Episode 83: The Ups and Downs of Being a Man-Frog with Dr Chris Hewitt
Are you working in a job or environment that doesn’t actually suit you? Do you want to change your career path to avoid doing the same thing forever, but you’re scared to do something different? Or maybe you’re experiencing burnout from working in an environment that’s just too toxic?
Like a frog in a pan of slowly boiling water, humans often don’t perceive the danger of what’s going on until it’s too late. But as the title of this podcast states – you are not a frog! You have the power to escape the perils of the boiling water.
Joining us in this episode is Dr Chris Hewitt who also uses the metaphor of a man-frog in coaching professionals to have a better work-life balance. Chris talks about why we find it so hard to recognise burnout. He also shares his top tips and practical strategies to address work dissatisfaction.
If you want to stop feeling like a man (or woman) – frog in a pan of slowly boiling water, listen to the full episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
Discover different solutions for when you feel like a man-frog in a pan of slowly boiling water.
- Find out why it’s so tricky to recognise burnout.
- Chris shares his top tips to help a man-frog to improve their work situation.
[04:53] About Chris and Project Man-Frog
- Chris believes that we’re becoming man-frogs because toxic environments, expectations, and workload are being normalised.
- As a professional coach, he created Project Man-Frog to help people escape all that toxicity whenever they feel like a frog in boiling water.
- Burnout, boredom, and people getting stuck in a rut has always been present.
- Chris thinks that levels of burnout and stress, especially in the healthcare sector, have always been high. The pandemic has only exacerbated what was already there.
[09:18] How to Deal with the New Normal
- During the pandemic, the population, particularly the healthcare sector, experienced a heroic phase.
- After the heroic phase, there can be a drop. This drop affects morale, perspective, or mood.
- The wiser living phase is when people start to rebuild and restore.
- Due to the trauma associated with the pandemic, it may take two to five years before we reach the wiser living phase.
- In the period between the drop and the wiser living phase, there will be many people who are stuck. Many will need mental health care.
[11:01] The Options of a Man-Frog
- Because we’re not frogs, we have more options aside from enduring the boiling water and jumping out of the pan.
- You can turn the heat down or leap to another lily pad. A man-frog can also jump out of the pan and get back in if it’s the right temperature.
- Acknowledge what you’re going through, and don’t beat yourself up. You don’t have to stay in a pan that’s too hot for you.
- It’s normal to take time to recover after something so big-impact like the pandemic.
- It’ll be unsurprising to see PTSD among the workforce. However, there will be those who gain wisdom and post-traumatic growth as well.
[13:27] Chris’s Experience on Burnout and Post-Traumatic Growth
- Chris experienced burnout 11 years ago as a GP.
- He wasn’t aware that he was experiencing burnout because he didn’t know what burnout was.
- When he became a medicolegal advisor, he realised he got burnt out from his old job.
- Project Man-Frog interviews people who have gone through similar problems as a way to find solutions.
- Chris says that there wasn’t one particular event that caused him to get burnt out. It came from a gradual build-up of things from his work and personal life.
[17:29] Why It’s Difficult to Recognise Burnout
- We often don’t realise that our environments are toxic until we experience a catastrophic event.
- Part of the problem is that we’ve been conditioned to think that burnout is normal.
- Chris thinks that human nature is to keep going until we fall off a figurative cliff.
- It doesn’t help that there’s this culture that demands that you keep going. We become victims or perpetrators of bullying in this kind of culture.
- Chris also adds that those who work over heroically would fall off a higher cliff.
[21:55] Resilience in the Workplace
- Even the most resilient people can burn out in toxic workplaces.
- Conversely, the least resilient people can also have problems in good workplaces.
- Being self-aware and knowing when to say no should be encouraged as a part of resilience.
[24:48] Turning Down the Heat as a Man-Frog
- The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge that you’re having issues. Make time to think through what’s going on.
- After having some recovery time, Chris encourages you to get help through friends, coaches and mentors. Just being listened to by other people can make a huge difference.
- You can also go to people or places that give you solace. Make time to find some joy.
- Write all the questions in your mind on a piece of paper and answer them one by one.
- Chris sometimes asks his clients to write a ‘Nirvana letter’ as if you’re in your twilight years and you’re thinking back. Doing this will help you visualise your future.
[39:18] Top Tips for a Man-Frog to Improve Their Work Situation
- Know that if you feel stuck, there are always alternatives. You can improve on what you’re doing, do it differently, or do less of it.
- The first thing you need to do is stop and take stock.
- Second, do some writing and see what comes out.
- Third, find somebody who can hold you to account when you reconsider options and make plans.
- Sometimes, all you need is a break to recharge.
[44:35] On Taking Risks
- There’s no one set path to fulfilment. We learn from our mistakes and are stronger because of them.
- Dip your toes into different waters instead of taking a big leap.
