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Burnout and You

Jonathan WangJonathan Wang Yearly Sage
in Sage Advice 6839 karma
So I was all ready to leave for my European vacation when I receive an email from the system telling me I have a private message on 7Sage. Hmm, what is this? Oh, it’s @nicole.hopkins suggesting an article topic? Grumble grumble. Whoa, it’s really been like a month since I’ve written one? Grumble grumble. FINE, I guess I’ll put something together. Don’t say I never did anything for you, Hopkins. Better watch your back.

OK, so. BURNOUT is the word of the day.

Cutting right to the chase - I recommend Burnout: Paradise. It’s a really sweet open-world driving game that’s held up surprisingly well over the years and…oh, not that kind of burnout? Darn.

How to tell you’re burning out:

The ideal learning attitude is for you to come into the whole thing expecting to make all kinds of awful, terrible mistakes that you have to spend hours upon hours cleaning up. When you just get started with a new task, that’s the high that accompanies it. “I’m going to get this”, you tell yourself. And for a time, you’re willing to roll with the punches and (assuming that you’ve put your ego aside, as we’ve discussed a few times previously) learn what needs to be learned without it affecting your mood too much. Frustrating as it may be, you work through your mistakes because you can feel yourself learning.

But like all ideal things, this cannot last forever, no matter how much you consciously try to maintain it. Usually, it starts when something doesn’t click right away or when you otherwise plateau, however temporarily. Don’t worry – nothing’s wrong with you. That just means you’re human (or a highly-realistic cyborg clone). It’s normal to get irritated sometimes when you feel like you’re not progressing (or even if you’re not progressing as fast as you feel like you should be, though that again has to do with the ego thing we talked about before). But that’s where it usually starts. Because here’s the thing – have you ever heard of someone burning out when they’re on a constant upward trajectory? Yeah, right. You show me a student who goes +1 scaled point every test, and I’ll show you a student who will never burn out.

Assuming you hit snags on your path like a normal person, you will eventually reach a low point where you dread studying because you’re sick of making mistakes and always having to struggle to find the right way to fix them, only to make what seems like negligible progress. Instead of properly analyzing the latest error you made, you just throw your hands up in frustration and complain about how ‘nobody writes like that’ (and since that’s one of my biggest pet peeves, I’ll state for the record – yes, they do. All the time, in fact, so you'd better get used to it). Mistakes make you increasingly more irritable, as you lament the fact that you made a sufficiency/necessity mistake, AGAIN. I mean, can they really just stop that? This test is so dumb sometimes.

Many times, this increased irritability and loathing results in avoiding studying, sort of like one avoids doing the laundry in favor of lounging on the couch catching up on back episodes of Pokemon (no? just me?). Go downstairs to put my laundry in the dryer? Maybe later, Ash is about to finally gain the trust of his Charmander! That scene always hits me right in the feels. Who cares about the laundry, anyway? Maybe I’m just not cut out for laundering.

That’s a state of burnout in a nutshell – the apathy, the excuse-making, the frustration finally boiling over. Which, if you’re a particularly nervous type, can even result in you panicking about not studying while simultaneously making excuses not to study. A pretty odd spot to be in, frankly, but it happens more than you might think.

Addressing the issue:

There are degrees of burnout. Small instances of burnout happen all the time, and usually just necessitate a bubble tea run to clear your head, or perhaps a quick trip to these discussion forums to bask in the schadenfreude of your similarly-suffering peers, or maybe just yelling a swear word at the top of your lungs and scaring the dog. Larger instances of burnout happen over a period of months, as your dedication continues to wane on a macro level. But the micro instances of burnout are instructive, because they suggest the solution for larger instances. Which is rather simple, in my opinion.

When you’re burned out, you need to take a break. Yes, you. Listen up:




There’s no way around it. You are no longer in the mindset required to learn, and you need to get it back. Studying more isn’t going to help, because remember – you’re already no longer in the mindset required to learn. Which begs the question – if you’re not going to get anything out of it, why would studying more ever be the right call? It’s not. You have to take a break and recharge your batteries.

Q: But what if I don’t have time to take a break?
A: Yes, because you’re accomplishing so much more by forcing yourself to study when you clearly aren’t learning anything from the time spent.

Q: But the test is just two months away!
A: And?

