Episode 147: Best Bits of 2022: Part 1: Confidence
As a trained and experienced professional, you’ve probably worked hard to get where you are in your career. And yet, many apparently successful people struggle to feel truly confident in their careers.
In this special festive “best bits” episode of ‘You Are Not a Frog’, we bring you this year’s best bits of the podcast on self-confidence and creating a life you’ll never regret. We look back on expert takes on people pleasing, taking criticism, imposter syndrome, and self-coaching – so you can learn how to build confidence, and feel secure in your career.
If you want to know how to build your confidence this coming 2023, stay tuned to this episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
Discover how to build confidence at work and listen to constructive criticism.
- Learn how to redefine your beliefs and be more honest with yourself to find peace and happiness.
- Go on a self-development journey through self-coaching.
[02:02] Episode 110: How to Stop People-Pleasing
[02:12] ‘If how you feel is dependent on somebody else, then you have no power over your own feelings.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[06:55] ‘What negative core belief is [this complaint] poking at? That’s the universe saying, “Here’s another opportunity for you to grow.”’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[08:01] How to Build Confidence and Take Criticism
- Medical professionals often feel responsible for the health of the nation. We forget many things are out of our control.
- You don’t have to be defensive about things you can’t control.
- If you get triggered by criticism, reflect on their words and if they’re challenging your core beliefs.
- Criticism is inevitable, especially working in public health. If you don’t look after yourself, you’ll end up having high levels of adrenaline and cortisol in your system.
[10:16] Episode 112: Rethinking Imposter Syndrome
- It’s easy to extrapolate falsely from our failures and conclude we’re never going to be good at anything.
- Many medical professionals also think they have to keep pushing themselves in order to be worthy.
- Stop thinking you have imposter syndrome in a place that keeps telling you how you’re not good enough.
- Toxic management may make you feel as if you’re the problem.
- Sometimes, we mistake gaslighting in our workplace as imposter syndrome.
[10:24] ‘We’re often perfectionists when we’re in these high stress jobs, and so we will be incredibly hard on ourselves. There’s a lot of critical self-chatter, and we may be falsely extrapolating.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[13:46] How to Accept Growth and Imperfection
- Feeling like you’re not good enough can make you work harder and overcome tough challenges.
- We’re all growing and changing at our own pace.
- Instead of ‘I’m not worthy’, it’s better to say ‘I’m not there yet’.
- Know what’s important and realistic. No one is perfect, but what does perfection mean to you and your self-esteem?
[17:18] ‘We talked before about burnout and how, actually, when you really identify “I am my career” . . . you then build up your own inner story about what that means and what that has to look like.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[19:51] A New Definition of Imposter Syndrome
- Imposter syndrome is the unhealthy belief that you need to be perfect all the time.
- It can also be an external label from a toxic culture.
[21:05] Episode 115: How to Find Peace and Happiness
- In the full episode, Dr Maddy shares her experience with long COVID and sickness.
- Medical professionals often blame themselves for getting sick. We take on the responsibility of being stronger and better, and thus we need to behave differently.
- Because of her health, Maddy needed to stop comparing herself to her past high-functioning self and be okay with it.
- You need to be honest with yourself.
[23:44] ‘There is something in there about the responsibility that we take on as medics. We go to university, and they tell us, “You can’t behave like other students because you’re going to be doctors.” . . . It’s put into our head immediately that [we] are different.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[33:11] How to Be Honest
- We sometimes throw ourselves into work to avoid uncertainty and vulnerability.
- We spend most of our time in the drive zone and are terrible at being compassionate to ourselves.
[35:55] Episode 117: How to Build Confidence Through Self-Coaching
- The easiest way to start self-coaching is through writing. Putting your emotions on paper helps you reflect on why you feel them.
- If you find it hard to name emotions, you can also use a scaling method.
- Dr Claire recommends checking in with yourself regularly. You can do this every first Monday of the month or whenever your schedule allows.
- Start with a ‘what’ coaching question, like ‘what’s going on?’ Listen to the full episode for more questions for reflection!
- If you find yourself stuck, take time to list down where you feel stuck.
[41:48] Stop Being Confused
- When you’re stuck, you usually know what to do but not how to do it.
- There are blocks of fear, guilt, and other emotions that prevent us from understanding how to build confidence.
- Moving forward means addressing what you don’t want to do the most. Don’t fret; you can work on it in bite-sized pieces.
[42:53] ‘If you’re looking at something and [thinking], “This is the bit I most don’t want to address today,” that’s the bit you need to address. But that doesn’t have to be this heartfelt, horrendous, traumatic experience. It could just be done in little bite-sized pieces.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
[43:13] Episode 123: How to Live Without Regrets
- We often have good reasons for doing something but become regretful in the future.
- There are 3 main categories of regret: making others happy, living up to expectations, and rewriting history.
- Rewriting history is about chasing things we never had.
- No one ever wishes to have more work. Yet, we often choose work over anything else.
- Keep things in perspective. Work will always be transitory, but not our friends and family.
[50:56] ‘We have our relationships, and we have our work, and we have our friends, and we have money . . . They all build up our lives. All of them are important, but just at different times. We have to keep them in the order that works for us.’ – Click Here To Tweet This
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Dr Rachel Morris: It’s been a long year. But hopefully you are not a frog has been a bit of light relief for you and giving you some helpful hints and tips to make life at work that little bit better. We’ve loved every single one of our guests this year, and judging by the volume of wonderful emails we’ve received, and the conversations I’ve had with people at talks and workshops, so have you. So I thought I’d put together the best bits from some of my favorite conversations this year, and some of the most listened to episodes. And we’ll be back in the new year with more interviews, hints, tips and life hacks to help you beat burnout and work happier.