- If you want to change, take time to think about it and talk to someone about it.
- You can build a fulfilling work and home life; it just takes a bit of work.
7 Powerful Quotes from This Episode
[12:12] ‘Don’t beat yourself up. You know, two to five years recovery after a big impact, like the pandemic is, is quite normal.’
[14:28] ‘When you’re going through something, a bit like the frogs in the pan, you don’t realise, you don’t realise that you’re struggling or the other situations are becoming toxic. The environment’s becoming toxic, or your response to that environment isn’t as positive or constructive as it could be.’
[24:21] ‘So having the insight to say, “This isn’t right, and this isn’t safe,” it’s something that we should be encouraging. And that part of being resilient is also about being self aware and being assertive and knowing when to say, “No, none of us should be doing this.”’
[35:05] ‘Whatever it is for someone, I think you’ve got to find some joy again, and you need to make time for that.’
[36:12] ‘I’ve had an awful lot of value from coaches and mentors. But part of it is the anger, the rant, the catharsis, before you can then say, “Right, okay, got that off my chest, I can start to think straight now and start to create and visualise the future I want to have.”’
[39:36] ‘I think people feel trapped and feel that security and that commitment means they have to keep doing what they’re doing, keep earning what they’re earning, and they feel committed to not just family and paying the mortgage, but they also feel committed to colleagues and their workplace. However, there always are alternatives.’
[44:49] ’There isn’t a direct route necessarily to fulfilment in one way of working and living to another. We learn from the things we get wrong, don’t we? And then we move on and and we get stronger from it usually. So it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, I suppose.’
About Dr Chris
Dr Chris Hewitt is a GP coach, educator, and writer. Beyond his promising service in the NHS for 30 years, he has a reputation for delivering messages of hope and a track record of developing strong teams. He is also a highly motivated and authoritative leader. Chris serves as one of the Associate Deans at Health Education England. He is a medically qualified Tribunal member of the Ministry of Justice UK.
As a professional coach, Dr Chris studies and writes about the challenges individuals face in modern life. Through Project Man-Frog, he works with professionals to help them improve their work-life balance, tackle burnout, address boredom. When professionals find themselves dissatisfied with their current work situations, Chris helps them improve their current working role or plan an entirely new career.
If you want to know more about Dr Chris and his on the Project Man-Frog, you may connect with him on LinkedIn.
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In today’s high-stress work environment, you may feel like a frog in boiling water. The pan has heated up so slowly that you didn’t notice the feeling of stress and overwhelm becoming the norm. You may feel that it is impossible to survive AND thrive in your work.
Frogs generally have only two options — stay and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan. Fortunately, you are not a frog. You have many more options, choices and control than you think.
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Dr Rachel Morris: Have you ever thought about doing something different with your life, but have been too scared to try? Or the thought of staying where you are and doing the same thing forever fill you with dread? In this episode, I’m chatting with Dr Chris Hewitt, GP, coach and educator about what it is to be a man-frog sitting in a pan of slowly boiling water. We talk about why we keep going in jobs and workplaces which aren’t suiting us, and the dangers of making a rash decision or no decision at all. We discuss what it looks like when the heat has been turned up, and is getting near boiling point, and the simple things that we can do right now to help us turn heat down and think about our work in a new light. So listen if you want to know why it takes us so long to realise how hot the pan really is; if you want to get some practical steps you can take to turn the heat down. And listen if you want to explore some of the joys and perils of jumping out of the pan, and from one lily pad to another.
Welcome to You are Not a Frog, life hacks for doctors and other busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP turned coach, speaker and specialist in teaching resilience. And I’m interested in how we can wake up and be excited about going to work no matter what. I’ve had 20 years of experience working in the NHS and I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, worried about making a mistake and one crisis away from not coping. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, working harder and longer, and the heat has been turned up so slowly that we hardly noticed the extra long days becoming the norm. And we’ve got used to the low grade feelings of stress and exhaustion. Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in the pan and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and leave. But You are Not a Frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more options than you think you do. It is possible to be master of your destiny, and to craft your work and life so that you can thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job. In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues and experts, all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control and thrive, not just survive, in our work and our lives and love what we do again.
For those of you listening to the podcast who need to get some continuous professional development hours under your belts, did you know that we create a CPD form for every episode so that you can use it for your documentation and in your appraisal. Now, if you’re a doctor, and you’re a fan of inspiring CPD, and you’re sick of wasting a lot of time you don’t have on boring and irrelevant stuff, then why not check out our Permission to Thrive membership. This is a new venture, a joint venture between me and Caroline Walker, who’s The Joyful Doctor. And every month we’re going to be releasing a webinar fully focused on helping you thrive in work and in life. Every webinar is accompanied by an optional workbook with a reflective activity so that you can take control of your work and your life. You can increase your well being and you can design a life that you’re going to love. You’ve got to get those hours so why not make your CPD count. Choose a CPD that’s good for you. So check out the link to find out more. Thanks for listening to my shameless plug. And back to the episode.