Q: So I need to be studying all the time, right?
A: That’s not how it works.

Look, here’s the deal. If you aren’t getting anything out of studying, you might as well be banging your head against a brick wall. In the process your mood will continue to worsen, leading to further frustration, panic, or both. (Frus-panic? Pan-stration?) Whatever you call it, it’s bad. And, not only are you literally wasting your time studying with that kind of mental state, it can be actively detrimental to you because this is precisely the time where you are most vulnerable both to lapsing back into old (bad) habits and also creating brand new (bad) habits in your attempt to make things make sense again.

Never confuse the steps you take to get to a goal with the goal itself. Having a consistent schedule is important, but it is not the end goal – learning is. Studying consistently is merely a means to that end. When the circumstances change, you need to adapt. You would not go to the gym and try to do leg presses if you broke your ankle. Why are you trying to ‘go to the gym’ (study for the LSAT) with a ‘broken’ brain (a mindset that will not allow you to do what you need to be doing)?

The hardest part is actually giving yourself permission to take a break without feeling guilty. My suggestion – write yourself a contract. You are going to take 48, or 96, or 144 hours away from the test. During that time, you are expressly prohibited from opening an LSAT book, looking at an LSAT question, visiting 7Sage, or anything else. Use this time to remember what life was like before you put the weight of the world on your own shoulders all those months ago. Read a book, sit by the pool, go out with your friends. Give yourself permission to punch anyone who asks you about the test in the face, too. In exchange, when you come back, you promise to do 30 minutes of (X), where (X) is some combination of fundamental tasks like question stem drills or conditional translation exercises. Just 30 minutes, to get back on your feet. And then take it from there, one step at a time.

If your mental game is in shambles, no amount of LSAT mechanics will save you.The test will be there when you get back; you just need to be ready to tackle it. Do what you need to in order to preserve your state of mind.

Just like I'm going to do, right freakin' now. No LSAT for 10 days for me! Catch you suckers later!


  • ENTJENTJ Alum Inactive ⭐
    3658 karma
    @"Jonathan Wang" Yo! Leave me your cell number! I may need to request emergency topics in the immediate future!

  • PacificoPacifico Alum Inactive ⭐
    8021 karma

    @nicole.hopkins he said you can't visit 7Sage... I guess @c.janson35 and I are going to have to up the stakes on your breaks!
  • Jonathan WangJonathan Wang Yearly Sage
    6839 karma
    Oh, and if you want to drop me topic suggestions, I'm happy to field them via PM. I'm going to be unreal busy for the rest of the cycle (and probably through December), but occasionally I find the inspiration to write and it's easier for me to indulge myself if I already have a topic to tackle.
  • PacificoPacifico Alum Inactive ⭐
    8021 karma
    Oh @"Jonathan Wang" you just opened up a can of worms with that comment... RIP your inbox...
  • jacquiixjacquiix Alum Member
    33 karma
    Thanks @"Jonathan Wang", great article
  • jyang72jyang72 Alum Member
    844 karma
    Taking a break is life-saving!!!
  • GSU HopefulGSU Hopeful Core
    1644 karma
    Thanks for the post. It happens to everyone, but some try to push through. You brought it to light that its not only okay to feel this way, but it will invariably happen at some point. Your post shows that its okay to take a break and necessary at times.
  • nicole.hopkinsnicole.hopkins Inactive Sage Inactive ⭐
    7965 karma

