Tips for banishing the burnt out bluff

Tips for banishing the burnt out bluff

Are you exhausted? Stressed? Burnt out? Beyond your capacity or just not coping?

Do you know friends and colleagues who would also say yes to these questions?

You’ve reached the end of your tether. We can all do it! We’ve all had those moments where our capacity bowl is so full that one bad bit of customer service, one smashed glass, one frustrating phone call with the electricity company or one set of unexpected roadworks can totally tip us over the edge. Until we are quite literally crying over spilt milk. I’m right with you… and it’s okay – we’re all human.

It’s one thing to recognise the symptoms of burnout or stress and to take time out to look after yourself. More and more we are seeing individuals and leaders who ignore or don’t recognise the stress signs and double down on their levels of overwhelm by putting on a public mask and working hard to make it seem they are coping fine. What we are calling the second pandemic – “the Pandemic of Pretence”. This pandemic is affecting those people and leaders who are ‘coping’ by putting on the jolly front, the positive facade, the happy face, who are feeling the necessity to act strong, motivate others, be the leader they feel they should be and push away or hide some of those very real feelings underneath.

The problem is that by putting on a front, we are actually doing ourselves far more harm than if we simply acknowledged that we are not entirely coping. The bigger the gap between how we feel we should show up in the world and how we are really feeling, the bigger our chances of even worse emotional burnout, mental fatigue and physical illness.

Not only that but in terms of your leadership skills, your performance and your creativity, you are far better off being in touch with what’s really going on for you than pretending. Pretence is neither a top performing, truly collaborative or highly creative space to be in. We are far more healthy, creative, connected and successful when we are in touch with our true selves and true talents. In other words, the real leader is the better leader.

So, if you know that you are putting on a front and inside you have a stressful or negative narrative that is a long way from that façade, then you might be contaiged by the pandemic of pretence. If you are only letting the world see your ‘turned out half or shopfront ‘ as psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called it – then you are denying to others and to yourself what’s really going on and it might just be time to ‘get real!’ The more you close the gap between how you think you should be in the world and how you really feel the better you are serving yourself and others. So, let’s get real with some super practical tips on how to not only deal with burnout but deal with burnout bluff. Let’s say goodbye to the pandemic of pretence and get down with how we really feel – let’s get real.

Here are six tips to help you close that gap, reduce the pretence, get in touch with what’s really going on, be an even better colleague and turn up – not as a pretend leader – but as a truly Real Leader…in all 4 dimensions, all 2 contexts. The 4D2C of peak WellBeing, Leadership and Performance.

1. Physical Dimension

Slouch it! Tip one is change your posture.

Change your posture from stiff, upright and in fix, solve and ‘be brilliant’ mode to a posture that connects you more with your body and your self. Try moving from ‘solve it’ to ‘slouch it’. Lean over to your side, curl one foot under you and sit like you might sit chatting to a friend in the pub or on the sofa with a family member. Let your body tell you that you are relaxed, safe and simply connecting with your colleague or team member rather than bracing, fixing or solving all the time.

2. Emotional dimension

Open it! Take 20 seconds before your next meeting to check-in with the feeling in your belly.

Stop trying to push it away or hide from it but imagine it is a message that needs opening up and reading. Ask the challenging feeling in your belly or chest… What are you trying to tell me? What do you want right now? What are you telling me I need? The more we push our emotions away the more harm we are doing to ourselves. Emotions aren’t the problem, ignoring them is. Your emotions are simply messengers that are trying to tell you something. Is your feeling anger, sadness, frustration, or fear? If you grab that emotion and open it up – what’s the message inside? Do you need a break, do you need to call a friend, do you need some help? What’s the message inside the emotion? This is a brilliant tool for breaking the pandemic of pretence, helping you close the gap between who you think you should be and how you’re really feeling.

3. Intellectual dimension

Refocus it!

We are really good when we are stressed and burnt out at gathering further evidence that things are difficult or going to go badly. We can start worrying and our intellectual dimension goes into overdrive with overthinking. Retrain your intellect to focus on safety cues… What is working well, who is helping you, who does have your back, what is fun about this project, what are the possibilities? When you shift from looking for danger cues to seeking out safety cues you’re changing your internal chemistry and closing the gap between your negative fear and your positive pretence.

4. Intentional dimension

Shift it!

So much of our education teaches us to fix and solve, to know and to be right. When we go into conversations with colleagues or burnt-out team members, trying to fix everything is just more stressful for them – and for you. Try going into these conversations and meetings with ‘curiosity.’ Set your intention to be curious and suddenly you take the pressure off yourself to know, to be right or to fix things. All you have to do is be open and explore and be curious. Curiosity is one of the best intentions we can hold to get our nervous systems in a really good place. Now we don’t have to pretend to be positive and know everything. We can sit in the far less stressful state of simple curiosity.

