious care centers where people consider their work as a calling rather than merely a job.”

The Terman Study followed a group of people across their entire lives, from childhood to old age. What did they find?

Those who stayed very involved in meaningful careers and worked the hardest, lived the longest

Rose-colored glasses? Check. Found your calling? Check. But when the stress hits hard what’s the emotional fix you can dose up on to prevent burnout?


When you get busy at work, you often make less time for friends and family. Bad idea. That’s the emotional equivalent of being so overworked you stop eating and starve yourself to death.

Who handles stress the best? Those who increase their social activity when things get hard. Shawn Achor echoed this, “The people who survive stress the best are the ones who actually increase their social investments in the middle of stress, which is the opposite of what most of us do. Turns out that social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness we have when I run them in my studies.”

When the American Medical Association surveyed top doctors to find out how they avoided burnout, one of the key things mentioned was “sharing issues with family and friends.”



So we have covered a lot of ground. Lets sum up the main points so you can avoid burnout and focus on hitting those goals:

  • Burnout is depression: You’re not tired from your job; you’re pessimistic about your job.
  • Be optimistic: Remember the 3P’s. (Every one of my blog posts is always good and it is personally due to me.)
  • Look for meaning: I’m writing this to help you. So I’m not burned out. (But, man, am I tired.)
  • Focus on relationships: Work stress is a poison and friends are the antidote.

What is super interesting to note?

None of these fixes actually changes what you’re doing. Optimism and meaning only change your interpretation of what’s going on. And time with friends happens when work is done.

Working less doesn’t make your job less frustrating. It makes it less frequently frustrating. You can still be quite pessimistic about things you don’t do as much.

People have jobs far worse than yours and don’t get burned out. It’s about perspective.

You decide whether the glass is half-empty or half-full and whether you’re knocking it back with good mates or not.