This is the Best Bits Part One, the one about self confidence. Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals in high stress, high stakes jobs. I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, a former GP now working as a coach, trainer and speaker. Like frogs in the pan of slowly boiling water, many of us don’t notice how bad the stress and exhaustion have become until it’s too late.
But you are not a frog. Burning out or getting out and not your only options. In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues and experts and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you live and work so that you can beat stress and work happier.
If you’re a doctor who could do with more joy and less stress in 2023. Join me for a free online anti challenge in January. Why are we calling this an anti challenge? Well, everyday we’re going to share a tiny activity that will actually make your life a lot less challenging. If you know you often put your own well being last, join us to connect to other doctors, get brilliant tips to help you make time for yourself, and have the chance to win fun prizes and goodies. We start on January the third and you can sign up now at the link in the show notes. Oh, and it’s open to all doctors so invite your colleagues too.
First we’ve got episode 110 with Dr Karen Forshaw and Chrissie Mowbray talking about how to stop people pleasing and absorbing other people’s angst.
Dr Karen Forshaw: Perhaps, but if you if how you feel is dependent on somebody else, then you have no power over your own feelings, which therefore means that you are at their mercy. You can be as nice as you like and we all have seen this patient, don’t we?
In fact, it’s the patients that you often feel like you’ve gone out of your way for, they’re the ones that tend to complain. You could do whatever you like, but if that person still chooses to think that you’re not good enough… Is that how you want to be? Do you want your kind of feelings of self worth to be defined by other people? Or do you want to define them for yourself? Do you want to say, ‘You know what, I know that I did the right thing in that consultation.’
I, you know, used my skills, and I shared knowledge and I was kind. I was compassionate to that patient, full stop. That’s why when you get a complaint, if you know that you did the right thing, you’re not bothered by it at all. It’s only if you actually think that you probably didn’t do what you should have done, that you feel bothered by complaints, in my experience, having had complaints.
Rachel: Haven’t we all? I think the thing that bugs me about that is that you get a complaint or you look back through the notes, and correct. What did I do? What did I do? ‘Oh, thank God, I did the right thing.’ Oh, it’s someone else? Yeah, I probably did that.
You know, sometimes, you don’t do the right thing, right? You just get it wrong for absolutely no reason at all, because you just got distracted or you were tired, or we all make mistakes. Remember that practice pharmacists coming up to me saying, ‘Rachel, did you mean to prescribe 280 diazepam?’ I did not. Let’s just change that prescription, shall we?
You know, literally finger slips when typing it. Yes, we all do things. We need to be okay, when we’ve made a mistake and get complaints, and it is our fault.
Chrissie Mowbray: There’s a sort of a bit of a British thing about being sorry. I’ve patients who apologised on the couch or, you know, of bumping people who apologise when they bump into you. We talk about saying sorry, when we’re actually responsible for something that’s gone wrong. When you’ve made a mistake with the patient, and they complain, I think if you have made a mistake, it’s perfectly okay to say, ‘That was actually my fault and I am sorry.’
But I think we are also in danger of being sorry, when, as Karen said, a consultation has gone well, and we’ve done everything that we could possibly do. We know that patient is disgruntled, whatever we would have done, it would have been the same outcome. There are other ways to handle that.
We can say, you know, it’s unfortunate that you feel that you haven’t had a good service without saying I’m sorry, and taking responsibility that for something that is not your fault, or that that didn’t particularly go wrong, by the way, that you see it. I think it’s all about being conscious with your responses.
Asking yourself when you’re saying sorry, or when you’re thinking when you’re being accountable for something, do I really mean that? Am I accountable? Am I sorry for what happened there? Or do I feel it was a good service? But it’s unfortunate that they don’t? Can we explore how they would have, you know, how they would have liked it to have gone?
Rachel: I guess Chrissie, hearing you say, ‘It’s unfortunate that’, it immediately makes me think actually, if someone said to me, ‘It’s unfortunate that you feel that way.’ I’d get a bit annoyed because I think that this is just being fobbed off. But is it ever okay to say, I am really sorry that you feel that way? Because you can be genuinely sorry that someone feels that without being sorry about what actually happened? Does that make sense?
Chrissie: I think you can. Yeah, but I think we use the phrase I’m sorry, without thinking about it.
Karen: When you say I’m sorry, but it basically means you’re not sorry.
Rachel: Sorry, not sorry.
Karen: Yeah. Let’s think maybe try and think of a different way of doing that. The last time I got a complaint, I actually said, ‘Thank you for your letter.’ That made me feel quite good. Because I thought actually, ’I am really,’ because this letter is pointing out something that is highlighting I’m a bit unorganised, actually, and probably ought to sort that out, really. I started it off with saying, ‘Thank you for your letter.’
Actually, I think that really sets the tone. I wasn’t saying sorry. I didn’t particularly say sorry in the letter. I just a bit but I started it off. That’s because we said that’s about your intention. It’s about the intention that you have, when you say it and saying, ‘I’m sorry, but’ means you’re not sorry. Think about what you’re saying, think about what your words really mean. Think about the intention behind them.
Also think about why is this triggering you? What core belief, what negative core belief is it poking at? Is that the universe saying, ‘Here’s another opportunity for you to grow for you to actually change the way that you think about yourself internally.’ It’s win win, really.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s a really interesting observation. Because my observation is when the media are criticising doctors, and they’re saying you’re not working, you’re not seeing patients face to face. You know, looking at it, I’m thinking, ‘Why do people react so badly?’ Because we know it’s not true. I mean, it’s obviously not true.
