Category Archives: Connection

How To Magically Turn Stress Into a Burnout Buster

Turn Stress Into

Imagine you’re about to give a speech to several colleagues and VIPs. While you’re backstage, do you:

a) Perform breathing exercises to create a sense of calm, or

b) Get excited?

If you chose (a), read on . . .

This research comes straight from Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks. She asked hundreds of people if they should calm down or be excited when they were about to give a presentation to a huge group. Almost everyone (91%) said they should try to be calm.

Then she had a group of students who were actually getting ready to give a big speech repeat to themselves, “I am calm.” And had others repeat, “I am excited.”

Can you guess what happened?

The group who had been excited felt less stress than the ones who were aiming to stay calm. And the observers found those “excited” speakers to perform with more  confidence and competence.

The theory is that they transformed their anxiety into excitement.  Click to Tweet:

Can embracing stress help burnout?

Studies show that when students view stress as helpful rather than harmful, their scores are better.

This also has translated into well-being at work for doctors. Those who perceived anxiety as helpful were less likely to experience burnout or frustration.

So how can we use this information to help us beat burnout?

You may not have any control over the things that cause stress and anxiety each day, but by changing your mindset and shifting how you think about stress, you can use it to your benefit.

The key is to learn how to make it work for you. Here’s how:

When you’re stressed in the O.R. or office and you’re kicked into high gear, try telling yourself that your wheels are turning faster and thus you’re headed for a better outcome.

The same way you can conquer a fast-moving river by flowing with the current instead of against it, there may be some truth to this theory.

I did this myself when I gave my TEDx talk to over 2,000 people. I chose to channel the excitement of the day, rather than to remain calm. (Seriously, who can remain calm on a day like that, anyway?)

Here’s what I think – stress, per se, does not help us function better. But having the mindset that stress can be a good thing just may make our stressful experiences less exhausting.

When you take a stressful situation, and acknowledge “this is stressing me out,” it allows you to get out of “reaction” mode. And lets you move into a mindset of control.

Try it this week, and let me know if it makes a difference!




Set Boundaries, Take Back Your Time, and Stop Explaining Yourself

Stop Explaining Yourself

You have a healthy lifestyle, exercising, eating right… you’ve even committed to a new meditation practice. You’re doing all the right things to avoid burnout. But there’s one thing still wearing you down… the demand on your time and your lack of boundaries.

Here’s how your week looks:

  •  you’re booked solid next Thursday, but you need to be off by 3 p.m. to be at your kid’s soccer game
  •  your partner is asking you to switch coverage with her next month, but that would really not work with your schedule
  •  your Aunt Sally’s birthday party is at a very inconvenient time
  •  you’re being asked to do surgery now on a patient who isn’t scheduled yet

So all you have to do is try to get out of some “commitments.” Easy, right?

Not so much. Because getting out of each of these situations would require a whole lot of explaining. And that feels worse than sucking it up and doing them.

And then what are you left with? Resentment, anger, frustration, and probably all with a touch of passive aggression. So now the drain on your time also becomes a drain on your energy and happiness.

Do a paradigm shift with me and think about this: What if you set some boundaries, didn’t explain, and just said “no”? And what if you knew that each of these situations are huge contributors to your feeling of burnout?

I know that setting boundaries and  just saying “no” seems nearly impossible to some people, especially when you’re in the business of caring for and serving others.
And it just doesn’t feel like the “nice” thing to do. After all, Aunt Sally did send you that nice birthday gift last year. How could you possibly miss her party?

But getting front and center on boundaries is something I’ve had to learn to do, and it has nothing to do with being “nice.”  Look at it this way–  Click to Tweet:

There are just some things that we don’t have to explain.

We hold ourselves accountable every day for keeping our patients alive and well, our families healthy and happy, and ourselves in one piece.

That, in itself, is a full-time job. Am I right?

In a world where we are constantly explaining ourselves to patients, staff, insurance companies, it’s nice to know there’s a line that can be drawn. Finally.

We owe it to ourselves to draw that line in permanent marker.

Maybe we can’t be all things to all people. But we don’t have to explain to the world why.

And maybe we can allow each other the benefit of the doubt.

Without explanation.

What do you think?




Can Burned Out Doctors Be “Difference Makers”?

Difference Makers

The idea of being a “Difference Maker” sounds alluring, doesn’t it? It’s not only the extremely successful people we’re talking about – those who achieve cutting-edge results. It’s also those who go above and beyond, and are defined by the difference they make.

