Hope Springs Eternal: How to Change Your Perspective of Your Difficult Situation

Last week, I had the privilege of conducting a class on life balance for the medical residents at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.  The class is part of a wonderful program that the medical school runs called “Advancing Idealism in Medicine”.  The goal of the class is to prevent residents from “burning out” on the job.  I was asked to help these wonderful young doctors find a way to create balance between their demanding careers as doctors and their family life.  And my message was:  let’s look at your options.  Because you do, in fact, have options.

The work of these young doctors is high-stakes:  saving lives.  Not only do they work long hours, but also their workload is intense, demanding and fast-paced with little margin for error.  No wonder they experience burnout.  And these young doctors are also eager to have a family and a life.  In fact, studies show that having a supportive family life is a critical component in mitigating if not preventing burnout.

My message to these young doctors was very simple:  even under these difficult conditions, you in fact have options. In my experience, when we feel that we are making choices in our lives, we feel much more hopeful because we are able to assert our personal power.  The resilient ones among us will be able to bounce back from a difficult situation by exploring what options in fact exist.

So what options exist for busy young residents-and anyone else who feels trapped in a difficult situation?

The first strategy is to change your perspective of your situation.  Yes, the life of a resident is challenging.  But is it all gloom and doom?  What might be some other ways of thinking about this situation?
For starters, think big picture:  why are you doing this?  These young people all chose to be doctors. They have long-term goals around being doctors.  When I pointed this out, I heard a collective sigh of relief.  And no wonder!  Focusing on your choices and longer-term goals takes you out of the day-to-day grind. It is one powerful way to create hope because it reminds you why you are doing what you are doing.

Another way to change your perspective is to ask yourself the following question:

What’s working?

So often in difficult situations, we focus on the negatives. For the doctors, that means the long hours, the lack of control that they felt, the intensity of their workloads, the lack of free time. 
So what is working for them?
•    Being at a top-notch medical school with fantastic teachers, colleagues and peers
•    Having supportive relationships and a family life
•    The fact that when residents are not in the hospital, they do not have ongoing responsibilities and are able to have free time
•    The fact that some monthly rotations are less demanding than others, thus allowing for more free time to do things that they might otherwise not be able to do in a month of a more challenging rotation.

The focus on what is right as opposed to what is wrong is another way to change one’s perspective and provide hope.

So if you find yourself feeling trapped in a difficult situation, see how you can begin to change your perspective by focusing on WHY you are doing what you are doing and what is in fact working about your situation.  Chances are that this can help to move you out of your funk.

Stay tuned for more strategies on how to reclaim your personal power!