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  • Writer's pictureEmma J

Stuck in a Loop? How our habits can drive us to burnout.

In today's fast-paced world, we often hear about the importance of forming good habits to improve our productivity and overall well-being. However, not all habits are created equal, and some can actually lead to burnout and fatigue.


A habit loop is 3 step process that our brain uses to automate our behavior. It starts with a cue or trigger, followed by a routine, and ends with a reward. While habit loops can be helpful in automating positive behaviors, such as exercise or healthy eating, they can also lead to burnout if we repeatedly engage in negative routines that are triggered by stress or anxiety.


Through his research, Dr Jud Brewer has identified 5 habit loops common in healthcare workers that contribute to burnout. I’ve summarized these 5 habit loops in the table below. I’m sure we could come up with many more examples of destructive habit loops and I would love to hear your ideas!!


Remember that for a habit to stick, it must include a reward. I frequently have to support my clients and help them identify what “rewards” they may be chasing when they get stuck in one or more of these negative habit loops. For most people it is not easy to see this for yourself.




Personally, I am most susceptible to the “fix it” habit loop. Oh that sweet, sweet dopamine hit when you solve a problem! If I’m not careful, I will butt in to everyone’s lives and run myself ragged trying to fix everything for everybody.



Recognizing our habit patterns and taking action to change them is a central pillar of my 12 week program THRIVE (Transforming Habits, Restoring Inner Voice, and Empowerment)

If you are ready to start NOW to get support and accountability on transforming your habits (and so much more) book your breakthrough call today! On the call we're going to get you clear on 3 things

1. Where you are and the things keeping you stuck

2. Exactly where you want to be in terms of your career and your personal life

3. The step-by-step process to get you there


I offer these calls 100% free and you will get amazing value from it, even if you decide you don’t want to work with me further.



Here's a little bit more about how some of these habit loops might show up at work:


Over empathizing. Patient feels hopeless or in despair. Clinicians take on these feelings themselves

An over empathizing habit loop can occur when someone becomes so focused on others' needs and emotions that they neglect their own well-being. This type of habit loop can lead to burnout, as the individual becomes exhausted from trying to meet others' needs while ignoring their own.

The trigger for an over empathizing habit loop may be an internal desire to please others or external pressure to meet others' expectations. The behavior may involve constantly putting others' needs before their own, even at the expense of their own well-being. The reward may be a temporary sense of satisfaction or validation from others.


Self-protection, put on armor to protect yourself but it gets heavy

A self-protection habit loop can occur when someone becomes overly defensive or guarded in order to protect themselves from perceived threats or harm. This type of habit loop can also lead to burnout, as the individual may become so focused on protecting themselves that they neglect their relationships and well-being.

The trigger for a self-protection habit loop may be a past experience of harm or a fear of being vulnerable. The behavior may involve constantly being on guard, avoiding certain situations or people, or reacting defensively when feeling threatened. The reward may be a temporary sense of safety or control over the situation.


Fix it

The "fix it" habit loop can occur when someone becomes fixated on finding solutions to problems, to the point where it becomes a compulsive behavior that interferes with their well-being. This type of habit loop can also lead to burnout, as the individual may become so consumed with trying to fix problems that they neglect their own needs.

The trigger for the fix it habit loop may be an internal drive to be helpful, or external pressure to solve problems for others. The behavior may involve constantly seeking out problems to solve, even when it's not necessary or appropriate. The reward may be a temporary sense of satisfaction or validation from others for being helpful.


Take it home

The "take it home" habit loop can occur when someone brings their work or professional concerns home with them, to the point where it interferes with their personal life and well-being. This type of habit loop can lead to burnout, as the individual may become so consumed with work that they neglect their personal relationships and self-care.

The trigger for the take it home habit loop may be a desire to be productive or a fear of falling behind at work. The behavior may involve constantly checking work emails or taking work-related phone calls during personal time, even when it's not necessary or appropriate. The reward may be a temporary sense of accomplishment or feeling productive.


Anger, frustration. Lash out at co-workers as protective mechanism when there are situations you can’t control

The anger habit loop can occur when someone becomes easily provoked or reactive to certain triggers, to the point where it interferes with their relationships and well-being. This type of habit loop can lead to burnout, as the individual may become so consumed with anger that they neglect their own needs and push others away.

The trigger for the anger habit loop may be a past experience of harm, a fear of being disrespected or a sense of injustice. The behavior may involve reacting impulsively or aggressively to certain situations or people, even when it's not necessary or appropriate. The reward may be a temporary sense of control or release of pent-up frustration.



Changing a habit can be challenging, but with the right strategy and mindset, it is possible to make positive changes that last.


The first step to changing a habit is to identify the habit loop – the cure or trigger that initiates the behavior, the behavior itself, and the reward that reinforces the behavior. By understanding the habit loop, we can begin to develop targeted strategies for breaking the cycle.


New behaviors such as setting boundaries, honing your self-awareness, and focusing on what you can control are needed. These things can be overwhelming for most people to work on by themselves. Most people I talk to feel like they don’t even know where to start.

This is why I’ve designed my 12 week THRIVE program – Transforming Habits, Restoring Inner Voice, and Empowerment- for all those ready to leave these toxic habits behind. The genius of seeing all these things as habits, is that means they can be changed!


Personally, I had to start with my fix-it habit. I was constantly trying to fix every problem I encountered. I am a pretty good problem solver and therefore got “rewarded” by feeling helpful and effective quite frequently. People appreciated me for helping them. This external validation fed my need for significance and contribution, and the cycle continued. The issue with this is that most of these problems were not mine to solve. So I was constantly frustrated that my “solutions” weren’t sticking or that the scope of the problem was too big and I would beat myself up that I didn’t know the answer. Even worse, sometimes people didn’t want my help and this constant “fixer” mentality really came off as meddling and busy-bodyish.


I’m sure you can imagine the layers of change that were needed for me to break this fix-it mentality. Everything I teach in the THRIVE program is stuff I have done personally on my own road to a more purposeful and fulfilling life.


I still have a lot of problem-solver energy, but I have learned to channel it into things that are in my immediate sphere of control. I’ve built lots of new habits about boundaries, recognizing these behaviors when the crop up, and offering myself self-compassion that I continue to be a work in progress.


Let me know in comments which one of these habit loops you notice yourself doing most often.

In my next post I'll talk about some other unhelpful habits many of us have - perfectionism, people pleasing, and hyper-self reliance.


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