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From Burnout to Breakthrough: Lessons from My Latest Bodybuilding Competition

Most people who know me know I also compete in bodybuilding. Although it’s often misunderstood as a vanity sport, I appreciate bodybuilding as a way to reflect and become more self-aware. In fact, I often find parallels between my physical training and personal growth.

In a recent competition, the 2024 NPC Southern California Championships, I placed 2nd and 4th in my classes. 

I usually come away feeling a lot more positive after competing—but if I’m being honest, it was different this time. 

My final scores weren’t bad, but they also weren’t quite the outcome that I had been striving toward. They almost reaffirmed an underlying belief that I’ve been playing at a number two and number four in my life. 

A bit dramatic? Maybe, but reflecting on the days after the competition, I realized I haven’t been satisfied with how I’ve been showing up in my life.

Why? It was hard to put my finger on it at first, but then it came to me: I’m burned out, and have been feeling burned out for a while. And because of that burnout, I wasn’t able to show up as my best self at the competition.

When people talk about burnout, they often frame it in terms of exhaustion and physical fatigue. But there’s a lot more to burnout and its insidious effects on our emotional well-being.

Burnout’s Negative Thought Spiral

When glycogen is low and cardio is high, your brain runs on reserves. (Glycogen is a form of energy we store in our bodies, made up of glucose.) 

In other words, your brain becomes foggy. As a result, you might revert to old thought patterns, with your cognition—how you think—becoming relatively negative. Unless you deliberately redirect your mind towards more optimal thinking, your reflexive thinking will go on autopilot. 

In my recent competition, there was a moment backstage when I got to snack on Rice Krispie treats. I remember it vividly because of the instant sugar high. 

Tasting just a little bit of sugar gave me a sudden boost of energy, enough to put me in a good mood and socialize more than I had in the months leading up to the competition. There I was talking to strangers and smiling and laughing—it was an amazing moment.

As a stark difference to the way I’d been feeling the past year, this backstage sugar high clued me into my burnout. It made it clear to me how disconnected I’ve been from my purpose over the past 12 months. How I’d lost sight of my “why.” 

My motivation and reason for doing the competition felt abstract. Thinking back to the past several months, I realized I’ve been tired from working for so long and feeling like I’ve been making no progress. On occasion, I’ve even felt like I was regressing.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that pulls me to the sport of bodybuilding is the reflection and personal growth it inspires. It’s a great assessment tool as well as an opportunity for me to see where I’m playing in life.

For example, something I want to work on is my posing and presentation. I know I need to get more comfortable in my body on stage. It’s a work in progress, and surprisingly, it translates to other parts of my world, not just bodybuilding. 

What I mean by that is that I’m subconsciously telling others I don’t deserve to win by the way I’m showing up. 

Sometimes you have to lose to win. For me, that was placing second and fourth. The competition was a datapoint—and a wake-up call. I needed it to show me where I’m at and what I need to work on moving forward. 

How to Shake Off Your Inner Critic

Reflecting on this experience, I realized that much of my learnings are deeply transferable to the psychological journeys many of us undertake when it comes to breaking out of negative thought spirals. 

Looking ahead, I want to build confidence so that I can show up more authentically. In order for others to see me as ready and deserving, I have to see myself as ready and deserving. Needless to say, creating this mindset shift is way easier said than done. 

Building confidence is a journey, but there are many things we can do to feel more sure of ourselves. Below are some strategies:

  • Challenge negative thoughts. Our inner critic can be loud. Next time you hear a negative thought, challenge it! Ask yourself if it's helpful or realistic. Replace negativity with positive affirmations. This shift in perspective can provide a motivational boost and help you move forward.

  • Set and achieve goals. This builds a sense of accomplishment and shows you what you're capable of. Start with small, achievable goals and gradually increase the difficulty. Then celebrate each victory!

  • Step outside your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to try new things, even if they scare you a little. This can be anything from joining a club to striking up a conversation with someone new.

  • Take care of yourself. Feeling good physically can boost your confidence mentally. Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. In short, make time for activities that nourish your body, mind, and spirit.

  • Focus on your strengths. We all have unique talents and abilities—identify yours and focus on developing them further. Know that your worthiness is inherent and not dependent on external validation. Embrace your inherent value and build a healthy self-image from within.

  • Dress for success. Looking good can make you feel good. Put on clothes, do your hair, or smack on some lipstick that make you feel confident and presentable.

  • Practice positive self-talk. Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement, just like you would a friend. Believe in your own potential. We all have moments of doubt and struggle, and treating ourselves with the same kindness we offer others is vital to boosting our self-confidence and resilience.

  • Learn from setbacks. Sometimes, setbacks and challenges are necessary to achieve growth. My recent competition reminded me that perseverance through difficulties leads to greater self-discovery and improvement. Everyone makes mistakes. Rather than dwelling on failures, view them as learning experiences and opportunities to grow.

You Are Worthy

The sport of bodybuilding has taught me many valuable lessons about resilience, self-awareness, and the importance of holistic well-being. But these insights aren’t specific to the gym or the stage—they also apply to the psychological journeys we all take. 

Reflecting on my most recent competition has helped me recognize my burnout and given me next steps for moving forward. With that clarity, I’m working on building confidence, something that will inevitably take time and effort. For all those in a similar place, be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress along the way. 

Remember, you are worthy as you are. Worthiness is your birthright. Embrace it, and let it guide you on your path to personal growth and fulfillment.

What next?

  • My mission and purpose in life is to help people expand with purpose and power. As a clinical psychologist, I support clients in developing skills to better manage their relationships with stress, trauma, and anxiety. If you’re interested in improving your emotional health, book an appointment.

  • For teams interested in self-development, I also offer group workshops, retreats, and trainings on stress management, yoga psychology, and mindfulness. Find out about upcoming events or reach out to schedule one.

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