How to Build Resilience and Accommodate Life’s Disruptions

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

“Increasing our capacity for dealing with disruptions is a really big tool in resilience and we know that increasing our ability to be resilient decreases the likelihood that we burnout.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

In today’s episode, cohosts Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer and Dr. Jen Barna discuss how to be prepared for unexpected disruptions. We’re faced with disruptions every day, even in normal times. In the past two years especially, we’ve all had to cope with a higher volume of minor to major disruptions while carrying the burdens of work and life. Coach Jill and Jen talk about the different ways we react to disruption and how to prepare yourself for different levels of such, so as not to be derailed when inevitable disruptions and interruptions throw your day’s plan off track. They discuss leaving time in your schedule every day to accommodate for the unexpected, and to help prevent overwhelm and burnout. Tune in to this episode for helpful advice on handling whatever today and everyday may throw your way. 

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Please enjoy the full transcript below

Jill: Increasing our capacity for dealing with the disruptions is a really big tool in resilience and we know that increasing our ability to be resilient decreases the likelihood that we burnout.


[DocWorking theme]


Jen: Hello, everyone. We’re so excited that you’re here with us today. I’m Dr. Jen Barna and I’m here today with Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer and cohost of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast brought to you by DocWorking THRIVE. Please check us out at and learn how you can join us today in THRIVE. To get started, Jill, welcome. I’m so glad to be here with you. It’s always a pleasure.


Jill: It’s always a great pleasure and I love what we’re going to talk about today, because one of the reasons we’re talking today is because we have a beloved team member, who’s out ill and so, we have had to pivot around a disruption. We are talking about disruptions today people because it is the lived experience of most of you, if you are a human being on Earth, especially, in the medical field. For the last now close to two years, we have all had to get a lot better at disruptions. Jen, when you think of disruptions and you as a human being, how do you tend to deal with disruptions? What do you notice about your own behavior in those situations?


Jen: Well, I think disruptions definitely can lead to overwhelm and lead to a sense of overwhelm that can ultimately drive you toward feeling burned out. What I notice is that I tend to be very optimistic, I like to call it in terms of planning my days and what I think I can get done in a day. So, ultimately, what often happens is, I under schedule the time it takes to do things, so that I will think I can do a whole lot more things than I can actually do and I haven’t traditionally, although, I’ve started to try to do it budgeted in time for the disruptions that always come inevitably. So, if you’re not prepared for that in terms of your schedule, you can feel like you didn’t get done as much as you wanted to when in reality, you got done a realistic amount and you dealt with something you weren’t expecting. So, how do you help people around trying to put that all together in the limited time that we have every day, which is 24 hours no matter how you slice it?


Jill: Yeah, great. I love how you described your experience because I think that is so typical for so many of our physician clients and particularly the way a lot of people have been conditioned through medical education, which is always, “More is better.” Put more into the schedule, achieve more, check more things off your list. So, you’ve identified one of the best tools for helping to keep yourself as a physician from being dis-railed by disruptions. Because that’s the biggest frustration for us is we’re on the path, and that disruption veers us off the path, and takes us in a direction that we often wouldn’t want to go because we want to stay on the path that we already had planned. So, making space and time in your schedule is a little to mix a metaphor here, instead of having to be on a train where everything tips over and gets derailed if it goes. Instead, you’re driving on a really wide path, so there’s room to drive around and move around the obstacles by creating some space in your schedule. So, you, I think, really identified one of the best tools. 


Another thing to know about ourselves is what our pattern is when we do get disrupted. I think long term, increasing our capacity for dealing with the disruptions is a really big tool for resilience. We know that increasing our ability to be resilient decreases the likelihood that we burn out. So, it isn’t just a nice thing to do for productivity. A really important, I think, practice to take seriously is how do we all as human beings increase our capacity to deal with disruptions. So, a lot of us have a pattern. Mine is when I’ve got my plan in place and I get disrupted, I’m an attacker, I get mad. I get frustrated at the disruption, whether it’s just gnashing my teeth at the pandemic or at a specific person who’s dared to take longer than I had planned out my schedule on a phone call. What happens when you have that pattern like me is you spend a lot of energy and you exhaust yourself with a lot of emotion that is being exercised and expended on stuff that you aren’t really controlling. 