It’s really brilliant to have with me on the episode today. Dr Chris Hewitt. Now Chris is a professional coach, he’s also a GP and he’s a writer. He’s one of the Associate Deans at Health Education England, and also works as a tribunal doctor. So welcome, Chris.
Dr Chris Hewitt: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you for having me on. It’s a real honor to be here.
Rachel: So the reason I wanted to get Chris on the podcast is because he’s got vast experience of coaching people. He’s got this brilliant concept about man-frogs, which as soon as I heard that, of course, my ears perked up because obviously frogs are very dear to my heart. Although I slightly regret starting a podcast called You are Not a Frog, because people are starting to send me all sorts of frog stuff. So Chris, beware, if you ever name your book after frogs or anything like that, everything you do from then on will have to be green and you’ll get lots of sort of cuddly frogs and books about frogs.
Chris: I’ve had lots of photos sent to me by my kids already, once they heard about my project. So yes, it’s, I’m already a victim.
Rachel: So I know that this is a work in progress. Just tell me a little bit about it and what you’re sort of hoping to achieve.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. It’s, I’m calling it Project Man-Frog. So I do feel a little bit of an imposter coming on to a podcast called, You are Not a Frog. But a man-frog is different, and I’ll try and explain. Basically, I think we normalise to toxic environments, toxic expectations and toxic workload. And many of us in the public sector in education and caring professions are what we call people pleasers and rescuers, which means we’re often very bad at looking after ourselves and saying ‘No’. And I really like the image of frogs in a pan of water that’s slowly being brought to the boil. It’s a really powerful image. It’s often used in management circles, and I think was the background to how you chose the name for this podcast. The frogs in this pan are swimming around, not really noticing that the temperature is increasing, or they’re unable to change their situation and are stuck in a pan. And my project, Project Man-Frog, is aligned, as you say, to my work as a professional coach. And what I’ve noticed now, at the ripe old age of 54, is that I reflect on how many times other people, mentors, coaches and my family have helped me to escape that pot of boiling water. And I want to find out how others have done that as well. And to share powerful stories to show how the right interventions and approaches at the right time can help all of us get unstuck when we feel we’re a bit of a frog.
Rachel: Yeah, I think that is such a great concept. But obviously I do, because I use it for the podcast. But I’m really interested, first of all, in how we get to this stage. Do you think that the pan has been heating up particularly fast at the moment, particularly for the people in health care? Or do you think it’s just always been like that, that people get busier and busier and more stressed, and things get worse and worse without that people noticing? Or do you think it’s something for our particular time?
Chris: I think burnout, and boredom, and people getting stuck in a rut has probably been there forever. I think before the pandemic levels of stress and distress were really high already people were working probably way higher intensity than was healthy. And for a lot of people and in the health profession, we’ve seen that in people working in A&E, in intensive care, in GP, and the pandemic, I think, as highlighted and exacerbated something that was already there. And I think people are starting to say, right, people are talking about normal life again. And new normal and all these other expressions, and new normal for GPs is, for a lot of them, we don’t, a lot of them say, ‘I don’t want to go back to the normal I had before’. So I think things like your podcast turn out to be excellent, because they’re giving people tools. And they’re asking people to explore ways that they can perhaps manage what’s within their control. But certainly, I think, you know, things have always been how they are. But I think I think we’re having a particularly challenging time at the moment.
Rachel: Yes, I think possibly the heat was always getting turned up higher and higher. But suddenly, it’s just burst out, you know the heat has been turned up. I’ve got a lovely induction hob now, actually, and you can set a setting called boost, which pretty much boils a pan of cold water in about five minutes. It’s really, really fast. And I guess the analogy would be that we’re in healthcare, certainly we were going along, the heat was getting quite high. And then the pandemic happened. And maybe initially for some of us, the heat went down a bit. For some of us, the heat went massively up. But certainly recently, boy has it been put on boost. I know lots of my GP colleagues are getting so many phone calls, and there’s so much patients in mind and all that stuff that was sort of pent up when people went seeking help. They now are seeking help and there’s a lot of health anxiety around so that heat has really, really been turned up. So I think a lot of our frog colleagues are now starting think, ‘Crumbs, I just need to jump out of the pan because I really can’t cope with this’. And so yes, it’s very much we don’t want to go back to the normal as it was before. But actually this new normal is even worse than it was before. So. So what do we do about that?
