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How Else Might I Do This?

burnout limiting beliefs mindset problem solving Oct 08, 2022
Two arrows pointing in opposite directions: top arrow is green and reads

We are creatures of habit. This is true of humans and most animals. The oldest, reptilian portions of our brain want to minimize energy output, and thus once we learn a skill, a pathway, a method, a habit that meets the needs of our brain (finding food, learning how to drive, etc), the brain devotes far less energy to concentrating on that problem, and follows the default path. This is not a bad thing. Remember when you first learned to drive, and how much effort and concentration it took. If it always took you that much concentration and effort to drive anywhere, this would be a problem. 

Habits, of course, can be a problem. There are some habits that we know don't serve us well:  overeating, over-drinking, over-netflixing, etc. But there are also some habits that become so well worn, so well-known, that we never stop to ask, “how else might I do this thing?”

Part of the problem may be that we often learned that there was one right way to do things. In Medicine, we rely upon evidence to teach us the right path. There can be one clear way to treat a certain condition or perform a certain surgery. And when we are used to thinking in this way, that there is one right path, it is easy for us to believe that whatever way we have learned to do things is the right way. But this can easily become a limiting belief for us. If we get stuck in the trap of believing that the way we do things is the one right way, and the system changes, we often don’t adapt, and our old ways often begin to cost us more of our personal time and energy.

Many Physicians that I work with spend extra time with patients, and defer charting to the end of the day. We have often been reinforced in these habits by receiving praise for being patient, kind, good listeners, etc, and thus thoughts of change seem threatening because we’ll have to give up that dopamine hit from pleasing others. And yet, many of these same Physicians are drowning, and often feel stuck because of the external validation that they have received. They have come to believe that their suffering, that their donation of time and energy, is the only way.

Instead, what if we stop to ask, “how else might I do this?” 

But if we take a step back, if we identify what the “good stuff” in the visits are (paying attention to the patient, displaying compassion, etc), then we have the opportunity to ask “how else might I do this?” 

At first, the answer is often, “I don’t know.” And we usually stop there. But what if you brainstormed 5 ways that you might conduct the visit differently, including ways that might involve boundary setting, or agenda setting, but in a way that still displays compassion for the patient’s concerns. Some of what you come up with may not work, may not be acceptable to you, but consider it anyway. Really explore what are the options here?

And then sit with it for a while. Let your brain rattle around with the new problem of trying to get the “good stuff” into your work, with some new ideas, that no longer rely on your misery, suffering, or donation of extra time/energy. The curiosity that you bring to this problem drives your brain to want a new solution. And when a new solution arrives, then you try it.

At first these new paths are hard. Nothing has gone wrong. Your brain wants to default to the well-worn ruts of taking on too much, always saying yes, and getting the dopamine reward of pleasing people. But if we train our brains to look for a more effective path, the reward we receive of making work manageable, and feeling valuable and in control of our time can more than make up for the work of building the new habit.

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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