Other people that I work with and a lot of physicians have this as well, they’re not attackers when they bump up against a disruption. They’re retreaters. They just go, “Oh well.” Arms go up in the air. “What are we supposed to do?” Now, this thing is disrupted as in they sort of retreat or what some psychologists say, go into an avoidant mode, which isn’t necessarily effective either. So, I think identifying whether you tend to be in one of those two patterns is not used to beat yourself up, my physician friends. Instead, it’s just, oh, interesting. That’s my default behavior. I wonder if there’s a choice that might be more useful. What do you think about when you hear that?


Jen: I think that’s a really good point. It makes me think of something I’ve heard you say before, which is that, when you allow yourself to be disrupted, it’s like, you’re flying along, and you have to land the plane, and then you have to go back to get to where you were before. So, that makes me think about a distinction you would have to make every time you’re disrupted or potentially going to be disrupted, which is, is this worth landing the plane for or should I maybe make a boundary here and say, “No, I can’t do this right now. These are my priorities. I can’t allow this disruption to happen.” What do you think about judging disruptions?


Jill: Yeah. I think that goes to a couple of points. There Are two separate ideas I think you just exposed brilliantly. One is going back to what I was just talking about. If you have your pattern of behavior default, where you tend to react with frustration and anger every single time, you’ve got to get yourself back down to calm every time there’s a disruption or you just avoid dealing with whatever shift you need to make in order to move through the disruption. When you get better at just paying attention, when we’re in the present moment and we’re noticing, we tend to be more likely to be able to respond instead of react. Reaction almost comes from our most primitive amygdala driven brain. It’s often where our emotions are driving the bus instead of that wiser self or the ability to use that whole prefrontal cortex, where the best stuff comes in. So, I think you bring up a great point. 


Anytime we have a disruption, if we notice what our pattern of behavior is that’s reactive, that’s not particularly helpful. It really helps to notice. How do we notice it? We name it out loud. I’m being disrupted right now. For me, it stops me from going into that automatic reaction-action cycle where later on I go, “Gosh, why did I say that or I was spinning out of control and then I forgot the next thing, because I was so frustrated.” It takes me back to that present moment. 


The other point that I think you bring up in your reflection that’s really brilliant is that, we sometimes have more control over our disruptions than we like to say we do. We do not have control over colleagues being sick or world pandemics. But a lot of us, if we tend to be in that people pleaser mode that we’ve talked about a lot on the podcast and then I have identified myself as a recovering people pleaser, we are afraid to create situations for ourselves where we have protected time that can’t be disrupted because we’re afraid that means that we’re not doing everything for all of the people all the time. In doing that we are as you said, kind of landing the plane every time which uses a lot of energy and time if you think about it, fuel. Every time we’re taking our attention and focus off what we need to be focusing on in order to achieve something of meaning. So, that’s the response I have to the thoughts that you brought up. Does any of that feel like it could be helpful for you to apply as you think about how disruptions exhaust sometimes and feel like they’re taking up more energy of yours than you’d like them to?


Jen: Definitely. What it makes me think about and what it makes me realize is that to quote one of my favorite podcast hosts, Paula Pant from Afford Anything. She likes to say, “You can have anything but you can’t have everything.” So, when I think about disruption and accomplishing what you’re trying to accomplish for the day, I think that perhaps you can acknowledge where a certain disruption may fall on the spectrum of priorities, and also you can qualify disruptions that might be self-induced. Such as jumping on social media if you have a break or how much time you’re going to spend checking emails and responding to emails, those types of disruptions in the middle of trying to accomplish something else can really set you back. What do you think about that, Jill?


