What is it that makes some of us happier than others? Why do some doctors live in the land of burnout and others live in happy land?
During my time working with doctors, nurses, and health care providers around the world, I’ve noticed there are certain traits that stand out in those who choose happiness. And if there’s a way for us to choose happiness rather than physician burnout, wouldn’t we all go there?
So, here are the traits that I’ve discovered that happy doctors might share:
1. They learn from past mistakes.
They don’t dwell on the bad. They don’t ruminate on the negative as they drive home. But they analyze. Just a little. They say to themselves, “What can I learn from how that went down?” “How can I make a better outcome of that situation next time?”
Whether it’s a surgical outcome that wasn’t their best, an encounter with a patient or staff member that was the opposite of smooth, they review it like a video game and figure out how things could be altered, for the better, going forward. They learn that sometimes it’s not about them.
2. They break goals down into bite-sized pieces.
Of the doctors who get it right, the majority have mastered the technique of “chunking.” They break each goal into smaller pieces which gives them the immediate reward of completion.
Instead of a goal being “study for board exams this weekend,” they will say: “I’m going to spend two hours on Saturday and three hours on Sunday reviewing the next four chapters in my board review book.”
Instead of saying “I’m going to revamp my schedule to make more time for myself,” they say, “What’s the one thing I can do this week that will give me a bit of extra time?”
3. They set specific goals that are measurable.
The doctors I work with learn to, not only break down goals, but make their smaller projects measurable. Just like when people are on a weight loss diet and set a goal to exercise for 20 minutes, three times a week, doctors who are aiming for happier lives also make those milestones specific.
For example, instead of “clean up my office and get organized,” they will say, “I’m going to sort thirty files on my desk and get them into the file cabinet or computer by Thursday.”
4. They know what fills them up.
The doctors who get it right give themselves rewards woven into their busy weeks. But the rewards are ones they specifically choose, not ones I assign to them. Maybe it’s a dinner out with their spouse or partner. Maybe it’s going to a sporting event with a friend. Maybe it’s doing a whole bunch of nothing, with popcorn, in their PJs.
When it’s time to hit “refresh,” these happy doctors know what works best for them.
5. They give themselves permission to act imperfectly.
We all have the best of intentions. Me, too. The beauty of the doctors who are getting it right is that they give themselves permission to fail.
They may do something that is not the exact right thing but is better than doing nothing.
They let themselves off the hook when it comes to Perfection Paralysis.
We all need to learn how to just go forward in our own unique way.
And that’s the beauty of life. Don’t you think?