Adventures in Burnout: One Physician’s Story

Great blog post by The Happy Philosopher:

I’ve noticed that certain people seem especially susceptible, those that are perfectionist, those who like to be in control and take ownership, and those that are most responsive to criticism or praise. (…) Over the course of my own professional life, with the usual trappings of a successful career arc in medicine, the claws of burnout took hold. I was a go-to guy, “The Man”, and I owned the role, but that did not mean that I was never wrong, never made a mistake, or never had a regrettable interaction with a patient or colleague. These were fortunately rare, but the personal damage nonetheless accumulated over time, an ever increasing load of unwanted emotional baggage.

Read it in full here.

Every day is a blank slate for what I need to do. If something I was supposed to get done yesterday didn’t get done yesterday, it’s not automatically on my mind for today. Today’s mind is a clear mind, not yesterday’s remnants.

Jason Fried

Improving my mood

I’m getting better at detecting my mood through mindfulness; I’m still noticing it on a small subset of cases, but it’s improving! The trick is simple, but hard to execute: I just stop and think “what am I feeling right now?” and then asking “why?” until I get to the root cause.

Sometimes, noticing is enough for things to improve.

Other times, I just realize that I’m slightly dehydrated or sleepy, and I need water or a nap (or both!).

There are a few times, though, that I’m sad or angry about something that’s happening; this has been going on more and more recently due to some health issues in the family, and this is trickier for me to notice and much harder to fix. When I do realize this is happening, there are two actions I take to improve my mood that work extremely well in just a few minutes.

Writing down 3 things I’m grateful for

This is pretty self-explanatory: you pick up a notebook / blank file and write down three things you’re grateful for on that day.

I try to always think about different things, depending on the situation. If I’m thinking about health issues, I like to remind myself that I’m breathing well (I usually take that for granted, even though I live with asthma); if I’m thinking about a fight with someone, I remember they are alive and well. All things considered, I also like to remember that I am alive and well.

The tricky part here is to not just write this quickly and move on, but to actually feel it. This is not a to-do list item, put some heart to it!

Wishing other people to be happy

This is extremely effective and super quick to do. It’s something that I first found via Tim Ferriss and have used by myself and with the help of the Calm iOS app.

Here is what you do: you think about someone you love, and repeat (in your head) the following mantra:

I wish you to be happy. I wish you to be safe. I wish you to be healthy. I wish you to be at peace.

Then, think about someone difficult, and repeat the same mantra. Feel the words. Feel the meaning. Let yourself really get into that mindset.

Last by not least, think about yourself and repeat the same mantra. Love yourself.

This is it. I hope it helps!

Advice to myself

I read a lot. I have had periods in my life in which I read hundreds of non-fiction books per year, writing notes about them, trying to apply them, and trying to absorb them. Sometimes I go back through my notes of advice for life, work, and relationships and I inevitably think “damn, that could have helped me just yesterday with X and last week with Y! If only I could keep this in mind…”.

This is a really hard problem. Just like math teachers that regularly play the lottery, we are really bad at both a) remembering useful advice and b) applying it in different domains.

Inspired by Derek Sivers “do directives” I recently started iterating over some advice for myself, compiled from what I learned in many different ways. I read it every morning, and I change it a little bit from time to time, depending on what do I need or what doesn’t serve me anymore. Below is the current incarnation of it, as of November 22nd, 2017.

The content itself might not make sense or be helpful to you as they are to me, but the practice of writing this down and evaluating on a daily basis has been a very powerful tool in keeping myself happy, healthy, and even productive in a very difficult period of my life. Try it yourself!

Advice to myself

  • The past doesn’t matter and the future is not here yet. Focus on the present moment.
  • Lower your expectations and be grateful for what is.
  • You can’t make yourself happy; you can only let yourself be happy.
  • Disregard physical posessions. Freedom and health are the most valuable things you can “have”.
  • New information, new games, new books, new gadgets… you already have more than enough to be informed and entertained for years.
  • Eat meat and vegetables. Drink water. Walk. You don’t need much effort to be healthy.
  • Ask yourself: “Have I simplified enough?”
  • Ask yourself: “Does this bring me joy?”
  • Everything is impermanent. Everyone will die. Nothing matters. Have fun!

“If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem & one minute finding the solution.”

Albert Einstein