Let’s talk about quick wins with five success tools for physicians, PAs, NPs and other medical professionals. Here are five tools you can put to use starting today, to move toward happiness, purpose, contentment, and success in life and in work, while preventing burnout.
“When physicians and healthcare workers get clear on what is in their control and what is truly out of their control, it can be one of the most empowering things they do.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer
In this episode, DocWorking Founder and CEO, Dr. Jen Barna and Lead Coach at DocWorking, Jill Farmer, team up to walk us through quick wins you can start using today, with five key concepts that open our minds to new possibilities that we can add to our toolboxes.
Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer has spent more than a decade helping physicians, medical professionals and executives make transformative changes with concepts and tools including these, and she knows what works! In this episode, you’ll hear how understanding these key concepts can be life changing:
- Self awareness
- Emotional agility
- Being part of a community
- Growth mindset
These terms may not mean what you think, and Jill explains how understanding and rethinking them, employing them as tools, can be transformational to physicians, PAs, NPs and other healthcare providers.
You will also learn how you can implement these tools in just minutes per week, and why they are so powerful. If you are wanting to delve into these and other life changing strategies to improve work life balance, define and achieve what matters most to you, and prevent or deal with symptoms of burnout, please join our community at DocWorking.com!
Book mentioned in the show: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, PhD
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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran
Please enjoy the full transcript below
Jill: When physicians and healthcare workers get clear on what is in their control and what is truly out of their control, it can be one of the most empowering things they do.
Jen: Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Dr. Jen Barna and I’m excited to be here today with Jill Farmer, our lead coach. Before we get started, I just want to let you know that DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast is sponsored by DocWorking THRIVE. We hope you’ll hop over, check us out at docworking.com and see how THRIVE can help you gain success in your life and career. And today, we’re going to be talking about tools you can use starting today to set yourself up for success. Jill, thank you so much for joining me, it’s always great to have a conversation with you. So, I’m very excited to hear about some tips from you as our lead coach at DocWorking.
Jill: Oh, I love having these conversations with you Jen. I think there’s so much information out there on how to make our lives better that it can be overwhelming. I have always found one of my favorite things about coaching is we try to identify tools. What are things that I can put in my toolbox? Not that I need to use all of them at once. But in a specific situation, when I’m feeling challenged, can one of these tools help me to feel more calm, more grounded, more like I’m at my best? So, that’s really what our conversation is about today, it’s you and I looking at all of the physicians that we serve and noticing the tools that really standout to help them be able to navigate challenging situations, and experience more success, and a sense of satisfaction, happiness, and purpose in their lives.
Jen: Excellent. One of the things I always hear you speak about is self-awareness. Can you start by telling me a little bit about what you’ve observed in physicians, and how we can be more self-aware, and why that matters?
Jill: Yeah, self-awareness is a really important tool when it comes to thriving in life. Some of you are like, “Wait, what do you mean? We’re all self-aware, right? I’m aware, I’m here.” But I think it’s one of those things that we tend to take for granted and we don’t really think of it as a skill that needs to be cultivated. And it does, especially, I observe in healthcare professionals and physicians, so much of the rigorous medical education is focused on being aware of other people’s needs. A huge amount of information that’s needed that physicians have to take in, and learn, and memorize, and integrate, and be able to call on in crisis situations. So a lot of times there’s very little awareness on their own needs, their own desires, their own perceptions and situations. When we ignore what we need, over time, those whisperings from our inner knowing start to get louder, and louder, and louder until they manifest in situations that we end up in almost crisis mode like, “Something’s not working. I’ve got to change it, I’ve got to get out, I’ve got to do something” and that whisper has become a scream.
Self-awareness is simply learning the practice of checking in with yourself. What am I feeling, what do I need right now? What does my body need in order to function at its best, what does my brain need in order to quiet down and not be in an activated stress state? What are my other needs in terms of connection and fulfillment in life, and how do I be honest with myself about what those needs are, so that I can do a better job of directing my energies and time towards taking good care of myself, so that I can continue to take care of other people? Does that make sense?
Jen: It does Jill, and I think the word that you said that really caught my attention is, “Ignore.” Because I think it’s almost through our training, we’re taught to ignore these needs in ourselves in order to better serve everyone else and to push ourselves to our limits in order to be able to do that. We learn to ignore all of these signals coming from serving our own needs. And I’m curious how we can, as physicians, begin to listen to that rather than suppress it and ignore it. I think as you eloquently stated, we all think we’re self-aware, but in reality, we’ve been conditioned to ignore our personal needs. So, how do you help physicians to get past that and become aware of that, again?
