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Trace the Steps

burnout choice mindset negative thoughts positive emotions wellness Apr 02, 2022
A latte in a blue cup and saucer sits on a table next to a journal by Engin Akyurt of Pixabay
A key component of burnout is a sense of futility; this overwhelming feeling that nothing we are doing is making a difference. When you are working hard, particularly at repetitive types of work, and you can’t see any good outcomes, things can seem pretty pointless.
Sometimes, the issue may be that visible progress is slow (like teaching your children to hang up their towels, again, and again and again). Sometimes, the outcome depends on the actions of others (a patient with diabetes may need to be eating differently, taking medications regularly to see improvements in their blood sugars, which is completely independent of your skills as a physician; it’s about them). And sometimes, the natural course of things just deteriorates.
It feels hard to keep working in the face of futility, especially if we make it mean that we aren’t doing enough.
But on the flip side, we are also generally conditioned not to accept praise or credit for something good. If your patient with diabetes comes to you, and thanks you for helping them with their blood sugars, you might be quick to dismiss your role.
Isn’t that interesting.
You might blame yourself for being a terrible doctor if their blood sugars get worse (even though it is largely out of your hands). But you won’t accept credit when something you did leads to a positive outcome.
This is a conditioned mindset. And if this is you, it’s harming you.
But, you can learn to change this. Here’s a way to do it.
Step 1: The next time something good happens (child hangs up towel without being told, patient thanks you for helping with their blood sugar, etc), start by really noticing and celebrating that good thing. Pay attention, on purpose, to the good thing.
Step 2: Start looking backwards at the events that led up to the good thing. In the example of the child hanging up the towel, maybe you have spent 6 months asking them to pick up the towel, exasperated, and ended up doing it for them. Maybe finally you started showing them when to do it, how to do it, making it fun (how fast can you dry off and hang up your towel?), and YOUR ACTIONS led to them building this habit.
Step 3: Notice what you had to be thinking and feeling in order to take the actions. Again, maybe you were tired of feeling exasperated and picking up the towel, so you decided that you didn’t like that feeling enough to think “what can I do differently?” and that led you to taking different actions that led to this positive result.
Step 4: Thank yourself, celebrate in some small way, tell someone about your win and the steps that you took to make it happen. This final step really seals the process in your brain in the best way, and makes you want more of it.
This process doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. You don’t need to make a cake to celebrate (and please, let’s all get away from the notion of constantly rewarding ourselves with sugar). Notice, identify the actions that led to the outcome, identify the thoughts/feelings that led to the actions, thank yourself for them.
When you do this process, even occasionally, ideally at work and at home, you will start to notice how your actions are leading to positive outcomes, and this will shift your world view. When you model this process for others, you also create a supportive environment where people can recognize themselves and others for their actions. And who doesn’t want more of that?
This is some of my favorite work to do with people, and if you want to learn more about working with me, please click here to set up a call today.

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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