Stop Physician Burnout - a Hole in the Sidewalk Shows a Way Out of Einstein's Insanity Trap

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

stop-physician-burnout-einsteins-insanity-trap-a deep-hole-in-the-sidewalk-portia-nelson_opt150W.jpgChange is difficult, grinding work for most people - physicians are no exception. This hole in the sidewalk may make it easier for you this week.

Physician burnout is clearly an example where our professional inertia makes change extremely difficult for most doctors. In this blog post let me show you a different way of looking at change that is likely to make things easier for you. 

I suspect you will get an "AHA" here that can result in a permanent shift in your attitude and ability to make changes in your life. The poem below is that powerful for many people. It all has to do with that big hole in the sidewalk.

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We are creatures with a staggering array of habits. Habits born in the crucible of our residency training, then honed through thousands of subsequent patient encounters.

Your practice may be too stressful, the clicks and documentation too mindless, your life too out of balance ... and yet this feeling is at least familiar. This is the way you have always coped with the stresses of seeing patients and being a physician. These habits are the building blocks that create your reality and your happiness and wellbeing at this moment in time. 

One thing is for sure though - Einstein's Insanity Trap is in play.

Here is a different way to see the TRAP, via one of my favorite poems on the topic of change.

Read it now and notice how it feels when you get to the end of Chapter Five. 


“Autobiography in Five Short Chapters”

by Portia Nelson.

 Chapter I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.


Download a Copy of the Poem Here


  • In what area of your life or practice are you in a bit of a hole?
  • What action might be able to pull you out this week? NOTE: It could be doing something new or it could be a situation where you stop doing something old.
  • Once you are up on level ground and dusted off, what is a different street you could walk down?
  • What is the first (baby) step on that path and when can you take it?



What is your "deep hole in the sidewalk"?
What is your new Action Step?

Here is Portia Nelson:

Tags: stop physician burnout