The world is full of “Difference Makers.” They can be teachers, volunteers at a soup kitchen, youngsters mowing the yard for an elderly neighbor. Surely, doctors would get a free ticket into the “Difference Makers” Club, right?

Not so fast…

It’s easy to say that we’re “Difference Makers” just because our jobs include helping and healing. But it takes more than that to enter the circle of the real “Difference Makers.” This isn’t a club you get into by default because of your title.

In the world of medicine, how can you make the grade?

Here are 5 simple ways you can become “Difference Makers” right now:

1) Take time to make sure your patient understands their treatment and options.

2) Say hello to the stranger in the hallway at the hospital. They may be visiting their dying mother or a sick child.

3) Thank your staff or the nurse taking care of your patient. It may be the sweetest thing they hear all day.

4) Compliment your colleague, your spouse, your child on something today. It can be the tiniest thing ever (“You always load the dishwasher so efficiently!”) but it will be well-received.

5) Perform a random act of kindness.

You’re probably skeptical. I know – I was, too. I was also burned out.

If you don’t think these things make a difference, ask your patients, nurses and staff. And try it to see what happens to YOU when you begin to practice this.

Here’s the thing – seeing yourself as a “Difference Maker” can be empowering, not only for those you serve, but also to yourself.

And when burned out doctors feel more powerful, we can help ourselves — and others —regain energy and passion in our lives, at home and at work.

This can mean anything from giving a talk to thousands of people about the importance of connection, forming a social network group to brainstorm ways of improving healthcare, or having a one hour chat with someone who is at the end of a very short rope.

Each and every one of us can make a difference. And everyone wins, including you.  Tweet: Each and every one of us can make a difference.

Hospital janitors who saw themselves as “Difference Makers” were found in the above-mentioned Forbes article to redefine their roles. How did they do this? By simple acts of offering patients fresh water or extra facial tissue. Something outside their job description. Something that made a difference.

William James said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. -William James

As you plan your week, what can you do to have an impact? It doesn’t take loads of time. Or even a big bank account. Share with me in the comments below.




Is Being Too Busy Making You Blind to Danger?

being too busy

Sometimes I envy radiologists. Like Superman, they truly have X-ray vision that can see what lurks below the surface.

In the life of an ophthalmic surgeon, I can’t always see if a bump on the lid is just a bump or if it is a life-threatening cancer. Many times, I have an inkling, but it takes help from the pathologist to make that call.

My super powers in the ophthalmology world are what we can see when we dilate the pupil.

Inside, we can see all manner of wonder. Ischemic vessels indicating hypertension, engorged blood vessels pointing toward diabetes, irregular intraocular tumors raising the red flag of danger.

This seeing below the surface stuff is not just for medicine.

It can happen every day, in all sorts of interactions. But too much of the time, the problem is that we’re too busy to see.

Picture this situation: Your trip to the grocery store…

You’re in a hurry. It’s getting ready to pour down rain and you just want to get in and out, and have your groceries in the trunk before that monsoon hits.

You scurry down the grocery aisles, grabbing what you need. Meanwhile you’re checking a quick recipe on your iPhone and getting texts with last-minute dinner requests.

You find the shortest line and congratulate yourself on your good fortune. Then… you’re stalled.

The gal at the end of the check-out line loading your groceries, the one who is supposed to be helping things along, is s-l-o-w-e-r than you can imagine.

You try to hurry her along. Nothing doin.

It takes you a minute, but now you see something’s wrong with her. She’s moving slow because she’s grabbing her abdomen while she loads your groceries in the cart. There’s a little wince, a pursing of the lips, but her determination keeps her at task. You notice her name tag: Judy.

You can’t help yourself. You do the right thing and ask, “Hey, are you alright, Judy?”

Judy stops. Looks at you, like you might be her long lost cousin. She gives a forced smile. And then she shakes her head.

“No. Not really. ‘Been hurting pretty bad all morning,” says Judy.

It’s her right quadrant. You remember a little, enough to know that it could be appendicitis, and call over to her manager on the other aisle. “She’s hurting. I think she might need to be checked out.”

At the end of this story, Judy’s manager takes her to the emergency room, thanks to you for taking the time to talk with Judy, help her out, and make sure she was taken care of. It turned out to be appendicitis and Judy was rushed to the operating room.

Now imagine if you hadn’t looked up from your phone, or if you complained because poor Judy was moving so slow and slowing down your life plans.

Well then Judy’s fate could have been different that day. And you would not only have ignored something that was right in front of you, but you could have inadvertently harmed someone.

