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Beware of the Boom – Bust Cycle

‘Boom – Bust’…. ‘Hero – Zero’… ‘All or nothing’…. Phrases used in commonly in a variety of situations, especially competitive ones.

To date I’ve seen people go about their day-to-day work in a range of ways. Some will need encouragement around tasks because they may have self-doubt. Some people are like clockwork and show up, work in their sweetspot and step away, ready to go again tomorrow. And then there are some people who I see, that are enthused to work, to push, to go above and beyond, push their own boundaries….‘Boom’ and when I see this… the question that comes to my mind is…. 

“Is this behaviour sustainable?”

The reason this comes to my mind is I’m conscious of whether that person is cashing cheques that they may not be able to pay (hypothetically). This brings in the notion of the ‘Boom – Bust Cycle’. An individual may become enthused about something and feel energised or motivated and start committing to that with intense energy and focus. Now while they have the best intentions, there’s a concern that perhaps physically they may not be able to work at this rate without becoming injured or fatigued, or psychologically if they don’t allocate enough time to recovery or rest that they may get to a point where they experience more negative emotions or find it harder to concentrate.

At this point, if someone has the belief that they need to work or train like a hero, and this seems like an unachievable option (due to not having the energy there to do this) that person may stop all-together. We’d associate this with the ‘Bust’ part of the cycle. Tiredness, lack of motivation or perhaps guilt that they know how they’d like to work, but they don’t have the energy to do it. You may have heard of the term burn-out and this may be similar. During this part of the cycle the individual may take what feels like forced rest or could have little enthusiasm.

After a period of reduced activity, and the possible guilt that goes with it, the individual can start to increase their energy stores and start to feel like themselves again, with an energy source that they want to direct. This is a critical time-point. If when they feel more energised, they start to set about unsustainable behaviours and habits then we would see them re-enter the cycle, back into a Boom phase.

So, what if this resonates with you? What if you feel like you find yourself working between 110% and 30%?

There are a few ways to tackle this. Some of our formulas and habits will look at recovery behaviours, prioritising or ring-fencing ways to facilitate your recovery while you are working intensely. This differs from person to person, but I encourage you to find what works for you… for me it can be walking my dog or jumping on the bike to exercise.

Another way would be to consider your beliefs about your efforts. You may have underlying perfectionist tendencies or irrational beliefs about what you feel you ‘should’ or ‘need’ to do. For example, my work in the military, it takes some work to get people to feel ok with only going in to the gym for a 30 min session. But, if they always feel like they need to do a 2-hour session then I know the chances of them entering a boom-bust cycle are much higher. Same with me ‘exercising’… sometimes if I’m exercising for well-being I have to remind myself that I’m not jumping on the bike in The Tour de France… that way I make the behaviour a lot more achievable and sustainable.

Explore the formulas and habits with your recovery in mind. Consider your end of day scores too. If I’m a leader I’m taking a steady 8/10 performer over one who could be a 10/10 but also could be a 4/10 every time. Working to find your sustainable sweet-spot is key!

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