Overcoming Common Fears that Hold Doctors/Surgeons Back

Fear is a powerful roadblock. Some doctors experience fear every day at work. This can negatively impact professional growth, as well as patient care. In a recent article and podcast, Dr. Pamela Wible interviews therapist Sydney Ashland about the “Top 10 Fears that Hold Doctors Back.” In this article I’d like to review these common fears, and expand on how to conquer them through the lens of my own personal experience.

10 Fears that Hold Doctors Back

Here are the top 10 fears that hold doctors back (from Dr. Wible’s article):

  • Low Self-Confidence

  • Financial Concerns

  • PTSD/Guilt

  • Family Responsibility

  • Anxiety & Depression

  • Health Issues

  • Addiction

  • Isolation

  • Lack of Direction, Passion, Purpose

  • Abuse Cycles

It’s important to understand these fears so we can recognize them in our loved ones, our peers, and ourselves.

Overcoming These Fears

So once we recognize these fears, how do we take proactive steps to overcome them? Here are a few tips:

  • Building Confidence. Confidence is the result of success or even the enjoyment of trying something over and over again regardless of outcome. Make regular small achievable goals. Alternatively, know that most highly successful people have "failed" hundreds of times and keep trying.

  • Seek Professional Help. If you are struggling with addiction, or experiencing feelings of guilt, PTSD, anxiety, or depression, reach out to a professional for help.

  • Take Care of Yourself. Learn to just breathe. Deep breath in through the nose. Deep breath out through the nose. Repeat two more times. Use this at times of stress, sadness, anger, and more.

  • Connect with Like-Minded Surgeons. Sharing your experiences with like-minded doctors and surgeons, and hearing their stories as well, can help you feel less isolated and help you regain your passion.

  • Use the debt snowball. Dave Ramsey has a strategy that helps you stay motivated to pay off your debt. As with my 8 PRACTICEs methodology, personal and practice wellness is built off of the momentum and confidence created from paying off your smallest debts first.

The 8 PRACTICEs of Highly Successful Surgeons

I myself have dealt with my share of fears throughout medical school, training, and during my time in practice. Using these experiences I developed my signature methodology – The 8 PRACTICEs of Highly Successful Surgeons. This methodology helps doctors and surgeons of all specialties to find balance and rhythm in their daily lives and practices, and also overcome these common fears. Ultimately, it’s all about creating a lifestyle and practice that is sustainable and successful. If you’d like to learn more about the 8 PRACTICEs and how they can help you, feel free to reach out to me at any time.

4 Ways to Conquer Surgeon Burnout

There are many factors that can contribute to burnout among surgeons, doctors, and other medical professionals. It is not all about diet, exercise and sleep, but these three are basic foundations that increase our ability to go after the other factors. This article will offer four tips for conquering surgeon burnout and its related symptoms.

Try to Practice What You Preach

If you notice, many of my articles point out the simple practices of diet, sleep and exercise. I am not a perfect example, nor is anyone for that matter! If we are going to restore our passion and strive for performance improvement, we need to abandon perfectionism, and just get better. I have made tremendous progress in diet and exercise by using baby steps. I preach performance improvement, not perfection. How can you do better at something you tell others to do?

Set Realistic Goals

Each successful achievement makes it much easier to reach the next. There is little harm in overachieving on a goal that was a little too easy to reach. However, when we fail to reach a goal, usually one of two negative things results:

  1. Our motivation to reach the next goal is decreased.

  2. We make excuses that justify the failure, therefore making it easier to justify a failure each time.

Create momentum with success, by reaching your goal and maintaining it.

Say No

Surgeons tend to overexert themselves at work. If only we could do everything we wanted! Unfortunately, that’s just not the way we’re built. Saying yes to everything at work will likely lead to excess stress, exhaustion, and burnout. Know when and how to say no at work and you will become much more successful.

