Autonomous and take control: Reading the title, you might think it’s a simple job to become autonomous. As if you can do this “for a while”, amongst all the concerns and hustle and bustle. Throw that idea overboard: You’re making too high demands on yourself. And you can’t have those extra demands at all.

If you want to become autonomous, which can help to prevent or repair a burnout, it will take a while before you have mastered the way of thinking and reacting. To avoid disappointment; this will go by trial and error, even with you. Accept that it takes time to change.

It doesn’t have to be tomorrow, next week or next month to always be autonomous. Be positive and satisfied when you discover more and more times that you have acted autonomously. Think of this article as a step-by-step plan that you can work with yourself, as a start to get back in control of your life. Don’t immediately demand that you apply all the points and tips at the same time, but take a step-by-step look at what is possible.

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Strong qualities

What we notice in most people who have burnout complaints is that they are willing to help others. That they want to be there for others when it’s not really convenient. Or that they would like to do someone else a favor and cut themselves off in the process. Those are very nice qualities! Don’t forget that. They are positive and strong qualities of you, so don’t just remove them from your character!

A strength that is a trap

Willing to help others, wanting to be ready, wanting to do others a favor: all very nice features. What we notice in many people who have burnout complaints, is that they simply pass themselves by in their desire to help others. If these beautiful qualities ensure that you no longer dare to say no or do not feel your limits at all, then your life will be more and more determined by others and you will experience more stress.

By the way, this does not mean that being autonomous means that you have to live only for yourself and not care about others. After all, man is a social being, and being in connection with others is very healthy. Being autonomous does mean that you know yourself well, take yourself seriously, enjoy your successes and act in a way that suits you. Even if that means a ‘no’ to others.

autonomous-helping hand

What is being autonomous? What is autonomy?

Being autonomous and taking control: that sounds pretty simple, but what does it actually mean? Autonomy stands for independence, an autonomous person lives independently and stays close to himself, independent of the opinion of others. That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?

Still, if you think about it, it’s not as simple as you think. So don’t judge yourself if you’re not as autonomous as you’d like to be right now, autonomy might start with throwing high demands on yourself.

People who are autonomous in life have a certain way of thinking and reacting. Some people act on the basis of their nature or upbringing, but many others have considerable difficulty with this. However, acting autonomously can be a good help in preventing or restoring a burnout.

In this article you will get some tips, to make a start to take control of your own life again. And keep in mind that you can be gentle with yourself, the helm doesn’t have to be rigorous overnight. Every day 1% different gives you an enormous profit in a year’s time.

What autonomy is not

Being autonomous does not mean that you will go your own way. Being autonomous does not mean that you only live for yourself. We are, after all social beings and connection with others is good for us!

Being autonomous means that you know yourself well, and act in a direction that suits you. You take your own responsibilities and enjoy your own successes. Being autonomous also means saying ‘no’ to things that simply do not suit you. That you walk the path that suits you!

To help you define and monitor your limits, a step-by-step plan follows. These points can help you find the right balance between helping others and choosing for yourself

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Become autonomous in 6 steps

There are a few preconditions that can help you keep the balance between using your qualities and guarding your own boundaries. In this way you can take back control of your own life and experience more autonomy.

Step 1 | Know who you are

Being autonomous, or self-managing, is sometimes compared to being a captain on your own ship. This may seem simple, but the difference between a freighter and a speedboat is big. So if you want to be a successful captain, you need to know what your ship, your being, is made for. You’re not going water skiing after a freighter, are you? Or a speedboat full of sea containers to Peru? We find that odd, without being able to explain exactly why. It doesn’t make sense.

It is important to know your strengths and to be able to point out how they can turn into your pitfalls. By knowing what you are good at, what makes you happy and therefore also what causes you stress, step number 1. From there you can determine what you want, what your opinion is, what you stand for and how you want to live your life.

Knowing who you are, knowing what your unique ship looks like, is step one. Stick to that: a cargo boat never becomes a speedboat!

Step 2 | Determine what you really want

An autonomous human being decides for himself what he wants. So it’s about you. What do you want? Do you want this because everyone wants this? Do you want this ’cause that’s the way it’s supposed to be’? Go for what you want, how you want to shape your life, what you enjoy. This applies to important matters such as choice of partner, choice of residence, but also to all the smaller things in life.

