Anyone who spends a lot of time and energy on an activity is liable to burn out. Unfortunately, forensics is no exception to this. Although many extempers will experience some degree of burn out during their careers, here are ways to reduce your chances of burning out.
1. Don’t work too hard
The main reason people experience burnout is overwork . For some extempers, avoiding working too hard is easier said than done. Obsessed extempers aim to push themselves to their limits but, no further. The challenge lies in figuring out where your limits lie.
There are parts of this activity that are really dull; I have yet to meet an extemper who thought recording herself or sorting files are fun. If you waited until you felt like doing those things, they would probably never get done. That being said, constantly forcing yourself to work on extemp repeatedly is not sustainable. As a general rule of thumb, it is okay to force yourself to start working, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to keep working on extemp when you really, really don’t want to. In addition to leading to burnout, grudgingly reading the news is very inefficient. Productive extemp work requires focus, which is hard to do when you despise the task at hand.
Establishing a healthy extemp-life balance can be difficult because extemp requires a lot of work and can be hard to get away from. AGD ideas and news are seemingly everywhere and it can be hard to not constantly think about extemp. It is important to occasionally do things that aren’t related to extemp at all. Find some other hobbies, take walks with your family, or go watch a movie with your friends. Extemp can be a large part of your life, but you should never let it take over your entire life.
2. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Stress is the root of burnout. Your level of stress is influenced both by the amount of work you are doing and how you choose to view that work. Changing your attitude regarding your work is a great way to avoid burnout without necessarily having to work less.
Some extempers aim to file for an hour or run a practice round everyday. Routines and goals are important in extemp and in life, but it is important to remember that they exist to serve us rather than the other way around. Setting goals that are very difficult to achieve and then beating yourself up for not achieving them is more likely to lead to unneeded stress than competitive success. It is better to set reasonable goals that you can achieve on a regular basis than beat yourself up about not being able to read or practice as much as you think is ideal.
Some days, doing a lot of productive extemp work just isn’t a possibility. Maybe you had an event to attend or just got assigned a lot of homework. When this happens, don’t get mad at yourself for not practicing or reading, even if you promised yourself that you would spend a set amount of time practicing every day.
If you want to be good at extemp, you’re going to have to work hard and there is no way to get around that. In addition to working hard, you do need to be kind yourself when setting and missing targets. Figuring out how much work you should expect yourself to complete and how often you should tolerate deviation from your plan can be difficult, but it is important to decide how much you are willing and able to commit to the activity.
3. Be social
This one is a bit hard right now, but in general, talking to your teammates and fellow competitors at tournaments is a good way to avoid burnout. Talking to other extempers helps make us feel less alone and can help reduce the stress that leads to burnout in the first place. The social aspects of debate are also great for making memories that you will look back on fondly later.
If you have a squad, talk to them and try to get along. If you don’t, talk to the other students in the prep room; there are a lot of people in a similar situation. During this period of virtual everything, chatting with your team before tournaments or playing a game between rounds via Zoom can have a similar function. Some teams and local circuits have Discords or other social media pages. While many of these are great places to socialize, some are toxic and better avoided. Regardless of how you acquire it, socialization and a sense of community are important for your wellbeing and you will burnout much faster without them.
If you are already experiencing burnout that is beginning to interfere with your ability to do the event well, here are some ways to solve it.
1. Recognize that you have a problem
The first step to dealing with burnout is the same as the first step for dealing with almost any challenge: recognizing the existence of the problem. People commonly think of burn out as being all or nothing, but in reality, burnout is a spectrum. This can make it harder to recognize because mildly burnout people mistake it for ordinary laziness or dejection about not breaking. Description proceeds prescription and understanding that you have a problem with burnout is the first step to being able to solve it before it gets worse.
Usually, the first sign of burnout is decreased motivation. Filing and practicing seem less appealing. Thinking of AGDs, learning new content, and other elements of the event that require creativity or concentration become much harder. It is normal to occasionally feel demotivated or lacking in energy, but if you feel this way frequently, there is a good chance you are experiencing burnout. Some people experiencing burnout also become really cynical and negative. If this you, keep in mind that the negativity associated with burnout is not an excuse to be mean to your team; they don’t deserve that.
Last season, I burnt myself out and chose to ignore it. I forced myself to work harder because desperately I wanted to get better, but I only succeeded in making myself hate the activity and the people around me. Hatred for the event shows in speeches–and ballots. I placed second to last at state quals that year, the worst I performed all year. Don’t make that mistake.
2. Take some time off from extemp
If you are able to, take a few days or a week off completely from speech and debate related work. During this time, do other things you enjoy instead of working on extemp. Bake banana bread, go for walks, call family members you haven’t talked to in a while. Relax and get some exercise and socialization. As long as you only do it for a single digit, previously decided upon number of days that aren’t before an important tournament, this is a good use of time.
3. Change the your mindset
Burnout is strongly influenced by mindset, so changing your mindset can help improve your situation. Some people burnout because they put too much pressure on themselves or identify too strongly with their work. Following the previous tip can help with this; time away from the activity often makes it easier to rework your approach. Figuring out why you burned out before and avoiding that thing can help prevent you from burning out again. If you have a coach or a teammate who is understanding, sometimes they can help with this, as it is sometimes difficult for us to be able to identify our own faults.
People who are recovering for burnout may want to work differently for a while. For example, if you used to do a lot of speaking drills, try focusing on practice rounds instead. When I burned out last year, I didn’t compete in extemp for a while, but I did Congress and judged extemp. Keeping things fresh and changing it up a bit can help solve burnout or prevent relapse.
Unfortunately, burnout is a relatively common experience for dedicated extempers. Feeling burnt out doesn’t mean you’re weak or don’t love the event enough. Extempers are not robots and there is no shame in acknowledging that you are human. Because burnout can make you miserable and bad at extemp, it is important to take care of your most important tool: yourself.