Counting Coconuts – how to get through when you are feeling burned out

Around 8 years ago, Annie and I took a holiday at a Hilton Hotel in Dalaman, Turkey.

On arrival I spent the first 4 days sleeping between meals, wrapped in terry towelling on a sun lounger.

By day 5 I was in a fit state to enjoy the break and, in the subsequent conversations, we mutually agreed to move back up North from Cornwall, as the travel was wearing me out.

in 2013 I spent February on a Pacific island without Bear Grylls but with 12 strangers and a few cameras. The rest, as they say, is history.

By the mid-point of that month as a TV castaway, I was down from 11st 5lbs (c.73 kilos) to 10 stone (c.63 kilos) and the thrill of the adventure had certainly worn off – replaced by the lethargy of constant hunger and dehydration.

To put it mildly, I was homesick and ready for our social experiment to come to an end, but there was a long way to go to the end of the month.

So I built a rudimentary calendar out of 14 coconut husks, lined up in a straight line along the high tide point on “our” beach.

Every morning I walked alone to my coconut calendar and took great delight in picking up one of the husks and hurling it into the sea.

The countdown began – at first laborious, because 14 became 13, then 12, then 11 – and it still seemed like a long way home.

But in that situation you have a choice (as Stephen Covey taught us – between stimulus and response, there is choice).

I could choose to BMW – bitch, moan and whine about lack of food and water, about infestations, about foraging for half-rotten figs, about eating limpets (try the inner tube out of your road bike), about sand fly bites, about empty fishing nets, about constipation (camp record 17 days), about the behaviours of some of my fellow survivalists – the list is extensive.

Or I could choose to get my head down and work through it, one day at a time, taking an hour every afternoon to walk alone along the beach, watch the sun set into the Pacific as the pelicans plunged in and out of the warm tropical ocean and reflect on my good fortune to have a loving family and a great career waiting for me when I returned.

Eventually my coconut clock was denominated in single figures and the real countdown began. Each morning the ritual of hurling the husk became more potent as I sensed the finish line and the relief that was to come.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – on that last morning hunger and weakness replaced by euphoria and excitement – the same adrenalin rush that allows you to sprint across the finish line in a distance run, even though a few minutes beforehand you were struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

This Saturday we will be leaving for a 2-week sailing holiday in Croatia. I suspect I may spend the first few days sleeping between meals and I’ll have to ask my fellow crew members to forgive my lack of energy as a very tired body and brain begin recovery. I’m worn out.

There will, no doubt, be a conversation about me “over-doing it” again – very appropriate as even I’m prepared to admit that I’m not getting any younger and the marathon runners mantra – pace not race – is very apt as applied to my working life.

Whilst I’m away the ever-dependable Phillippa Goodwin will be doing some work on my 2020 calendar with a better pace in mind.

I’m off on 4 days of business travel this morning – client meetings, a Study Club presentation and finally at The Dentistry Show on Friday.

Although the clients/audiences will get my best shot – I’m counting coconuts this week and there are 4 to go.

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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

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