I tell this story so many times, you know, one of my colleagues, you know, he’s saying Gandhi literally just finished examining a patient, patient is putting on his jacket, patient turns around and says, so when you’re going to open, doctor?
Karen: That’s hilarious. Yeah, we had exactly this on a course that we ran recently, didn’t we? When basically the first thing that somebody said was, ‘Oh, it’s really awful and depressing.’ I just laughed and I said, but we know that’s not true, don’t we? Actually, we know that. Why are we bothered about what other people think?
Rachel: That’s right. I think what you’re saying exactly like if someone came up to me in the middle of the street and said to me, ‘Oi you! You’re rubbish at what you do. You’re a rubbish coach, and you’re a rubbish trainer.’ They’d never met me or they haven’t seen it. I just laugh because to think? You have no idea.
If someone had been on one of my courses came up and said, ‘You’re really not that good,’ I’d really take that to heart. Yeah, well, it’s the same with the general public, you know, if they, they’re coming up to me and say, ‘Actually, you’re you’re, you’re useless and not seeing patients.’ they say. We are. The problem is, what it’s doing, the reason why we’re getting upset about it is because it’s hitting that raw nerve, it’s going maybe I’m not doing enough, maybe I’m not good enough, maybe we can’t provide the service we can.
This is back to your locus of control, because I think health practitioners take on too much responsibility. We’re feeling dreadfully responsible for the health of the nation. But that’s completely out of our control and what’s happens out of control. But that’s it hits a raw nerve when they criticise us. Because we know we can’t do anything about it when we get very defensive, because deep down, we’re telling ourselves we should have done. Is that right?
Karen: I think so. But again, that’s, that’s and it’s triggering core beliefs, isn’t it? If you think about us, as doctors, we are fixers, aren’t we? We like to think that we can make people better. Actually, really, maybe we ought to move away from that, this is pushing us towards our compassion versus empathy argument.
Should we be taking responsibility for how our patients feel? Should we be absorbing their pain and their anxiety all of the time? We agree no, which absolutely shouldn’t be, because that’s really bad for us. When we think about horrible things happening. Or imagine how somebody tried to imagine how somebody felt when that happens. In fact, we will have a release of stress hormones in our own bodies, because remembered events trigger the same kind of flight-fight response in us.
If you’re doing that 10/20 times a day, when you’re talking to people who are upset or anxious, then you will at the end of that be drained and you will have high levels of cortisol and high levels of adrenaline in your system, which is not a good way to work. It’s really unhealthy for us.
Rachel Morris: Here’s Dr. Sarah Goulding from Episode 112, talking about why we’re ditching the term impostor syndrome.
Sarah: Absolutely. There are so many elements to this. We could talk for days about it. But we’re often perfectionist when we’re in these high-stress jobs and so it will be incredibly hard on ourselves. There’s a lot of critical self-chatter, and we may be falsely extrapolating. Okay, well, I perceive that something I did at this time didn’t go well. Therefore, that means I’m never going to be good at anything. Or my parents held me to a very high standard of education, that’s how I ended up being a medic. Therefore, I have to keep pushing myself because unless I do, I’m not worthy of praise.
It’s just a very complex area. Also, there’s so that’s the internal stuff and then I think it’s really important to look at the external. I think we both acknowledge, we’re both white middle class, cishet women from a position of privilege. We will look around us and see a lot of people like us, not as many as men as we see. But there are lots of other people who will not see people like them around them. There are systems that are not set up for them to succeed in so in a very real way, they may not feel that they are the right fit for the job, because they can’t see anybody else like them doing it.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s such a good point. I remember reading an article, I think it was in Harvard Business Review, I think I shared it with you, Sarah—written by a black woman, and it stopped telling me I have imposter syndrome when everything in this workplace is set up to tell me that I’m not good enough or to put barriers in my way. But I’m told the problem lies with me and that was a really powerful article.
Sarah: Yeah, I think this is where it’s really key. If somebody feels that they identify with the title, imposter syndrome, and I know it’s really common whenever I’ve put polls on my Instagram about it or asked friends who say, ‘Oh, yeah, of course’, almost like it’s a badge of honour. But who’s given you that label? Is it you or has it come externally? Actually, it has more of a toxic connotation, and that it suits other people to put you in that box, because it makes you feel unworthy. Therefore, that’s an advantage to an organisation or another person?
Rachel: Yeah, because if you could just say to someone, ‘Well, it’s you, Sarah, if you just had a little bit more self-confidence in your own ability, then actually probably, you’d be performing better, and you’d be able to sort these issues out with your team.’ Meanwhile, the team is like, half of their members have left because of stress, and everyone’s infighting. And then there’s toxic management that says, ‘Sarah, I think you’ve got imposter syndrome here, and you just need to put yourself out.’
Sarah: Yeah, I hear that so much, certainly in my mentoring role, young salary GP’s, who were told, ‘Oh well, everybody else is fine, maybe it’s you.’ When you actually go deeper into what’s going on in the organisation, and how they’re valuing people, the quality of the conversations they’re having, how people perceive themselves to be valued, and what that shows up as there’s a whole set of other things going on. And it’s in the practices best interest to have other people feeling that it’s them.
Rachel: So it’s not imposter syndrome. It’s gaslighting.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. In that situation, I would strongly agree.