Jill: Yeah, I think you just said it perfectly right. Implied in what you said is that, physicians are way better than the average population at being aware of others and their needs, and not as good at being aware of their own needs. I think part of it is just doing what you know to do for other people, which is to check in. How are you feeling, [giggles] what do you need right now? And do the same kind of checking that you might with a patient, but with yourself. Because that’s going to give you a lot of information about how to best take care of yourself, just like when you check in with the patient, you get a lot of information on what they need for you to help best take care of them. I know it sounds really simple, but it’s shocking to me when I first started working with physicians 10 years ago, and now, it’s become so normal that I really have come to understand this, that again, becoming self-aware has gotten trained out of a lot of people, and it’s really a good tool to start with to be able to take care of yourself in a more sustainable long-term way.
Jen: Yeah, I love that and I love the concept of thinking of yourself as a patient and/or someone that you love and what you would ask them to be sure that they’re doing these things that they would want you to be doing. Another term that I’ve heard you mentioned, which I think ties into this is emotional agility. Can you tell me what that means?
Jill: I love emotional agility as a tool and I know that the term “emotional agility” is newish from Harvard. Susan David, the author, wrote a book on it in the last two or three years, but it really hadn’t been out there in our normal conversations. But I think once you understand what it is, it’s one of those things like, “Oh, this helps a lot.” Emotional agility is really essentially understanding how we as human beings can experience our emotions without having them either get stuffed down or take over. A lot of times our human default, that we don’t mean to have happen but it just does, is when we’re feeling emotions, we either stuff them down and then, they come out sideways on us when we least expect it. We don’t express ourselves properly and then all of a sudden, we snap at our colleague, or the nurse, or the loved ones in those situations. Or the emotion takes over and drives the bus, and then, we look back and go, “Oh, gosh, I wish that wouldn’t have happened.” Because we process emotions at other people instead of properly processing them and regulating ourselves emotionally, so that we can show up again at our best.
The term “emotional agility,” I think, for physicians specifically is just getting a little more building on what we talked about in step one. Self-aware of when you are feeling an emotion, it doesn’t have to be a lot more complicated. With one of my physician clients, it was simply saying, “Oh, when I pause and say, I’m feeling x, when I’m feeling frustrated or I’m feeling under time pressure or I’m feeling a little afraid.” Just saying that to yourself changes the reaction-action cycle that’s happening a lot of times in your brain subconsciously, and brings it to a point where you can pause and create a little space between the emotional response and any action you might take. And that just tends to help us all show up at our best, when we get a little bit better at slowing the reaction or the stress response that we have. And it’s not rocket science. It’s just a matter of mostly bringing it to our awareness. That’s the thing that tends to change the outcomes for us. What do you think about that?
Jen: I would love to explore that a little bit further. I’m wondering about tools that we can learn to put in place, so that we don’t go down the dysfunctional type of paths that are more on automatic pilot for us and we can retrain our brains to put automatic pilot on the more functional direction for emotional agility.
Jill: Beautifully said. We know that the data is there to show us when we read books on everything from burnout to regulating our stress responses, that the key home-based place for us to get better at emotional regulation is physical exercise. When we are feeling an emotion, even if we don’t process the emotion right then, if we go out later on in the day, and increase our heart rate, and think about that emotion, our hormone response gets regulated, which helps us to process and manage the emotion and complete that stress cycle when we move our bodies. We also know that talking to a trusted thinking partner, not in that complainy and another thing circle way, but in a way that allows you to express yourself, and get it off your chest, and then, think about potential ways to solve it. That can be helpful. Being in connection and feeling safe and in community with other people is an important way to regulate it. And then, mindfulness, which really is just naming it. That goes back to the, “I’m feeling x.” It doesn’t mean you have to announce it to the world. But pausing long enough to get curious with yourself is a really powerful way for you to identify the emotion. Giving that emotion space, it allows you to move through it and not necessarily act from it.
It doesn’t mean that when you feel frustrated, you just stuff it down, process it, and don’t do anything about it. It just means when you have clear and courageous communication with somebody else about what you’re frustrated about, you’ll be less activated and less likely to attack and more likely to communicate meaningfully. I think if anybody really wants to dive into this like, “I want to get down into even more of the nitty-gritty on how to process these emotions in a way to relieve stress and to regulate my stress,” I have to say the course that we have in DocWorking THRIVE, the StressPal course is a phenomenal, easy, easy way for you to learn these concepts in a more detailed way.
