The Power of the Timeout to Avoid Burnout: A Coaching Conversation Using Strengths

Amy, Sally’s coaching client, called to say she could not make their appointment. Because she was a hospital administrator during the pandemic, she didn’t have time to make a call. Sally expressed concern and offered to check-in for a few minutes. Amy reluctantly agreed.

Sally was tempted by Amy’s agitation to offer advice or suggest ways to calm her down. Instead, by using her VIA character strength of curiosity, she was able to curb her enthusiasm (zest) and inclination to help (kindness) and asked, “What is most helpful to you to talk about now?”

Amy answered immediately, “Can you share with me the ways you or your other clients decompress and build resilience?” 

Sally again suppressed the urge to give advice (judgment) and again leaning on curiosity, asked, “What has worked for you in the past?” She was determined to persevere with helping Amy explore her own pathways to resilience, as she was much more likely to implement those than anything Sally suggested directly (teamwork, judgment, perspective).

Amy paused and took two deep breathes. Then a list came forth.

  1. Being in nature
  2. Walking/exercising/swimming
  3. Music
  4. Meditation—she remembered she has an app she likes that she hasn’t used in a while
  5. Poetry reading—she has a big book of poetry that was given to her as a birthday present
  6. Planning something nice for the future—maybe a trip to a favorite place


Sally continued in a calm, soft tone: “So what has happened in the last few days?”

Amy responded, “I can’t go to the gym because it’s closed, which means no swimming. I haven’t been outside because the weather has been bad, and I get home too late anyway. I haven’t meditated in a long time—I really want to get back to that, it’s so beneficial. And with everything going on at the hospital, I don’t have time to plan a trip or listen to music.”

Sally paused to see if there were more thoughts, and hearing none, asked her next question, “What are some options?”

Amy spoke quickly and took a deep breath before responding. “Well,” she said, “as I’m talking, it occurs to me that I can play music on my drive to and from work. I can walk at lunchtime because the weather is expected to improve tomorrow. If I can’t get out, I’ll use my meditation app to do a five-minute meditation. And I can read a page of poetry before bed.” 

She sighed. “Wow, it’s really easy now that I think about it. With a plan (prudence), I can make sure I take a few breaks.” 

“What about the trip? Where do you want to go?” Sally asked. Before too long, Amy was describing her dream vacation in Bali—picturing the sights, imagining the sounds, thinking about the food she would eat and the activities she would enjoy.

As the conversation drew to a close, Sally asked, “How do you feel now?”

Amy replied, “I feel SO much better! My head is clearer, more focused, and I feel better. I have a plan of action for the next days. I feel great! I am so grateful that we talked and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to manage my energy more effectively over the next few days and weeks. It also occurred to me that although things are crazy right now, they are all focused on one thing—managing this one crisis. Everyday distractions and day-to-day issues aren’t relevant, so in a funny kind of way I am actually feeling more productive and more fulfilled than usual. I want to remember that!”

Sally asked one last question. “What did you learn today?”

Amy answered, “I learned that taking this timeout for myself was not a luxury I couldn’t afford, it was a necessity that will help me be more effective (perspective). When can we schedule our next coaching session?”

Personal timeouts are not luxury items. They are essential during stressful times. They help us to focus, reset, identify priorities and make better decisions. Feeling better makes it easier to be the person you want to be.

Here are some questions you might want to ask as you plan your time in the coming days and weeks.

  1. What is your personal practice?
  2. How do these practices make you feel?
  3. Who is someone you can talk to about options?
  4. How can you help another person explore their options in self-care?


Join Ruth on Tuesday May 10 for a WBI/JCC Positive Psychology Hour Webinar on how to protect yourself against burnout, adversity, prolonged stress, and more. Register to find out more. You can test your own level of burnout beforehand by taking this quiz.


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