Gratitude, Perfectionism and the Power of Story

Posted on January 9, 2020 by Nicole Anderson

Heart and StethoscopeLast December, I had the pleasure of attending the Resilience Conference 2019: Move from Surviving to Thriving hosted by the Bounce Back Project. Although I am not a physician myself, each keynote speaker, breakout session and personal story I heard brought to life the daily challenges physicians face. Several themes emerged from this two-day conference—gratitude, letting go of perfectionism and the theme that tied it all together—the power of story.

Gratitude

According to Dr. Amit Sood’s presentation on The Resilient Option, there are only two parts of our body we can control: neurons and our muscles. To me, muscles was obvious, however, the comment on neurons caught me off guard. I wondered, how can one train their brain? Dr. Sood talked of many practices that he partakes in to enhance and train his neurons, but the one that stood out to me the most was his morning gratitude routine. Every morning, before he wakes up, he spends two minutes sending gratitude out into the world. Dr. Sood had everyone in the audience engage in his method and it went as follows:

  • Start with deep, calming breaths
  • Think of 2-5 people in your life that are most important to you. Imagine their face. Ask yourself why these people are important, think of one good thing they did recently and end with wishing them well
  • Recall a positive memory from childhood
  • Remember a loved one who’s passed in your life, remember them, thank them for the impact they had on your life, and imagine giving them a hug
  • Open your eyes and proceed with your day

According to Dr. Sood, spending 2-3 minutes each morning focusing solely on sending gratitude helps train our neurons to be kinder and more compassionate towards ourselves and those around us. It also helps teach our brains to be more present. Dr. Laurie Drill-Mellum said it best in her breakout session on Mindful Connecting for Personal Health, “We’ve become human doings, not beings.” Slowing down, seeing the people around you, not waiting to be grateful for the big moments but being grateful for the small, everyday moments in life help us to live a more meaningful and present life.

Perfectionism

“Everything had to be perfect otherwise I failed.” Statements like this were expressed by several physicians throughout various breakout sessions at the conference. Physicians are trained to dehumanize themselves and not make mistakes. As much as we like to believe physicians are perfect, the reality is, they are humans and mistakes are inevitable.

In Dr. Corey Martin’s breakout session on Letting Go of Perfectionism, he describes how we like to believe perfectionism as a positive trait when in fact perfectionism stems from fear, and fear of others seeing us fail means we are not perfect. Perfectionism puts an unreasonable amount of pressure on a person.

Dr. Tjorvi Perry, MD, MMSc, echoed this idea in his breakout session, Where There’s Fire, There’s Burnout, where he shared his experience with burnout, depression, suicidal thoughts, and his ongoing work on recovering and healing. He shared, “As physicians, we’re good at compassion to others. We’re not as good as being compassionate with ourselves.”

Dr. Martin went on to share a story of when he has made mistakes as a physician. After he shared this, he had those in his session break off into groups, so each physician could share with their peers mistakes they have made and how they overcame them as a way to help support each other. Learning how to accept our mistakes and imperfections helps us let go and move forward in life. Afterwards, a couple physicians in the group expressed how this exercise helped them, showing how powerful peer support is. It made me think of how VITAL WorkLife offers just that. Our Physician Peer Coaching program allows physicians to connect with a peer, confidentially, from outside of their organization, who’s walked in their shoes and understands what they are going through.

The Power of Story

Keynote speaker Joel Carter, MD, kicked off the conference with a powerful speech on the impact of story. He shared stories he heard from patients over the years, patients who were experiencing immense pain and close to death. Dr. Carter shared how the power of story helped ease that pain. In an informal study Dr. Carter did with his patients, he proved how after engaging with a patient and asking them a question about their personal story, he would ask their pain rating, and in all cases, a patient’s pain level went down after reminiscing through story.

“The fundamental unit by which human beings acquire meaning, define their identity, and find purpose in their lives, come by way of the stories that they have lived.” – Dr. Joel Carter

This conference taught me how we are all united through story; sharing our story and listening to one another helps us learn and thrive. The Bounce Back Project Conference brought that to life for me. Physicians who attended this conference were given a safe place to share their story with their peers and be heard. This conference was a great reminder of the importance of gratitude, letting go of perfectionism and the power of story.


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