Jen: Yeah, that is so true. It is a phenomenal tool to help to retrain the brain, and gain a sense of emotional agility, and to understand all of the concepts in more depth that you’re touching on here. One thing that is also really important that we emphasize throughout our programs that I think has been tremendously helpful for hundreds of physicians, really is just this concept of agency where you help physicians to identify what they can control. How does that impact a physician’s ability to thrive?
Jill: Yeah, I love that. Becoming self-aware is tool number one, the idea of getting a little bit better at emotional agility and processing our emotions, so we feel less stressed and activated all the time. And then, coming back to ourselves like, “What do we have in our control and what is out of our control” is wildly helpful. A lot of times we feel frustrated at the system. Whether that’s the healthcare system or whether that’s the leadership in our own individual organization. We get frustrated at them, at patients, who don’t believe in science. Whatever that ‘they’ is and we can hyperfocus on, “If only they would do x, then I’ll be okay.” The problem with that is that our happiness, success, and sense of satisfaction is connected to something that we have no control over. And gosh, that’s a tough way to live. We’re just on a roller coaster of, “I can only be okay if the healthcare system gets fixed. That’s going to be a long time before I’m going to be okay, probably.”
It doesn’t mean that we’re pretending that the healthcare system doesn’t need to be addressed, or fixed, or that leadership in our organizations don’t need to get better at addressing the needs, or that patients don’t need to have a better understanding of science. We’re not denying that. We’re just recognizing that, if we take a circle and inside the circle, we look at the things that we’re worried about that we have some control over, and outside the circle are the things that we worry about a lot that we don’t have control over. We get a much greater sense of purpose, meaning, and progress in our lives when we focus on the inner circle of the things that we might be able to impact. When I’m with a physician client and they say, “I’m really frustrated right now with this new group that’s purchased our healthcare system, and they’re not staffing us enough, so our patients are calling and having really long wait times to set up appointments, which means they’re going to other places.” So, you take what’s in your control.
Communicate frequently and often with the decision makers to try to get more people on staff and then, maybe, it’s additionally pulling resources and hiring some of your own staff. Or coming up with new communications, or walk-in hours to try to help solve the problem within your own control as opposed to feeling more and more hopeless, and drained, and frustrated with something that isn’t in your control. So, that’s what we mean by getting a little clearer on your agency and what you can do about a given situation.
Jen: How have you seen agency impact work-life integration in your physician clients?
Jill: I would say of all the tools we’re talking about today, when physicians and healthcare workers get clear on what is in their control and what is truly out of their control, it can be one of the most empowering things they do. Again, medical education is really set on this idea of letting the institution be the expert, because the institution does control your life. For so long in medical education the institution of higher learning, then the institution of the hospital where you do residency and the place where you do residency have so much control in your life, you can forget where you as an individual have choices. We as individuals need to recognize what choices we have because over time it drains our sense of hope, purpose, and possibility when we forget that we have choices and we forget how to exercise those choices in any given situation. And it’s empowering when we remember, and then, when we get to make choices that line up with our values. That is super powerful. I’ve been able to witness now, way, way, way too many times to count, as a trusted thinking partner to help physicians and healthcare professionals get some support in understanding exactly where they do have choices and then to move in those directions.
Jen: One area where I would say people have choices, and it can be really empowering, and add purpose is in the ability to create a strong team. Typically, for physicians, we may be working with a small group of people within a much larger organization and to be able to create a strong sense of teamwork and team collaboration within that small group is something that often we can control and it can make a huge difference in our day to day lives. It’s something in a bigger context that we realized when we created DocWorking THRIVE and in looking at the ways we can really impact people’s lives. One key component that we’ve recognized and that we’ve incorporated is the peer community, because as human beings we need to have that connection. It’s such an integral part of having a sense of fulfillment, and happiness, and purpose. So, can you talk a little bit about how you’ve incorporated that into your coaching, and how we have added the community, and how you’re seeing that impact the members, who are in these different peer communities that we’ve created at DocWorking THRIVE?
Jill: Yeah, I think the fourth tool is really creating for yourself a sense of connection by feeling like you are part of a team or a community. It is highly underrated by a lot of physicians in terms of importance in their life and I think it’s wildly important for people. We know from the data that having a sense of community and connection, exercising your character, strength of teamwork, is a powerful way for people to process stress more effectively and for them to have a deeper connection to their purpose long term in the work that they do and to have a greater sense of loyalty to the place where they’re working. And yet, I find as wildly intelligent as every physician I’ve ever worked with is, they tend to just believe that this spontaneously happens. They tend to not have understanding that a sense of community and being a part of a team is something that you want to cultivate and create, you don’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. If it isn’t happening, oh well, you just don’t have it then. It’s worth putting some effort, and some energy, and intention toward it.