    @"Jonathan Wang" this is SO encouraging! Oh my gosh, this can be my birthday and Christmas presents for this year and next. I hope folks are encouraged by this. I look forward to sharing this excellent piece with many people over the months/years to come.
  • nicole.hopkinsnicole.hopkins Inactive Sage Inactive ⭐
    7965 karma
    @Pacifico said:
    @nicole.hopkins he said you can't visit 7Sage... I guess @c.janson35 and I are going to have to up the stakes on your breaks!
    Ok this is terrifying to me ... !!! It's ok I'm not taking another break until ... whelp ... Saturday!
  • harrismeganharrismegan Member
    2074 karma
    This is the best <3 makes me feel 150% better.
  • nicole.hopkinsnicole.hopkins Inactive Sage Inactive ⭐
    7965 karma
    @harrismegan said:
    This is the best <3 makes me feel 150% better.
    :) :) :)
  • mes08mes08 Alum Member
    578 karma
    Question. What should you do if you've already taken break(s) and you still feel burnt out? I took my breaks and went back to studying and I'm making improvements (my BR and PT score is going up or staying consistent), but I'm still burn out. I'm still tired and unmotivated to study on a daily basis. I get distracted easily, lose focus, and don't study as many hours as I'd like. During the week I study 2 instead of 3 hours each day and on weekends, 4 hrs instead of 6-8 like I used to be able to do. I'm not sure how to get out of the funk :(
  • nicole.hopkinsnicole.hopkins Inactive Sage Inactive ⭐
    7965 karma
    @mes08 said:
    What should you do if you've already taken break(s) and you still feel burnt out?
    Take more breaks :) And treat yoself!!! Time for more self-care! Break until you're refreshed and just itchin' to get back in. Break until your attitude resets.
  • harrismeganharrismegan Member
    2074 karma
    I'm having the same problem! I took a few breaks, but I still feel burnt out :/ and I don't want to take anymore breaks! But we need to!! UGH!!!
  • mes08mes08 Alum Member
    578 karma
    @nicole.hopkins and @harrismegan:
    I'm skeptical as to whether this really is the best advice. Surely taking a break can be immensely beneficial when you're burnt out. But when does burnout turn into just laziness? I mean, except for a few people, I don't think LSAT studying is really anyone's first choice in terms of things they genuinely want to be doing. If I wait around for "the mood" to strike me again, that day may never come. October is right around the corner and after 1+ years of studying, I'm burnt out. I don't think taking a break will bring me back to the level of enthusiasm I had 6 months ago. I don't think I'll ever get it back. I've already taken sporadic days off throughought the summer as well as a week-long vacation. At this point, I'm leaning towards believing that simply taking frequent breaks (not studying for 3 hours straight and maybe doing 50 min increments instead), decreasing the total number of hours a day, and developing more mental discipline may be more beneficial. As I said, it's not that my score is decreasing; it's staying the same or improving. That suggests that as much of a drag as it is for me, I'm not being unproductive during my studying.

    TL;DR - I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to take a break until you feel motivated to study again because that can just lead to laziness.
  • PacificoPacifico Alum Inactive ⭐
    8021 karma
    If it leads to laziness then you weren't that motivated to begin with and you shouldn't become a lawyer since it's not like the hard work ends with a decent LSAT score. So from that perspective it's basically an effective methodology to weed out the people who were unfit for the task to begin with and the people who do get motivated again will reap even better rewards.
  • harrismeganharrismegan Member
    2074 karma
    @mes08 said:
    I'm skeptical as to whether this really is the best advice. Surely taking a break can be immensely beneficial when you're burnt out.
    Fair enough! I definitely didn't advise anyone to take a break "until they regained their motivation" to take the LSAT. It's certainly not my first choice to be writing the LSAT over.... sleeping/doing other activities. BUT there are symptoms of burn out that I use as a gage to whether I should take a break or not: extreme mental fatigue, getting questions wrong I never get wrong (for example, when I'm redoing old LG sections), looking at the stimulus and feeling mentally disconnected from the information, ect.
    I'm in the same boat. I've been studying for this test a year and I think that's why I haven't felt the effects of burn out until now..... I had time to take breaks and... back last year when time pressure wasn't existent, I took breaks without even thinking about how it would interfere with my LSAT score.
    Flash forward to now, when it's 2 months away, taking a break does cause me to stress out. But I think they are necessary.

    Anecdotally, early last month I had taken a week long vacation. I was PTing in the 164 ish range.....I took a week and a half off. No LSAT. No 7Sage. My first PT back I scored a 170. I know @nicole.hopkins has a similar story as well.

    If you're feeling burnt out, and you know that you are, then I think it would be beneficial for you to take a few days off. Who knows. You said you're scoring consistently within a range now, but how do you know what you will score without burnout and after a nice long break? You could push through a barrier. Either way, I don't think you have anything to lose by taking a break.
  • DumbHollywoodActorDumbHollywoodActor Alum Inactive ⭐
    7468 karma
    @mes08 I would advise against putting a judgement word like “lazy” on it. I think people who’ve gone through the curriculum, used other texts like LSAT Trainer or even Powerscore, and taken at least 10 PTs are, by definition, NOT LAZY. I like to think of Burnout is the equivalent of sleep deprivation. Performance is down, not necessarily motivation.