Context 1: The Environment

Move it! If your office desk has become a location of stress, then change your environment.

Try taking the next meeting on a walk or in your armchair or on your sofa. Use your environment to signal to your body that you are in a relaxed, calm and safe state. Our environment has a huge impact on our state. Your physical state is the foundation of your WellBeing, Leadership and Performance. Take your next call in a different place where you feel different. Where the Netflix watching, popcorn eating, laughing, joking version of yourself can chill out and be relaxed in conversation with colleagues!

Context 2: Relationships

Slow it!

What we mean by this is take 10 seconds before your next meeting to slow your physiology down. The more we run at a crazy rate the more our nervous system goes into fight or flight. When this happens, and the more harm we are doing ourselves and the more we are stressing out other people out around us. Slow it down. Imagine a parent shouting and screaming and stressing at a baby to eat its food. Imagine what that is doing to the baby’s nervous system. When a parent slows down and self-regulates, they teach the baby to regulate itself and that the world is safe. You too can do this for your colleagues and your team members. Slow it down, regulate your own pace and you will be doing incredible, wonderful things for your colleagues’ nervous systems. The biggest gift you can give is the gift of slowing it down. Nothing gets in the way of the pandemic of pretence more than slowing things down!

We hope you enjoy your six tips to go from burnout bluff and the pandemic of pretence, to being more of the real you and the real leader that actually has far more to offer is far more creative and much more inspirational than the pretend version of you. Have the courage and take the risk to close that gap, be real with yourself and real with others so you can really be the leader and the human being you know you can be.


For more information, please visit the workplace wellbeing page on our newly updated website –


Before you go…

Make sure to check out our most recent podcasts on integrating life and work – episodes include – Stay Well. Stay Creative, Creative Leadership interviews with 4 Theatre Directors, WellBeing with Jessie Pavelka, Fluid Living and Going Hybrid! Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, just search ‘The 4D Human Being Podcast‘.
4D Leadership: In conversation with Theatre Director Bruce Guthrie

4D Leadership: In conversation with Theatre Director Bruce Guthrie

This is the final episode in a short series on ‘leadership from the perspective of the theatre director’. In this episode Matt from 4D is excited to be talking with the brilliant Bruce Guthrie. Matt and Bruce discuss the process of directing a play and bringing a team together in service of a goal (and a deadline!), the flexibility needed to lead different teams producing very different work and how to encourage individuals to flourish and maximise their creative potential.

Bruce is the head of HEAD OF THEATRE & FILM at the NATIONAL CENTRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS in Mumbai, India and has worked extensively in the UK, USA and in Asia. Having initially trained as an actor Bruce has a wonderful perspective on being led by directors and what it takes to lead truly creative and collaborative teams. He trained at the National Theatre Studio and with Howard Davies, Sir Richard Eyre, Deborah Warner & Sam Mendes.

4D Leadership: In conversation with Theatre Director Mark Rosenblatt

4D Leadership: In conversation with Theatre Director Mark Rosenblatt

Hello and welcome to the 4D Human Being podcast! This episode is the second in a short series on ‘leadership from the perspective of the theatre director’. In this episode Matt from 4D is excited to be talking with theatre and film director Mark Rosenblatt

 The pair discuss the parallels between business leadership and the work of the director; exploring the leader as editor, the power of observation and attention, leadership ‘differentiation’, creating an atmosphere to encourage innovation and many other fascinating topics. 

Mark has over 20 years’ experience in directing both in the UK and internationally. He won the prestigious JMK Young Directors Award in 1999 and has subsequently had a hugely varied career including spells as Associate Director at the National Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. In recent years, he has directed in Tokyo, the Edinburgh Festival, the West End and on Broadway.

4D Leadership: In conversation with Theatre Director Alex Thorpe

4D Leadership: In conversation with Theatre Director Alex Thorpe

Hello and welcome to the 4D Human Being podcast. This episode is the first in our short series on ‘leadership from the perspective of the theatre director’. In this episode Matt from 4D is excited to be talking with the highly successful  theatre director, Alex Thorpe, about his approaches to leading teams as well as drawing parallels between theatre and business leadership. Whether it’s great prep, trying new things, encouraging ‘play’, giving feedback or getting the very best out of wonderful, diverse and individual human beings … we can all apply the creative approaches of the theatre director in our leadership. Alex has directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Orange Tree Theatre, Soho Theatre, Finborough Theatre and Norwich Arts Centre. Enjoy the conversation and the inspiration for how you lead your own teams!

