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In this episode we welcome Erica Cuni, The Burnout Professor, to explore the connection between goals, intentions, burnout, and wellbeing.
In This Episode
00:11 – Welcome and Introducing The Burnout Professor
01:47 – Erica’s Story with Burnout and Wellbeing
07:40 – Connecting Goals, Intentions, and Burnout
10:47 – Using Intentions in Your Professional and Personal Life
12:50 – Recognizing the Signs of Burnout and Toxic Systems
16:00 – Tips for Promoting Wellbeing at Work
18:25 – Role of Goals vs Intentions in Burnout and Wellbeing
21:03 – Goals, Intentions, and the Future of Work
22:10 – Reclaiming Your Power from Burnout and Chronic Stress
23:04 – Join the Conversation on Goals and Intentions
Connect with Erica, @TheBurnoutProfessor, on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook!
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Hey everyone, and welcome to WorkMinded. In today's episode, we'll take a deeper dive into intention mindset and goal mindset. In our last blog post, we covered the difference between these approaches and how to start incorporating more intention into your business planning. And today we're so excited to welcome a special guest to help us explore what this can mean for our wellbeing at work.
Erica Cuni, known as The Burnout Professor, is a stress and burnout expert, Integrative Performance Coach, Professional Speaker, Social Media Creator, and Fellow Survivor. She's the founder of The C.U.N.I. Method (“Create Undeniable Natural Impact”) and is a former Trauma Psychotherapist, Clinical Director, and Adjunct Faculty at Central Connecticut State University. Her mission is to help make the mental health field more effective, accessible, decolonized, and non-stigmatizing. This approach is what she wished she had – a guide to thrive consciously without pathologizing her for doing her job, life events, and the intergenerational trauma she was carrying around with her her. Erica found her mission in 2014 after being hit by a Mack dump truck (literally) while driving to work, and having her life fall entirely apart over the following two years. We're excited to have her with us today to share her story and her perspective.
Erica, it's so great to have you here, welcome to the show, and I would love if you could start by telling us about your story and how you got into the work that you're in right now.
The Burnout Professor
Sure! I usually joke and say, go grab your coffee, because this is a little bit of a story. So, I'm gonna start here and say in 2014 I was driving to work, and at this point in time, I was exhausted, I was emotionally exhausted. And I knew that I needed to get to work. I had a training that I needed to get to, and I'm a therapist at this point working in a lockdown facility and I had all these thoughts running through my mind on my 45-minute commute. And at one point on the drive, I said to myself, I wonder if I could call out sick. I wonder if I could just say I got into a little fender bender or something, and maybe I won't have to go in today because I just felt that tired. I felt like I couldn't dig deep and push forward the way that I used to, the coffee didn't feel like it was working, or should I say the coffee with the shot of espresso in it wasn't working like it normally did. I just didn't have that drive and that juice left in me. And a couple of moments later, a Mack dump truck merges into my lane. And I am blessed to be here, I'm blessed to be alive, and you know, this was the beginning of this journey where I get to start to call myself The Burnout Professor.
That day I ended up needing to have emergency surgery. I was in the hospital for a week and then I had a three-month recovery period learning how to walk again, because I almost lost my foot in the accident. And over the next 14 to 24 months after the Mack dump truck accident, my life fell completely apart. Anything that could go wrong, went wrong. I usually joke again and say, I had a black cloud over my head. After that accident and the recovery period, I was fired from my job and I'm not somebody to be fired. I'm usually somebody who's promoted, trainer manager, not to mention I ended a long-term toxic relationship, and I was so tired still. I had to move back home with my parents in my mid-thirties. And I can remember my first night back at my parents' house with my dog Bear, I'm sitting on the floor, I have a bottle of wine, and I am ugly crying. And I am simply sitting there saying, I don't understand how I got here. Where did this all go wrong? How did I miss the signs? I am a therapist. I help other people figure their stuff out. How did I miss the signs?
And so this slowly started me on this journey. I went back to traditional talk therapy and every time I'd go into that session and leave, I'd leave more agitated. I realized, being a therapist at this point, I was like, there's nothing this therapist is gonna tell me, there's nothing in my past that I need to examine. I'm like, I'm missing something. This isn't the answer. I don't know what the answer is, but I know this isn't it. And so I was asked by my mom to join her to a meditation class. Now, everyone needs to understand that my family's not the meditating kind of family, so when she asked me this, I was kind of taken aback and I was like, What? Really? And I went, and it was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life was to sit still and to try to see if I can quiet my mind. And I couldn't. But I knew that this was probably something that I needed to do because the atmosphere was welcoming and I felt probably the calmest I felt in a long time, but I couldn't sit still. So me being who I am, I'm like, I'm gonna conquer this. So I started to go back to these weekly meditation classes as I learned how to sit still, because I was like, even if I can't quiet my mind, I can at least sit still because I was with other people and it will force me to do something.
