In our fast-paced, hyper-connected world defined by the pressure to do more than ever before, it’s no wonder that today’s workforce is in the throes of a burnout crisis. It’s this crisis that has, at least in part, led to trends like quiet quitting and the newest rage: Bare Minimum Mondays.
But are quiet quitting and its variations really the solution? Having experienced and recovered from severe burnout myself, my answer is a resounding “no.”
My own burnout journey began when I was just a child. I was born in an area in today's Kyrgyzstan, near the border of China. I grew up poor, so I vowed to do whatever it took to have a better life—even if it meant making big sacrifices.
I began working at the age of 10, and by 14, I was studying in university. At 16, I owned a business, earning more than my parents. At 19, I got a full scholarship at MIT, and by 23, I sold my space tech startup, having become the youngest exec in the world aerospace industry.
Sounds like a dream? It didn’t feel like one. I was very successful, but completely miserable.
I was 25 when I realized I couldn’t do that any more. I decided to quit my job and study the human brain instead of sending satellites into space. A major goal was to figure out how people can experience both joy AND success. That includes preventing burnout.
One of the many exciting things I discovered is that we have the power to influence what happens in our brain. But to use that power, we need to understand what’s happening. When it comes to burnout, what’s happening is that the brain’s neurons get overexcited. The connections between them go haywire and our nervous system goes into overdrive. That’s why we wind up with those burnout feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted and drained.
This is, of course, a very big simplification of a very complex process. But it serves the purpose of helping us understand what’s happening so we can influence it.
To help myself and others do just that, I created a system for color-coding our mental state at any given moment along a scale of minus 10 to plus 10. I call it Neuro Balance. Imagine, for example, that your neurons are so fired up that you’re having trouble controlling your actions and are behaving irrationally, including saying things you will regret later. That state is a plus 10. Plus 2 or plus 3 is an ideal state for getting things done: we’re activated, but in control. At zero, we are in a place of peace, joy and openness. We’re in the present moment, observing and receptive to whatever comes our way.
By paying attention to how we feel, we can gauge what zone of the spectrum we are in, and correlate it with the following 3 color-coded zones:
Red (+4 to +10): Our nervous system is in overdrive. We feel overwhelmed, anxious, and super-sensitive to our surroundings. It's time to take a step back and breathe.
Blue (-4 to -10): Our nervous system is inhibited. Here, we feel disconnected, numb, and disinterested. We need to find ways to re-engage and energize ourselves.
Green (-3 to +3): This is where we experience mental balance, allowing for clear thinking, focus, effective communication, and motivation. The ultimate goal is to spend at least 80% of our time in the green zone.
The first step to preventing burnout using this system is to develop self-awareness by stepping back and color-coding your mental state three times a day: morning, lunchtime, and evening. This will help you recognize patterns, pinpoint when you're in the red or blue zones, and make adjustments. The next steps, once you have identified your patterns, are to:
Adjust Your Schedule. Plan your day with your mental state patterns in mind. Doing so can help you minimize exposure to stressors and triggers, keeping you in the green zone more often.
Identify Destabilizing Factors. Keep track of activities or situations that push you out of the green zone. Knowing these triggers allows you to reduce exposure and stay balanced.
Explore Balancing Activities. Figure out what activities help you return to the green zone. Whether it's spending time with loved ones, practicing yoga, or going for a nature walk, make these activities part of your daily routine to maintain mental balance.
By tuning into your nervous system with the Neurobalance approach, you'll become more self-aware, which will empower you to proactively manage your mental well-being. As you spend more time in the green zone, you'll perform better thanks to clearer thinking. You’ll experience stronger connections, less burnout and, above all, far more joy.
About the author
Katerina Lengold is a former space tech entrepreneur turned brain researcher and mental health advocate. By the age of 23, Katerina sold her space tech startup, ImageAiry, and had become the youngest executive in the world aerospace industry. After severe burnout, she turned her interest from launching satellites to studying the human brain. A graduate of MIT, Katerina started college at age 14 and holds multiple degrees, including in computer science, business administration, economics and data science. She also received a certificate in interpersonal Neurobiology from the Mindsight Institute.