Rachel: Yeah. And it’s just so difficult to separate out, because you—in that practice that you just, talked about — very, very common scenario, it’s probably a bit of both the system is not set up. Also that that new portfolio GP has got some self-doubt, and is maybe a bit more reticent and worried because of stuff that’s happened in the past, because when they’ve tried to speak up, they’ve been quashed, they’ve been told, like you said, everybody else can manage it. So you do start to doubt your own ability and tasking you around ability is almost a normal part of being human. I think so we’re then pathologising a sort of normal psychological process.
Sarah: Absolutely and actually, let’s be honest, sometimes there are advantages to feeling that you’re not quite good enough it can really spur you on, it can make you work harder, try harder. You can do things that feel uncomfortable. It may have pushed us through quite a lot of difficult situations in the past. Does it make you focus more, or putting you into an uncomfortable situation that because you’re expecting, ‘Okay, well, that’s what I have to go through.’
You’re tolerating more discomfort than perhaps some might feel comfortable with. There’s sometimes there’s an advantage, but I’d rebadged it as self-doubt, or understandable worries about a new situation and I think what we were talking about before is this concept of growth mindset. I’m not there yet. But when you speak to leaders—Beyonce has to go onstage with an alter ego Sasha Fierce because even Beyonce doesn’t feel enough as herself. These incredible people everybody will say ‘I have elements of doubt.’
So you’re othering yourself by saying, ‘I’m pretty sure it’s just me.’ I think that’s where connections and speaking to other people can be so helpful in terms of not normalising it, but maybe just ripping that plaster off. ‘Okay. It’s not that it’s something else and what can be done about it?’
Rachel: Yeah, it’s just sort of recalibrating the way we think about ourselves, isn’t it? Because you obviously don’t want to think too much of yourself. Particularly in Britain, we don’t like show-offs. Do we? We don’t like people that think they are amazing, they’re boasting about stuff that can’t ever learn anything, because they think they’re always right. I mean, that is not good. But nor is it good to be that person who’s so self-obsessed that they won’t ever do anything or put themselves out because what might people think about me or what if I fail? I think that’s another side of the same coin in terms of self-obsession, and neither is right.
But I think it’s bad to be self-obsessed and that really sort of proud, ‘I’m amazing’ way. I think it’s almost pretty bad to be really self-obsessed, and that, ‘Oh, I can’t possibly fail and what will people think?’ Because then you’re just not giving yourself to other people in the way that you should be. The world can’t use your unique skills and abilities and it’s completely paralysing.
Sarah: I think it’s so common. I think I know, we talked before about burnout and how actually, when you really identify I am my career, I am a doctor, and you believe the martyrdom you receive and you staple onto your shoulders, the Cape of Heroism, that you then build up your own inner story about what that means and what that has to look like. It’s often reinforced, you know, as a mum at the school gates in the past, I’ve had people going, ‘Oh, well, come on. Sarah, can you tell me about this’, even though I’m in mum duty, you’re calling me for a problem, when I’m not on call, I’m not on call for the whole world. I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I’m a friend, I’m a mother— I think we need to have a filter, a healthy filter, through which we decide what external messages really mean for us.
But also, crucially, and this is what I’m really passionate about with my coaching and mentoring, is helping people look at what really is important to them. Because helping them look at the consequences. Okay, so if you have to be perfect all the time. What is realistic about that and what does it mean? If heaven forbid, you are not perfect? What then, what does that mean about your self-esteem? Helping them really get to terms with what that means? Because I think sometimes, again, we can take perfectionism on as a badge of pride. Oh, I’m this that classic thing in an interview? What are your faults? ‘Oh, I’m a perfectionist’ is one of the ones.
Rachel: I’m so bad because I did everything to such a high level that it’s a real fault of mine, that I’m just damn brilliant. Actually.
Sarah: People can be the hardest to work with because they can crystallise themselves into this image, and actually be a bit judgy of others. But actually, we are just human beings, and we are going to do our best and we are allowed to grow and evolve and change. Goodness me, haven’t we changed a lot and had to grow in the last couple of years. And actually, I think that’s really healthy. And I know there have been some incredibly hard times? Identifying as a doctor is a big risk factor, the burnout, that so is perfectionism. It’s reminding yourself that it ain’t no good.
Rachel: Yeah, so I’m just writing my own new definition of imposter syndrome that we try out with you. So this might be completely wrong, rather than it being about this belief that we’re going to be found out at any point that we’re not quite as good, is we’re telling other people we are. Actually, imposter syndrome is more like an unhealthy belief that you need to be perfect in all situations and that it’s not okay to fail at anything.
Sarah: Oh, I love that one. I’m not very good at coming up with a pithy definition because equally, I would change that into something about something in an internal, fixed unhealthy belief, and more along the perfectionism bit, or an externally given label. Somewhere along the lines of being in a toxic culture or you being in a minority, I’d want to pay tribute to the external factors too.
Rachel: Yeah, so it’s either an unhealthy internal belief you’ve got to be perfect or an unhealthy, external label from a toxic culture to absolve them of any blame whatsoever.
Sarah: Yes, I like that.
Rachel Morris: Next, we’ve got an extract from Dr Maddy du Mont in Episode 115, How To Find Peace And Happiness, Even In Life You Haven’t Chosen. She’s talking about her battle with long COVID.