Chris: I think understanding where we’re all at is part of of finding solutions and evidence is that whenever there’s a trauma, there’s a personal and a collective response. And the sudden impact of the pandemic within the population as a whole, and certainly within healthcare, creates a heroic phase, the phase of busy nursing and exciting doing and getting on with things. And often after that heroic phase, there’s a bit of a drop, and often either anticlimax or disillusionment. And that can be a bit of a trough in morale and perspective and mood. But then most of us start to rebuild and feel restored. And often we actually get to what’s called a wiser living phase. And hopefully the population, our patients and carers and ourselves in the workforce, get to that wiser living phase. And that can take between two and five years, after something as traumatic at the pandemic. I think we’re going to find a lot of people stuck in the uptake and rebuilding, restoration is not happening. And that’s going to be giving a lot of mental health needs for patients and carers, but also for ourselves as professionals.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So it sort of takes a couple of years after the trauma that’s happened to get into that rebuild and restore phase. That’s probably quite useful to know, actually, for people, but there’s going to be a couple of years where people are in this slightly difficult transition, intermittent phase. Where things are already difficult, and that the pan seems to be getting a lot hotter. I’m interested, Chris. You know, these frogs sitting in boiling water, or water that’s really heating up, are there any other options for them apart from getting out or burning out? Because I guess the whole premise of You are Not a Frog is that there are other options because we’re not frogs, we’re human beings. But human beings can’t stand hot water either. So I guess we’re a bit like a frog in that way. But maybe as a human, we have other options, like to turn the heat down, or to maybe get into a different pan with a sort of different heat setting? I don’t know, do you think it is just binary that you’ve got to get out because there’s nothing you can do about it? Or—
Chris: I don’t think it’s binary. I think, and I think there are ways of, as a frog jumping out and turning the induction hub down a bit, probably, and then jumping back in if it’s quite nice and warm, and just the right temperature, get back in that pan. But I think it was really interesting, your podcast on the drama triangle, and how to stop rescuing people. And I thought Annie Hanekom had some real wisdom: acknowledge what you’re going through, and give yourself time, and don’t beat yourself up. Two to five years’ recovery after a big impact, like the pandemic, is quite normal. And PTSD is going to be there in a workforce that’s had moral injury, but there’s going to be much higher numbers who get very positive, post traumatic growth, with the wisdom that that gives you. And that wisdom can probably bring on a degree of self-awareness and assertiveness that says, ‘I’m not going to have work in a pan that’s 70 degrees, I want one that’s 50 degrees. So I’m going to go out and change the induction hob setting and be quite happy because I love being in this pan when it was 50 degrees’. And that can be done in your career and in your work and in your work life balance. It’s just about making yourself have the time and as Ed Pooley said in the managing time podcast, think of the time before managing a task and making your life workable and your home life and your work life and your fun life workable, is about actually thinking of those as tasks and chunking those tasks down and getting on with that.
Rachel: In a minute, I’m going to ask you for some really practical ways that we can do that. But before we go there, I’m just quite interested in this sort of post-traumatic growth. And I wondered Chris, what experience you’ve had yourself with post-traumatic growth, you know, what’s, what’s been your sway? What’s the sort of way that you got into all of that?
Chris: Yeah, I burned out as a GP in, 11 years ago, and I didn’t know I’d burned out. I didn’t know what burnout was. And it’s only when I was in a new job, I was a full-time medicolegal advisor for one of the medical defence organisations. And someone said to me, ‘You know, Chris, I think, sounds like you burned out when you were a GP’. And I thought, I didn’t think that was for me, I was just, I just made a decision to switch from being a GP to being a medicolegal advisor. But then it got me interested. What happened along the way? And what made me jump out of the pan and do things, you know, not completely different, but very different, not seeing patients helping colleagues with complaints and ethical issues and so forth as a medicolegal adviser. And it’s hard to know because often when you’re going through something, a bit like the frogs in the pan, you don’t realise, you don’t realise that you’re struggling or the other situations are becoming toxic. The environment’s becoming toxic, or your response to that environment isn’t as positive or constructive as it could be.
So I was always astonished when I was a GP and loving the job and doing appraisals on people and so forth and discovered other people weren’t always loving it or some people really didn’t like it at all. So I felt like I don’t understand that, I love this job. And then it, burnout, for me, came very suddenly, because I stopped loving it very suddenly. And I couldn’t understand that. So instead of exploring that, and taking the time to explore that, I just found something else to do. I saw an advert at the BMJ and jumped. And did the man-frog thing of jumping without looking. So I got somewhere else, but it wasn’t, with hindsight, it probably wasn’t the link I should have taken. And you know, we can all suffer from that ‘the grass is greener’ syndrome. But put in another way it was the right jump for me. It was a leap onto another lily pad that wasn’t going to be a permanent one. But it was a way to step sideways or backwards a bit, and then regroup and then go in different directions, which is what I subsequently did. So you know, everyone will have similar stories of what they’ve done and how they’ve made their career more interesting or varied. And part of Man-Frog’s project is that I’ve been interviewing people I know or I’ve coached and said, you know, ‘How did you navigate your career with hindsight? And what would have helped you along the way? What interventions or self-awareness would have helped you?’ So I think the wisdom of our elders is where we often find solutions to our current paths. So that’s partly what, what the project’s about.
