Physician Worry; Letting Go & Refocusing Energy into What You Can Control

by Coach Jill Farmer and Jen Barna MD | Life Journey, Physician Coaching, Podcast

Do you suffer with physician worry? This episode is to help physicians let go of worrying about things outside of their control.

“Not worrying about something isn’t condoning it, it’s just recognizing what’s in your control and what’s not.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

In today’s episode, Dr. Jen Barna and Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer talk about worry. Are you a worrywart? Do you find yourself worrying about things that are out of your control? Coach Jill talks to us about how to let go of worrying and how it is a process that takes time. She tells us how to shift our focus onto things that are in our control. Jen and Jill also discuss the deeper emotions behind worry, like fear. Tune in to this episode to learn how to start letting go of unhelpful worry today, and shift your valuable time and energy onto what you have the power to change.

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Please enjoy the full transcript below

Jill: Not worrying about something isn’t condoning it, it’s just recognizing what’s in your control and what’s not.


[DocWorking theme]


Jill: Hello and welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, lead coach at DocWorking. Today, we are going to talk to you about worrying. Are you a worrywart? Is that doing you any good? To join me in this conversation is the CEO and founder of DocWorking Dr. Jen Barna, a board-certified radiologist and somebody who I love having interesting conversations with about ways that we can support physicians. Jen, when you think about worrying, what comes to mind for you?


Jen: Thanks, Jill. It’s great to be here with you and thank you all for listening. We look forward to hearing your input about this conversation and this topic as well. So, please reach out to us and let us know your thoughts. I’m definitely a worrywart. I think anyone who knows me would probably see that right off the bat. I prefer to deny it, but I think it’s pretty obvious. My kids have put up with a lot of advice, little tips throughout the day, every day, do this this way, so that you can avoid this happening or that happening. As a radiologist, of course, I see a lot of accidents and hear a lot of stories. So, that only adds fuel to the fire. [laughs] So, I’m very excited to hear your thoughts from the coach’s perspective and whether that’s something that you commonly see among physicians and clients that you work with.


Jill: Yeah. I mean, worrying is one of those things that A sometimes, I think we just have a genetic predisposition toward and then also we have a lot of cultural conditioning. I always thought of myself as somebody who was conscientious. I wouldn’t have described myself as a worrier. It took collaboration with a brilliant therapist friend while we were doing a coaching and therapy collaboration and she pointed out, “Yeah, I think one of the things you’re calling conscientiousness is actually what I would call qualify as worrying.”


This was more than 10 years ago, she helped me really understand the difference between worrying from a psychological perspective versus something more productive, being prepared or being conscientious because worrying can be a really destructive habit. I think it’s important to know that worrying is not loving. My therapist friend, Susie, always has said, “Worrying is not caring. It’s over caring.” It’s projecting your fear onto someone you love and it’s often the opposite of helpful. 


The other thing that I think came to my awareness when I really started studying and understanding worrying is that it does not keep bad things from happening. When things go wrong, we still feel terrible but worrying about it ahead of time robs you of the peace and contentment or focusing on what’s really happening now. I love the quote from Nazi war camp survivor, Corrie ten Boom. She said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength.” There’s another thing that therapists will tell us about worry, sometimes we subconsciously create the things we worry about. There’re a million examples. But if I’m worried my kid is going to be socially awkward, and I get really tense, and I try to tell them how they should act in social situations in ways that actually makes him feel more tense, guess what? They’re awkward [laughs] in social situations. That kind of stuff happens all the time. 


I think one of the most important things to think about are the two final points that I’d like to make about worrying: it’s really a fake way to control things you can’t control. It allows you to believe you’re about doing something. “Ah, I’m just worried about whether the flights going to be on time,” makes it feel like somehow you can control whether the flight is on time, but it’s not. It’s fake control. I think it’s also important to understand that worry is often a cover story for a deeper emotion that needs to be felt and processed like fear. [laughs] So, when we really can identify– now here’s what I’m afraid of and feel and process that fear, decide whether it’s in our locus of control or not, it just makes it a lot easier to move through that. So, lots of thoughts on worry there. What comes up for you as you hear that, Jen?


Jen: I’m worried I’ve been too conscientious over the years. [laughs] 


Jill: I like your framing of it. We will still stick with the conscientious. I know people will say, “Well, I’m a worrier. What am I supposed to do? Stop worrying, right?” It’s a process. Letting go of worry is a process. One of the most important ways that you can change it is to begin to notice it. We become so accustomed to worrying that we wear it around like a pair of uncomfortable shoes that we’ve just forgotten to take off. So, if you get curious with yourself and just notice situations that trigger worry and what it feels like in your body, you’re more likely to be honest about it and say, “Ah, is this in my control?” Another good question to ask yourself if you’re worrying is, “Is this helpful?” If you answer that question honestly, a lot of times it helps you to shift your actions and behaviors.