Jill: Yeah, that’s excellent. I mean just when we drill it down to the practical tactical, which you and I both love to do. Yeah, sometimes, if we really are serious about needing focused time it means we have to do things like turn off our phone for 15 minutes or some of my clients, I advise to take social media off their phones. They want to check Facebook or Instagram, they do it only on their iPad and only during these hours of the day. Things like that, it’s like putting the bumpers up in the bowling alley, it just gives yourself a little bit more likelihood that you’ll stay in the lane to give yourself some protection and those can be really helpful ways when the disruptions are technically in our control. But our patterns of behavior let them just run roughshod in our lives, putting up some of those bumpers or boundaries can be really helpful.


Jen: I suppose you could put those bumpers or boundaries up when something is a major disruption, like, we were talking about before colleagues out sick that we can’t anticipate and we can’t control, maybe that’s a day to turn the phone off and not check the social media at all. 


Jill: Right.


Jen: Do you have any other tips for how to deal with time management when you have a major unexpected disruption that really shakes your day?


Jill: Yeah. The major disruption is, we’re not going to use those bumper tools as much or the boundary tools for that. That’s more than managing our own thinking. Because when the major disruptions come, the last thing we need to do is waste a lot of time wishing things were different than they are. That’s where we can get into the arguing with reality mode of, “Things should.” Instead of, “Okay, when I can–?” In my case, when I get into like attack mode in frustration around a major disruption that I can’t control, I know for me, I’ve got to pause, take some breaths, I’d say three breaths, but sometimes it’s more like 10, until I’ve regulated my emotion, and I’m not in that activated state because I know I’m going to make a lot better choices. They’re going to keep me from being completely derailed. 


If you’re somebody that freezes when there’s a major disruption, and you throw your hands in the air, and you’re not sure what to do, and you default or defer to what everybody else says, for you, it might just be asking yourself the question, what’s the one next best step I can take here? Not figure it all out but just what’s in this situation where things are not the way that I would have written the script for it. It’s a plot twist that I wouldn’t have given myself in my own narrative of my own life. But how can I take just the next best step, so that I move forward and don’t end up spinning my wheels and feeling stuck? Does that make sense?


Jen: Yeah, I really love that because it’s so easy to jump right into that high stress, just anxiety mode when something like that happens. I love the concept of having a plan and just taking the breaths to pause. When you start to feel that kind of spinning into that just stressed-out mode, stop and pause and then realize that all you can do is take the next best step you can and then do that and repeat [laughs] and just do that until you get through the current crisis that you may be dealing with. 


Jill: Yeah. Lots of good stuff for hopefully you guys to chew on here and I think I can speak for Jen and say that these are good reminders for us to integrate [laughs] as we get the experience of having disruptions in our lives as well. So, again, when they’re little things and little disruptions that you have a little bit of control over, one tip for yourself is to put some of those bumpers up, put some boundaries up, so that you give yourself permission to not have to land the plane with disruptions and allow yourself to be in more focused flow, which we know is where you’re just more efficient and productive. Also, when you’re making your schedule and you are planning life, make some room for those disruptions to happen, so that you’re not walking on a tight wire or getting derailed every time life’s little disruptions or big disruptions come up. 


Then finally, when the disruptions are big and they’re likely to cause a reaction in you, see if you can’t do a better job of paying attention to your thinking and noticing, where your reaction to the disruption is actually making it a bigger disruption. If there’s a way that you can take a deep breath, get a little bit more regulated in your emotions, and be willing to take just the next best step to move forward. So, with that, thank you, Jen for joining me in this conversation. As always, I could talk to you all day long but I think we’ve got some good ideas. Thank all of you for joining us. We love having you here, we love hearing what is sparked by these conversations, and don’t forget to go right now to to check out DocWorking THRIVE, our monthly coaching program just for physicians. It includes a physician community, it includes coaching support, it is just what you need if you are feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or you need a better handle on the disruptions in your life. Until next time, on behalf of Dr. Jenn Barna, CEO of DocWorking, I’m Jill Farmer and this is DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.




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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