Physician Burnout - how did Einstein get to be such an expert?

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

einstein quotes-1How did Einstein get to be a physician burnout expert?

If you want to lower your stress levels, build a more balanced life and an more Ideal Practice, remember these two quotes from Albert Einstein and there is literally nothing you can't change.

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Einstein Quote #1:

"The definition of insanity is -- doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

Here is another way to say the same thing: If you always do what you've always done -- you will always get what you've always got.

"The only way to change anything in your life is to take new actions."

Yes it is that simple.

    • Stop venting.
    • Decide what you really want.
    • Take a baby step in that direction.
    • Repeat.

Thank you Albert!

Yet how often do you see doctors flailing away in the jaws of the Insanity Trap?  Another frustration comes up, the doctor whines, commiserates, complains, pounds their fist in righteous anger --  and then goes right back to doing what they have always done.

It is like watching someone drown in water that's only waist deep.

The Insanity Trap is like gravity -- or the sun rising in the east -- or third grade math -- it is true now and always will be. If you ignore its ever present wisdom, you will lose big time.

In some cases, years (even decades) of frustration and overwhelm can slide by -- before you wake up, step out of the Insanity Trap and take your life back again.


albert-einstein-insanity-trap-physician-burnout_opt240W.jpgEinstein Quote #2:

"No problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it."

From inside the whirlwind all you can do is survive.

In the course of your busy day - when you are inside the whirlwind of your practice and home life - you can see the problems and things you want to change - you can feel and taste them too - clear as crystal. What you can't see from this perspective - inside the whirlwind - is HOW to solve them.

The whirlwind takes up every ounce of your awareness. You are focused on just making it through another day.

You must step OUT of the whirlwind - to a different level of consciousness to be able to make out the patterns and potential strategy steps for a way forward.

It is from this new level of consciousness - this different viewpoint outside the whirlwind - that you can see the new actions that will spring you from the Insanity Trap.

The healthiest doctors are ones who have a regular rhythm - a cadence if you will - of taking this different perspective on their life and practice. You fly up to the 50,000 foot view to re-examine this whole reality regularly - constantly tweaking so that you are always moving toward a more Ideal Practice and a more Balanced Life.

Here are common ways to shift your perspective
- note that all of them come with a Huge Caveat (see below):

- Journal about your experience when you are not at work.

Journaling is the simplest way to examine your life from an outside perspective. Write notes about what is going on and how it feels and what you might change going forward -- all while you are not at work and the whirlwind is a safe distance away.

The challenge with journaling is you still are only using your own perspective. You can't see what you can't see and your habits and blinds spots may be causing a lot of your struggle. 

- Have a cup of coffee with a friend/colleague, at a place outside of work - on a day off - to discuss what is going on and brainstorm some new possibilities.

Grabbing a fresh pair of eyes, with a friend over your favorite beverage, is a superb way to get feedback and a potentially radically different perspective. Have you ever told a friend about something that was infuriating and had them cock their head like a confused dog and say something like, "Well why do you do that?"

You consider their question and don't have any response. You don't know why you do that. It makes no sense. You stop and the problem goes away. It can be that simple in some cases, but only if you are willing to have a discussion with another person. 

- Get a coach 

Fundamentally, one of the most important things about having a coach is simply the new perspective you adopt at regular intervals. If you are meeting with your coach twice a month, you are guaranteed two hours a month of new perspective - working ON your practice rather than IN your practice. That is worth its weight in gold all by itself.

Then your coach takes it to a whole new level of intensity. They are trained to ask the questions you don't see, to give suggestions about things they know have worked for others and to get you to commit to new actions. Your assurance of a follow up call drives your accountability. Things can change very rapidly.

- Go to a Retreat 

Under ideal circumstances, a retreat shows you a completely fresh perspective on your practice and your life, allows you to make friends with a whole group of brainstorming partners and gives you a clear demonstration that you are not alone.

1X6-Penelope-Hsu-MD-harjot-singh-MD-pam-pappas-md-jackie-mcparlane-DO-susan-leggett-johnson-MD-mark-jaben-md-physician-burnout-coachRelated: Meet our team of certified physician coaches

What's the Huge Caveat for all of these?

The big danger is our old friend the Insanity Trap ... again.

  • You can journal daily
  • Have coffee with friends twice a day
  • Hire 3 coaches
  • Go on exotic retreats quarterly 

And if you don't turn your insights and conversations into New Actions ... nothing will change. Period. 

einstein-different-level-of-consciousness-insanity-definition-physician-burnout_opt240W.jpgNo journal, conversation, coach or retreat is a cure for burnout. 

The only way change occurs is when YOU TAKE NEW ACTIONS.

Taking the new perspective on your life and practice is necessary, but insufficient for change. It can feel very rewarding all by itself to journal, chat and go on retreats and they are not an end unto themselves. The only way they have any hope of creating change is if you use them to generate New Actions. 

Here is the payoff question ... your answers will determine the quality of your life:

  • Now that you can see this pattern ...
  • Now that you understand what you really want ...
  • Now that you have this idea of a better way to address this issue ...
  • With this new insight and perspective ... 

What will you do differently this week?

And when will you take a moment to journal or talk about your new results again?


I will end today with the same sentence that started this post:

If you want to lower your stress levels, build a more balanced life and an more Ideal Practice, remember these two quotes from Albert Einstein and there is literally nothing you can't change.



What is your experience with Einsteins' Insanity trap?
What tools did you use to step out of the craziness?


Tags: Physician Burnout