Get inspired with a new way of integrated living!

Get inspired with a new way of integrated living!

With fast changes and new ways of living and working, it’s time to shift our focus from the problems this new world brings, to the possibilities it offers…
There is one thing that working virtually, working from home, working in a hybrid setting or working from the office or even the beach have in common… That one thing is you. There is a big ‘I’ at the centre of the word ‘Hybrid’ and we want to invite you to put yourself… ‘I’ – right at the centre of this more fluid, changing and exciting world.


‘I’ is for integration. Rather than stressing to find the perfect life/work ‘balance’,  we can actually start weaving and smoothing together life and work by thinking more about integration. Let’s put ‘I’ right at the centre of this new way of living and working. You can start happening to the world, rather than letting this new world simply happen to you. Life is about living, loving and leading all in one big integrated, expansive experience.

Here are some tips on how we can integrate our life and work even more, so that we are weaving and crossing over skill sets from different parts of our lives. Making virtual working, hybrid communication and personal life in the 21st-century full of even more excitement, creativity, and choice – allowing us to live our full potential and dreams.

Remember…it all begins with the letter ‘I’.


1. Impact

We talk a lot about the impact that we make at work and how we communicate with colleagues but have you ever thought about the impact you make on your nearest and dearest? The truth is we can often bring our worst selves to the people who love us the most. To live an even fuller and more expansive experience of life, become more conscious of the impact you make on your loved ones – when you walk into a room, when you come back from work, when you’re tired or not in a great mood. Consciously create your impact at home as well as at work and you will create a whole new world of possibility, fun, kindness, and love.


2. Intention

As life continues to move at an increasingly rapid pace, it’s time to get intentional about how you want to shape your life and what level of pressure you’re prepared to work under. Get intentional and make clear choices!

Setting meaningful intentions might mean creating some new boundaries, putting your personal well-being and relationships right at the top of your priority list, knowing when to say no and being intentional about your life and your leadership.


3. Influencing

This is a great area for crossover skills. You may not think you’re a great influencer at work but when you look at your personal life you are influencing all the time. That could be influencing parents and siblings, friends and children. If you can motivate friends & family, then you can influence and motivate at work. Equally if you know you have great influencing skills at work but feel powerless at home – start bringing some of your skills to your personal life and shake things up a bit!


4. Infrastructure

Quite simply get the best tech you can to make your life as smooth as possible in this new hybrid world. Think about the equipment that you use…after all you don’t always have to be sat at your desk – what meetings or emails could you write dictating into your phone on a walk? How else can you use your environment and tech to maximise your creativity time and life experience?

This is the opportunity to replace the eight-hour desk shift with a much more exciting and varied schedule by being creative around your tech and infrastructure. After all, hybrid could mean having meetings at the top of a mountain or cross legged in a sunny field. (I’m writing, or dictating, this on a bench under a tree whilst my dog splashes in the stream just opposite!).


5. Inclusion

This new world of home, office and hybrid working offers us a wonderful opportunity to include more people than ever before. Inclusion doesn’t have to be a buzzword, it can be you inviting someone to that meeting right now who doesn’t normally come or dialling them in from home. It could be having a coffee with a couple of colleagues who are in the office while you’re sitting in your kitchen. It could equally be checking on that person down your street, in your community or circle of friends who might just need to be included a little more often. Even if they can’t get out of the house, that person can now be included like never before.

How we can help

4D Human Being designs and runs engaging interactive seminars, workshops, trainings and keynote on mastering the art of communicating in a hybrid world. We can help you learn the tools to navigate both worlds – to bring people together, to use creative tech to break down location boundaries, to maximize your personal impact, to engage both online attendees and those in the room.

Furthermore, once experiencing the 4D communication program, you will be able to understand how to adapt presentations, meetings, material and questions to make sure everyone feels engaged and contributing. All of these elements are vital to a strong and resilient communication – the foundation of a successful business. Find out more specifics on how to make an impact during Hybrid Working here.


Before you go…

Make sure to check out our most recent podcasts on integrating life and work – episodes include – WellBeing with Jessie Pavelka, Fluid Living and Going Hybrid! Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, just search ‘The 4D Human Being Podcast‘.
Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

This is the first of two blogs to accompany the latest 4D podcast on creative leadership which you can listen to here.


The pace of change today is as slow as it will ever be. The world of work is changing rapidly; creativity, collaboration and communication are becoming ever more important qualities that we look for in our teams. This may mean leading and working together in different ways. How might leaders respond and what models are there for us to draw upon from other fields?