    What you’re discussing is different than burnout, I think. Not feeling like doing the work, especially after a few days off, means you might be dealing with something more fundamental. You might have to ask yourself some questions, along the lines of “Is this what I really want to do?” “Why am I doing this?”, “What got me involved in this in the first place?" and you have to be honest with yourself. Maybe have a conversation with someone who won’t BS you. Going through LSAT Prep and law school for the wrong reasons seems like the equivalent of low-level torture to me. Why do that to yourself if that isn’t really what you want? I don’t know if that's you. But it sounds like you need to find out.

  • mes08mes08 Alum Member
    578 karma
    @DumbHollywoodActor no, I def didn't mean to say that people who have studied hard until they've become burnt out are lazy; as you said, they're not. I was trying to say that if you keep taking breaks because you're burnt out, that might turn into procrastination/laziness. When do you say, "enough breaks, I better get back to studying"?

    @harrismegan You definitely expressed what I'm feeling. I guess at this point I'm afraid of taking breaks because I don't feel like they help me that much when I do. The whole time I take a break, I have this nagging sense of guilt and that I should be studying :/ When I get back to studying, I'm thinking of taking a day off once a week. I hadn't been doing that before.
  • sean.marzsean.marz Alum Member
    181 karma
    Man this topic really rang true for me but for a different reason. I haven't done anything LSAT related for 1.5 weeks due to going on vacation and then moving in with my girlfriend and all that's involved with that. I really needed someone to say that BREAKS ARE OKAY.

    I have been steadily improving towards 170 so I can't say that I've been stuck in a rut, but doing 2-3 PTs + BR + review + reading the Trainer does consume your life. Instead of feeling guilty that I haven't done anything LSAT related I'm going to tackle tomorrow's PT with enthusiasm and an eagerness to see what I got wrong! Woohoo
  • nicole.hopkinsnicole.hopkins Inactive Sage Inactive ⭐
    7965 karma
    @sean.marz said:
    I really needed someone to say that BREAKS ARE OKAY.

    oh wait i'm not supposed to be on here since i'm taking my 2-weeker ... don't let @Pacifico and @c.janson35 see me ...
  • BomhillzBomhillz Alum Member
    66 karma

    I've read this post several times over the months I've been seriously studying and it has helped me immensely over the long haul. I've listen to my body when it's telling me to go for a run or watch some animated show that gives me the feels to an embarrassing extent. It's worked, I've learned and improved. I'm no JY but mastery has been my goal and in my room under timed conditions I've hit and surpassed my original target score.
    My question is about the short term since I have 11 left days until the June exam.

    My training has always reinforced the idea of a negative split, which is a racing strategy that involves completing the second half of a race faster than the first half. It is defined by the intentional setting of a slower initial pace, followed by a gradual or sudden increase of speed towards the end of the race. So far in my life this general strategy has worked out pretty well in lots of different situations.

    I'm not to saying that I intentionally studied slowly in the beginning, I think my work/study/relax balance has been pretty good up to this point and this post was a big part of that. But now I'm approaching the end and my instincts are telling me to accelerate. My gut says it's a good idea to lock myself in my apartment until test day and study like a maniac. To put my phone on airplane mode a few days before test day and stop myself from seeing my friends, going on facebook, or engaging in other non-LSAT/non-test prep activity. As far is discipline is concerned, I know I can do this, I've done it in the past.

    But part of me is aware that my intensity can sometimes get in the way of my goals. Once I had a very important wrestling match that, like the LSAT, consumed my entire focus. I ended up over training in the days leading up to it and the day of the match my body was so worn out and sore I performed much worse than my usual, let alone my best. I remember vividly in the days leading up to the match visualizing myself on match day and putting in maximum effort, genuinely thinking that was the best way to position myself for success. Those 2 or 3 works outs leading up to that single match ended up defining my final days in the sport and in hindsight are the only regret I have from a long career of wrestling.

    So I'm torn. I can list countless examples where sprinting to the finish has worked out for me and before this morning I had already anticipated going that route. I just happened to be going through my journal last night and was reminded of that poor decision turned tragedy. The gravity of the LSAT and the work I've put in up to this point too closely parallel that experience for me to ignore the similarities. I'm afraid of repeating the mistakes of the past and this hesitation has opened the door to my lifelong nemesis, self-doubt.

