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Simple Life-Changing Ways that Physicians Can Benefit by Mindfulness Practice to Decrease Intensity When Outside of Work and Improve Work-Life Balance

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Knowing these ways that physicians and other healthcare professionals can use mindfulness practice to decrease their level of intensity outside of the workplace and improve work-life balance can be life changing.

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“Everyone just kind of accepts it like, ‘Yeah, I’m that way too… I can’t relax on the weekends, I can’t wind down. I can’t let it go.’ There’s a cultural bravado behind that. And I want to call bull on that.“  – Jill Farmer, Master Certified Coach & Lead Coach at DocWorking

When you’re at work, you are in petal to the metal mode, and to be good at what you do, you need to be able to perform. Do you ever find it hard to turn off the intensity outside of work? In this episode, Lead DocWorking Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer and Jen Barna MD have a conversation about how to be mindful of where to apply the intensity within our lives. An intense physician mindset does not always yield successful results outside of work, and it’s important to give yourself that restorative space to change gears and reset. As the Lead Coach of DocWorking, she examines how a strategy of unrelenting “petal to the metal” may be hindering you from achieving what you really value in your life.

Jen Barna MD is founder and CEO of DocWorking, a company that helps physicians and other healthcare professionals maximize meaning and purpose in life both in and outside of work, by combining expert coaching, peer support communities, and highly interactive courses that have maximum impact using minimal time. DocWorking also provides a concierge onboarding service for physicians and their significant others, to support them in making strong connections when relocating to a new community. Dr. Barna is the co-host of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, ranked as a top physician podcast. She is a board certified practicing radiologist, working in New York, and earned her MD and completed her Diagnostic Radiology residency at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine, a masters degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Washington University in St. Louis, and her undergraduate degree from Stony Brook University in New York. She is the mom of two successful young adults, both born while she was a medical student. She started DocWorking to help physicians stay in the driver’s seat of their own lives. 

Jill Farmer is the Master Certified Lead Coach at DocWorking. Jill’s expertise has been featured everywhere from The Washington Post to Inc. Magazine. She travels the U.S. delivering keynotes and teaching her acclaimed programs at top healthcare organizations. Jill is the co-host of the top-rated podcast DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast with over 20,000 physician listeners. She was an Emmy Award winning TV journalist who is now a master certified time and stress management coach specializing in supporting physicians since 2010. 

Jill Farmer is also the author of “There’s Not Enough Time… and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” a time management bestseller and a favorite of many in medicine. 

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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Please enjoy the full transcript below

Jill: Everybody just accepts it like, “Yeah, I’m that way, too, I can’t relax on the weekends, I can’t wind down. I can’t let it go.” There’s almost a little cultural bravado behind that, I want to call bull on that.

 

[DocWorking theme]

 

Jen: Thank you for joining us here today on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I want to take a moment and let you know that we’ve been working around the clock at DocWorking to bring you CME credits, so that now you can let your continuing education budget help you to prioritize your own wellness and get on the path to living your best life. Everything we do at DocWorking is specifically designed with you in mind. We hope you’ll head over to docworking.com today and take our two-minute quiz to find out where you are right now on the balance to burnout continuum. Take our burnout quiz and this simple step alone can put you in the right direction toward living your best life. We hope you’ll take action today.

 

Jill: Hello, everyone. We’re so glad you’re here. I’m Jill Farmer, lead coach at docworking.com. I’m very excited today to be joined by CEO of DocWorking, Jen Barna, MD. She and I love to do some deep dives into our work as leaders at DocWorking and to bring some ideas to you guys that we think may help increase your success in work and life. Today, with that intention in mind, we’re going to be chatting about something that I notice comes up with a lot of my physician clients, and that is the challenge of being in full throttle mode at work where there’s a lot of intensity, your pedal to the metal, really high-pressure situations, and how hard it can be to shift gears when you get outside of work and some of the challenges that come up with that. So, Jen, thanks so much for joining me, so we can have this conversation today.

 

Jen: Jill, it’s great to be here with you as always. I’m always interested in hearing about the different problems that you’re seeing with your coaching in our community and what’s coming up between you, and the physicians, and other healthcare workers that you’re working with. This is an ongoing problem that we hear people talk about. I’m excited to see where the conversation goes.

 

Jill: When you and I were talking about this a little bit earlier, you noted that it was something that really was an issue early on in your career. So, can you talk a little bit about that? How did it show up for you and what were the consequences of being in that intense frenzy mode all the time?