Now, I often will have physicians say to me, “But I’m really introverted and I’m not outgoing.” Or, “How am I supposed to find people?” I think it’s not to make yourself into some kind of gregarious person. You don’t have to become something you’re not. It’s just looking for ways you already connect to people and remembering to really cultivate that sense. A quick story about that. I had a physician who had moved into a new hospital setting really excited about the professional opportunity, but was really feeling isolated and alone and hadn’t found people. We were brainstorming ideas of ways to connect both outside work and at work with a sense of people to create a pod. She said to me, “I don’t know. It just seems there’s something wrong with me if I have to create this. My parents were first-generation immigrants and they always had such a sense of community with other first-generation immigrants from India, specifically. So, how come I’m having to work so hard?”
It turns out, she went and talked to them about that and lamented that exact issue. And they said to her, “What are you talking about? We were so isolated. We were taking you and your sister in strollers to the malls and just looking for other people at the mall on a Saturday who looked like us. And then, walking up to them, and trying to talk to them, and seeing where they were from so that we could try to build this community, because we felt so isolated and alone.” She said, “Oh, my gosh, all this time, I thought my parents had this spontaneous, organic, beautiful community of aunties and uncles that just formed and it turns out they did something extremely brave and wild in order to plant the seeds for that to start.” I think that’s a good reminder for all of us. Not that you have to go hitting up strangers at the mall by any means, but to help create more pathways to connect to people where we do have a connection. It really serves us well in the long run and I think it serves physicians beautifully when they give it a little more time and attention.
Jen: I love that Jill and that’s a wonderful story. It is inspiring. If you do consider yourself to be a little bit on the introverted side, to just hear a story like that letting you know that it is possible to step a little bit out of your comfort zone in order to make this happen for the better and the long run. So, I love that example. What would you say would be summarizing all of this or would you say that there is a fifth step in terms of the mindset of the physician, once they’ve incorporated these key components into their way of thinking and their routine?
Jill: I think the fifth tool, which is like the jackknife that has a lot of other tools built into it, is something that psychologists coined somewhere in the last 25 years. Particularly, psychologists and psychiatrists who studied the science of success and what makes people thrive, and that is the concept of the growth mindset. Under the science of success, the work of Carol Dweck and Martin Seligman and others, there’s this idea that we can have a growth mindset and we can have a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset, if we’re not careful can be our preset. It’s that idea of trying to keep us safe. It’s the negativity bias that says, “I’m hyper alert to threats in my environment, but I pay more attention and give them more energy than I do the possibilities.” When there’s a problem, I hyperfocus on the issue, if I’m about the fixed mindset. I’m hyperfocusing on the fact that my boss is not actually listening when we tell him when we can work and when we can’t work. As opposed to the growth mindset, which looks at the obstacle and the issue as an opportunity that needs to be solved. It allows us to get into that part of our brain that’s good at problem solving and that is really good at cracking the puzzle.
When I invite physicians to think a little bit more commonly about applying a growth mindset to situations, it turns out they get to do something that often comes as naturally as breathing to them, which is solving problems. Physicians are innately fantastic often or at least have learned through training to become really, really good at solving problems for other people. They can be very good at looking at the growth mindset around a patient situation for instance, “Okay, let’s think about this option, this option, this option to deal with the obstacle of the issue that the patient is presenting with.” When it comes to their own stuff, again, they tend to be a little bit fixed mindset. Which is, “Oh, I should be better than this, I should know, I should just be able to solve this problem instead of getting curious.” And then saying, “Huh, how can I look at this situation regarding myself as a puzzle to crack, as a problem to solve?” In the long term, people that have a growth mindset are more successful or happier. They experience a deeper sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness. I think it’s not something that we want to give lip service to. It’s a way of life that we want to think about applying more commonly. Carol Dweck’s book called Mindset: The Science of Success, I think, is one of my favorite resources for this and I think it helps encapsulate the other tools we’ve talked about here. What do you think about when you hear growth mindset?
