How To Avoid Burnout And Stay Motivated

(Originally plubished in 1/27/2014)

I am in the process of gathering information for a much more comprehensive book about “How to avoid Burnout and How to stay motivated 24/7” so this blog post is an essential milestone to give the relevant information an early outlet. Hopefully, through comments and links that I will add later, this post will be a valuable resource later on.

We are not machines (Android Legacy: the Grid) Collab with Louis Konstantinou

First thing first: What is Burnout and how can I find out if I have it?

“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.”

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
 From http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm

According to Wikipedia; Burnout is not a recognized disorder in the DSM although it is recognized in the ICD-10 and specified as a “State of vital exhaustion” (Z73.0) under “Problems related to life-management difficulty” (Z73), but not considered a “disorder”.

This doesn´t make it any easier. Consulting a doctor about such issues can often result in being categorized with burnout, ADHS, whatsoever; these are nice names but don´t help anyone. The burnout prevention tips from that help guide-site are a good start, but to get into the matter of reflecting what causes it all, you have to dig deeper. Even if you don´t have burnout, it can help to read through this post to see what you can do and do just right to actively prevent it.

The first step would be to find information about what successful people do that help them to prevent a mental breakdown. There is this post from Chris Oatley which covers around 10 minutes about “How To Avoid Artistic Burnout“. He doesn´t give any help, but rather tells what he´s doing. Probably the same that is covered in the 5 minutes that Noah Bradley spoke about in his course “The Art Of Freelancing” This means there must be something that some people have in common that help them to avoid this kind of mental issue, but what is it?

The one and only rule:

According to countless research and empirical observation, there is one golden rule that all powerful, successful and creative people never break: “Focus on meaningful work all the time.”

Rockstars such as Bruce Springsteen, photographers like Annie Leibovitz, stage designers like Eiko Ishioka, all have one thing in common: they give/gave their best, pushed the boundaries, give/gave more than they actually have/had. For what purpose? Meaningful work and resonance. But when resonance is gone, what is left is the work that has to be done. Make it meaningful and it will be more fun than work. Easy as that.

What are the habits of highly productive creative people?

I will try to break these things down in a bulleted list. The artists mentioning that they don’t frequently experience creative block, depression or burnout, attribute it to the following reasons:

  1. They don´t procrastinate.
  2. They know that giving their best produces resonance, which in turn motivates to strive for even better work
  3. Many embrace working from home/on their own
  4. They are experienced with unstable situations, enabling them to embrace the new and unknown.
  5. They don’t hold prejudices against anything or anyone until they have shaped their own opinion.
  6. Highly successful artists focus at least 70% of their time on meaningful work.
  7. They get something done every day that means something to them on a personal level, even if it is just a 10 minute task.
  8. They keep up on self-assignments at all costs.
  9. They blog, do podcasts or find other ways to publish their experiences.
  10. They have fun doing what they love.
  11. They all have obtained a level of peer recognition or respect.
  12. These artists are not discouraged by the exceptional output of their fellow artists. Instead, they allow that work to inspire them to improve their own craft.
  13. They have eliminated negative thought from their work habits.
  14. These artists avoid negative media input from television, magazines, and newspapers.
  15. To them, monetary gain is a secondary pursuit.
  16. They maintain a healthy work-life-balance.
  17. They draw inspiration everywhere, from movies, to great architecture, to nature, etc…
  18. They know that even client work can be meaningful and have an even better resonance through collaborative effort.
  19. They all have CCD (Creative Compulsive Disorder(1))
(1)CCD (Creative Compulsive Disorder) may be the key to prevent burnout at any given time. There is no official paper about that; it is not even a disorder, but it is an important term coined by Zina Nicole Lahr. http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/12/creative-compulsive-disorder-remembering-zina-nicole-lahr/
It´s key indications are:
  • Inherent urge to create something new
  • Urge to be creative
  • A good feeling from finding new use from old things
  • Restlessness
  • Finding joy in changing small things every day
  • Finding joy in used things in a different way
  • Finding solutions for problems that no one else can relate to
  • Finding joy in things that everyone else would decline
  • Having fun in creative recycling

This all sounds nice and good, but how do I get away from Burnout to CCD?

We humans are not made of flesh and bone that is controlled by a brain; we also are slaves to our habits. Learning to focus on the rule is crucial: find out what is meaningful to you.

Changing habits is the key.

When you and yourself procrastinating because you are not having fun doing what you do, find a challenge in it. example: work against a timer.
Most are subtle tweaks to gain some fun in your gray and dull workday.
The next step is to make goals  for yourself. Make lists to achieve them, one for the goals and one  with plans to achieve them. This could be anything, and it not be work related. Write up a desired holiday location or a long-neglected dream, a show, whatsoever…. This way we get into our inner core and unearth what we truly want. Depending on your situation, this might take time. Someone with CCD has an easier time to get in synch with their inner voice because they are fully in tune with how it sounds. For someone who has neglected their inner voice for years, it can take time. Being patient with yourself is the first and most important thing to do.

