Tips from Google’s resilience expert on avoiding burnout
A college soccer player, Lauren Whitt was sidelined by two knee injuries that took her off the field during her sophomore and junior year. This was incredibly frustrating — she'd played soccer most of her life and had even won a Pan-American gold medal with the U.S. Youth National Soccer team. She realized she was going to need to find a way to cope.
“I began to study the idea of resilience more,” Lauren says. “How it changes your body and your life. It sort of became my personal mission.” A few years later, it became the subject for her doctoral dissertation — today, it’s the focus of her work.
Lauren is the head of global resilience at Google, a job that’s been crucial this last year. Even as vaccines become available, so many stressors remain: Searches for the term “pandemic fatigue” increased more than 300% during the past month in the U.S., and “job burnout quiz” was a breakout search over the past three months. These things are exactly what Lauren hopes to alleviate through her programs that help Googlers build resilience, deal with stress and develop skills to tackle new challenges.
But resilience isn’t only about helping people cope with the negative; it’s also about giving them more room to experience the positive. Lauren wants to help Googlers feel creative and productive so they can thrive at work. “I’m so passionate about this work because I think that while I’m not personally making something that launches us all into the future, I can help the people at Google who are doing that be their best.”
First, though, it’s important to know what resilience truly means. Lauren describes it as the capacity to bounce back. “Resilience is the ability to respond and recover from stress. To feel successful it's important to be able to take on intense challenges, and then pause to reflect on what went well and what didn't, so we can go into the next project,” she explains.
Being resilient on the job doesn’t mean working nonstop, but working smarter. She says it’s not a matter of endurance, but of focusing on a task and then taking a break to tackle the next challenge in your best physical and mental shape. “All of us are constantly in a position where we can cultivate resilience and strive to be mentally stronger, especially during those moments when we have to perform at our best, like a big work presentation or a sensitive meeting,” Lauren adds. “Showing up and being present is a challenge for everyone, so by cultivating resilience we get new tools, behaviors and mindsets to take on challenges in different ways.”
At Google, Lauren says we’ve even seen that people with higher resilience have lower possibilities of burnout. Fortunately, resilience is something anyone can develop. Here are six tips Lauren uses in her work here at Google:
1. Establish a morning routine. Starting the day consistently grounds you and gives you certainty and security.“Whether you're working from home or from an office, it’s that consistent routine of how you start your day that prepares you for what’s to come,” Lauren says.
2. Take mental recovery breaks throughout the day. Choose moments to reset instead of jumping to the next task or issue immediately. “Whether it’s ending a meeting five minutes early or taking a 10-minute walk, these intentional breaks are important to help you reconnect and recover,” Lauren says.
3. Stick to a sleep schedule. Sleep isn’t just about recharging, but also gives you consistency every night. “Our sleep routines are the best opportunity to reach into our minds and be able to recover from any of the stressors of the day.”
4. Be intentional with the stories you tell yourself. “Consider what you tell yourself and the meaning you give to your activities. Stop listening to things that aren’t intentional, because our thoughts are not always helpful or true. Instead, start talking to yourself with thoughts of positivity, optimism, hope or gratitude.”
5. Plan ahead. “Plan that things are going to go well, but have contingency plans in place in case they don't,” Lauren says. Instead of being surprised by a problem, thinking about things that could go wrong helps manage stress better if you need to react.
6. T.E.A. Check. At Google we use a daily exercise to be aware of our thoughts, energy and attention. Notice how your resilience is changing over the course of the day, and turn your focus where it needs to be.