Dr Maddy du Mont: I think at the kind of three to four-week mark, I was really beginning to panic at that stage kind of thinking, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening to me? Why is this happening?’ And bear in mind that at the time, we had no experience of this whatsoever. I was really the first wave of people in the UK that had got it and were having any kind of prolonged syndrome. So that was very scary at that time. And I think I doubted myself over and over again, kind of, ‘Am I making this up? Am I doing something that is making this happen? Why is this happening? What can I do to get better?’
I just couldn’t believe all of this. My husband’s a psychiatrist, and he kept saying to me over and over again, ‘Maddy, we’re not making yourself ill you can’t make fevers up and you can’t—.’ And I was like, ‘I know. But how do I make myself better?’
Rachel: It’s crazy, isn’t it? Side note, what is it about doctors that we never believe our bodies? And we blame ourselves for getting ill. You would never have a patient in front of you and go, ‘Well, I know you’ve got absolutely no energy and you’ve got depression, do you think that might be completely your fault? And you think you might be completely making that up? Or, you’ve got absolutely dreadful shoulder pain or you’ve broken your leg? Really? I mean, is it really that you can’t walk on it? But what if you were just a little bit stronger.’
I get so frustrated about the way that healthcare professionals just deny what is happening in their body because they feel it’s a personal slight on them, or it could be conceived as a character flaw. That’s a bit ill.
Maddy: That is exactly how I felt at the time and that I was kind of weak by letting people down. And I was letting people down and I couldn’t —yeah, all sorts of really unhelpful thoughts were happening at that stage, I have to say.
Rachel: So I’d like to go on here a little bit more. But first of all, what has happened to us that’s got us into that state of a feeling that we’re weak if we’re ill?
Maddy: I don’t know. I think—I mean, this could lead to a really big discussion about medicine, and the kind of thought processes that go through it, and the cultural change that has happened. But I think there is something in there about the responsibility that we take on as medics. We go to university, and they tell us, you can’t behave like other students, because you’re going to be doctors. And you have to be better than them, you have to be stronger than them, you don’t have—you do not go out getting drunk, you don’t need it.
Of course, we will ignore a lot of that. But it’s put into our head immediately that you are different, and you have to behave differently. The rules of normalcy don’t apply to us. And I think that goes through certainly, through my training, which was at the—roughly the same time as this is going to hurt which has been on recently and was scarily appropriate in terms of the experiences we had going through that. Certainly when we were training, there wasn’t time to be ill and there wasn’t.
You were encouraged to go in and carry on whatever unless you were literally couldn’t stop being sick. And I remember my registrar on my first ward job saying to me, ‘You have two weeks that you can mess it up in the first few weeks now we’ll cover for you after that you’re on your own.’ And I think it’s that kind of culture that grows us into these people that stops us being humans.
Rachel: I totally agree and I think we’re gonna have to in another entire podcast episode This Is Going To Hurt because I watched the first episode the other day with my partner. I was just like, yep, that’s what happened. Yeah. And my friends kept saying, ‘Oh, come on. I mean, must be exaggerated.’ Nope. I mean, obviously they cram all the bad bits into one episode, but totally and you can just remember those days and I think we’re all sort of suffering from—I don’t know, a recollection and slightly reliving that stress and the trauma of being on that point, but yeah, am I making this up?
And that’s not just physical stuff as well. I mean, I remember in my house dogs my grandmother died and rather than thinking, ‘Okay, I do need to take a couple of days off.’ I just went on call and sobbed my way around the wards for a night on my own. It was awful, awful, but not recognising that actually, I would react in the way of other people. You’re a doctor, you’re slightly different. You’re you can handle it.
Maddy: Yeah. But then that was also the time. I was not given compassionate leave to go to my granddad’s funeral.
Rachel: I had to swap shifts and swap on calls to actually go and do anything you didn’t you didn’t get leave anyway. So you’re thinking, ‘What is wrong with me? Because I can’t do anything. I’m really ill.’ Yeah. And then what happens?
Maddy: Yeah, well, I ended up having a fever of 38 every single day for nearly—for well, for over a year. At the 10-month mark, having gone through the infectious diseases, people kind of exhausted the local routes that are available to me. I went to—I pay privately to go to a rheumatologist who took one look at me and put me through an MRI scanner and said, ‘No, you’ve got ankylosing spondylitis.’ At which point I transferred back into the NHS and they said, ‘Oh, yes, yes, you have go try some adalimumab’.
So I’m now happily ensconced on that which has made the joint issues an awful lot better. I am still very much struggling with the cardiac implications. And I’m going back through cardiology a second time now, to try and really figure out what is going on. Because I’m still getting angina pains and still getting symptomatic tachycardia is where I’m dizzy and faint. And I can’t reduce my Ivabradine, which controls my heart rate, otherwise, my heart rate is 140 at rest. So we’re still kind of figuring out what’s going on on the cardiac side. So this is two years later.
Now, in the space of that time, I resigned from my online, digital healthcare, corporate stuff. I have to say they’ve been brilliant, in terms of saying to me keeping my job open for me and coming back when you’re ready, but I felt that, for me, I needed to, and this is where the big psychological changes started happening.
I think I needed to accept where I was now because it was very clear that I was not going to get better quickly. And having that kind of always comparing myself to that highly functioning, very busy multitasking, very high-stress job was really unhelpful for me because it just felt I just felt like I was failing all the time. So I needed to cut free from that, I think to accept where I was at that moment and organise my life so that that was okay.
Rachel: And Maddy. I mean, it’s really interesting talking to you now, because the provisional title, I don’t know that will say it for this podcast is how to create a way of living around a life I haven’t chosen. Now, sometimes I interview guests, and they’re like, this is my story and I’ve been through it and it’s finished and this is looking back, this is what I would have done differently.
