So I've been thinking a lot (i.e. pretty much all the time) about what to do about it. I've been reading blogs and journaling and talking M's ears off in an attempt to figure out some way of becoming happier. (I haven't actually been exercising or meditating, of course, because those things might actually work.) I even bought a book about physician burnout, despite absolutely hating the last physician burnout book I read. And, much to my surprise, the book has been kind of helpful.
One of the ideas in the book is that, as physicians, we are always focused on what remains to be done: how many letters we need to dictate, how many patients we need to see, how many bloody multi-page forms we need to fill out. By constantly thinking about what still needs to be done, however, we inevitably feel like we aren't accomplishing anything, and we get discouraged by the seemingly neverending to-do list. Instead, we'd be much better off putting our focus on what we've already done, so that we are positively celebrating our accomplishments instead of always negatively dreading the work to come.
It's a pretty simple idea, and it requires pretty minimal energy and absolutely zero time, so I decided to try it out this week. No longer was I going to count the patient files on my desk that needed to be dictated (about 20 at current count); instead, I was going to count the ones in my outbox that were already done. Instead of focusing on the number of patients remaining to be seen, I was going to focus on the ones that had already been dealt with. Pay attention to the positive, not the negative.
It sounds cheesy to even write this...but it kind of helped. It made me realize that my list of things that I have already accomplished is pretty enormous, and it dwarfs the few hours of paperwork that I left undone at work on Friday. It felt surprisingly good to be a bit of a cheerleader for myself, instead of the evil taskmaster who is always yelling at myself to work harder! and faster! and better!
It worked so well that I decided to apply this mindset to an area of my life that causes my unnecessary anxiety: my finances. I'm in pretty good financial shape for being 17 months into practice, yet I waste a lot of energy thinking about how far away I am from being able to retire. This week, instead of constantly thinking about the minimum of 10 years of work that I will have to do to save up a decent retirement fund, I took a few minutes to list the major financial accomplishments I've made over the past 17 months:
- Saved up enough money in my investments that I could pay off my line of credit if I wanted to;
- Saved up enough money that, between M and me, we can make a 20% downpayment on a nice house in our chosen neighbourhood; and
- Saved up enough money in my investments that I could live at my current level of spending for approximately one year (or for a very long time if I stopped eating out so frequently).
I know that there are still a lot of things that I need to do to feel happier with my work, but I think that changing my mindset has been an important first step. Despite being on call again this week**, I've been in a much better mood than I have been since my really stressful department meeting. I now have six weeks of no call, which includes a one-week trip to Cuba, so hopefully there are even better things ahead.
*My job isn't actually all that miserable. I'm just feeling so exhausted by it that I am having a hard time seeing the good things. Which I'm working on.
**I sat down this week and figured out just how much call I've been doing lately, and I realized that I've been on call 1/3 of the time for the past 3.5 months. That's the amount of call that I should be doing in a 6-month period, and it's equal to the maximum amount of call that a resident is allowed to do. Suddenly I don't feel so guilty for feeling tired! As a result of this realization, I've reviewed my call schedule for the upcoming year and identified a few similar problem periods that can hopefully be improved by a bit of swapping with my colleagues.