Don’t worry. Judy did well and had her surgery before her appendix ruptured. 🙂

But it did, in fact, pour down rain and all the groceries (and you) were soaked as they got loaded in the trunk.

Now I ask you. Is it worth looking under the surface?

It turns out taking time to get out of your head can mean you’re helping another human being — and we all know, that’s going to make you – and them – happier and healthier.  Tweet: Taking time to get out of your head can mean you’re helping another human being.

Where can you make your deep dive, look under the surface, and see what you’ve been blind to?




Did You Bail on Your New Year’s Resolutions?

New Year's Resolutions

When I think about New Year’s resolutions, I think of the greatest Journey song ever (in my humble opinion), Don’t Stop Believing.

I know that sounds random. But right around now, when most of us bail on our New Year’s resolutions, why not look at what the winners do – you know, those 8 percent of Americans who actually achieve what they set out to do each year? (Yes, if you’re into stats on this, 50 percent of Americans make resolutions, but only 8 percent achieve them, according to Dan Diamond in Forbes.)

So what DO the winners do?

They keep it simple, tangible, obvious and yes: they don’t stop believing.

For those of you who remember Journey and their song that was released in 1981, think back to what you were believing then.

I was a struggling pre-med student who was wondering if I’d lost my mind by starting down a new career path that was going to take so much time, money and effort.

Who knew what the fates would have in store for me in 2016? A busy surgical practice; a rewarding coaching life; a thriving speaking business.

As each New Year has approached since 1981, I must confess that sometimes I nailed it when it came to resolutions. Other times, not so much.

How can you take the “winner” attributes and apply them to your New Year’s goals?

Start by asking if your New Year’s resolutions are serving you.  Tweet: Are your New Year’s resolutions serving you?


Are they? Or are you just letting them make you feel “less than” because you’ve fallen off the wagon of whatever improvement path you were walking down?

It’s not about losing ten pounds, or going to the gym every day, or making home-cooked meals every night. It might be about being happier in your day job. Or finding a way to take the good parts of your job and incorporate them into ways that bring you more joy.

It’s about believing in yourself. In your worth. In your strength.

What’s your guiding force this year? Is there something that’s keeping you focused on your goals? What reminds you to keep… believing?

My secret weapon is to choose a Word of the Year as part of my New Year’s ritual. This year my word is: TRUST.

I know your world is a lot like mine. Just like you, I have a ton on my plate and even as a Type A, I must be mindful of overcommitment.

That’s why my Word of the Year works for me: it keeps reminding me about the “Trust” —

  •   I’m trusting that the yin yang of my schedule will work itself out.
  •   I’m trusting that I’ll keep my New Year’s resolution of meditating every day to keep myself calm and grounded.
  •   I’m trusting that the folks who need to hear my message, whether in a speech or in a coaching session, will find me and, most importantly, receive my message of service.

I also happen to have a strong support system, because I know I can’t do it all myself. For me, that team includes my husband Chris; my dear friend and accountability partner Jen, who keeps me plodding forward doing 3 more things every week on my business; my sweet electric guitar teacher Bradly, who reminds me to have fun; my book club members who help me think outside the box; my trainer Andy at the gym (who tells me crackers, though delicious, are not a major food group); and my life and business coaches.

I am that much stronger with all these people in my corner. They help me when I need it. They make me accountable so that I can reach my goals. They keep me honest and sometimes tell me things I don’t want to hear.

Who’s on your team and who’s keeping you accountable? We weren’t meant to do all this by ourselves. And just getting down on yourself because you haven’t gone to the gym for a week, or haven’t found a way to love your day job, isn’t going to make this year better than last.

Share with me, in the comments below, where you’ve drifted when it comes to your goals and resolutions, and let’s chat about how you can get back on track.

And… Don’t stop believing.


Having a Hair on Fire Moment-





It’s Not Them, It’s YOU: 3 Ways to Teach People How to Treat You

Teach People How to Treat You

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Physician, Heal Thyself.” And recently that came up to bite me right on the butt.

I walk the talk – which means I have coaches of my own and practice self-awareness constantly, BUT lately I was made aware (horrors!) that I haven’t been making the best choices lately.

Guess it’s time for me to come clean.

After working Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and feeling pretty wiped out by it all, I found myself commenting to others, “I don’t know how that happened.”

After that phrase came out of my mouth for the fifth time, I stopped mid-phrase. Duh. I did know how it happened.