Like you’re right bang in the middle of the story, still, with all the stuff that’s going on. Thank you so much for being really vulnerable and coming on and sharing it and I think it’s just really powerful because there are be a lot of listeners that there might not be that many that have long COVID.
But there will certainly be a lot of listeners that have chronic health problems that have had something dreadful happen or maybe recovering from cancer, who may be have had a relationship, this is finished and they find themselves not living the life that they might have chosen or something’s gone wrong with their career or you name it.
Life doesn’t work out the way we want to and what I think your case is particularly extreme. But I think for a lot of us, there are things that we would rather change. I guess the natural thing is to rail against it and I certainly know some people that some really bad stuff has happened to them, they’ve responded in very different ways. And someone I can think of is still really railing against it and I think really suffering I guess taking that second arrow is a bit of what we’re talking about.
The thing that’s happened and then a second lot of suffering is really railing against the thing that’s happened to them. And you said, accepting where I was and making those lifestyle changes. Now that was just a sentence but I bet that was incredibly hard to do
Maddy: It was very hard to do. Because what that means is getting really honest with yourself about what you need. To make your life feel fulfilled, and what brings you self-worth, and what fills you up. I think before this illness, I was very much driven by results.
So I worked hard, I was kind of generally in a position of leadership where I had a lot of responsibility for other doctors as well as for patients, I kind of thrived off that. I thrived off the adrenaline and the kind of very fast-paced environment that I worked in. And coming down from that is really, really, really hard, because you kind of then go, ‘Okay, right, my life is now very slow, because I physically can’t keep up with anything else.’
So where do I find those immediate kind of feedback responses saying, ‘Yes, you’re doing well’, or yes, you’re—aren’t there anymore. And what I realised is that, I found it very hard for my children, and for my husband to be enough for me. Now, that was a really tricky discussion to have with my husband and sounds kind of awful saying it now. But I felt, the immediate feedback that you get from long term relationships and from parenting is not immediate. It’s a very long time down the road. And so, for me, that meant that I just felt like a failure as a mom and a failure as a wife a lot of the time, because there wasn’t that immediacy in the feedback.
Now, neither of them, neither of my children or my husband would say that I was a failure in any way whatsoever. But for me at the time, I was all about results and information immediately. So that had to change. I think I’ve said in our previous conversation, that it was that I had to really weigh up, my needs to achieve things for myself worth versus my children’s need to have a mother that was present because I didn’t have the energy to do both. I barely had the energy to parent my children, to be honest. So it was very difficult.
Rachel: Unless you’re saying that I’m just wondering, and looking back on my own life thinking, actually. I think sometimes we do kid ourselves, when we are doing something that’s taking a lot of emotional energy working really, really hard. We are killing ourselves that we are doing both really well anyway.
Maddy: Yes, absolutely. It’s totally diversionary tactics for me, I realised that I was just throwing myself in this to work to kind of avoid the hard stuff of that real uncertainty and that vulnerability, that has to come with being a present parent or a present wife. It’s much easier to throw yourself into work and just kind of manage it and just kind of wing the rest of it.
Rachel: I mean, it’s about feedback as well, isn’t it? We are very driven by it. I love Paul Gilbert’s work about the different things that were driven by there’s your fear zone, your threat zone, your amygdala, adrenaline, drive zone, which take your dopamine achievement and then see your rest and digest your parasympathetic zone. And as doctors, we spend most of our time between driving, driving, driving, and—
Maddy: Exactly in very little in this soothing place. And in fact, I use that compassion focus therapy idea in a lot of my coaching, because we are terrible as doctors, we haven’t developed that compassion centre, that soothing centre for ourselves very well. So it is much more natural for us to live in the drive and the threat zones.
Rachel: As a mother, I’m just speaking for myself. Now, I can’t say that the feedback I get from my family is always positive or encouraging.
Maddy: Exactly. This is the thing about parenting, isn’t it? Is that actually, parenting is—you don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m wifing this evening.’ Actually, it’s a relationship, isn’t it? It’s not a job. You don’t get—you are not responsible for them not having meltdowns. What you are responsible for is the, working through that emotional development with them. But it’s very easy to kind of flick into that, ‘I’m parenting. This is my job, they’re having a meltdown, therefore, I’m not doing my job properly’.
Rachel: Particularly with teenagers. They sort of blame you for everything and you’d be I don’t know, you’ve been speaking to hundreds of people at a conference and you come in the door and someone has to go at you because their gym shirt isn’t clean. Can I just go back to that really difficult job?
Maddy: Yeah, absolutely.
Rachel: If you’re feeling stuck short on time and need answers quickly, then you could try some self coaching. Here’s Dr. Claire Kaye, in Episode 117, talking about how to do it.
Dr Claire Kaye: I think the biggest tip I’ve got about self-coaching is even if you only have 5 minutes, just write the answers down to the questions that you’re asking yourself — and that creates huge change. If you really can’t use words, if you’re not a wordy person, I would do a lot of scaling questions as well with people. If you give scaling questions — it’s just giving yourself a mark out of ten.
So you might say — if ten is feeling really fantastic about something, and nought is feeling really awful about something, you might just start something about, ‘How am I feeling about this situation?’ And you might say, ‘I’m feeling two out of ten.’ Then you say, ‘Well, what is it about this situation that makes me feel ‘two’? What does ‘two’ mean to me? What would make it a ten? What do I need to put in place to allow that to happen?