Rachel: Yeah, totally. And I’m interested, if you don’t mind me asking, was there an event that happened that caused you to burn out? Or did the heat just suddenly get turned up really, really high?
Chris: No, I don’t think it happened suddenly, I think the heat gradually built up. I worked in a group practice, we got on well, we’d have some good projects, I’d led on a project and moved into new premises, which was great fun. I like teaching the medical students and was a trainer, an appraiser. So I had things alongside the GP work, which kept me going and interested, we decided to do telephone consulting, and really, really went for it. But it became a bit of a monster. Yeah, it was just, it wasn’t safe. It wasn’t anything, really. And I think something like losing continuity for me was something that was a factor in there. I liked seeing people in my room, and I like going out to their house. And I like knowing their family. And there were other things going on in my life, and my personal life, there was a mixture of things. So it wasn’t one particular thing. But somewhere along the way, I started to have that Sunday night feeling of not wanting to go into work, which I’ve never had before.
Rachel: It sounds like you sort of recognised it pretty early on and thought, ‘I’m not enjoying this. I’m gonna change’. My experience with a lot of doctors and other people working in health care and other really high-stress professions as well, is that they they don’t realise how much they are struggling until they have a sort of catastrophic event, or they have, they suddenly go off sick or they get really unwell with with something unrelated. And then they look back and think, ‘Crumbs. I really wasn’t enjoying that. That was really difficult’. Do you think that people recognise it when the heat is increased? Do they recognise it soon enough?
Chris: No, I think most people keep going and keep going. And you know, woman or man frogs are often hamsters on a hamster wheel, or rabbit in headlights or whatever else it is. We, I think we, generally human nature is to keep going and keep going. And I think we’re also not really, you know, I certainly wasn’t aware of a lot of things that existed. I didn’t know about burnout. I didn’t know about PTSD, moral injury, incipient loneliness, there’s a whole science evolving of things. You know, 15 years ago, I hadn’t really got a clue about. I did a master’s level study on burnout. And I was still no wiser if I’m honest. But what I did was speak to a lot of people who had burned out or said, you know, they felt that burnt out and the commonest thing in most was that they fell off a cliff. They weren’t expecting that massive drop at some really, really suddenly. And it’s only with hindsight that they thought ‘Yes, I was walking towards a cliff, but I just hadn’t realised’.
Rachel: Yeah, I think the problem is that we have been conditioned just to think it’s normal. I was talking to a professional who, the other day, who has been really, really struggling in his job, and he’s had a big geographical change. He’s taken on a new job with a new team, having to manage lots of other things during lockdown. And then, was kept saying to me, ‘But I feel really weak. I feel weak, why can’t I cope with this?’ And I’m thinking, I’m looking at everything that had happened and thinking, ‘You’re not weak! This is a normal response to everything that’s happened in this workplace in which you’re in. And your body is responding in the way it should respond i.e., increasing your cortisol levels, putting you in your sympathetic zone because it’s responding to stress and threats.’ But then you think you’re weak for not being able to cope with it and then you think, ‘Well, it’s normal. Everyone else is coping with it. Therefore, I should just keep going.’ Have you seen that sort of thing, just contributing to the frog staying in the pan and putting up with the heat.
Chris: I think so. I think the environment is key there, I think from the minute you apply for medical school and then get through medical school, the norm is, you don’t moan, you get on with it. Everybody knocks in if you have a busy on call shift; you stay on late, you get on with it, and everybody survives. And I think in a pandemic that gets heightened, it’s go in there and hold your breath. You know, even if you don’t trust the PPE, you know, someone’s got to go in there, there’s a patient that needs you. And that kind of culture and climate of, you know, we allow ourselves and we become victims and perpetrators of bullying in that kind of culture. That’s the truth. And it’s very popular, I think for the older generation to say all things were much worse. And you know, why are people whining and moaning about bullying? I think things are as hard as they’ve ever been nowadays. And I don’t think they’re particularly healthy before, in times past. So I think we are in a particularly challenging culture. And I think in, historically, and in many cultures, you know, men are not good at talking about their feelings. Men are probably often worse, you know, sometimes as bullies or bullying themselves. And in health, that’s equalised much more, because the culture is no matter what gender you are, and what’s going on in your life. You know, you’re working now. So get on with it. There’s more people in the waiting room or, you know, with the, you know, there’s enough challenges, first of all, do we can’t be doing the people being weak.
Rachel: Just suck it up, because there’s so much work to do. And there’s lots of people worse off than you. And your patients are really sick, and they need you.