    It's very likely I'm overthinking things, which is a tendency of mine, but I'm at a cross roads. Do I double down as usual or do I pump the breaks to avoid burnout? I'm looking for some Sage advice to help restore my confidence in these final days. I can do whatever I decide to do, I just don't know what the best route looks like.

  • Seeking PerfectionSeeking Perfection Alum Member
    4423 karma

    Pump the breaks. If I were you I would study as normal until the weekend before the test. I would take 1 PT that weekend. If it felt like it went reasonably well I would blind review it and then do very light studying of any problems it revealed for the rest of the week not studying at all the day before the test and no more than an hour two days before the test.

    If it felt like something went awfully wrong, then take another either right away or on Sunday or Monday.If you do that, be even more careful not to over study.

    You want to be mebtally fresh and happy on test day and as relaxed as possible. The best way to get there is to have a restful week and finish on a good PT.

  • Seeking PerfectionSeeking Perfection Alum Member
    4423 karma

    I think it is safe to say that if you have had a LSAT break for about 3 weeks or a month you should be back to your full energy reserves. At that point if you want to extend the break longer that is fine and everything will be okay, but it won't help prevent burnout.

  • LCMama2017LCMama2017 Alum Member
    2134 karma

    This is a great post by @"Jonathan Wang". I had not read it before and immediately took to it. I think his posts should be permanently stored somewhere - like a motivation section or something like that. Anyway, can @"Jonathan Wang" continue his writing? I noticed that this and other of his posts are several years old. Is he completely gone?

    @mes08 I too, worried (sometimes still worry) that maybe "my burnout" is me being lazy. The thing is - I come back after taking breaks. I don't have to come back to studying but I do. I've had several job offers over the past few months that would be great financially but that means minimal studying and minimal studying doesn't get you a top score and I can't accept that for my life. So, I come back and continue to study to make the impossible, well, possible. I guess maybe I'm not lazy after all. Your post was three years old too so not sure if you are still on the boards, but if you are, I hope you did great.

  • keets993keets993 Alum Member 🍌
    6045 karma

    @Bomhillz you said you've surpassed your goals? Congrats!

    I agree with @"Seeking Perfection" don't push yourself. If you're already at a stage you want to be on test day, then your focus should be on maintaining those good habits and not acquiring bad ones over the course of 11 days. The week of the test you should do minimal studying. Chances of you learning something crucial and implementing it during that week are slim and lack of success will just frustrate you and put you in a bad mindset for game day. This test is all about painfully slow gains and if you're confident in your level of understanding, don't do anything to jeopardize it.

  • AudaciousRedAudaciousRed Alum Member
    2689 karma

    My brain the past two weeks has said "I am done". I have a couple really crappy PT's that I did when I really wasn't in the mood that is telling me my brain is tired of my crap. Could it have not just waited three more weeks until after the test? Nooo. Stupid brain. And I was progressing so nicely, too. :(

  • Jonathan WangJonathan Wang Yearly Sage
    edited June 2018 6839 karma

    @LCMama2017 No, not gone. A combination of circumstances has caused my (public) writing to fall off a cliff, but I've been continuing to tutor and develop my own theories of the LSAT the entire time (and I chime in from time to time on various threads here and there, though my output is limited since I try my best not to overshadow student-driven discussion).

    If people want to feed me topics I'm happy to see what I can do, but especially in the summer it gets very difficult for me because of the sheer volume of students on my plate. I've kicked around the idea of doing a webinar or office hours instead, but again the schedule has been getting in the way and I haven't been able to put together a decent slide deck to run by JY.

    As for my good friend @mes08, she's currently at her dream school after overcoming a variety of LSAT-related issues, so I'd say she did pretty well for herself.

  • samantha.ashley92samantha.ashley92 Alum Member
    1777 karma

    "...if you’re a particularly nervous type, can even result in you panicking about not studying while simultaneously making excuses not to study." Tell me something more true. I dare you.

    @AlexRexeger @bcallahan95

  • errrrr1452errrrr1452 Alum Member
    132 karma

    This is a great post and it helped a lot. Thank you Jonathan!

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