Abandon negative media input

The first step is to abandon negative input. Sure, you can´t kick your boss or husband or brother in law, whatsoever, but you can switch off some serious sources of negativity: television, boulevard magazines, newspapers, messaging platforms such as facebook, skype, etc….

Opt out for a few weeks and you´ll notice a difference. Welcome to the real world – now you probably can read on and find use in the following tips.

Nothing was built in one day

Nope, not even Rome. Depending on the extensiveness of the situation, it can take a whole year until you are able to write down a list of things that come from your heart. It’s a good idea to carry a notebook with you to jot down things when they appear, whether it be on your way to work or in the restroom at the cinema; it is important to write it down. Don´t be afraid when you jump up at night and have an idea; this is a good thing.
When you are able to shape a list, make sure you differentiate short and long term goals. Color your lists in green for short term goals and solutions and red or orange for long-term goals, as well as their respective solutions.
Possible goals can include learning a new language, visiting XY show one day, exhibiting with this or that artist in a group show, publish a book or two, etc.
One common denominator of successful creative people is that they have goals, lots of goals and ideas, more ideas than they have time for.

The wrong idea about us is what we need to change

One thing I often have to explain is that it is vital to have an idea of yourself that the subconsciousness can adapt to. If we have the wrong idea about ourselves, how can anyone else perceive us as different?
If we want to change our “self-image” we need to find a role model, someone we emulate that represents the habits and ideals we are dreaming of.
I personally have many role models. I focus on certain attributes of each, and in the past 1-15 years, they have become me. These habits have changed the person that I was into the person that is on their way to be the best they can possibly be.


We all tend to be fooled by perception. I am no exception, but it is helpful when we can trust our inner voice in a split second. This gut feeling reveals the truth about someone or something that no Google search can replace.
Getting to that point is a lengthy process. It is neither helpful to generally distrust people, nor is it good to trust everyone.

Any coin has two sides

 “Burnout” and “CCD” are two sides of the same coin! It is on us to find the edge. We will always tend to be more on one side than the other. But in the long run, those walking on the edge will last out longer than the others.

Branching out

One secret to overcome demotivation is to branch out.
In terms of style, this is easy. You can try several different approaches and techniques, whatever makes you happy. By doing so you may find that something totally different makes you happier than painting or designing. Perhaps you may discover an affinity for teaching, writing or speaking.  In the best case, your actions and outlets look like a tree built up from the ground, one big stem giving birth to variety of branches  all turning towards the sun.
Focusing too much attention on one style for too long can be limiting.  It’s not just a drain on creativity, but it can also turn into a burnout as well since the motivation to keep up the work will decrease.
When you are branching out, know that there are several irons in a fire. If one is popular that is good, but it can get cold as easy as it got hot. The only way to stay with both feet on the ground is by tending your other branches.  Sure, it may keep you from quick success and  a high salary, but those health benefits may come with brief career with a quick exit.


Generally speaking, everyone has expectations, silent and loud ones. Silent expectations are the ones you keep for yourself, no one lives up to them except yourself. The loud ones cause in a good relationship positive stress, while unfocused, slammed into the room kind of expectations can cause pressure and negative stress, the same works for critique.
The latter works in a similar fashion, when you form a critique in your head and do that consciously, it can help you to get better with your own work, spoken out loud it can turn into misunderstanding and negative responses.
So it is really crucial to decide what you keep for yourself and which thoughts and be expressed loudly.
One final conclusion is that expectations, in general, are a bad thing, better is an opportunity based kind of anticipation that is far from a fix imagination of how things should be looking in your concept or worldview.

Make lists not war

A strong will and some self discipline combined with a smart use of lists can work wonders.
In addition to the long-term-goals-list, make some small daily lists. I suggest Post-Its since they are limited in space. If you write down things you have to do, limit yourself to the most important. If you need multiple Post-Is, then you are trying to focus on too much. Write another one for the next day.


From a psychological understanding, all human beings and  animals get angry if something we are accustomed to is cut back. It is in our nature. To avoid becoming angry, we need to change our perception and turn limitations into branching. Divide things we can do and want to into one branch and things we rather should not do on a list that involves necessary tasks.  But putting the fun back into our routine, we change our overal impressions  and thus come to a more relaxed state of mind, essential for productivity and avoiding burnout.

Surround yourself with motivated people.

Lastly, many of us struggle with a career in art because we hear the doubts of our parents and friends at any given time. What we really need are encouraging and honest words from friends that are constructive. There are a lot of vampires out there and trolls who just wait to suck out the valuable life juice and hope from you, avoid these people and you avoid burnout.
That´s it. I hope you found this advice useful.
If you have experienced burnout and want to address some of the points, (constructive hopefully) then feel free to contact me or jot it down in a comment!

About the Author Oliver Wetter

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