Chris: Yeah, and I think, sometimes people working over heroically are just going to fall off a high cliff. An elastic will snap at some point.
Rachel: So there’s a two by two diagram I often use when I talk about workplace, and resilience, because I think a lot of people are slightly allergic to the word ‘resilience’, and it can be quite irritating when people are saying, ‘Right, workplace is dreadful’. So what we need to do is get some resilience training to our people. The problem is you can make people as resilient as you want, give them all the skills that they need, and they certainly do need skills of being able to stay in your zone of power control, what you can control, to be able to manage your time properly, to be able to sort of have those difficult conversations. But actually, if you put someone who’s really resilient in a bad workplace for long enough, and you give them far too much to do, far too many demands, you don’t support them properly, then they will I think eventually burn out. And I think that’s a normal reaction to what’s going on.
Chris: Absolutely. It’s a healthy reaction. I think we sometimes make people into heroes who are possibly being, you know, a bit too much as expected of them. And it’s often not not healthy, what’s expected of them.
Rachel: Yeah, I think converse, the converse is true that if you put people who aren’t resilient, in a really good workplace, they will also have problems. Because I think just to survive in today’s, in a VUCA world, which is sort of volatile and uncertain and complex and ambiguous, you do need to have the skills to really work well. I think both are needed, but you really can’t let the workplace off the hook. So I think in that respect, jumping out of the pan when it’s too hot, for some people is a really, really good option. And certainly just changing workplaces is really important.
Chris: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s a healthy balance between getting a good enough workplace and getting a good enough level of resilience saying, you know, there’s a Goldilocks point in both of those things. And I think sometimes, just because we can drive faster, doesn’t mean we should. If we’re driving down a country lane at 80 miles an hour because we’ve been trained to do that as a rally driver, well doesn’t mean we should do that on open public roads, because there could be a horse down there, or a cyclist who we’re going to run over just because we feel we can do it without driving off the roads. I mean, it’s safe. And I think sometimes our workplaces can, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, you know. They make, you can be asked to work in great intensity, and then you can be kind of thrown out and hung out to dry if you make a mistake working in that intensity. So having the insight to say this isn’t right, and this isn’t safe. It’s something that we should be encouraging. And that part of being resilient is also about being self-aware and being assertive and knowing when to say ‘No, none of us should be doing this.’
Rachel: And of course, you have sort of, I guess different amounts of control over your workplace depending on if you’re the boss, or if you’re not. But I guess even if you’re the boss, there are lots of external circumstances that might make it very difficult to have a lot of the control that you need. But Chris, what I’m interested in is, how do you know what to do? How do you know whether the option you should take is to jump out the pan and go do something different, or get a different workplace, or whether to Well, I guess you can choose to stay in and burn out, I think lots of people say they would never choose to stay in and burn out. But I guess a lot of people just unconsciously working towards burnout. And if nothing changes, they’re gonna do that. But then there is that other option because we are human beings, not frogs, and that is to find ways to turn down the heat ourselves. How do you know which one of those to do?
Chris: I think the first thing you’ve got to do is acknowledging that things might not be right. Or that you might be stuck, or having issues or challenges. And I think that making the time is really difficult when people see that just doing more of the same and working harder and harder is what they are used to do. Going off sick is not something you do or having a holiday and spending the holiday doing something that’s actually for you and for thinking space. So I think, you know, it’s almost, I think your career and your work and home life and fun life needs to be planned and, and nurtured. And whether it’s planning a holiday or preparing for appraisal or compiling your receipts for tax return, I think you have to do similar with with your working life and say, right, this is really important. I need to make some time. I need to get the calendar out and get some time and maybe get some help to just think through what’s going on because I’m feeling a bit blinded by the headlights at the moment.
Rachel: Yeah, I was just thinking, as you said that, time is something that most people don’t have right now.
Chris: Absolutely. And I think you know, and that’s why people often wait till they break, or they wait, you know, they wait till there’s a natural break. So they you know, on holiday, they think, ‘Crikey, what’s been going on? Why am I so knackered? Why am I not enjoying this holiday?’ Or they go off sick, and they break or they get ill. And I think it’s much better: in an ideal world, if we were talking to our patients or carers would be saying, ‘Right, you need a break. It’s, this isn’t sustainable. And we don’t, we don’t necessarily, we treat ourselves as more superhuman than our patients and carers.
Rachel: Totally, and I’ve certainly seen and experienced it myself and seen it in my own family of people living from one holiday to another holiday, you know, just, it’ll be fine. Once I’m on holiday. And things, I guess, heat gets to that sort of critical stage and think just a couple more weeks left a few holiday, heat gets turned down a bit, but not down that much. Because you know, it’s difficult to relax when you’re really stressed. And then oh, back at work, he goes up and up and up and up. And you were just about to get help, but because you had that holiday, the heat’s gone down a little bit. And so you think ‘Oh, no, actually, I’m all right, this, this is fine, really. But then, so you sort of go on at that sort of point, this just below boiling point. And it’s just miserable.