Jen: It definitely makes me think about how having a trusted thinking partner can really move you forward in terms of coming to solutions. For example, if you’re wanting to have a growth mindset and you’re approaching problems with the perspective of, “Okay, here, I’ve identified a problem and now, I need to think about what’s in my control that I can affect and then, what are some options in terms of solutions?” It’s really, really helpful to have and it can be transformational to have a trusted thinking partner that you can come to and just talk that through. And that could be someone in your life, who you trust, who you can have these kinds of conversations with. One thing that I’ve found from talking with physicians all over the country and from other countries as well is that, often, the kind of problems that we’re facing that we’re trying to come up with solutions for in our own lives are difficult for other people to understand. We don’t talk about it with our colleagues, because we don’t want to speak directly with our colleagues about a problem that we may not feel comfortable admitting that we feel that is a problem, a pain point. But by the same token, it may not be that useful to talk to your friend, or your spouse, or significant other, who may not be a physician.
That’s where I would love to hear about this from a coach’s perspective, how you may be able to work with people or what experience you’ve seen in terms of people coming and saying, “I’m ready. I want to be able to accomplish this, but I’m not exactly sure how to do it by myself” or even just the concept of, “Okay, I have these problems. I know I need to address them. I know I need to come up with solutions.” But my personal experience was, if I’m working on this myself, it’s going to take me a long time to figure this out. I didn’t realize that until in retrospect, I’m looking back saying, “I could’ve solved these problems much more quickly if I had worked with a trusted thinking partner, instead of just trying to work alone.”
Jill: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. When we’re stuck, it’s because our brains are circling us back in the same neural pathways. “Here’s the issue and the only solution I can think of is that solution which I can’t have. Therefore, I’m stuck, and nothing’s going to change, and something’s wrong with me. Or something’s wrong with everybody else and me, and nothing’s going to change.” We all get there. It’s part of our human condition. As physicians, you’re such highly capable people that you have been able to figure out a lot of things and get through challenging situations. When you do get stuck, it can really stymie you. There’s a couple of really clear ways that I think we can use these tools with the help of someone else. One is like we have in DocWorking THRIVE, where you have some form of community, a digital community with other peers, and with coaches, and professionals who can say, “Yep, part of that self-awareness, what you’re feeling is normal, what you’re experiencing here is not just you.” Because when we isolate, we think we’re the only people that are wrong, or broken, or unworthy, or can’t figure it out.
To have a peer community of other people that can say to us, “Yep, I’ve experienced that too.” And then, share ideas of what’s worked that aren’t just our own little brain circling around with its lack of ideas on how to solve the problem or we already would have. But when hearing other ideas, we’re not to take all the ideas. Some of the ideas are going to fit just like when somebody throws clothes over the dressing room to us. Some of the stuff is going to fit, some of it’s not. But it breaks the logjam of stuckness to hear what’s potentially worked for other people and it helps us to feel safer, when we know we’re not the only ones.
The second way is in either group or one-on-one coaching with a coach. They can help us more clearly and quickly identify where we’re stuck and where we can potentially help make the change. Where that agency is, where those choices are and then to strategize ideas, brainstorm, and to come up with an actual blueprint for what actions you can take that can get you out of the stuck place and build a bridge from where we are to what we want to do next. That’s why you created this company and that’s why I believe so deeply in the mission of this company, DocWorking, is because physicians have all they need in many cases to be some of the most wildly capable, successful, caring, impactful humans alive and they don’t often have the resources to be able to get where they want to be ultimately, because of some of the challenges that are implicit in the practice of medicine and in healthcare today. So, for us to be able to provide those support systems to help them to do what they were called to do, and to help all of you do what you were called to do in a sustainable, long-term, and impactful way. That’s why we’re here.
Jen: Yes. And so, if you’re listening to this today, and you’re feeling that you’re interested in making some changes, and you could use some trusted thinking partners, you could use some peer support, you could use some insights into the easiest and simplest way to learn to manage stress, and prevent burnout throughout your career, and help you thrive, so you can experience success, satisfaction, and happiness, please go to docworking.com and check out our THRIVE program, and see how we can help you to improve your life.
Jill: Yeah, and I just want to add to that that we did create this. It is absolutely the simplest and easiest way for you to get the tools, and the support that you need. Ongoing support, not just a one off that you learn and then move on from. And also, these are concepts and ideas that I’ve been using for the better part of a decade now with hundreds and hundreds of physicians. They’re proven, they work, they do make a difference. So, go to docworking.com, check out THRIVE today. You are going to be glad you did.
Jen: And thank you so much for joining us today on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. We appreciate that you’re here listening, we appreciate having you as part of the DocWorking community. Please let us know what you love about the podcast, and what you’d like to hear more of and reach out to us at docworking.com.
Amanda: I’m Amanda Taran, producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe, and head over to docworking.com to see all we have to offer.