14. How to Avoid Burnout

Burnout is more common than ever; physical and mental levels of activity become unsustainable and we’re forced to retire out of exhaustion. Not only does it dent our ability to meet our goals and realise our dreams, but the perceived failure creates an inner feeling of defeat and dejection and can permanently damage our morale. The ancient scriptures give three broad principles for avoiding burnout, and, on the positive side, discovering a space where you can thrive:
Do the Right Things – Follow your dharma
Adopt the Right Lifestyle – Live in sattva
Embody the Right Motivation – Act with prema
Our dharma, as previously discussed, refers to our unique psychophysical nature. When we work and function outside of our dharma we fail to utilise our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses, and thus become susceptible to burnout. Prema denotes ‘love’ - we should aspire for a life where that love drives what we do. We should work for a cause that genuinely moves our heart. It’s crucial to resonate with and have feeling for what we do, and not just work for immediate benefits like money, position, accolade and security.
Now let’s explore sattva. In Chapter Fourteen, Krishna expands upon the concept of the three modes, explaining how a lifestyle built on sattva is beneficial from all angles of vision. What we see on a TV screen is an intricate interaction of pixels in three basic colours – red, blue and yellow. They combine in endless combinations to produce images and scenes which enchant our minds. In the same way, the material world, and everything within it, is essentially composed of the three modes of nature – goodness (sattva), passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas). Everything surrounding us is made of different permutations of these modes, and that in turn creates a permutation within us.
This framework is powerful, practical and so universal that, when comprehensively understood, can be applied to virtually any aspect of life. How one parents their children, the food we eat, the environment we create around us, the style of leadership and management we adopt, the way we drive our car – everything can, and should, be done in sattva for maximum wellbeing.
When we live in sattva we maximise our achievements. The food we eat gives copious amounts of energy and vitality, our leadership brings the best out of the people we serve, and our driving is safe, cost-effective and efficient. Furthermore, on an internal level, living in sattva creates an inner harmony and groove that allows us to sustain our activity without becoming fatigued, imbalanced or overwhelmed. When we live in sattva, we guard ourselves against the potential of burnout, which is a natural characteristic of the mode of passion.

From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance develop foolishness, madness and illusion.” (Bhagavad-Gita 14.17)


14.5-9 – Fundamental definitions of the three modes of material nature.
14.10 – How the modes are constantly fluctuating and competing.