Sometimes you don’t have much to choose from, of course, in emergencies you have to act, whether you like it or not. And if you have a job, in some cases that also requires extra effort at times when you don’t feel like it. This doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t become the norm. And if you have made a conscious choice for that job, for example, it makes a considerable difference in the energy it demands of you.

Who am i - take control

You. Not what another person expects of you or what is considered ‘normal’ by the general opinion. Nor what your family thinks of it. It’s about your opinion, your life, your future. Determine what you really want. Do you want this because everyone wants it? Do you want this because it’s what your upbringing, family, neighborhood, country should be like? Or do you want it because you enjoy it and like it very much?

This applies to important issues such as choosing a partner, your job or where you’re going to live, but also to less important things such as choosing which piece of cake to take or what style of clothing you have.

Determining what you want is actually a very logical consequence of knowing who you are. It is a simple addition of ratio and emotion.

Your own wishes vs obligations

We don’t always get out of situations that are ‘mandatory’. Situations in which we cannot choose for ourselves. If your child has to go to hospital head-on, you ‘can’t’ postpone it because you’re in the same mood for a cup of coffee. (Anything is possible, of course, but is not always a convenient choice).

Or if you have to work overtime because your boss has his hands in his hair, you can’t always bluntly refuse just ‘because you don’t feel like it’. That’s not a bad thing either, because for moments like this your body produces adrenaline to keep going. As long as the compulsory activities remain an exception. In addition, if you make a choice consciously and know why you have said ‘yes’, it makes a huge difference in the energy it demands of you.

Determine Severity

One way to determine whether or not you want something is to ask yourself the following questions.

Is it necessary?  Is it really necessary to buy that new car or do you want to be inferior to friends who have a different car?  Are you really indispensable at that party or do you feel compelled to come because otherwise others wouldn’t like you enough? Is it really necessary to do that job for that friend or could someone else help?

Do I like it? Gives you energy. Would you rather go with it today than tomorrow? Or do you take action because you will be more appreciated by the other person? or do you make the choice just because there doesn’t seem to be anyone else to help?

Is it possible (now)? Is it financially possible? Do you have time and energy for it? Or can you move the plan forward to a later moment?

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Making healthy choices

If your answer to one of the questions is no, take stock. Only you can do that, another person cannot and should not determine that for you. Isn’t it necessary to go to the party, but do you like it and is it possible? let’s go party! If you don’t feel like going to a busy party because you don’t have the time or energy and you are also indispensable, then turn down the invitation in a friendly way.

Do you really need another car because the current standstill and public transport is not an option, but don’t like looking at cars: well, sometimes something has to be arranged. Just hold on and adjust your pace to your possibilities. Or ask someone who does like to do it. Is there really no other person who can help your friend and don’t you like to help yourself? Then see if you’re willing to spend time and energy on someone else or if you’re willing to let your friend take his own responsibility.

If your answer to all three questions is no, it stops anyway. If you still say yes, you will walk beyond your own boundaries and show that you are not autonomous; others determine what you do or do not do.

Step 3 | Creating clear frameworks

Suppose you’ve decided to say no to something or someone. The next step for many is one of the most difficult: indicating that you don’t want to or can’t do something. Maybe it feels like a failure, or you’re afraid to hurt the other person.

Burnout complaints also make it more difficult to indicate something in a ‘neat’ way. You are more easily irritated, which makes you say something unfriendly, or because you react much more emotionally than would be necessary for that situation. Maybe you have a strong tendency to justify yourself and justify why you don’t want or can’t do something. The more often you manage to set your limits or express your opinion, the more confident you will feel and the easier it will be for you.

Some sentences you can use to indicate your limits:

  • “I think it’s really sweet of you to think of me, but I’m turning down the offer anyway.”
  • “I’ve thought about it, but I’ve decided not to.”
  • “It’s thoughtful that you want to contribute, but I have a different opinion myself.”

Do not feel obliged to give a detailed explanation, unless you would like to do so yourself.

Tip: Try to come up with a remark that you can answer to multiple situations, then you will have less to remember and less to worry about what you are going to say and how to say it.

Examples of frameworks to create

  • “I think it’s really sweet of you to think of me, but I’m turning down the offer anyway.”
  • “I’ve thought about it, but I’ve decided not to.”
  • “It’s thoughtful that you want to contribute, but I have a different opinion myself.”
  • “Sorry, I have to say no. I don’t have the time/energy for it”
  • “I would like to, but it won’t be possible.”