My black cloud continued because over the next couple of months I lost several people unexpectedly. They had passed away and transitioned to the other side. So with all that being said, I was like, okay, when’s enough, enough? And you would think I learned my lesson. I went back to work and I was hustling the way that I used to hustle, as if I didn't spend all that time on the couch to slow down and calm down. And I kept going and I was working probably about 60 to 70 hour weeks. And guess what? I burned out again. And ironically, this is when I learned the word burnout. I did not learn about burnout until after I burned out the second time. And looking back on my life, I probably can tell you I burned out probably four or five, maybe six times.
So this journey has been me diving into the woo-woo side of wellness, even though it's not the woo-woo we say anymore, but it's understanding gut health and food is medicine, mindfulness, learning how to set intentions versus focusing on goals all the time. Also knowing how to move, how to breathe, and how to regulate that nervous system has been the game changer. And so I'm on a mission now to help make the mental health field more effective, accessible, decolonized, and non-stigmatizing by teaching everybody the tools that I've learned on how to overcome chronic stress and burnout and nip it in the bud for good. And then not to mention, to spread the knowledge that's usually in therapists’ offices that you can find easily because I do truly believe we are all powerful human beings, and we do have the power to take our power back, to claim our power, and then also to thrive.
That is fabulous. And I just ant to say thank you so much again for sharing that story with us and with our audience, we really appreciate that you're willing to share that personal experience.
The Burnout Professor
Thank you for that. To tell you the truth, I tried to not share my story and it didn't work. I found that the more I share my story, that people understand that I understand too, I am more than just a therapist. I'm also the fellow burnout survivor too.
Absolutely, and I think a lot of us can probably relate to what you mentioned about having multiple experiences with burnout, whether you identified it as burnout at the time, or maybe on reflecting back, it's a term that seemed to resonate with what you went through. And I'd be curious to hear, how have your experiences with burnout made you think about setting goals or setting intentions either in your work or in your life in general?
The Burnout Professor
So I come from a blue collar family and I am also from Italian descent, I'm third-generation from Italian immigrants. And so it's always been driven home to work. You work, work, work, and you know, you can have everything else fall apart, but you keep your work life because that's where you get your money, that's how you survive. And what's the next best thing that you're going to do, how are you going to keep improving? How are you going to keep being successful? And so that mindset was drilled into me. So I have always learned how to push through. I could be sick as a dog, but I would push through, still go to work and do what I needed to do.
And so goal-wise, I have hit so many milestones in my therapist career. And then another side note I should tell everybody is, I wasn't always a therapist. I have a business undergrad degree and I have experience in sales and Fortune 500 companies. And I've always been somebody who was either the fastest promoted, and I even was told by a boss of mine, a director of mine when I got fired, that I think extremely quickly on my feet, and I can come across as intimidating because of how quick I can think. So that's who I am. I'm somebody who's the go getter.
When I realized that I had burnt out for like the sixth time and I was on that woo-woo side, what I realized was, or what I was taught I should say at this point, was we don't always want goals. Goals are great if you have that hustle mentality or you need to get something done right, it's something to check off, but what you really want is to live your life with intention and have intentionality around everything you do. And I think what's prompted this particular episode that we're doing right now is this post that I had on Instagram. And it was about what's your word for 2022? Because I believe if you have an intention for the year, you align with that intention for the rest of the year. This is different than what we say, resolutions, intention is about energy. What kind of energy are you bringing into the year? What kind of intention are you bringing into the task at hand? What kind of intention are you bringing into your day? And so for me, for example with that question that I asked on Instagram, my word was expansion. I want to expand this year. In everything that I do, I want to expand, I want to evolve, I want to become more of what I'm already doing.
Definitely, and I really respond to how you link intentions with energy. One of the things that we do a lot at WorkMinded is working with clients who are in the more traditional business world, but maybe trying to bring a more mindful approach to how we carry out our day to day work and our day to day responsibilities. And I'm wondering with your background in therapy and in coaching, do you see a difference in how people approach intentions in their professional and in their personal lives?
