The problem of burnout is a common one among highly sensitive people. One of the most necessary aspects of what we do that will make it worthwhile is meaningfulness. When work lacks that quality, we too often will fall into a rut of either alienating ourselves by tuning out (in effect, becoming robots) or suffer in a position we come hate for far too long.
We know from Vantage Sensitivity, a well-researched theory that finds that we HSPs do far better in positive and supportive environments and far worse in negative and unsupportive ones, that the conditions we experience deeply effect how we feel, think, and function. This article’s focus on autonomy, mastery, and belonging is a simply a restating of Self Determination Theory’s autonomy, competence, and relatedness, the three components all people desire most. We HSPs are always on the leading edge of being effected by stimulation before others and experiencing that more deeply than less sensitive people.
Brad Stulberg’s discussion of obssessive passion versus harmonious passion is timely but is also the flow state of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi restated. For example, “harmonious passion is when an individual becomes completely absorbed in an activity because they love how the activity itself makes them feel” is autotelic and in line with Csikszentmihalyi’s flow experience. Csikszentmihalyi describes the flow state as a channel, rather like a river, with anxiety on one side of the river when over-challenged (skills do not match task) and boredom on the other side when the task is not challenging enough or we do not have control, immediate feedback, or the task is uninteresting.
Burnout is the intersection of boredom, lack of autonomy, lack of meaning, and a hyper awareness of a future orientation, when things will be better or at least one can leave the workplace. The flow state focuses us completely in the NOW, the present moment and dispels all anxiety and worry as the task at hand becomes absorbing and self-propelling.
We don’t necessarily become burned out because of too much work; rather, we burn out because the work lacks meaning, we have little control over how it is done, or the work itself is unchallenging. This isn’t to say that a repetitious task cannot be useful or that we cannot experience well-being from it. Indeed, we can use any repetitive task as a way to focus our attention on the here and now. The flow state can be raking leaves, digging a hole, or washing dishes. Burnout occurs when we have nothing but repetition.
Are you in a state of harmonious passion with you work? Do you experience the flow state often?
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person
(both now available as audiobooks)