 

Jen: Yeah. I have to laugh just thinking about our conversation because it reminds me that similar to coaching, which I did not think I needed [chuckles] until I got it and then I realized, what a huge game changer it was. I didn’t think when you brought this up that I had this problem. Then as we talked about it over the course of a couple of minutes, I was like, “Oh, yeah, actually, yeah, I had that problem just today.” [laughs]

 

Yeah, the first thing I think about is early in my career just getting used to the intensity of medical school, I remember leaving school and bringing that intensity with me out into the community, and then realizing very quickly you can’t do that. Basically, [laughs] you have to leave that behind, because that kind of intensity doesn’t work. That doesn’t serve you or anyone else well when you’re out getting a cup of coffee at a restaurant, or at the bank, or anywhere else. Of course, I think we all learn that fairly early, and a lot of people probably learn it way earlier than that in terms of having the intensity where it’s appropriate to have it and leaving that behind.

 

The thing that made me laugh that I think I hide that well when I’m out among the world at large, but within my own family, I tend to still maintain that level of intensity or at least not try to mask it in any way. So, I can definitely appreciate how it can be difficult to step away from that level of intensity when you want to just bring it to everything you do.

 

Jill: I think the consequence of it in my experience is that it is like having your foot on the gas all the way, it is going to burn your engine out. That’s the biggest reason I like talking about this is not because I’m worried about how intense other people find you in the world as a physician for any of you that are listening, but that I want you to be able to manage that a little bit, so that you don’t burn yourself out. Because if your foot is all the way down pedal to the metal all the time, you are going to burn your engine out. That’s why I have this conversation with folks.

 

There are other consequences too, like if you were plotting the demise of your barista because they’re frothing your cappuccino too low, then people might not really enjoy being around you, or you are irritable with the grocery store clerk. As you said, so many doctors are so kind and compassionate like you, that they learn to temper that. They would at least mask it or cover it up when they’re in those settings. But then often, unfortunately, it’s those that are closest to us that will bear the brunt of that intensity for us who are not good at being able to lighten up on the intensity and relax a little bit.

 

I identify completely. I was a TV reporter for a long time before I shifted gears in careers. I was under a lot of deadline pressure every single day. I had to be on the news and have my stories by deadline. What it manifested for me wasn’t always irritability or frustration with other people. It was the sense of urgency. I was treating everything like I was getting ready for this deadline and it took some people close to me to say, “You got to chill out a little bit. Everything is not–” Just because we said we were going to go to the park later this afternoon and we’re running later than we thought we might be, it’s not the reason why we’re at DEFCON 1 here freaking out. We have to be able to slow that down a little bit.

 

I can totally identify with it. It’s a preset for me and it served me well, just like it probably has served you well, Jen. It served many of our listeners well to get a lot of important things done under a lot of pressure. A lot of these things that maybe aren’t serving us in one setting and help us be wildly successful in another setting. I think the first step that I would invite people to acknowledge is that it’s a skill and it’s not something to beat yourself up over. It’s a good thing that you have the ability to dial up the intensity when needed and when it counts. So, let’s start with giving ourselves some credit for that. Can you do that for yourself, Jen?

 

Jen: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I’ve learned from working with you and the team at DocWorking is to dial up the intensity and acknowledge that, “Okay, today was really intense. I started at 4 o’clock in the morning, and I’ve gotten so much done. I feel really good about that. But I also don’t need to expect myself to do that all day, every day. At the end of today, I’ll have had a productive day and then tomorrow maybe less productive than today was and that’s okay.” So, really, for me, it’s not as much about interactions with other people as it is interactions within my own mind. [laughs] But also dialing back my expectations of other people too, so that I’m not going around my house and expecting everyone to be running at this full steam. So, I think it has been really helpful to have some conversations about this and it’s somewhat reassuring to hear you say that you hear this from a lot of physician clients.

 

Jill: Yeah. I’ll use an example recently. I’ll use an amalgam of people, but right now, for our purposes, we’ll call him Dr. Mark. Mark noticed a couple of things. One of the things that impeded his ability to switch gears or to get to that place where he was feeling more neutral and not so intense is, he and his spouse had a pattern of once he walked in the door, she would check in and start saying, “Okay, how was your day? Tell me about your work.” What he discovered is, for him, recounting what was happening in the day actually kept his engine revved and kept him in that work mode. When he noticed that about himself, he noticed that he could say to her, “You know what, I think it’s going to be better for me, if I just have a little bit of space not talking about work. I want to hear how your day is.” She enjoyed being able to recount what was happening in her day. I’m probably not going to recount my day when I first get home from work because it makes it harder for me to shift gears. That worked great. That communication strategy for him helped him switch gears in a way that was really helpful, and it was very simple.

