Here are all of Chris Johnstone’s 5 tips for reducing the risk of burnout gathered in one place! They are:
(you can leap straight down to ones that interest you using the clever link things above)
No. 1: See enthusiasm as a resource.
“Recognise enthusiasm as a valuable natural resource. People in the environmental movement work really hard to protect forests, to protect fisheries, to protect meadows, and in there we also need to list, as endangered areas in need of protection, activist enthusiasm. We need to recognise that enthusiasm is a valuable renewable resource, something that needs valuing, putting centre stage. When you put it centre stage you say this is one of the things we act to protect, because if you lose that, then you lose the capacity to protect everything else. That’s the starting point.
And when you have that, it’s a paradigm shift, it’s a programme change. It’s like asking “what’s your core operating principle?”, “what are the most important values?”. Sometimes this gets gets dismissed as “oh that’s just feelgood stuff”, “that’s a bit indulgent”, and I think that’s such a mistake, because the danger of not having enthusiasm centre stage is that you have model of activism that’s all about working very very hard, but people end up being grumpy and miserable, and they’re not great adverts for becoming involved!
You see the people who are really busy as activists, and you look at them and you think “well they’re not having much fun in their life” and so then you create this split between things that people do out of duty, and, you know, that’s seen as very altruistic, and then there’s the things that people do for pleasure”.
“The second principle is redefine what it means to have a good life. If you see that your goal in life is a beautiful life where you’re living in a way that’s good for you and the world, then you have a completely different type of activism because it’s one where people have a glint in their eye. They’re in touch with their passion. They’ve got their heart in the life they’re living. They’re living in a way that’s attractive, and people around them start thinking – what are they on? How come they’re so charged up with enthusiasm that they really seem to be more deeply alive than most other people I know? Because there’s a larger life that’s happening through us. It’s like the desire of life to continue the recovery impulse in our world. It acts through us.
One of the ways to live a great life is to have a great story happening through you. This is what I mean by redefining what it means to have a good life. You have a good story that’s happening through you. A good story that wants to keep on going. It doesn’t want to burn out after the first few chapters. That’s why centre stage is how can we do this in a way where we want to keep doing it for as long as we’re here alive on this planet”.
“Activism is often seen as showing up at meetings, going on marches, campaigning, which is hugely important. I learnt a lot here from Joanna Macy. She talks about the Great Turning as a big story that can happen through us in this time. She talks about three dimensions in that Great Turning. The first (although all three are of equal importance) is the ‘holding actions’ that are often seen as traditional activism. Holding actions is how do we hold on to what’s of value? How do we act to protect the biosphere, the resources? That involves the campaigns, the raising awareness, the public lawsuits, the showing up for legislative change.
But then the second type of activism, second in a trio of equals, is about actions and structures to support a sustainable society. I think about it as the green shoots of a new way of living. It’s developing sustainable education, it’s looking at sustainability in healthcare, it’s looking at our whole patterns of communication. It’s looking at how we organise ourselves, how we have our meetings. It’s building a new society around us. It’s not waiting until some international committee agrees or some government is voted in. It’s saying “let’s start here and now”. What would a life-affirming society look like? How do we start building that now? That includes things like permaculture, things like Incredible Edible Todmorden. It includes things like the Million Miles project in Black Isle. It includes many of the things that you wrote about in ’21 Stories of Transition’. That’s the second type of activism.
The third is about the consciousness shift; looking at the inner landscape of our mind and hearts. The work very importantly pioneered by people like Sophy Banks around Inner Transition. We see that as part of activism. Part of activism is paying attention to what happens in our inner landscape, what I’ve talked about as the middle bit of change between awareness and action”.
No. 4. Follow your inner compass
The fourth in this list is to follow our inner compass of gladness. Gladness is really paying attention to what lights us up with enthusiasm, what lights us up where we feel good about what we’re doing. There’s a lovely quote here around “vocation is where our deep inner gladness and the world’s deep needs meet.”
There’s a sweet spot in activism where we’re doing a piece of work that we feel called to do, that we feel like first of all it registers on our inner scale of ‘this is important’, but it also draws on our particular unique enthusiasms and strengths and interests, where our particular calling meets the world’s deep needs. If you get those two coming together, we feel “I’m in the right space, I’m doing the right thing”.
If we can find our sweet spot of activism, but also recognising that there’s a dose effect here. Because too much of a good thing can exhaust us. There’s a saying that “the poison is not the substance but the dose.” Even if you find your sweet spot, if you do it too much you can end up a bit like a monoculture agriculture where you are not paying attention to the feeder parts of the system.
No. 5: See success with new eyes and savour it.
The last of these five is to see success with new eyes and savour it. This is particularly important after the demoralisation that happened say, after the COP15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. If we see success purely in terms of outcome, will we get there or not, some of the outcomes we’re looking for are so huge that they probably won’t happen in our lifetime. Also we’re past the point where some of the outcomes we might hope for are even likely to happen, if at all, in our lifetime.
We need to see success in a different way. I talk about outcome goals and process goals. Outcome goals is what happens in terms of whether we win or lose in terms of our eventual hopes, but process goals is about showing up. It’s about taking the steps that lead to the larger changes. If we want to build a movement, just showing up ourselves, that’s a success. Showing up in a way that other people also find attractive and they show up too, that’s a success.
I’m looking at what are the steps towards where we want to go and seeing each of those as a success. When I say “see success with new eyes,” the question I’d ask is “how often do you experience success?” If it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen often, I think you need to recalibrate. If we don’t experience the sense of moving in the way we want to go, we can lose heart. We can lose the sense that what we’re doing is meaningful. And so we need to identify steps along the way that the progress that we are making and can make that are achievable and are attainable, that when we reach those we have that sense of – yes, this is worthwhile, this is making a difference in a way.
John Croft in his ‘Dragon Dreaming’ approach builds in celebration as one of the key stages in activism. He talks about spending at least 25% of your time celebrating the progress you’re making and really paying attention to that. Perhaps even beginning meetings by saying – any good news? Any steps of progress anyone’s taken? Not dismiss them as – oh, that’s not very much, because when you look at something in itself it might not seem very much, but when you say what’s it part of, you see that it is part of a much larger process. We need to celebrate the small steps as a way of cultivating and nourishing our morale so that we can keep going for the long term.