Chris: Yeah. And I think I think, you know, those of us who’ve done appraisals on colleagues can recognise it in other people, and often will give very helpful suggestions. But we don’t do that to ourselves, we don’t take ourselves to task and say, ‘Right, I must make some time, I have to, this is going to go belly up’. And I think you know, when you make the time, it’s then having some ways to structure what you do with that time. And you know, part of it is coming out of you know, if there’s, you know, severe fatigue or stress or depression, then that needs to be fixed before you get into coping mode. I mean, most people are functioning in coping rather than competent mode. So it takes a while to get, just to recuperate. Before you can even think straight, I think. And the thinking straight needs to be well-structured, you know, and a stocktake, and a plan, and options. It’s something, we’re not, picking medical school was that last big career decision, you know for a lot of us. So I think having some help about, you know, what to do next, after you’ve had some recovery time is something I really strongly advocate.
Rachel: Yeah, totally, totally. And this is the power of coaching, mentoring. Actually, there is a lot of free coaching available, I think, in the NHS, certainly at the moment. And lots of areas have got coaching and mentoring schemes set up. But I would say if you can’t access that one, the best money I ever spent was employing a coach, which just sort of transformed my life. It was really, really helpful. And Chris I’m just interested—
Chris: And I think, you know, friends, mentor figures and coaches, you know, when I reflect on my life, you know, they’ve been people who’ve really, really helped. And most of those people have been people who’ve just listened rather than, ‘You want to do that,’ or, ‘I did this, you want to do that.’ And just having the space to hear yourself speak out loud and say things often is just a chance to vent and, you know, ‘I’m hearing myself say this, and I need to do something about it.’
Rachel: That’s a really good point. Actually, when, when I was, you know, really feeling like I was burning out and really stressed about what to do. It was friends who pointed out there was an issue. Interestingly. And then I spoke to some mentors, and then I got some coaching. So that was the sort of sequence of things. But I think your point about just being listened to, is really important. So I, you know, I think if anyone is feeling like this, and actually getting together with a trusted colleague and saying, ‘Can I just talk at you for half an hour?’ And just getting all out there is, would be really helpful. There’s a fantastic book by Nancy Klein called Time to Think; I talk about that quite a lot in the training that I do. And she talks about the fact that the quality of my listening determines the quality of your thinking. And then she suggests that people set up thinking partnerships, and Annie who we did the podcast about being rescued, Annie’s in a thinking partnership with someone and she said, it’s just brilliant. So they meet every week or something like that for half an hour, one of them talks for half an hour, and then the other one talks for half an hour. And it’s just really transformative. Now, that is something you could do immediately with a colleague. Right?
Chris: Absolutely. And I think we generally intuitively know who to pick for that. I mean, Nancy Klein talks about the ten behaviours and components that helps someone to clearly reflect on their thoughts: attention, equality, ease, appreciation, encouragement, feelings, information, diversity, incisive questions, and the place where you do it. And you don’t have to have read Time to Think to know the kind of person who’s actually going to listen to you and give you that protected time to just offload without judging you, or starting to problem solve. As GPs used to working in time limited appointments, reflex often is to say, ‘Right, okay, I think I’ve got a diagnosis, here’s your solution, here’s your sick note or your prescription.’ And, and when we’re listening with a buddy who’s really listening to us, that half an hour of, ‘Just rant, just let it all out, I’m not going to interrupt.’ It’s really powerful. It’s really, really powerful.
Rachel: So that’s a really good quick win that you could do with someone, if you’re feeling the heat is getting a bit too high. What other options do people have, when they’re in that zone?
Chris: I think different people find different things helpful. I think the first thing to do is go to places that give you, or people that give you solace. That can be going for a walk, and that can be doing some painting, writing a poem or whatever. I think just give yourself space to, to just be away. Holidays are great. But holidays can also be quite a challenge, if you’re looking after others, and organising things, or the holidays about visiting sites, or what have you, then they can actually be quite hard work. And of course, we’re all struggling post pandemic, or during the pandemic, because we’re all feeling deprived of deck chairs, and our usual holiday recharges. So I think, you know, look for the simple things in every day, and start to make an effort, get that calendar and say, right, I’m going to find, you know, a day or half a day to just have nothing on the agenda. You know, I might just go for a long walk, I might go for a long bike ride or swim, but I’m just going to not have anything planned, I’ll just see what happens. And at that time, you just got to make sure nothing takes it, because that’s the start of taking stock. And as you know, I often in coaching, I’ll say to someone, write a list of the 20 things you would enjoy doing, you know, if you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do?
