Relationships are the Key to Happiness

Posted on December 12, 2018 by Amy Tiffany

Updated August 28, 2020

In medical school, the goal is to survive. To push through. You make it through residency, get your first “real job” and then everything will be great. Right?

Healthcare team eating lunch_smiling

Wrong. In medicine, you are expected to be perfect. You don’t make mistakes. And you don’t share your feelings. This perfectionist mindset and all of its flaws has infiltrated medicine to its core, having an immensely negative impact on physicians and the healthcare system as a whole.

On December 6th, I attended the Resilience Conference 2018: Move from Surviving to Thriving by the Bounce Back Project, alongside my colleagues and hundreds of physicians and providers. Over the course of the day, numerous themes emerged in support of personal resiliency, health, happiness and well being for physicians.

Relationships (Connections) are Key

The main theme of the conference was the importance of relationships. In a world where we are all “connected” via technology, nearly half of all Americans are lonely, and physicians are not immune. Breakout speaker Michael Maddaus, MD, said, “The days of the doctors lounge are gone.” Inspired by the book Discover Your Truth North and to recreate the collegiality of the ‘doctor’s lounge,’ Dr. Maddaus formed a group of men, who are all surgeons from different health systems, who meet regularly to talk confidentially and openly about what’s going on in their lives in a way they can’t with their colleagues or partner. The group was formed out of the need to have connections with people who understand what you’re going through. Many keynote speakers echoed that having healthy relationships are a major driver of happiness and resiliency. Here are some ways this was echoed by speakers throughout the conference:

  • Relationships are the foundation of a lifetime of happiness.
  • We are a group species.
  • Break down barriers. Be vulnerable and share with your colleagues.
  • “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” – Philo of Alexandria.
  • The essential root of resilience: Creating deep connections.
  • Ask your colleagues, friends or family these questions, and notice the difference it makes in opening up dialogue and elevating superficial conversations.
    • What keeps you up at night?
    • What can I do to help/support you?

Practice Gratitude

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Here are some examples of how speakers positioned the importance of gratitude to attendees.

  • Default to a sense of gratitude.
  • Practice gratitude daily.
  • Ask yourself – what are you grateful for?
  • Set an intention for yourself every morning.

Change your Mindset

Like gratitude, having a positive mindset can drastically change your view on adverse events. Keynote speaker Dan Diamond, MD, drove this point home in his presentation, “Fired Up or Burned Out? Transforming the Individual, the Team & the Culture.”
  • Your mindset is always a choice.
  • Your mindset impacts everything.
    • The roots of your tree are your mindset, words and emotions. Above ground are your actions and the fruit you produce. Remember - “The root makes the fruit!”
  • Monitor your internal dialogue.
  • Avoid Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)
  • Avoid Automatic Negative Trash Talk (ANTTs)
  • Say positive things about yourself. Whatever you say after “I am” adds onto you.

Practice Personal Resiliency

Every speaker had an undertone of self-awareness being an important factor in personal resiliency. Although there are system issues, speakers encouraged attendees to look inward and make personal improvements to support their own resiliency.
  • What do you need to do to say, “I love my life!”?
  • There are two wolves inside us. The good wolf and the bad wolf. Which one wins? Whichever one you feed. So feed the good wolf! – Henry Emmons, MD
  • There are three parts of resilience: fitness, nutrition and mindfulness. Are you taking care of yourself?
  • Sleep is a non-negotiable. You can’t give away sleep and feel good.

Accept Imperfection

Every speaker challenged the notion that medicine demands perfection. We are all human, and we all need help sometimes. No one is perfect!

  • Give yourself permission to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of wisdom.
  • Often times physicians are “playing the role” when really, they are searching for more.
  • In improv, mistakes are okay! Keynote speaker Dr. Belinda Fu said, ”Every mistake is an opportunity to grow.” This concept helps shed ideals of perfectionism.
  • In medical improv, you practice drills and exercises and learn the skills of attunement, affirmation and advancement. These skills help with collaborative patient care, help improve communication, teamwork and cognition. Skills of improv = skills of life.
    • Attunement (listening, perception, awareness, observations) to myself and others
    • Affirmation (validation, acknowledgement)
      • The word “and” is a build; the word “but” is a block. Use the word AND!
    • Advancement (how to move forward)

Attendees left the conference feeling optimistic, energized and motivated about making positive changes to lead happier, healthier lives. At the closing of the conference, the final ask was that attendees bring these ideas back to their organization and share with others.

We Can Help

VITAL WorkLife offers solutions for physicians to support well being and work/life balance. Contact us online to learn about our Physician Well Being Resources solution, as well as how we can support organizations with sustainable culture change.

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