The business world can learn a great deal about how to lead creative teams from the work of theatre directors. Over the last 18 months I have held interviews with theatre directors Sarah Esdaile, Natasha Rickman, Liz Stevenson, Sue Dunderdale and Giles Havergal – all superb theatre directors at different stages in their careers.


From these conversations and building on my own knowledge and experience of both worlds, there are 8 Principles that hold true for leading teams of actors and also have great relevance in other fields. The first four are here and the second four will follow in a blog later this month Enjoy!



1. Leading, Not Controlling


Sarah Esdaile: “The misconception is that you are a puppeteer. That you are a controlling choreographer, and everyone sits and nods and writes down what you say and does it! Actually, the political complexity of leading and inspiring and collaborating is not what people think it is – they think it’s about ruling with an iron fist and asserting and controlling and it’s far more nuanced than that. It’s about empowering people to do their best work, making people want to do their best work and making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”


The best directors create an environment where each member of their team is working hard and able to express themselves, experiment and takes risks. This enables the director, rather than simply imposing their will, to edit from the work created in the room with the actors.


That requires a deep level of confidence as a leader – to ask a team to trust you to lead them even though you can’t be sure exactly where you’ll end up, or the route you’ll take!


Similarly in business, as Daniel Pink argues, the key drivers of motivation are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. If we micro-manage people, preventing them from owning the ways they will achieve their objectives, we stifle their ambition and energy. Simply telling them what to do or how WE would do it teaches them little about how they might approach a similar problem in future. It also stifles purpose – reducing what might have been a successful team endeavour into what could look like simply a way to make the boss look great.


However actors, like employees in other fields, often seek specific instructions from the leader on how to approach a challenge or solve a problem (in acting perhaps, how to say the line or where to move). If they are given the answer they are ‘safe’ – they have done the ‘right thing, and they don’t have to go through the challenge of exploration and experiment. Unfortunately, this approach rarely delivers anything alive and interesting, instead, we get ‘result acting’ – often tired and cliched.


In business too, the employee who is given all the answers is not helped to develop, and the leader is swamped with a constant need to provide answers and affirmation. To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Instead, we keep encouraging actors to play, to push, to experiment and to continue to commit to the rehearsal process.


For the business leader looking to foster more creativity in their business there are a number of parallels to be drawn:


  • How can we foster an atmosphere of creativity where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done?
  • How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways?
  • How might we use technology to encourage greater collaboration?
  • How will the culture of the organisation deal empower those questioning orthodoxy?
  • How will we encourage play, curiosity and humour?


The challenges of the future demand more creativity and collaboration – this is at the heart of how the theatre works.



Giles Havergal: “Although one is totally in charge, I feel much more that I’m working with people rather than that they’re working for me and that is actually how I feel about running a theatre or running a business.  I think you get a better response.”

2. Motivating with Vision


Natasha Rickman: It’s about having a clear process the actors can then prepare for and know what’s going to happen


There is an idea that directing is about moving actors around the stage and telling them how to say the lines – this could not (now) be further from the truth.


Acting is a joyous but also scary thing to do and this can lead actors of all ages and experience levels to seek to fix a performance and to get it ‘right’. However, this approach to acting rarely delivers anything truly alive and interesting – it too often leads to cliché and, in the worst cases, over-acting, where the actor strives for an emotional pitch, but with little grounding in truth. In business that might mean the same old solutions to problems – turning out an unimaginative marketing campaign, sales incentives or partner kick-offs – because everyone is too busy, lethargic, or simply uninspired, to try anything new.


To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Rather they keep encouraging actors to play and to explore, keeping the performance alive by continuing to commit to the rehearsal process. And it is vital through all of this work that the director assumes ‘best endeavours’ – the premise that everyone is doing their best to improve and achieve excellence.



For the business leader, there are a number of lessons to be learned. Most obviously, how can we foster an atmosphere of creativity and freedom where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done? How can we set a clear process that will get us to the goals we seek; so that individuals have a degree of autonomy over their performance and can focus on what is in their control.


Sue Dunderdale: They have to have confidence in you. You have to be both an equal and the leader or focal point. We are doing equally important tasks just different, but if you don’t fulfill your task of having a structure to work from, having a focus in the room of creating an atmosphere that releases them and relaxes them they’re not going to get anywhere.


3. Creating Trust


Sarah Esdaile: I think a lot of directing is about trust. It’s about showing, not telling. I’m deliberately emotionally open which makes people feel safe and that’s partly my personality and that’s partly practical. I think that makes people trust me and I have an emotional vulnerability, as well as toughness. What I aspire to is being able to say, “Oh god don’t do that you look like a ****” and that’s absolutely brilliant for both of us.