If you’re not a wordy person and you prefer numbers, I find that scaling technique really helpful I do a lot of that with my clients. It works really well and it takes two seconds.
Rachel: That’s interesting. I love the idea of scaling — nought to ten, or one to ten. Actually, some people say, ‘Start at one’, because if people say, ‘Nought’, you’ve got nowhere to go. But if you start at one, then you can say, ‘Well, why is that a one, not a nought? Are there any good things in there?’ Little trick of the trade. But I think that’s really powerful because I think people are slightly put off stuff like this because of reflection and reflective practice. In fact, I was reading a really useful article in the Harvard Business Review today, which I’ve put in our Facebook group — all about reflection and why it’s so powerful.
People say all the time, ‘Oh, you should do journaling’, ‘You should do reflection and stuff.’ The idea of just journaling for journaling’s sake, I think of someone sitting down now writing reams and a diary, ‘Dear diary, this is what happened to me today.’ But actually what you’re talking about is a really amazing form of reflective practice that actually is going to be really, really useful.
Claire: You know what I say to people? Just in their diary — to have in your electronic diary on your phone if that’s what you do is to have, on the first Monday of the month or whatever day suits you, just literally your five-minute check-in. Then, you would have it in different areas of your life and just say, you know, ‘How am I?’ This is one of my favourite ones is just say, ‘How am I doing?’
Out of ten, you would have your number. If you’re kind of starting off in January, you’re an eight, and then suddenly by March you were five, then you’re going to start to think to yourself, ‘Okay, hang on a minute. What’s changed? Why am I feeling differently? What do I need to put back in place that perhaps was in place before that slipped? Or what else do I need to consider in this situation?’ If you’re stuck for a question — I mean, we will go through some examples of questions, I’m sure, later. Doing a few now.
But the easiest questions to ask start with a ‘what’. Whatever you’re thinking, put a ‘what’ in first, and it usually will create good thinking. It’s just a nice open question. But if you can’t think of how to start it, ‘What is a great word?’ Pretty much you can stick what on the front of anything and you’ll get a great coach-y question.
When you see your numbers slipping from an eight to a five out of ten, you can say, ‘What’s going on?’ There’s a nice ‘what’ question. That just starts to shift your mindset. You might sit there and your first reaction, particularly if you’ve got a piece of paper, is, ‘I don’t know.’ Then you might say, ‘Well, what would help me to know?’ Even things like that — just stick a ‘what’ in front of everything and it can help to create new thinking.
Rachel: I guess that’s a little bit like the five ‘whys’ that they talk about if there’s an issue. I think this comes from Japanese engineering, actually, ‘So why have we had this issue?’, ‘Okay, well, it’s because I know the paint didn’t mix very well’, ‘Why didn’t the paint mix very well?’, ‘Well, I guess because it’s got the wrong thing have led to this…’ or whatever. ‘Why is that…?’, not that you use lead in paint anymore anyway. ‘Well, why is that?’ Then, you keep going the five ‘whys’.
But maybe you can have the five ‘whats’, ‘Okay, what factors cause that?’ Maybe those factors will… ‘Okay, what led to that?’ I love that — asking the ‘what’ questions. Another thing that someone said once — I think it was Dr Karen Castille because we’ve talked about self-coaching on the podcast before, and she’s written The Self-Coaching Handbook, which is fantastic actually. There’s a whole list of questions that you can ask — really quite detailed questions.
She said, actually, ‘If you haven’t really got much time and you’re really stuck, just sit down and write a list of everything you’re stuck with and the questions that you can’t answer. Just write them down that you really don’t know the answer to. Then, sit down and answer them.’ That’s interesting. I tried it one day, and you know what? It was really interesting because I did know the answer.
There was an issue with somebody I worked with and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do about this.’ Actually, I did know what to do about it. It was, ‘I was frightened to do what I needed to do about it.’ Then, it was like, ‘Okay, What do I need to do? How am I going to do this best?’ I always think, in this context, is somebody called Donald Miller, who’s written an amazing business book called Business Made Simple. There’s lots of little videos. I encourage anybody to check that out about how to develop yourself.
One of his little videos was all about, ‘Stop choosing to be confused’, which was really interesting. It was the question that a coach had asked him. Once again, he had an issue with a really difficult employee, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ The coach said, ‘You know exactly what to do. That’s not the issue, actually. What you don’t know is how to do it. There’s lots of things that are stopping you from doing what you know you really need to do. Now, do you think that’s the case for most people when it comes to self-coaching — that they sort of do know what they want to do, but they’re confused because of all these other factors?
Claire: Definitely. I think naturally we all have these blocks, which might be fear, it might be guilt, it might be just that sense of avoiding doing something — you try not to think about the things that are hardest. But actually, one of the best ways to move forwards is to look at the things that are most — the hardest bit for you. If you’re looking at something and actually going, ‘Actually, this is the bit I most don’t want to address today’, that’s the bit you need to address.
But that doesn’t have to be this sort of heartfelt, horrendous, traumatic experience; it could just be done in little bite-sized pieces. I think that’s really the key.
Rachel: Finally, wouldn’t it be great to get to the end of your life with no regrets? In Episode 123, Georgina Scull shares what she learned about having the confidence to make difficult decisions through writing her book, Regrets of the Dying,
Georgina Scull: I think the thing that did kind of surprise me was that there were stories in there where I thought people would really regret one thing, and they regretted another. Because I think humans have this wonderful capacity to reason stuff out. Because deep down we know, most of our decisions are made for really good reasons at the time. And so I think that’s something to really keep in mind is that people regretted stuff, but even though they say it’s regret, they will also go but that’s what I had to do then because of this reason. And that’s, I think the case for most of us.