If people are really interested in you or if they are worried about you, you can consider giving a further explanation. Never feel obliged to do so! You don’t have to share details or private sensitive information because others are so curious. (That’s their problem, and shouldn’t become yours).

Also try to avoid leaving options open for the future, such as “maybe next time”. This will prevent you from being asked to do a job again quickly.  If you feel fit enough the next time and would like to help, you can always offer it out of your own hands.

Step 4 | Don’t compare yourself to others

Easier said than done, of course. Many can very well compare themselves to others and then ‘undo’ themselves because they have discovered something that is ‘not good enough’. Often this is due to low self-esteem. Try to keep track of what you have done well in the coming weeks.

Not compared to others, but just what you thought was right about yourself. Or write down your qualities and talents that you are happy with and can be proud of. Keep in mind that life wouldn’t be more fun and better if everyone has the same strengths, reacts the same, looks the same everyone wants the same hobbies or job. Try to appreciate the differences in each other instead of ranking what is ‘better’.

Also remember that life would be boring if everyone had the same qualities and strengths. There are no ‘better’ people, but there are ‘other’ people, which is a good thing.


Step 5 | Accept that you can’t please everyone

Whatever you do, you’ll never satisfy everyone. There will always be people who would have done things differently, or would have wanted a different reaction from you. Everyone looks at situations from a different angle, colored by their own glasses of experiences, opinions and motivations. Precisely for this reason it is important to become autonomous.

You decide what is important to you, to what extent you want to help others and what you do with your life. What another person thinks is really less relevant. Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion, of course, but you may choose to let that opinion be purely that: just an opinion.

A while ago I heard a nice comparison about this. This illustration shows that whatever you do to please people, there are always people who have something to grumble about. It also shows that you can look at situations from different angles and there can be multiple answers, depending on what background or motivation people have.

In other words, it’s never good for everyone. That’s exactly why it’s important that you become autonomous. You decide what you find important, you decide to what extent you want to help others, you decide what you do with your life. And others will definitely have their opinion about that, but the trick is to distance yourself from it and be autonomous.

Example: autonomous life

“Grandpa Juan and grandson Juanito go to the market to get food. Grandpa Juan grabs his donkey from the stable, puts his grandson on it and they go out together. After a while there is oncoming traffic. They say: “What a spoiled child! He lets the old man walk while he himself has young legs!  Tss, youth of today!” and they walk on.

“Gut, that’s what, it’s not meant to convey that image of course,” Grandpa Juan says. So he changes places with his grandson and they walk on. Moments later there are more oncoming cars, and again with comments: “What a terrible man! He lets that poor boy walk all the way and he himself sits lazily on the donkey, how awful!” and they walk on as well.

“Well, what now, Juanito? I don’t want that on my conscience either” says grandpa Juan. “You know what, climb on my donkey, then we don’t have to walk either.” Juan and Juanito travel together on the donkey. After a while people pass by again and from a distance they already start shouting

“No, you can’t do that, poor animal. How can you make that donkey carry you both! That poor little donkey is collapsing under your weight!” But fortunately they too will soon move on.” “Well Juanito, it’s not easy for us, what now?” says Grandpa Juan. “Shall we both walk then? ” and the three of them, side by side, continued their way to the market. And of course they met people again. They started laughing very loudly: “Look, three donkeys!”*

*a donkey has traditionally been used to transport things, so it was considered odd to leave this emergency service unused.

Step 6 | Embrace your mistakes and know your qualities

Everyone makes mistakes and blunders. And not just one, but regular multiples in a day. And how good is that! Because of all these mistakes you have gained a lot of experience and know better what you want, what you stand for and what you are very good at (or not good at). Without these mistakes you would not be where you are now, look at what you have achieved. Being autonomous means that you can be there, including all the mistakes and blunders that got you where you are now.

Our entire social system is based on a maximum score. At school, at work, in sports etc. But everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes? Blunders! Every day! And often we hardly seem to learn from them (or others). It gives a feeling of failure, or irrelevance.

We could also turn this thought around: What if at school you were to assume that you would at least get the grade ‘1’. Everything you have up there is an extra. All you have more than a ‘1’ is extra knowledge! The higher the grade, the more knowledge you have. On the other hand, you undoubtedly also have a lot of experience because of the mistakes you make and have made on a daily basis. Could you have gotten to where you are now without these blunders?

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