The Burnout Professor
I do. And I think this is a really great question. I think for us go-getters and high achievers, what we typically do is we prioritize our intentions for work, but we neglect our personal side. And so a lot of us who have experienced burnout, you have to understand, you've had a hijacked nervous system for such a long period of time, probably stemming from your childhood, there's probably things that have happened in your childhood or in your early or formative years that has caused you to live with such a hijacked or a stuck nervous system, that you don't even know that your nervous system's hijacked. So you're used to doing everything that you need to do just to get things done. And with that being said, we can be really great at professional, our professional lives can be fabulous, but you go and you go to our personal lives, we're a hot mess.
So I think it's important to understand that if you can put the same intentions that you do with your professional life, to your personal life and in fact, switch it and flip it so that you focus more with intentions around your personal life, your personal wellbeing, the byproduct will naturally be your professional intentions as well, so it's almost like we have to flip it and say, okay, I gotta think more about my wellbeing and trust and know that the more I focus on that, the better employee I'll be the better entrepreneur, anything that you put your mind to professionally will be done and you will succeed at it.
That is such a fantastic way to look at it, and I especially respond to that because in a lot of our work where we focus on mindfulness, it really then brings a whole new level of awareness to holistic wellbeing. And for our clients specifically that holistic wellbeing for their employees and also for their organizational health. And I think a lot of times you're right, that we can tend to put that whole person wellbeing for our personal selves off to the side or on the back burner.
And one of the things I've found really challenging in dealing with burnout is when my nervous system is in that hijacked mode like you mentioned, actually being able to pause and recognize that it's happening. A lot of times, things are just happening so quickly that I don't even tune into the fact that it is happening. And I wonder if you have some ideas about things that people can watch out for that are physically happening in their bodies that could be indicators or maybe a red flag that their nervous system is starting to push toward this burnout mode.
The Burnout Professor
I sure can. And before I answer that, I do wanna just put another thought back into the previous question as well. It's also important to understand the more you take care of yourself, the more you'll understand and realize when you're in a toxic system, because I think the most important thing for folks to understand with burnout and chronic stress is it's not just an individual thing, it's so much more than that. Because if you are experiencing these physical symptoms that I'm about to go into, it's important to understand it's the environment that you are in, that's causing it. So it's not just, oh, it's my fault, I caused this, I'm the way that I am because of this. No, it's usually twofold. It is: A) you have to level up your stress management game and leveling up your stress management game is knowing you're not on automatic pilot, you're intentional with everything, and you know, when something doesn't feel good, you walk the other way. You don't stay, and you definitely don't stay in a toxic system. And then it's also understanding that the systems you work for, are they healthy for you? Do they align with your values and who you are and is it a healthy system? Does your work promote wellbeing? Because if your work doesn't promote wellbeing, then that's something to consider because no job is worth your mental health.
So, with that being said, some of the symptoms to notice and to look out for, because again, burnout gets a bad rap or chronic stress gets a bad rap of saying that it's all psychological, it's so not. Your body has been giving you clues way before. And some of the physical symptoms are the GI symptoms, body aches, muscle stiffness, pinched nerves, eye twitching, disrupted sleep, and chest and breathing issues are some of the key things, migraines, then you start to notice you have no patience or you just get irritated a lot quicker. You notice that bandwidth of where you were able to handle loved ones, you're not able to do that anymore. So you're a little bit more snarky and snappy. I hope that answered your question as well.
Yes. Thank you so much. That was a really useful answer to that question. Very helpful for me, and I'm sure helpful for our listeners too. And it makes me think of another question. If you were going to reach out to employers and people in organizations who are responsible for promoting or supporting employee wellbeing, is there any kind of advice or any piece of wisdom that you would give them in terms of helping to alleviate burnout and really promote this idea of more holistic wellbeing?
The Burnout Professor
Yep, I do! And the reason why I'm saying it like “yep, I do!” is because this is what I do with part of my work, I'm more than just a one-on-one coach. I also do workshops, I facilitate workshops for corporations, businesses, and the government. And so one of the things that I'm always touching upon is how are you setting up your staff meetings? How are you interacting with your staff? And are you sending emails all the time, or are you being intentional with your emails? How are you setting up your staff meetings? How do you start your staff meetings when you walk into the room or on the Zoom call or however, WebEx, how are you starting it off? Are you starting it off just going right down in a business and not taking a moment for everyone to collect their breath and to focus on what's going on right here, right now, and transitioning into this moment in time? How are you asking your employees to show up on a Z oom call or the WebEx call? Because spending a lot of time in front of the computer hurts our brain. It literally hurts our brain in the sense of, we need to be able to take breaks. And so a thing that you can do in your meetings is start off the meeting with 10 mindful moments. I actually have the number one 2-minute tidbit on an app made for corporate professionals, and it was this 10 mindful moments. And this 10 mindful moments is start your meeting and say, okay, we're gonna just sit here for a few moments, focus on our breathing, regroup, there's nothing for you to think about other than to just be. And then if it's a longer meeting, get up, have your staff be able to get up, move around and to not be looking at the computer screen. And it's even better to have your meetings in the afternoon versus the morning.
