Raising your Resilience – A Success Secret for Physician Entrepreneurs

by Philippa Kennealy

This is a philosophical blog post coming on the heels of a meeting I had today with my “Mastermind group”. We talked at length about the topic of resiliency. It appears that many physicians are feeling less than hardy these days in the face of all their practice struggles! They are worn down by the endless “rules” and the relentless pressure to see more patients while taking home less money.

I also thought back on the many conversations with I’ve had with successful physician entrepreneurs and how they have resounded with one near-universal insight – almost everyone has remarked on how critical the traits of persistence and resilience have been to their success.

Seems kind of self-evident, doesn’t it? But it’s a lot easier to think and talk about resilience than it is to figure out how to develop it.

Several years ago, I was struck by a book I read that was authored by Dr. Martin Seligman, an esteemed psychologist and the so-called “Father of Positive Psychology”. I was a fairly new and earnest parent at the time, and was drawn to his title of “The Optimistic Child”.

Dr. Seligman’s premise was that you can “immunize” child against depression by teaching them to observe, check for accuracy and then dispute many of the “automatic thoughts” that pop into their heads. His research proved him correct and he and a colleague developed the highly successful Penn Prevention Program for school kids.

Demonstrating to children that thoughts were both verifiable and changeable, and teaching them social problem-solving skills were at the core of his program. Children were taught how to catch their fleeting, automatic, self-critical thoughts, judge the accuracy of their pessimistic thoughts and self-accusations, and also handle interpersonal conflicts.

So what does this all mean for us as adults?

How many times a day do you put yourself down, believe yourself to be unworthy in some way, or distort a situation by imagining the worst outcome? My bet is that you’re pretty hard on yourself. Without realizing it, you probably use your thoughts to hit yourself over the head repeatedly with a large hammer.

One of the best antidotes to pessimistic or judgmental thoughts is a dose of The Work – a tool I use on a regular basis with my clients to help them investigate their stressful thoughts.

The creator of the tool, Byron Katie (known familiarly as Katie), has a great tagline on her website that describes the potential impact of her tool: “I don’t let go of stressful thoughts. I question them. Then they let go of me.” I love picturing a life in which my lousy thoughts just let go of me!

In fact, this tool is a very practical method for investigating your own thoughts and “fact-checking” for reality, versus what you have made up in your head.

My slightly modified version of The Work is a six-step process that begins with you identifying the thought that is causing you to feel bad or stuck. You may have to even check in with your body – your breathing, your “abdominal sensations”, your neck and jaw muscles, to figure out what that thought is. As a novice in this process, you will find it helpful to write the negative thought down.

And then do the following:

Step One: Ask yourself “Does this thought seem true to me?” Answer Yes or No. If your answer is “No”, there is no need to go any further.

Step Two: Ask yourself “Can I be absolutely sure that this is true?” Again answer Yes or No.
If you answer “yes, I’m absolutely sure”, you are confronting reality. You have to deal with that.

Step Three: Ask yourself “How do I react when I think and believe that thought? Specifically, how does this thought make me FEEL and how does it make me ACT?”

Step Four: Ask yourself “Who would I be if I were no longer permitted to have this thought? What would my life be like?” Picture yourself living without this thought – how would you feel? What would you do, or not do, differently?

Step Five: Now turn your negative thought around 180 degrees. Try not to go to the extreme unlikely opposite but to find a thought that feels at least modestly comfortable!
So go from “I won’t be able to start the business I want to, becasue I never have any spare time” to “If I pay attention to how I use my time, I likely to be able to find small blocks of time several times a week to work on my idea” (instead of the much less realistic “I’ll be able to start a business because I really have plenty of time”!)

Step Six: Finally ask yourself “If I put that second thought up against the original thought, is the second thought at least as true as the original thought (if not more true than it)?”
In essence, you are comparing one “fiction” (the thought you proved in Step 2 was NOT true) with a second “fiction” (a new thought that you haven’t yet proved true). You are seeing whether the second thought is a least as viable as the first. Now, if the second thought feels at least as true, choose to feel and act as if it WERE true, and see how that works for you.

Once you get this down pat, you will be surprised by how much more resilient your thinking becomes. Because most of what plagues us is self-created!
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