How I Overcame the Awful Pain of Burnout

The walk to the gym.  

It was a walk I had been doing for over 2 and a half years as I had been training for the Spartan Race. In my first race in October 2012, I finished in 334th. But after over 2 years of hard training I had worked my way up to finishing 7th – a mere 2 spots away from where I could legitimately begin talking to sponsors.

My goal was almost achieved! 

But on this day I looked down the street at the gym and my only thought was:

“I just can’t do this.”

On this day, I just could not bring myself to push through the gym doors. I tried every willpower strategy I could. I brought my mind to the present, I focused on achieving small wins on my way to the gym and tried to remember my purpose for being there.

But none of it worked. I was completely burnt out. 

Then I became overwhelmed by negative thoughts.

How can I write about willpower when I don’t even have the strength to go to the gym? I’m such a hypocrite.

I’m going to fall so far behind the pack in the Spartan Race. What happens if I actually do worse on the next race? What will my friends and family think?

I’m no athlete. I’m no willpower scientist. I’m probably going to fail at Willpowered too.

It was one of the lowest moments I have felt in recent memory. And this is how I overcame it. 


Because burnout is such a big problem in our over-extended, over-worked and over-stressed society, it has incurred a lot of myths. So let me first define what burnout really is.

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

-       Physical and emotional exhaustion

-       Cynicism and detachment

-       Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment [1]

And I was dealing with all of them.

Not only was I exhausted, but my mind was starting to wander to thoughts that had not entered my mind in a very long time. As a practitioner of mental strength exercises, I do just about everything I can to stop these kinds of thoughts from popping into my head.

Yet there they were.

It seemed as if all of my doubts, fears and insecurities had hit me all at once. This was far more than just exhaustion, this was a feeling of loss of self-worth and competence. 


Burnout occurs when you overload your to-do list, try to do things with a superhero-like level of willpower, and inevitably fail to live up to your own expectations.  

It is not the overloading itself that is the cause of burnout, it is the psychological torture that you put yourself through for not living to your expectations and completing everything on your to-do list.

Not having the energy to go to the gym after exerting all of my willpower writing, researching and creating my class is not burnout. That is simply a fact. I did not have the energy to go. 

Burnout occurred when I started beating myself up about it. It happened when I started envisioning all of the nightmare scenarios of letting other people down and not living up to the high standards I set for myself.

Feeling this guilt, doubt and fear actually has the ability to lower your willpower. Then with lower willpower, you have less energy, leading you to feel even worse! This creates a self-destructive doom-loop, resulting in the conclusion of burnout. [2]


Overcoming the burnout that I felt that day was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Burnout is a sign that what you are doing right now is not sustainable – so something has to give.

To overcome burnout, some tough decisions need to be made. 

For the first 2 years of my Spartan training, that was my willpower outlet. I was working full-time marketing positions where I ultimately felt unfulfilled, was researching the science of willpower on the side and I used the Spartan Race as the platform to apply everything I was learning.

I used my willpower to follow the proper diet, to wake up at 3am to train before work, and to push myself beyond my physical limits. Training for this long taught me a lot about what it truly takes to be mentally strong.

But then one day in March I wrote an article called "10 Daily Habits That Will Give You Incredible Willpower" that blew up on the internet. This article single-handedly took Willpowered to the next level. That proved to me that Willpowered is going to become more than just “some blog I write”. It is going to become something important. 

So I started working as hard as possible to turn Willpowered into everything I believe that it can be. Which, of course, left me with less willpower to push my physical limits and achieve athletic greatness.  [3]

The day I hit burnout proved it. I had a big goal of making it onto the podium of the Spartan Race in 2015. But I knew I wouldn’t have the willpower to do that and work 80 hours/week on Willpowered. So I had to make a very difficult decision.

I had to focus on ONE goal. I had to set my priorities.


For me, the decision was obvious – I will make a much greater impact on the world by sharing the science of willpower than making it onto the Spartan Race podium – but that doesn’t mean it was easy.

After so many hours of dedicated effort, I had to be comfortable with changing my perspective toward the Spartan Race. It had to go from the outlet of my willpower, focus, and determination, into simply a hobby.

But once I made that decision, everything else became clear. I had one goal, one focus and one thing to exert my willpower on. All of my doubts, fears and burnout slowly started to melt away and things seemed right with the world once again.

It was a tough decision – and one that led to my worst finish in the Spartan Race since 2013 – but I have made peace with that. The Spartan Race is not my true calling. Strengthening the willpower of the world, one person at a time, is.

When you come across burnout in your own life, use it as opportunity for you to pause and reflect. Learn where you are over-extending yourself and rigorously set your priorities. 

The decision to cut something important may not be easy, but - I can tell you from experience - it will be worth it. 


Burnout is a pain that is worse than mere exhaustion. I causes you to question your own abilities and self-worth in all aspects of your life. Unfortunately, your willpower is a finite resource. And over-extending yourself will leave you feeling stressed, tired and hopeless.

There is a reason that Michael Jordan wasn’t good at baseball. Despite all of his athletic ability, he was only able to achieve greatness when he focused on what he did best. If you encounter burnout, use it as an opportunity to reflect on your life and rigorously set your priorities. You will be happier and healthier because of it!


  1. Carter, D. (2013, November 26). The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout ... Do You Have Them?
  2. Adams, C., & Leary, M. (2007). Promoting Self–Compassionate Attitudes Toward Eating Among Restrictive and Guilty Eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(10), 1120-1144.
  3. Baumeister, Roy F., Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne M. Tice. "Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74.5 (1998): 1252-265