Diet, Exercise and Sleep

We’ve talked about these three factors at length, and they are important to understand. If any of these three are managed poorly, the results are lower energy levels and higher stress. Use each of the first 3 ways above to attack all three issues.

All of these tips tie into my burnout prevention methodology - The 8 PRACTICEs of Highly Successful Surgeons. I developed this system after dealing with burnout first hand in my own practice. It can be applied to any physician in any specialty. Focusing on finding your rhythm in your work and home life is the ultimate goal to conquering burnout in the long run.

How to Increase Your Willpower: Part Three

So far in this three-part series on willpower, we’ve discussed daily practices and tools surgeons can use to strengthen their willpower muscle, so that they can accomplish their goals and avoid burnout. Today, the final installment is dedicated to strategic ways you can go about exercising your willpower, to increase your chances of success.

Identify the Time of Day When your Willpower is Strongest

No matter how strong it is, willpower fluctuates throughout the day. Some people have more willpower in the morning, while others have more late at night. The key is to figure out when you are most resilient and plan your day accordingly. Find your Rhythm!

For example, if your willpower is weakest one part of the day, that is the best time to have planned ahead with strategies to avoid temptation. I think this is particularly important when working to break a “bad” diet, lifestyle or workday habit.

If your willpower is strongest in the morning, try waking up earlier to tackle key cognitive tasks before meeting with patients, performing routine administrative tasks in the afternoon, and ending your day earlier for recharge activities.

Be Strategic About Handling Key Tasks

For many surgeons, attempting to tackle a large project all at once can rapidly drain their willpower and lead to frustration. Instead, try to chip away at daunting tasks, which can increase your feelings of success, improve your work product, and boost your willpower over time. Chipping away means setting smaller more realistic goals that are achievable. Simplicity!

Choose your Peers Wisely

Spend time with people who have a positive impact on your willpower. For example, surround yourself with other surgeons, friends, and family members who keep you motivated to stay on track with your goals. Conversely, try to minimize contact with people who repeatedly put you in situations where your willpower is tested.


It’s important to remember that this is a process. You’ll inevitably have days where you’re more tested than others, and that’s okay.

Be mindful of situations that challenge your resolve and remember your ultimate objective:

To build your willpower on a daily basis so that you can achieve more sustainable success in your career, life, and relationships without burnout!

Let me know your thoughts!

How to Increase Your Willpower: Part Two

In the first installment of this three-part series, we discussed practices you can incorporate into your daily routine to increase your willpower reserves, so that you can accomplish your goals in a more efficient manner. Today, we’re looking at specific tools that are at your disposal and can be used to give your willpower a boost when you need it most.

To successfully increase your willpower, you’ll need tools that fall into two distinct categories: those that keep you focused and those that help you build new habits. This is because much of building willpower involves staying focused and creating habits that move you closer to your goals.

Tools that Keep you Focused

Of course it’s important for surgeons to be focused in surgery, to ensure that your patients receive safe surgical care. On the October 2016 SurgeonMasters Group Call, Dr. David Hanscom shared his program Awake at the Wound, where they have integrated their Spine fellowship training with sports performance coaching. Basically, Performance = Skill - Interference! Staying focused is about managing and minimizing the different types of interference.

The Boundary Ritual, which I first learned from my friend Dr. Dike Drummond in his book Stop Physician Burnout: What to Do When Working Harder Isn’t Working, is a great tool to keep focus. You can use this tool as part of my 8 PRACTICEs Methodology to focus on each of your roles, but specifically so you can control your attention when you are seeing patients on rounds or in clinic in your doctor-patient role.

When it comes time to perform non-patient related tasks, like doing business or administrative work, writing papers, or working on projects, our willpower is often most vulnerable. To accomplish these tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible, you can use apps or tools to create a less-distracting environment. For example, an application like Freedom or Forest: Stay Focused can block websites that distract you – including your email – so that you can get your work done.  