I hadn’t told my secretary to schedule me out of the operating room! She was plodding along, assuming that my intent was to be crazy-busy for the holidays. Why would she think otherwise? I hadn’t said a single word to her, or even sent an email to ask her to slow that train way down.

Once I saw where I was missing my mojo, I looked around to see if there were other gaps in my force field.

Uh. Sure ‘nuff.

There was that time a few weeks ago when I told my parents that my husband and I were going on a trip and my dad replied, “You are always going on vacation.” I just laughed it off, but what I should have said was…

“Well, actually, we haven’t been on a vacation together in over five months, and vacations are part of the glue that our marriage needs on a regular basis.”


Even with patients, I was missing the mark. While talking with a patient in the pre-op area, here’s what I encountered. Like many of you, I was reviewing the plan for surgery (which I had thoroughly done, complete with drawings, at the time of their office visit). Instead of nodding, the patient kept frowning, like I was talking in Greek or something.

Finally, I stopped and said, “Why are you frowning? I’ve gone over all this before. Don’t you remember? Doesn’t this sound familiar?”

At that, my patient laughed and said, “Oh, sure, I remember. I was just giving you a hard time.”

Really? Sigh.

What’s the point of all of this?

It’s up to us to teach people how to treat us.

You may not see it yet, but trust me. It’s not their problem. It’s ours.  Tweet: It’s up to us to teach people how to treat us.

What can we do to make it better? And how can we remember to take care of ourselves first?

Here are three ways to teach people how to treat you, starting now:

1) Be as honest and to-the-point with each interaction as possible.

2) When things don’t add up (like my holiday schedule), ask yourself how this can be and make sure that your intentions are heard.

3) Course correct. When the wind is blowing in a different direction, a good sailor knows to alter the sails to keep the boat on target.


Now, how you could change a few things in your world? Share it here so we can all learn from each other.



Stop Pretending You’re Perfect


Did you ever notice that when you really fess up and admit your vulnerability, that the air leaks out of your fear balloon?

When Shonda Rhimes, creator of such mega-hits as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, gave the commencement address at Dartmouth College, she decided to delete her well-written but typical rah-rah speech and just shoot from the hip. She talked about how she hated public speaking, that it made her mouth dry and her body go wacky, and she thought she might “poop in her pants.”

And can you guess what happened next? When she led with the truth, that fear-of-speaking cloud lifted, and she had fun with her speech – even enjoyed it! And so did the audience.

Rhimes went on to write The Year of Saying Yes and described how leaning in to our danger, our fears and saying yes to them can make us stronger. In my vocabulary, it can help us find our Super Power.

What can we learn from this?  Tweet: When we’re honest with our patients, we become brave by owning our imperfection.

It turns out that admitting we are wrong or made a mistake isn’t a bad thing. It actually is a sign of true maturity and success.

When we are honest with ourselves, our friends, our families the fear of not being everything they think we are disappears.

When we are honest with our colleagues, our clients, our patients we become brave by owning our imperfection.

Here’s a little challenge for you this week. Rise up and voice the following phrases without guilt or embarrassment:

  •   I don’t know.
  •   I made a mistake.
  •   I need help.
  •   I forgot.
  •   I’m in trouble.
  •   I’m hurting.

When we can look in the mirror and see our true reflection and be okay with that, and be okay with how we are truly revealing ourselves to others, that spells freedom.

And it’s a freedom that allows for vision. And for growth.

What truth would you like to share today? Please leave your cloak at the door and share with us.



A Little Known Secret to Getting Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

Many people are confused about this “connection thing,” as my husband calls it. If you’re one of them, please keep reading.

Brene Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

For me, connection is the telomeres of the DNA that keep us thriving, moving toward each other in a dance of love and grace.

Studies show lack of connection is worse for your health than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Having connection with others can improve your longevity by 50% and even strengthen your immune system.

Connecting with our loved ones, our office staff, even our neighbors can be more important to our health than losing ten pounds. Isn’t that surprising?

And if you’re looking to improve your bank balance in the new year, you may want to foster connection. How’s that?

It turns out that wealthy people value connection and tend to hang out with like-minded people who are positive and successful. It’s not so much a question of “being connected,” but of sharing the spirit of well-being that surfaces in that environment.

As time goes by, individuals who have strong connections with others prove to be wiser than those who are considered loners. How can this be?

Sharing what you learn, talking with interesting people and keeping company with people smarter than you are ways that connection makes you smarter. Just like playing sports with others who are better than you improves your game, hanging out with people a little smarter than you can give you a leg up.