That's all fantastic, thank you so much, and I will definitely be using some of those tips in my own meetings and in my own day to day work. And I love that you keep coming back to this idea of intentionality. And I know the theme for our conversation today is around goals and around intentions. And so I love that we keep talking about bringing this intentionality to each of those. And I wonder if in your work you've seen any kind of main difference in terms of putting goals into action and putting intentions into action. And I guess I'm asking that paying specific attention to preventing burnout. I feel like if we use the term goal, it might be a lot more likely to lead people into that productivity or even over productivity mentality, as opposed to intentions might be more in that holistic wellbeing and energy management kind of mentality. So I would love to hear if you have any thoughts on that.
The Burnout Professor
I agree. When I think of the word goals, I think of there's a structure to it, there is a right or wrong to it that if you don't hit it, you fail and then it leaves you to feeling disempowered or something that it can take away from your energy. But if you have it as an intention and when I think of intention, I think of it as it's something that's broader, there's more wiggle room, there's more ability to find your way to where you want to go without feeling like you have to be held to some standard. And we can have the intention of expansion, what does expansion mean? That is such a strong and wide vague term that it can be applied to anything. And so, if you're in a company and you're looking to be promoted, you can be expanding, right? You're looking to expand. But if you say, my goal is to be a Director by October 1st of this year, and you don't hit that, then you have to be mindful of not beating yourself up or shaming yourself because you didn't get there. Because there could be so many outside forces happening. You can be involved in a company that doesn't have a high promotion rate. So you have to be able to look at this in bigger ways and understand that intention is the overall energy that you're bringing, and you can still be just as productive without having to hustle. Intentionality is about aligning your energy, whereas goal setting and hustling is about pushing through no matter what, enforcing things that may otherwise not be aligned with who you are.
That is really such a helpful distinction, and I really appreciate you going into detail on that. I feel like you're helping us to give words that our clients, either employees or organizations, can be starting to use to really identify and explain this experience that I think maybe lots of us are starting to go through in the workplace as we're looking to the future of work and how we're setting our goals, how goals are going to be addressed in a hybrid world that combines the physical with the digital. And then how does that play into the overall success of the organization and the overall wellbeing of the company and the people connected with it, whether it's employees or customers or any other kind of stakeholder. And I think we're starting to see more than ever just how interconnected this entire picture of the future of business is. And so I really appreciate you giving some terminology to us that we can be using to help express that.
And I know we're coming up toward the end of our time together today, and I just wanted to see as we start to close out our conversation, if there are any last thoughts you want to share in terms of goals or intentions, so burnout or anything else that we've covered so far.
The Burnout Professor
Burnout is trauma. Chronic stress is trauma. And when you can look at this through that lens, and understanding that your nervous system is key to recovery, and understanding that burnout and chronic stress is not your fault but it is your responsibility to heal from, and understanding that you always have power. You are not stuck. You may feel like you're stuck at your job, but I promise you, you are not. When we're burnt out and stressed out our brains shut down, so we forget – or not that we forget, but we do not have the capability of seeing the bigger picture. So the more can focus on your wellbeing that allows you to see the bigger picture and that seeing that bigger picture is where you get your options and those options is where you feel your power. And then that's how you decide on where you're going next.
Awesome. Thank you so much. And one last question for you. If anyone wants to learn more about you and your work, is there a place that they can connect with you?
The Burnout Professor
There sure is! You can follow me @TheBurnoutProfessor on LinkedIn, and on Instagram and Facebook.
Great. And thank you so much, Erica, again for joining us today. It was really so great to talk with you and we really appreciate hearing about your story and your perspective.
The Burnout Professor
No, thank you for having me and I look forward to hearing this episode once it comes out!
And we hope that you all enjoyed hearing this episode along with us! We'd also love to hear what you think about using goals and intentions. Join the conversation by visiting us at www.workminded.net, or find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks for listening.