The Secret To Avoiding Burnout According To Behavioral Psychologists


There’s a reason why your habits never stick, and it has nothing to do with passion, motivation, or laziness.

It’s your brain prioritizing what it knows will give you a reward. You see, your brain processes a lot of information. When something is new, it doesn’t know if the work is worth it. So, it avoids it. 

The fastest way to improve yourself isn’t a glamorous big goal. Instead, it’s self-directed neuroplasticity, an approach where you use active reflection to rewire your brain to create new habits

In other words, in the consistency of small habits, you can achieve more than the big, New Year’s Resolutions. 

Here’s why self-care hasn’t worked for you before and how your brain is the key to self-care habits that actually heal you.

What’s Neuroplasticity?

Research shows that repetitive actions form neural pathways in the brain, making these actions more automatic over time. This concept, known as neuroplasticity, suggests that consistency rewires the brain, shaping our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections, is why consistent small habits can impact our well-being. 

Our brains are not static — they have the remarkable ability to change and adapt throughout our lives. Engaging in repetitive behaviors can shape and rewire our neural pathways, leading to lasting changes in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

The Research On Small Habits

Have you ever wondered what motivates someone to wake up at 5 am, become a bodybuilder, or go for a run in the winter? According to behavioral psychologists, the answer lies in habit. About 43% of what you do is a habit. 

Your life might be built on bad habits leading to burnout. Things like scrolling on your phone to relax, overbooking appointments to feel in control, and going through the actions without thinking to get by. 

Instead of breaking those habits, start working towards healthier habits to replace them. Because once you make a self-care habit, it can be more influential than individual motivation or willpower. Self-care practices then become more of small steps towards consistently rewiring your brain rather than big actions.

For example, research has shown that meditation benefits physical and mental health. In one study, regular meditators reported better attention, brain function, and psychological well-being than those who didn’t regularly meditate.

The key is in the regular — not in the meditation retreat, vacation, or day off.

How Is A Habit Formed?

A habit is formed when we feel a certain way, start craving something, respond, and get rewarded. An example of a bad habit would be feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, so you take out your phone and start scrolling on social media to “get away from it all.” The reward is a distraction that reinforces the bad habit of scrolling.

A good habit is formed the same way. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and take 5 minutes to do breathing exercises instead of scrolling. You’re rewarded by feeling more at peace, reinforcing the habit for next time.

3 Ways To Make Self-Care A Habit

Here are 3 simple ways to start making self-care a natural part of your day.

1. Breaking Down Overwhelming Tasks

One of the primary causes of burnout is being overwhelmed by the enormity of tasks and responsibilities. Consistent small habits provide a practical and manageable way to break down large goals into smaller, more achievable steps. This incremental approach makes progress more tangible and reduces the psychological burden associated with daunting tasks.

Becoming only 1% better at self-care daily adds up to 37% better over the year. So even if you feel like you’re barely making any progress, over time, it adds up. Looking back and seeing the small improvements is also a great way to reinforce a habit.

2. Focus On What You Can Do

Your life might have big goals. For many busy parents, the goals might be working out 5 hours a week, taking a shower regularly, and not eating processed foods. Then there is reality. 

We recommend starting with adding 15 minutes of something — anything — that fills your cup every day. If that means going to bed 15 minutes earlier to sleep, waking up 15 minutes earlier to journal, moving your body in any way for 15 minutes, or taking 15 minutes to get ready for the day, you likely can carve out 1% of your day to self-care.

3. Build On Your Existing Habits

As a parent of a neurodivergent child, you have things you do every day. Whether brushing your teeth, attending appointments, taking the kids to school, or eating meals. Adding positive habits to what you already do can help you remember to do them. 

For example, 5 minutes before you have to get the kids ready for an appointment, jot down 5 things you’re grateful for in a journal. When you’re brushing your teeth, stretch. When you’re eating, notice the sensation of the food and ground yourself in the moment.

Building on what you have to do anyway will turn it into a cue, reinforcing the habit and making it easier over time.

Make Self-Care As Simple As Brushing Your Teeth

We can control how we think, feel, and care for ourselves — it’s one of the few things in our own hands.

That’s why it’s important to prioritize this when so much else in your life is outside your control.

We created How To Heal From Burnout: A Self-Care Guide Based In Neuroscience For Parents Of Neurodiverse Kids to help you do exactly that.

Whether you know you’re burnt out, just feeling overwhelmed, or know you need to carve out time to take care of yourself, this guide will:

  • Give you an understanding of what burnout is so you can recognize the symptoms before they overwhelm your life
  • Show you the real science behind stress and how self-care can help, giving yourself logical permission to take better care of yourself
  • Offers self-care ideas from reframing beliefs to quick activities you can experiment with
  • Encourage you to find solutions that work for you, your life, and your family

It’s all in easy-to-use formats: How To Heal From Burnout Guide and Burnout Toolkit Workbook. Start taking care of yourself. Snag this guide here.