What to Do About AI Burnout?

So, here we are at the beginning of what I call the A.I. Explosion. We are at a moment in history where change is happening at a rate that may never have previously occurred. I can’t say that definitively, because it is difficult to fully quantify the extent and impact of what’s occurring. But I think most of us would agree this is something… BIG.

In the 1980’s Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock, a book about the stress of living in the 70s – an era that many of us older folk may look back upon nostalgically as a sleepy stroll in the park in comparison to what’s happening now. 

I suspect a lot of people reading this will be starting to feel at least a little overwhelmed with it all. Many of us hold jobs or have small companies that rely heavily on practical applications of software. How do we keep up to speed with the latest thing when the thing we invested in yesterday is today obsolete, all because a new app has superseded it? How can we maintain any sense of competence – let alone mastery – of this sociology-economic tornado that we are being sucked into. Where TF are we? This ain’t Kansas anymore! 

I do not wish to suggest that I have the final answer to all this. And yet, having been around a long time and seen a lot of changes and disruptions in my own life, I thought I would share a few strategies that you might like to consider adopting if you are starting to experience AI burnout (like me). 

Let me begin by writing that the most important thing is to decide who you are and what you are here for. What are your goals in work and life? What are your prime values? What attitudes, behaviours and principles are you not willing to compromise on, no matter what is going on around you? If you don’t know who you are or what your core values are you can’t blame the machines for distracting you. If you don’t have a clear focus you don’t have anything to be distracted from, as Nir Eyal has noted. 

Secondly, begin each day in presence. If there is any one piece of advice I would like you to remember from this piece, it is this: DO NOT wake up and turn on your device first thing in the morning. Make your first period of the day sacred. Take a walk outside. Meditate. Pray. Write a daily plan. Do whatever it is that connects you with your Self. With your spirit. And make sure that you use your peripheral vision. You can do that by walking outside in any open space and just looking around. Science shows that this simple act improves our spatial awareness, spatial intelligence, our ability to contextualise our situations, and grants us a more positive expectation of the future. Staring at a three-inch screen at 7.00am traps you in the small-s-self and is death to the spirit. 

I have experienced many situations in my life where I became stuck when trying to learn something that was challenging. When we experience repeated negative learning outcomes (i.e.we feel stuck) the natural tendency is to just not go back to the learning environment again, to procrastinate – or to just give up. 

I felt this way not long ago when learning to do video editing with Camtasia. At one point when I was making my first video, I was just treading water. Every time I went to the computer to try to get the next part of the project done, I just kept making the same errors, over and over. I’d just sit there at the computer, my mind often unfocused, feeling kind of mentally dizzy and confused. It just wasn’t working. So I decided to go back to an old strategy I have have used for multiple challenging learning situations. Instead of just going to the machine and dully hacking away at the keyboard, I decided to reduce each learning session to just 15 minutes, and release all expectation of the outcome. This reduced the sense of dread and hopelessness. I knew I could endure 15 minutes. Then I’d take a break. And it worked. My stress levels dropped. I became more focused. And I was able to gain a sense of (small) progress, learning something new in each mini-session using the Camtasia software. Pretty soon I broke through the roadblock, and was able to produce videos with relative ease (such as this trailer for Power and Presence).

You can try this approach not only with new software, but with general learning in the AI Explosion. Commit to  certain number of 15 minute sessions of reading a new article or watching a social media video on some new software or AI breakthrough. Change the length of the session as you see fit.

I also find it useful to release the need for perfection. Let go of the need to know everything. There’s no way you are going to master the AI Explosion. But you can survive it. Choose your niche, and stick to it – at least for long enough so that you can give it a good shot. Regular dipping in to a learning environment will often produce faster learning, as opposed to attempting to cram large chunks of learning experiences into your head in a state of rushed panic.

It is also crucial to know what to ignore. You can’t read every journal article or LinkedIn post on the latest AI development. You can’t watch every YouTube video. If you feel overwhelmed, try following just one or two experts, and allow them to lead you – at least for a while. You can’t follow 20 influencers at once and take it all in. Just a few will do. 

Finally, be OK with not knowing, with not being the guru. Relax with the fact that there is much you don’t know and can’t be expected to know – and be gentle on yourself. Then you can allow a natural attitude of curiosity to guide you. Excitement and stress are physiologically similar. It’s the interpretation of our experiences and especially to the physiology of arousal (stress) that can help transform that “stress”into a more positive experience. I like to think of this as conscious relationship to experience, or what the Buddhists called “right relationship.”

Remember, learning occurs naturally when we are motivated, excited and having fun. And when we know why we are doing what we are doing. In the end, the mind is a mystery. There’s an element of grace in human intelligence, in the way that learning emerges from a space where it previously didn’t. We are not fully in control. But we can set the stage, and choose way we we play upon that platform. 

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