Saturday Morning Rounds July 27, 2019 - Harmonious vs obsessive passion & how they relate to burnout

Posted by BossB, MD on July 27, 2019
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds
A weekly round-up of everything that captured our attention over the last 7 days

What we're reading

When Passion Leads to Burnout by Jennifer Moss

The term "burnout" gets thrown around a lot in medicine these days, and for very good reason - it's an epidemic of incredible cost in terms of money, time, patient outcomes, physician well-being, and most importantly, actual lives. However, much of the conversation around burnout omits a key driver of the phenomenon, and it's paradoxically something we often think of as desirable - a sense of purpose and passion towards one's work. In the author's words:

"While burnout can affect anyone, at any age, in any industry, it’s important to note that there are certain sectors and roles that are at increased risk, and purpose-driven work — that is work people love and feel passionately about — is one of them... A Canadian study analyzed responses from 3,715 employees across 12 organizations and found that employees driven by purpose are significantly more stressed and score lower for well-being, resilience, and self-efficacy than those who are not."

And - no surprise - burnout disproportionately affects not only those in medicine, but women in medicine specifically:

"Mission-focused executives, non-profit employees, teachers/principals, nurses, and physicians are some of the people most at-risk for burnout... A Dutch study found that female physicians experience more patient empathy and, as a consequence, higher levels and deeper experiences of burnout."

The article goes on to recommend that in response to this crisis, institutions should:

  • Mitigate the "always-on" culture that has arisen with new technology
  • Teach employees that setting boundaries is okay
  • Hold leaders accountable for the well-being of their staff

Which is all great!! We couldn't agree more. However, healthcare institutions are notoriously slow-moving, often don't do anything that would cost money until they're forced to, and have a proven track record of putting the squeeze on providers rather than other entities (insurance companies, drug companies, their own bottom lines, regulatory bodies, EMR companies, etc) whenever change is in the air.

So while there's a lot effort that should be spent fomenting change at an institutional, and even governmental, level, what can you do in the meantime to decrease your risk of burnout and develop some protective assets? The article mentioned the idea of harmonious vs obsessive passion as a key factor that helps determine who will or won't experience burnout in a purpose-driven field, and we will do a deeper dive on the topic in today's "tip of the week" section.

Who we're following
Scott Barry Kaufman (@sbkaufman) is one of the clearest modern thinkers on the topics of well-being, meaning, creativity, and really just the human mind in general. He is a prolific researcher and writer, as well as an engaged and interesting Tweeter, and some of the tips that we'll share today come from an article he wroteon the topic of harmonious passion.

BBMD tip of the week
The first step of cultivating a more harmonious and less obsessive passion toward your work is to really understand the difference between the two. Harmonious passion is characterized by:
  • A sense of control
  • High levels of "flow" when engaging in the work
  • Positive self-concept (one feels good about oneself) while working
  • Work is in harmony with other activities in life

Obsessive passion, on the other hand, is characterized by:

  • Uncontrollable urge to engage in work
  • Conflict between one's passion and other areas in one's life
  • Work forms a large part of one's unstable and negative self-concept

While Scott's article mentions a myriad of ways to increase harmonious passion and decrease obsessive passion, we're going to focus today on one method that we spend some time on in our Lifestyle Design curriculum - the language you use with yourself.

Every single one of our 1:1 coaching clients has used one of the following terms in their first session:

  • "I need to..."
  • "I should..."
  • "I have to..."
  • "I've gotta..."

Whenever we hear these phrases, and especially the first time we hear them, we introduce a new term that we like to call "should-ing all over yourself." We don't say that because we enjoy potty humor - we say it because it's direly important that we take this opportunity to shock you out of your default state and create a new neural pathway. Why is it so important? While these phrases might seem innocuous at first glance, humans are verbal animals, which means that words create our reality and especially our psychology. And this particular pattern of language (a) complete saps one's sense of agency, (b) increases learned helplessness, and most importantly in this particular context (c) feeds an extrinsic rather than intrinsic sense of motivation. Our simple hack is to give our clients a homework assignment - we ask them to count every time they use these terms between the first and second sessions, and to try to replace them with ones like:

  • "I want to..."
  • "It's important to me that I..."
  • "I'm excited to..."
  • "I'm going to..."

If you really want to take it a step further, you can switch a piece of jewelry (bracelet, ring, watch, etc) to a new finger or wrist every time you use the terms - you'll be amazed at how much awareness this builds and how quickly your self-talk changes. Making this seemingly small change has been the single most effective method that we've seen to decrease obsessive passion, increase harmonious passion, and rekindle a sense of control over one's life in our clients.

Quote we're contemplating
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style." - Maya Angelou


As always, please let us know your requests and suggestions on Twitter. Which section above is your favorite? What do you want more or less of? Just send a tweet to @BossB_MD and put #SaturdayMorningRounds in there so we can find it.

Have a wonderful weekend, all!