I know for myself, like if, you know, if you’re in a job that you don’t lie, or a position like that job to be like this. There might be practical reasons why you have to do that right now. But I don’t think that should stop you from planning for something else. You know what I mean? Like working out an exit to it all. I think there’s probably, when I’d finished all of the interviews, there seemed to be a pattern. I don’t know if you’ve found this kind of reading through, but I know writing it.
I think there was kind of like three main things that kind of made people create regrets, as it were. They’re either trying to make other people happy. They were trying to live up to the expectations of others. So someone saw them a certain way, their parents or their partner or the whoever. And this one was the biggest one, I think, in my mind was kind of like us trying to rewrite history.
So the first chapter is a guy called Alan, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in his late 40s. And amazing guy, working class background, did really well for himself in business, worked incredibly hard. achieved a lot but but kind of the same, he said to me was, I spent a lifetime chasing this and creating all this money and status.
It took me six months to realise I’d wasted my time. And it was a slight hiccup when he said that to me, I was like, Oh, my God, but, but I think what it was, was that it was almost trying to rewrite where he came from, i.e. comes from a working class background, he didn’t have much money, and he went, ‘I’m going to have a different life.’ I’m going to set you know, it’s almost like setting the record straight. And I think we can do that in love as well.
You know, if we come from parents that don’t necessarily show their love for us, then we might try and chase relationships that aren’t particularly healthy, that are going to, you know, we’re chasing after love. We want to disprove what’s happened before we’re trying to rewrite what’s happened, and who people think we are.
I think that happens a lot. It’s almost like a pendulum swing, like it goes from generation to generation. Yeah, like in its simplest form, I suppose. It’s like, if your parents were super strict than you and you have kids, you might be super liberal. And then when your kids grow up, they might go back to being super strict again. Cause under them, you can see the negative points of what someone’s done. And sometimes it’s easy to see the negative points rather than the positive ones, I think.
Rachel: Gosh, I totally agree with that. I mean, you would think that generation after generation, we would just be becoming much better people, much better parents, as we learn from the mistakes. I think you’re right, you do sort of just over overcompensate, don’t you, with what you’ve lacked. And it just strikes me that a lot of these regrets, like sort of not doing what you love, putting work first, working too much, not having a good work life balance, not looking after your health. It’s where people seem to just be stuck in a rut where they just carrying on and carrying on.
Even the whole putting work first, it’s almost easier to put work first, than say put your family first, to put your relationship first, because work will always come first, if you don’t make that stand, I think a lot of the time. So again, that seems to be an act of omission rather than an act of commission. I can’t imagine anyone really, you know, being on their deathbed and saying, well, it’s like that old adage, isn’t it?
No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time in the office.’ No one’s ever on their deathbed gonna go, ‘I wish I hadn’t taken that time to do that extended holiday with my family,’ or ‘I wish I hadn’t made sure I was there at that time after school every single week for my child,’ of course.
You will never, ever regret that. But at the time, you’re going to be putting lots of people’s noses out of joint to be able to do that quite a lot of the time. If you are in a job where in order to spend that weekday evening, doing that thing, you have to put boundaries in and say no and disappoint people. Sometimes, I guess that goes into that. That second thing about living up to people’s expectations. We seem to want to live up to expectations of our workplace or our profession, or maybe even our parents more than we want to live up to our expectations of our nearest and dearest or even ourselves. I don’t know.
Georgina: Yeah, no, I agree. Yeah, I agree. Because I was talking to a friend the other day, and they’ve got a couple of different part time jobs. And one of them is like, you know, you have three things. And this is the one that doesn’t really pay that well don’t they don’t really enjoy it. It takes up their time, because a friend helped them get the job. They’re like, ‘Oh, I feel really bad if I give it up.’ And I’m like, ‘Why would you feel bad? That it’s really nice that they got it for you, but it’s not working out.’ So what forever on, you have to do this job that’s not bringing you in much money, is taking up your time. It does seem crazy. It’s almost putting other people above us.
With the workplace, it’s like, you go and work in a job and your boss is really important and you want to impress everybody and then you realise years down the line, you see them in the street and it’s almost like, well, who are they anyway? I mean, it sounds really awful, but they don’t really matter. Like the, the size of they are the kind of space they take up in your life will never be always that big.
Your kids will be that big, your parents will big, your best friends and yourself will always be big in your life. But these other things are transitory; they’re not going to be forever. You have to make sure we think to keep things in perspective. Also maybe remind yourself that I mean, this is also one of the reasons why I wonder what book was that I think the drift that we experience in life is sometimes because we don’t kind of face up to the fact that these moments don’t last forever.
Like our kids, they’re only a certain age for a certain amount of time. You know at certain moments in our relationships with our friends or whatever, only a certain way for a certain amount of time. Everything’s changing continuously, though to constantly put off and kind of put everything else above that, you know, something else that maybe could wait or actually, in the end of the day isn’t super important, even though it feels like it’s super important at the time is important to keep it in perspective, and know that those moments are transitory.
And we have to really look at the collection of, I kind of call it like the building blocks of our lives, we have our relationships, and we have a work and we have our friends, and we have money, and we have all these different things, our health. And it’s in there, they all go to build up our lives. So all of them are important, but just at different times, you know, we have to keep them in that order. In the order that works for us, not the order someone else wants them to work for us.
Rachel: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. And if this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at email@example.com. I love to hear from you. And finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now!