Another thing is that, when you find yourself worrying about something, it can be helpful to just grab a piece of paper and say, “Okay, well, here’s the outcome I’m worried about.” What are three other possible outcomes that are more helpful or meaningful in this situation? Because that helps your brain not get so stuck on that negativity bias, which our brain gives us as a way to try to help us keep safe from threats and it helps us recognize, “Oh, there isn’t really a threat here.” There are some other outcomes here that could be more meaningful and that can be a helpful way to get out of a worry spin cycle as well.


Jen: I love that idea. I’m going to put it to use right away because the truth is, as you said, so much that we tend to focus energy and worry or conscientiousness on, depending on your perspective, is out of our control. It certainly probably sounds like worry to other people, whereas you may just be trying to be cautious in your advice or your thoughts. But as you say, so much of it is actually out of our control. There’s no use in spending energy on things that we can’t control when we could instead change our focus to the things that we want to control and that are actually within the range of our control.


Jill: Exactly and that goes back to a tool that we’ve talked about previously on the podcast and that is simply sometimes when we find ourselves spinning, it can be really helpful to just grab a piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle. What you find yourself worrying about, write inside the circle things that you have some ability to influence the outcome of or to change the results of and things that you’re worried about that you have no ability to influence or change outside the circle. Often people will discover that a lot of their attention and energy is going toward things outside that circle that they really have no ability to or no agency to change. I use it with physician clients all the time. 


There’re a couple of wise teachers I’ve heard say through the years. “Worrying is praying for what you don’t want.” [laughs] I always thought that was such a good way to flip the script. I’m thinking that worrying is somehow going to protect us, make it better, or prevent things. I think it’s a good thing for us to keep in mind as we seek toward less worry and more focused attention on what we can control, what we can influence, and what really matters to us.


Jen: You’re so right. It almost seems like there’s a superstitious aspect of it, you feel if you don’t worry, or acknowledge, or give this advice. If you don’t acknowledge that possibility and try to sort through it, then somehow, I don’t know it sounds completely ridiculous even as I’m saying. [laughs] 


Jill: It feels like you’re not doing anything about it. 


Jen: Yeah.


Jill: Like, you’re somehow condoning it, right? And you’re not condoning it. Not worrying about something isn’t condoning it. It’s just recognizing what’s in your control and what’s not.


Jen: Yeah. But I absolutely love the idea of changing your focus to the things that you can control and it’s such a relief to realize like, “Okay, well, I hope it doesn’t turn out that way. It could turn out these other ways.” That’s another point that I’ve heard you mentioned on the podcast previously is that often what we worry about isn’t what ultimately happens anyway. So, in that case, it’s wasted energy and if it’s something you can’t control, it’s also wasted energy. So, given the constraints that we have in terms of how we can focus our time and our energy, it certainly makes sense to choose to focus on the things that we can control.


Jill: Right. So, I leave you with this concept, again, that’s used by many therapists and by wisdom teachers. Worry is not love, it’s fear. So, isn’t it better if we want to choose something that’s not fear as a way to have a compass for our direction in life? I’m going to invite all of you guys not to beat yourself up for worrying, but to maybe trust you’re worrying a little bit less this week and try some of these things we’ve talked about, thinking about alternative outcomes instead of hyper focusing on potential negative outcomes. Recognizing the emotion that might be under the worry, and giving yourself permission to really process and feel that emotion and notice if that worry doesn’t alleviate a little bit as well. Final thoughts, Jen?


Jen: I love these concepts. I’m going to put them to use myself immediately. I’m always learning from the podcast, and from you, and from the coaches at DocWorking, and you heard it here on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Thank you for being here with us today.




Jill: Let’s face it. Sometimes in medicine, leaders end up in their positions because of their achievement, not because of their leadership skills. If you’re in medicine, and you’re a leader, and you want to improve your skills or perhaps you’re a physician who would like to be a leader someday, if either of those things are true, then you need to hire a physician leadership coach. Somebody with lots of experience working with physicians to help them identify what kind of a leader they want to be, help them implement a plan to become that leader, and to help them leverage their strengths so that they can be the best they can be in a leadership position.


Amanda: I’m Amanda Taran, producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Thank you for being here. Please check us out at and please don’t forget to like and subscribe. Thank you for listening.


Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.

She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.

She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.

Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.

Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.

Board-certified practicing radiologist, founder and CEO of DocWorking, and host of top ranked DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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