You can also use a “Do Not Disturb” sign customized to you on your door to limit non-urgent distractions. Doing so will keep you in control of your day and can go a long way towards preventing burnout.

Tools that Build New Habits

Building habits is key to achieving your goals and increasing your willpower. The longer you stick with a new routine in pursuit of a specific objective, the stronger your willpower muscle becomes.

Fortunately, there are numerous tools available to help you build new habits, no matter what your goal is. For example, if you want to lose weight and improve your health, you can track your fitness goals, nutrition, and calories using MyFitnessPal. If you want to build a meditation practice to help manage the stress of your career, try HeadSpace or other popular apps.

Remember, the 8 PRACTICEs Methodology would remind you to:

  • Take one step at a time (Passion for Performance Improvement)
  • Seek your balance in the give and take (Reciprocity of Roles and Relationships)
  • Keep a positive attitude even if these tools don’t seem to work (Attitude Resilience)
  • Comment below to agree/disagree/share your tools (Communication with Mutual Understanding)
  • Get into YOUR rhythm and build momentum (Time/Life Management using Rhythm)
  • Inspire yourself by knowing your goals (Inspire Others to Shared Goals)
  • Keep it simple and practice, practice, practice (Complex Problem Solving through Simplicity)
  • Use energy gained to increase your willpower (Energy for Personal and Practice Wellness)

On next week’s blog, we’ll be talking about key strategies for exercising your willpower muscle to increase your chances of success. In the meantime, try incorporating a few tools into your daily routine to see the effect they have on your willpower.


How to Increase Your Willpower: Part One

Have you ever wondered why you seem to lack willpower just when you need it the most? For example, why does resisting dessert suddenly become much more difficult in the evening, after you’ve made healthy choices all day long?

The truth is, we all have a finite amount of willpower, and you’ll quickly run out if you use it constantly throughout the day. Fortunately, there is a solution. Throughout this month’s 3-part blog series, “How to Increase Your Willpower,” I’m going to teach you how to begin each day with larger willpower reserves, so that you can accomplish your goals more efficiently. 

Here’s how to get started, with easy daily changes that will have a big impact on your self-control:

1. Fuel your body with healthy foods

Giving your body the nutrition it needs to have a huge influence on your willpower reserves. Set yourself up for success by consciously choosing to consume healthier foods and drinks. When you walk by the surgeon’s lounge, ignore the cookies, chips, and sodas. Instead, get fruit or yogurt or go a little farther out of the way and bring healthy snacks from home. 

2. Adopt a regular meditation practice

The healthier your mind is, the more willpower you’ll have at your disposal. Exercise your mind with regular meditation, taking time out of your busy day to breathe, reflect, and recharge your batteries.  

CAUTION!   If my research is correct, more than half of you just tried to either skip over this one or think I have gone off the deep end. I understand, because I thought that too. That is until I finally eased into many of these techniques. I will share some ideas in a future blog. Until then, just take three deep breaths and keep an open mind. (Pun intended.)

3. Prioritize sleep

Surgeons are notorious for staying up late, waking up early, and giving 110% all day long. However, this isn’t an optimal schedule for boosting your willpower, and your brain would be a lot stronger if you simply got enough sleep. Sleep refreshes your mind so that it’s able to practice self-control. How about starting to go to sleep 15 minutes earlier than usual or than you “want to?”

4. Exercise your willpower muscle daily

Willpower is like a muscle; you can build it through repetitive exercise. As such, start by setting small, daily goals. For example, let’s say you always try to squeeze in one last task before leaving the house in the morning, but as a result, you’re perpetually late. Instead of giving in to your routine, challenge yourself to get out the door at exactly ____am without performing any last-minute tasks. If you push yourself regularly in this way, slowly but surely your willpower muscle will strengthen.

On next week’s blog, we’ll be talking about very specific tools that you can adopt to exercise and grow your willpower. In the meantime, try to incorporate the suggestions mentioned in today’s article, and see how much you can increase your willpower in just a few short days.