how to deal with burnout if your new year already feels overwhelming.


One rainy, cool night last year I trekked in the inky, damp darkness to a nearby church to hear the wonderful writer Anne Lamott speak. Here is a story she shared that stuck with me. When Anne was growing up, her family had a vacation home they enjoyed escaping to whenever life allowed. One weekend her brother arrived to the vacation home with a stack of books as tall as he was, piled them high on the kitchen table, and began to cry. His father, concerned, asked his son what was wrong. He tearfully explained he had a paper about birds that was due on Monday but he hadn’t written a single word yet. He felt so overwhelmed he didn’t know how to begin. Anne’s dad looked at the tall stack of books, the wordless piece of paper that should have held a finished report on birds, and his sons discouraged countenance and told him how to write the paper:

"Bird by bird," he told him. "Just take it bird by bird."

As we move into the second full week of January, a feeling of overwhelm may have found us as we ponder how to stick with our New Year’s Intentions. The newness and excitement that weaved itself through our goals while we carefully created them may have combusted and left us feeling flat. In an effort to feel fit and take care of your body, you planned to go to the gym every morning before work. But now, the novelty of waking up early in the morning to go to the gym when it’s freezing outside isn’t so novel anymore and you have no idea how you can possibly do it for the rest of the year when all you want to do instead is hit the snooze button. In a bid to save money, the idea of packing a lunch instead of going out to a restaurant every day for lunch seemed lovely a few weeks ago, but now it just seems downright dull, and you don’t want to it for 5 more days, let alone 365. The dream of finally writing that book sounded thrilling on January 1, but now the work that it takes to put words on paper seems like far too much for this season of your life, and you know things are only going to get more hectic as the year continues.

If this sounds like you, can I issue you a challenge?

Take it bird by bird.

There’s truly no need to imagine every little nuance of how your intentions and goals will or won’t work out as the year progresses. When we wonder how we can possibly stick with something all year long it can feel so overwhelming or undoable that we throw in the towel completely. But when we focus on today and what’s possible now? Our dream suddenly feels more attainable and it's easier to stay on track.

This is how we are meant to live, taking things bird by bird. There’s a reason Jesus taught us to pray by asking for our daily bread. Focusing on each day, and taking things little by little, is what is best for us.

Maybe it feels like doing a little each day is a waste of time. Those dramatic, big displays feel more like you are doing “something.” But here's what's true:

You can gain a lot by doing a little each day, but you can also lose a lot by not doing a little each day.

The little things, when done with consistency, add up to big things. The truth is, on that final day of December, you will have either gained a lot or lost a lot this year. There is no in between. Whatever path you choose, it will have been done by taking things - or not taking things - little by little.

On the days when you feel overwhelmed by the hugeness of your dreams, that’s okay. That overwhelm is simply an invitation to enter into the little by little. See the value in the little by little, the bird by bird, and stick with it. 

"If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in larger ones." {Luke 16:10}