The director creates a place of trust where actors can be freed from self-limiting beliefs and self-consciousness to play, stretch themselves and learn from failure.


The rehearsal process demands that actors take risks – sometimes emotionally, but most often trying ideas where they make look or feel daft. They have to play with what is possible to get beyond obvious and cliché. The director rewards this commitment to play and risk to encourage yet more fearlessness from that actor and their colleagues – they reinforce the behaviour with praise and by building on the actors’ ideas.


The director has to foster a team dynamic quickly. Unlike in business where the leader is often working with a team for years, in the theatre, the director brings together a group of actors, often with vastly different life and acting experiences, and has to rapidly form them into a functioning team.


This can’t be achieved with a few trust games or an away day building rafts (although that might be fun!) Instead, the director has to quickly help the team to collectively agree on goals. In the theatre, this means most obviously having the production ready for ‘opening night’ but can incorporate much more than that. The measures of success may be far wider than full houses – perhaps what we learn as a group about acting and ourselves, what new understanding we achieve about the play or our world.


In the same way, in business, there’s a revenue, market share or profit number to be hit, but we can also create richer and deeper goals to increase the sense of team purpose and achievement. The work of Simon Sinek here is especially instructive.


We might create a Team Charter or a Team Alliance to align on what behaviours and attitudes will get us to our stated goals.


In the theatre, once we have a clear sense of the team’s goals and purpose the director can focus the team on building towards those goals. They will take care to ensure the room is a ‘safe’ environment where people are free from humiliation, encouraged to try new things and to take ownership of their own performance. There is little more damaging to fostering a strong sense of trust than fear. A culture of fear can result in team members vying for position, when their ego becomes more important than the collective endeavour, whilst others may simply disconnect from the process and stop contributing.


However, a safe environment should not mean no disagreements – indeed, healthy conflict is vital to driving the team on to create their best work. Once we are all clear on the goal and have a sense of trust robust discussion can be channelled in service of getting the best result for the team.


As a leader what space do you give to new ideas? How do you celebrate when people try new things (even if they aren’t always successful)? How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways? Can your team have challenging discussions without damaging their relationships?


Liz Stevenson: Admitting errors reassures actors. It also creates an environment where people can fail and I think it shows an element of confidence in your leadership, that you can criticise yourself; that you can say I don’t know, but it’s ok and we don’t need to panic – we will find a solution.


4. Intentional Energy

Sarah Esdaile: I think part of the leadership is for you not to be the hero, for them not to know all the work that you’re doing. It’s like being a duck swimming along not knowing all the shit you’re dealing with. It’s not my job to overload them with all the crap that I’m dealing with – it’s my job to liberate them.


The good director, like the good leader in sporting, military or business fields, needs emotional control and patience. These are vital in the projection of authority. The director’s energy is the most crucial in the room, she understands that her energy provides an example to the team and so cultivates the ability to excite with enthusiasm and engender calm in a crisis.


A positive, engaged and calm presence is vital to settle the team and help them to understand that you are in control and able to cope with any of the challenges thrown at you. The actor can then relax and concentrate on their performance. It is a simple and effective way of communicating to the cast what energy is expected of them and of the atmosphere that one wishes to work in. It is the classic show, not tell.

In business too, uncontrolled swings in mood and energy can have an unsettling effect. When times are tough the team will look to the leader to assess the situation and react calmly and confidently. We cannot think clearly when in a state of very high emotion and a team cannot function effectively if they worry their leader will panic.


By cultivating a sense of emotional control and patience the leader can engender confidence in their team and help ensure they are in the right state of mind to give their best creative work.


Whilst some people are more naturally ‘calm’ than others, a heightened awareness of our physical and emotional impact is crucial for the leader and is at the centre of the work we do at 4D. Whether it is your breath, voice, posture or gestures you have far more power to control the energy you project into the world than you may believe.


Liz Stevenson: It is important because your energy, your mood filters through to everybody in the room so if you’re really stressed and unhappy and frustrated they will pick up on that and you can’t always help the way you feel. You’re a human being, but you should make a conscious effort to stay calm. If you blow up and say what you’re thinking sometimes it can have a really damaging effect that means they won’t trust you so I think you’ve got a responsibility to stay calm.

The team at 4D have over 50 years of theatre experience, coupled with strong business backgrounds; we have a passion and expertise for Psychology and a practice grounded in Integral Theory.

Through our work on Communication, Wellbeing and Team Performance we bring simple and clear tools combining our experience to businesses across the world. If you’d like to explore how the 4D tools can help bring these principles to life for your team, please contact Matt Beresford on