 

The other thing that was helpful was, when he would be sitting with his young son, for instance, at the park the next day when they went for a walk and he’d noticed that there was a sense of, “Oh, gosh, I should be doing XYZ” and he felt the real strong urge to pull out his phone and send a text, or read an email, or read a paper without even thinking about. He noticed that it was really important for him to name that urgency in himself, so that he could process it, let that feeling move through him, and then decide to be, in our terminology that we use together, ‘be here now’. When he would remind himself, “be here now”, it would help bring him back to home base and away from that sense of urgency that he should be doing more, that there were things you should be doing and that mode of go, go, go, because ultimately the biggest value he had for that time off on the weekends was being there with his toddler son watching what he was doing at the park.

 

That really was important to him, but that preset or default of needing to do more all the time was creating an intensity, an emotional intensity in him even in a beautiful day sitting at the park that was taking him away from what you really valued and that seemed to be really helpful. He reported back later that it was helpful for him. So, I don’t know what do you think when you hear that?

 

Jen: It makes me think about the STAT course you and coach, Gabriella Dennery, MD created for Thrive. In that course, you talk about identifying values and how that can influence how you recognize your intentions as you go through the day, and I’m curious how, if I’m hearing you correctly, that that is a way to shift your mind to help you recognize what matters to you in a way that can help you shift your intention, so that you can take a deep breath and value some downtime or value a slower pace at different times.

 

Jill: Absolutely. We know that when we filter our intentions, actions, thoughts, behaviors, through our values that it helps us to be less reactive, and less swept away by stressors, and less taken up by an activated stress response that often causes us to be in a frenzied or frenetic mode. By using what matters to you, which is the simplest question I ask to get you to your values. What matters to you, what really matters to you, not to the institution, not to the world, but what matters to you, that can be a powerful reset button to help focus on that being here now and dialing down the intensity so that you’re not just in that pedal to the metal mode all the time.

 

Jen: Yeah. I really liked the example that you gave, because it sounds like what he has gotten used to doing is being in that pedal to the metal mode, but when he feels tempted that he should be working at a faster pace or doing something somewhat frenetically and he feels that he’s not doing that because he’s out at the park with his child, he’s pausing long enough to realize that what he values in that moment is the simplicity of just being with his child and not checking in and trying to do multiple things at once or trying to be productive, it really is about the value of that relationship and being present in that moment. I love that example.

 

Jill: And we know it’s good even if it wasn’t his values that were filtering and helping him to change the intensity of how he was feeling. We also know that we’re not meant to be in again, as I mentioned earlier, in that mode all the time, so being outside in nature, changing that up, is a way to let your nervous system shift gears, which I think is a really, really important component of this. One of the things that he said to me that I thought was so telling is that when he’s had conversations like this with other physicians, everybody just accepted like, “Yeah, I’m that way, too, I can’t relax on the weekends, I can’t wind down, I can’t let it go.” There’s almost a little cultural bravado behind that. I want to call bull on that a bit just because it’s like, “Yeah, that’s just the way it is.” It makes it mean like, “That’s okay.” It normalizes it and it isn’t sustainable for the long term and I think we need to identify that.

 

Jen: We’re seeing a culture shift in medicine and we’re really at the leading edge of it. And so, I love that you’re calling it out.

 

Jill: Well, as always, that’s Jen Barna, MD, CEO of DocWorking. I’m Jill Farmer, lead coach at DocWorking. We are your cohosts of the podcast.

 

[music]

 

Jen: At DocWorking, we’re here to help you maximize your potential on your own terms and help you live your best life. You told us what you need and want and we built this for you. Whatever your journey is, you have options. You can choose to live the life you want to live. We see you, we get you, and now, let’s get you in the driver’s seat of your own life, so you can find purpose in your work, and everything you do, and every choice you make. Top executives, athletes, actors, all achieve greatness with the support of professional coaches. As a healthcare professional, you deserve ongoing coaching support toward achieving your career goals and living your best life as you define it on your own terms.

 

We have created this specifically for you with CME credit at docworking.com. Please go to docworking.com and check out our quick balance to burnout quiz to see where you are on the balance to burnout continuum right now. The results might surprise you. Taking this simple first step may change your life for the better. And until next time, thank you for listening to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.

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