Are you asking too much from yourself? – Four Burner Theory

In my practice I often see people who may simply be doing just that!  But how do you know if you are asking too much of yourself?  This article may help!

The Four Burners Theory:

James Clear’s emails have survived many an unsubscribe cull over the years. One of my favourites is his explanation of the Four Burners Theory. His full article can be found here and I would highly recommend you read it:

In brief he describes the theory that we can look at our lives as a four burner stove. One burner is our family; one our work; one our friends and one our health. Essentially there is only a limited supply of gas. If we are to become true experts in any one of these four quadrants we have to  turn off one or even two of the others to allow a greater flow to the one we have prioritised.

We are all constantly looking for the right balance and are, of course, having to make trade offs or compromises between quadrants in order to remain sane and meet our responsibilities. If we are lucky we have a lot of control over which ones we have burning most brightly at any one time. Even the most casual observer might recognise that the first burner to be turned down when others (often work) need more heat is our health.

The Stress Bucket:

I think there is an extra element to this which is important we take in to account. I often talk to my customers about a stress bucket.  The bucket fills with things that need to be processed by the brain (very often negatives such as set backs, losses, painful experiences etc).  We know the subconscious will process these things during downtime, when accessing a positive trance state and, most importantly, during REM sleep. All these things will lighten the load in the bucket.

However, when the bucket gets too full the brain will work less effectively.  We will be more likely to suffer mood swings, anger, anxiety, low mood and a whole host of other negative side affects. There may be less focus and our performance may suffer at work.  We may feel less connected to our friends and family.  Looking after our health becomes an even greater chore.

In short the weight of the bucket restricts the supply of gas to all the burners meaning none of them will burn as brightly as we would like. Frustratingly this can create a negative thought loop (“I am not doing enough/performing as well as I know I can” etc) which continues to pile more things in to the bucket cutting the gas supply further.

171116 Four Burner Stress Bucket Picture

What to do about it?

There are of course ways to reduce the amount that goes in to the bucket. Skills we can practice, things we can do or perceive differently. Ultimately though it is often crucial that we find a way to redirect some additional gas to the health burner. This will have a direct impact on the weight of the bucket too. The temptation to cut the gas supply to this burner is a very short term way of thinking.

Do you need help getting your stress bucket under control? Perhaps you need help redirecting the gas supply to a different burner?

I am a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Hypnotherapy Lecturer and Supervisor with clinics in Stroud and Cirencester, Gloucestershire. I also see people for online hypnotherapy and telephone appointments.

Contact me Here 

This blog is an adaptation of this article I wrote in 2017.