Physician Burnout - When Being Smart Gets In Your Way

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician intelligence physician burnout dike drummond Physician Burnout and When Being Smart Gets In Your Way

In this article let me show you how being smart can completely obstruct your happiness and what to do to get around this thinking person's roadblock to a better life. Head's up ... the more you are surprised by the last sentence, the more I encourage you to read this article.

Let me show you the truth in this statement:
"The most powerful things in life are simple actions ... not complicated thoughts."


Being Smart is Never Enough

Let's face it, you are an extremely intelligent person. Just making it to the educational plateau of having that MD after your name - puts you in the intellectual 1%. That is a very good thing ... until it is not.

If you are like me, you pride yourself on your intelligence. You are pleased about your ability to acquire knowledge and all the stuff you know that others do not (like what "borborygmi" means, etc.)

However ...

- Intelligence does not produce happiness

- Intelligence will not create success

- Intelligence cannot get you what you really want in your life ... especially if that is something different than you have right now

In fact, intelligence and the habits we developed getting "A"s in school can actively block us from more happiness and success - and really get in the way of making life and practice changes. I have to help my coaching clients through this smart person's roadblock all the time. The solution is simple, but first let me show you the roadblock and its origin.


The Good Student’s Curse

We have all been conditioned by our 23 years (or more) in the formal education system. In grade school, college, med school and residency we learned study habits that were focused on being able to answer test questions on the topic at hand. Most of the time these were multiple choice questions. Even now, your board recertification exams will be multiple choice questions.

That is how we learned how to learn. Study hard until you feel you can answer the test questions ... then STOP. And we were the best at it ... going relentlessly for the “4.0”. This stopping point is a habit we still have AND the origin of the happiness roadblock. Here's why ...

- Life is not a multiple choice exam

- The quality of your life does not care how much you know

- Your spouse and children don't care what you know - your fund of knowledge is meaningless to them

If you stop at the point of comprehension - when you understand the concept ... your life is not changed ... nothing has happened except you get to pat yourself on the back for acquiring another bit of (potentially useless) knowledge. "Wow, now I am an even smarter person."

In your medical practice, what you know is extremely important, but not because of your ability to answer multiple choice questions. Your knowledge is useful to the extent that you APPLY IT in your problem solving and procedures with your patients. That application is a hint at the way around this roadblock outside of your practice.

In your larger life
Your smarts/your intelligence/what you know ... is not important ....
HOW YOU PUT IT INTO ACTION is what matters

If you learn something new
And don't use that knowledge to do something different ... to change your actions ...
You are living Einstein's definition of Insanity
And most likely beating yourself up with shoulds
("I should be doing something about this .....")

I run into overstressed doctors all the time who have more than one meditation book on the shelf and can quote me MBSR literature ... and yet have no mindfulness practice. They understand it. They could answer the test questions. Yet, the have not taken the action step to actually create the benefit of a mindfulness practice. That is a smart person's roadblock. They studied until they understood the concepts well enough to answer the test questions ... and did not put this understanding into new or different actions.

Let me show you three simple keys to putting your smarts to work. When you follow these three steps you can make positive changes in your life with surprising speed and ease. Do not be deceived by their simplicity. That is another smart person's trap - feeling like anything worth learning has to be complicated or obtuse. Remember: the most powerful things in life are simple actions ... not complicated thoughts.

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Three Keys to Harnessing Your Intelligence for Good

1) Focus On What You Really Want (not what you want to avoid)

To get the most benefit from being a smart person ... remember that your intelligence is a tool. Being smart and being good at acquiring new knowledge is a means to an end. It is a tool you can learn to use with intention, to create the life you really want. When it is harnessed in service to your life ... it can be a key to your ultimate success.

What is needed is a focus point. The best way to create that focus is to look at an area of your life you wish to change ... and imagine the change you want to make. Steven Covey calls this “begin with the end in mind” In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.  Here is one way to do just that.

 Take some time outside of the busy-ness of your practice and your life. Carve out some time to yourself ... just 15 minutes in a quiet time can be all you require for this process. Grab something to write on and ask yourself this question:

"If you had a magic wand and could wave it to make any change in your life or practice ... what would you change ... and what change would you make?"

Note: If you feel like making a list here, go for it. However make sure you prioritize it and pick one to take action on ... DO NOT just make the list and then beat yourself up with it.

This step puts your deeper desires in charge. You will now be acquiring new knowledge with a clear intention of actually putting it to use - and a clear end point to focus on.


2) Make an Action Plan

You may have an urge to study how you might approach making this change. Remember that studying is not enough to get the changes made. In business this is called “researching best practices”. It is the place where great projects go to die. It is at this step that you are highest risk to succumb to the smart person’s roadblock

Research if you feel the need and DO NOT STOP when you understand the topic. Remember, what you know is meaningless. The only way to change your results in this world is to take different actions.

Learn only what you need to in order to take an action step ... to do something differently in pursuit of the change you selected in step one above.

Take that same piece of paper and write your answer to this question:

“What is one change I can make today/this week that will get me closer to my goal/vision/the change I want to make?

When you answer this question and then take this action, you bypass the roadblock of understanding. You are in focused action towards a specific goal.

"The most powerful things in life are simple actions ... not complicated thoughts." It is only when new understanding is translated into new or different action ... that change is possible.


3) Get Support

I encourage you to take your new action step ASAP ... this is the shortest path to the change you are seeking. And I know from my own experience and as a coach to hundreds of doctors making life changes ... your chances of success are much higher if you rise above your Lone Ranger programming and don’t try to do this all alone.  Creating a support team triples the chance of taking your action step and makes the whole process much more fun. Change is simple and often NOT easy ... more support is always better than none.

One simple step is to have an accountability buddy. This is you and a friend working this change process together. You agree to check in about your action plan and how the steps are going in a brief weekly phone call.  You can set up your accountability buddy system by simply sharing this blog post with a friend who is looking to make some changes and having them work steps one and two above. Then set up a regular time to connect and share two things

- What is the action step you plan to take this week?
- How did last week’s action step go?

If you would like to discuss the option of professional coaching support, here is the link to a free Discovery Session consult to do just that.


There you have the three keys to getting around the smart person’s roadblock to happiness

1) Focus on What You Want - and begin with the end in mind

2) Make an Action Plan - don’t stop at understanding the problem

3) Get Support - a simple accountability buddy can make all the difference


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT on when being smart has gotten in your way, what you would most like to change and what your action step is going to be this week. 

Tags: physician burnout prevention, Physician Burnout, physician burnout treatment