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Escape the Type A Trap: How to Proactively Beat Burnout

Escape the Type A Trap: How to Proactively Beat Burnout

Erin Stafford has cracked the burnout code. A burnout survivor herself, she has interviewed hundreds of the world’s highest achievers to discover impactful and essential mindset shifts to help leaders and their teams go from burnout and bust to sustainable peak performance.

Now, in her new book, The Type A Trap: Five Mindset Shifts to Beat Burnout and Transform Your Life, Erin distills lessons learned from studying, surveying, and speaking with peak performers —including New York Times bestselling authors, Olympians, leading doctors, retired US Navy SEALS, Fortune 500 founders, etc. — to help people break free from the “type A trap” and set forward on a sustainable path to high performance. She shares practical and easy-to-implement tools and mindset shifts to beat burnout and get fired up about life again.

We recently spoke with Erin about her new book and to explore some of the strategies she recommends. Below, discover how you can begin proactively preventing burnout or jumpstart your healing journey.

The Type A Trap

Speakers Spotlight: How did you come to recognize the “Type A Trap” and its impact on burnout?
The Type A Trap by Erin Stafford

Erin Stafford: I have always been a very driven, motivated, “Type A” person — always pushing, always working toward the next goal. However, after heading up marketing for a hyper-growth healthcare company that grew 27x in the six years I was there, staffing travel clinicians during the pandemic, and a slew of things that happened in my personal life at the same time, I burned out.

I had always thought burnout was BS and something that happened to weak people, lazy people, those people, not high achievers like me. But then it happened to me, and I realized I needed to make some changes in my life. I couldn’t just yoga and acupuncture my way out of it.

I have a master’s in social psychology from the University of Cambridge, so U had a bit of background on the subject, but I knew I needed more. So, I interviewed and surveyed thousands of high achievers from all different walks of life to get a deeper understanding of the subject. What I found in my research was that there was a strong correlation between being a Type A person and experiencing burnout.

Sustainable High Performance

SpSp: What does sustainable high-performance look like? What should we be aiming for?

ES: Small shifts over time are key. If you’re working 80 hours a week, it’s not feasible to think that all of a sudden you’re going to meditate for an hour a day, eat organic, take afternoon naps, journal every morning, do the trendy sauna and cold plunges, etc. It’s not gonna happen. So, it’s about asking ourselves how we can make a few small changes and incorporate little moments of rest throughout our days to start.

There’s a great study by Gartner that talks about proactive rest. It says that most of us Type As see rest as something that we have to earn and that we only do when we are exhausted and burned out. But instead, we should be resting proactively so that we can prevent exhaustion and burnout in the first place. This can take a number of different shapes. Maybe it’s having 50-minute meetings instead of 60 and giving yourself and your teams those ten minutes back in their day. Perhaps it’s having meeting-free Fridays. Maybe you simply turn the music off while you’re driving your car so your nervous system can rest for a moment.

There will always be periods of sprints, but we cannot simply sprint for years and think we’re going to survive. If you go hard one day or week, then think of ways to add in a little extra rest, fun, or family time in the next day or week.

It’s incredible how just a few small shifts can add up to a huge difference. Ultimately, sustainable peak performance is all about being able to stay at a high level of health and performance without burning out. It’s going to look different for everyone but starts with small shifts.

Symptoms of Burnout

SpSp: You mention that burnout can sneak up on people. What signs should leaders be looking for in their teams?

ES: Team members that just zone out in meetings or on conference calls, never participating or contributing.

Team members that abdicate responsibility instead of delegating. This looks like just forwarding emails on, never to think about them again or passing off tasks to others without setting that person up for success. The task is off their plate and that’s all they care about.

Constantly making jokes or saying disparaging things about the company, team, or work. Things like “Oh, you know, living the dream,” when someone asks how they are.

These are just a few tell-tale signs that the person is becoming disengaged, frustrated, and on a path to potential burnout.

How to Proactively Prevent Burnout

SpSp: While interviewing thousands of top performers and researching burnout and peak performance, were there any surprising findings or insights that emerged?

ES: One of my favorite ideas I uncovered was from one of the New York Times bestselling authors I interviewed. She said, “Pay attention to the jokes you make.” Jokes are just jokes, until they’re not. And it’s so true. If you are constantly making jokes about your boss, your job, your weight, your partner, or any number of other things, take that as a sign that you’re not happy in that area. 

Another thing that emerged was that as high achievers, when we burn out, we want to do everything we can do get out of it. So, we load up our calendars with yoga, acupuncture, meditation, journaling, therapy, massages, hypnosis, naps, and any other wellness tool we can think of. But ultimately, recovering from burnout isn’t about doing more. It’s about being ok with doing less. Committing to less so that we can show up more. It’s a hard adjustment for type As, but it’s necessary to sustain peak performance.

SpSp: Your book explores five mindset shifts to beat burnout. If people are feeling burnt out today, what’s the first step you recommend?

ES: I have a number of free resources on my website as well, including a burnout toolkit, mental health toolkit, and burnout assessment. The burnout assessment only takes about five minutes but evaluates six areas of your life to see where you are feeling most burned out at the moment. It’s a great place to start. You can find all the resources at

Another great thing to do is what I call the Coco Chanel Takeoff. Coco Chanel, the famous French fashion designer, would say, “Before you leave the house take one thing off.” Her point being that less is more. Take the same approach with your schedule.

Before you start your week, take one thing off. This could be a meeting that could really be an email. Maybe this is the week your kid carpools to school or soccer with someone else. Or perhaps you’ve got plans three nights this week and it’s already stressing you out. Reschedule or cancel one.

Just take one thing off your plate and lighten your load a little. All of this adds up to you feeling like you have a little more control of your schedule, stress, and life.

As a keynote speaker and expert in sustainable peak performance, Erin Stafford draws from her distinct career path to help audiences heal from burnout and find a renewed sense of excitement and engagement in their work and personal lives.

Contact us to learn more about Erin and how to book her for your next event.

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