What does all this data mean to you on a daily basis?  Tweet: Scientific evidence states: connection makes us healthy, wealthy & wise.

If you’re having trouble taking the time to connect to others, remembering the advantages to connecting may help.

I’d love you to share how you’re going to make more connections this year in the comments below. We can all use your input on ways to #ConnectMore!





What if One Word Could Change Everything for You?


It’s that time of year again. The time we sigh, grab our bootstraps and resolve to be better, do better, and live better in the coming months..

Yes, we’ve all made New Year’s Resolutions. And the truth is, they simply don’t work. By about February 24, we realize exercising every day and eating a fresh salad for lunch three times a week is not as easy as it sounds.

My business mentor Christine Kane encouraged me to try an awesome idea that I want to share with you. It has worked to inspire me every year since I adopted it.

So the idea is to pick just one word to guide you throughout the coming year. Yes, that’s right. Just ONE word. Call it your Word of the Year.

You can choose whatever word you want. In the past, my Words of the Year have included Clarity, Progress, and Determination. I have friends who have shared their words with me. Some of their words are: Challenge, Forward, Big, Joy, and Patience.  Tweet: What if one word could change your whole year?

Here’s what this looks like:

For 2013, my Word of the Year was BOLD. That was the year I started this blog and began working on my book, Remedy for Burnout.  Guess what? Thousands come to the blog each year and at some point, it felt like the book was writing itself!

For 2014, my Word of the Year was INSPIRE. That was the year my book was published and became a #1 international best-seller, and I began mentoring others and speaking around the world on burnout.

For 2015, my Word of the Year was RECEIVE. A hard one for me, as it is with many people. Haven’t we all been admonished, “‘Tis better to give than to receive”?

But receive I did. I received the honor of giving a TEDx talk on connection that went viral. I received the thrill of enlarging my community beyond the medical people as I became known as “The Connection Doctor” around the world. I received the privilege of working with hundreds to help them find their joy.

Each year, I’ve written my Word of the Year on a big, blue sticky note and taped it to the computer screen in my home office.

This year? My Word of the Year is TRUST. Trust that in 2016, I will be serving others while honoring myself. Trust that I will make the right choices moving forward. Trust that all is well.

So this New Year’s Eve, instead of writing out a list of impossible-to-keep resolutions, why not try picking a single word as your guide?

I’d love to celebrate your Word with you! Click here to go to my Facebook page and share your Word of the Year for 2016!  I’d love to see what it is.



How to Make a Comeback After Burnout

comeback after burnout

Nelson Mandela brought to light a lovely South African word: ubuntu. It has several translations, according to Wikipedia. But basically it means “I am, because of you.” It’s the idea of human kindness. A feeling that we are all connected.

Connection is my touchstone. My mantra. My core.

So naturally when you tell me about ubuntu, I’m in!

In my TEDx talk, I shared how connection has played a role in why I went into medicine and got through life-altering burnout. What always puzzles me is how we can forget that connection piece.

For example, when we are seeing a patient who is angry about something outside our control (the traffic, their insurance, the weather) and we find a hard time finding neutral ground.

Or when we’re talking with the internet service company (again!) about why our network is down and how it’s kind of critical that we be online that day to serve our people.

Or when an unexpected outcome happens (a biopsy comes back positive for cancer; a young friend dies tragically) and we are pulled up short, wondering that age old question: why?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and find ourselves in the land of burnout when we forget about connection.

Our brains are hard-wired for connection, so much so that a species’ brain size can be predicted by the size of its social group.

So what can we do after we fall down the rabbit hole of disconnect and burnout? How can we bring ourselves back with connection?

Here’s how to make a comeback after burnout:

  1. Stay in your rabbit hole long enough to honor the crappy outcome: the biopsy, the death, the heartache. You must feel it and lean into it to get beyond it.
  2. Analyze how connection can help in this particular situation. Do you bond with that patient because she reminds you of your great aunt? Can you share your compassion with the family of the young friend who passed away?
  3. Take action that matters. Hug your patient with the bad biopsy report. Write or call the family of your loved one who died. Get uncomfortable for their sake.
  4. Comfort yourself. It sucks when we have to give or receive bad news. Be kind to yourself.
  5. Look for others who are hurting and share these steps with them. Tweet: Sometimes connection can be uncomfortable. But it’s always worth it.

As you go through your week, as you look into the eyes of others, remember that sweet new word you just learned: ubuntu. I am, because of you.

I’d love to hear your stories of connection. After all, it’s why we’re here. Please share in the comments below.