Or if you had a week off, where you had no one else to be responsible for, what would you do? And then you know, write a list of 20 and then perhaps pick a pick, pick a top three, what would you do? You know, how much would it cost to do this thing? What needs doing to make that thing happen? How realistic is it? And how soon can it be done? Because, you know, I for me a big part of keeping going as a GP was having a sabbatical and it was across you know, summer holidays. So the kids were able to come. But eight weeks in New Zealand, for me, was achievable. And it really gave me, recharged my batteries, and way more than the kind of two-week holiday every few months that was not doing the trick as a recharge. But that, whatever it is for someone, I think you’ve got to, you’ve got to find some joy again, and you need to make time for that. And that’s a big part of being in a good place to then work with a coach. I think the challenge with the time you have with a coach is you need to have got past coping phase and we work towards competency phase. So it’s about looking after yourself a bit and realising how flat your batteries are, I think.
Rachel: Yeah, I think that’s true I remember spending the first coaching session basis sobbing my way through, actually. And I experienced that with a lot of my clients now that that there is they sort of just have to get over that trauma that they’re feeling before I can really get their head into the right way. Yeah.
Chris: Once I was, you know, I’ve been in many interviews and I’ve been sacked many times and you know, I’m quite, it’s a lot of a very colorful working career. But what one interview I did quite successfully in, I was asked what is leadership, one of those questions and I said, ‘Well, I think leadership is management of loss’. Now I was just spurting something out I’d read, I think, without really thinking what I was saying. But actually, you know, years later, I think, actually, you know, we lead our own lives. And if we’re self-aware, we do plan to make things happen in our life, we create our future ourselves, or we let it happen to us. And, you know, we have losses, we always have losses, and jobs, we have a relationship with our jobs. And if that job changes, then we start to, that relationship starts to dwindle. And we have to nurture it and say, ‘Right, well, what do I need to improve to make this job as good as it was for me before?’ And so there is a need to nurture our work and our lives and our time with our families and so forth. And time is, although it’s, we always think we haven’t got enough time. It’s, if we think about what we would say to, to a best friend or a colleague or a patient, we’d say, ‘No, there’s the you know, you need this you need, you need one or two sessions with a coach just to have a catharsis and cry your way through the first few.’ I think, you know, I’ve been there. I’ve had an awful lot of value from coaches and mentors. But part of it is the anger, the rant, the catharsis, before you can then say, ‘Right, okay, got that off my chest, I can start to think straight now and start to create and visualise the future I want to have.’
Rachel: Yeah, yeah. One of the things I heard recently, that is a really nice next step, actually is, if you’ve got all these questions, and you’ve sort of got over that catharsis. You’ve got these questions about, ‘What can I do? Can I stop? Is there any way I can change? Or what would I do about this?’ is to write down all those questions you’ve got on a piece of paper, and then give yourself an hour to stop and actually start to answer those questions. I’ve done that once or twice, it’s been really helpful. Like all these queries I’ve got in my head, once it’s been on paper, I can then sit and think actually, is that true? What can I do about that? And it’s amazing, because most people, and this is I get it this is the coaching ethos, isn’t it, that you know what to do. Most people know what to do. You just need a little bit of help in thinking that and getting it out really.
Dr Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think I used to frustrate quite a lot of my GP trainees, when I was a trainer by, being that annoying trainer who’d say, ‘Well, what do you think needs to happen here?’ Or what? ‘What do you think are the options?’ Now obviously, if someone’s really busy and really behind, that’s the last thing they want to hear. They just want to hear, you know, I’ll just prescribe this come back later, and we’ll talk about it. But I think, you know, the coaches, good coaches help clients find the way that’s right for them in their context and their circumstances and with their situation. I personally find writing incredibly therapeutic.
And just like your letter of your questions and time to then answer them, there was a coach who wrote a book, I can’t remember, Tom Preston, I think his name. He suggested, people write a Nirvana letter. And it is something I do with clients sometimes. You write a letter as if you’re in your twilight years, and you’re, you’re thinking back, you know, you may be in your 70s, or 80s, if you’ve had a long and healthy life, and you write a letter to a close friend, detailing what you did in the time between now in the future, and then the past. So you write, write to a friend and say, you know, my dreams have come to fruition. And this is what I did. If you imagine yourself having had a successful and filling life, you can then start to think, right, well, let’s, let’s just, let’s just join the dots. And let’s, let’s play a game of imagining what steps went along the way and what happened and what dreams were fulfilled, you know. And ultimately, the best way to predict the future is to create it. And the best way to create the future is to visualise it. And that’s, that’s the purpose of that kind of letter.
Rachel: Yeah, totally. That’s such a powerful thing to do. Because I think that most of us, if we write that letter, it’s not going to include, I carried on working like a nutter and eventually I had to take a year off work. And then was worried about doing anything else. So yeah, that does bring that home. Chris, I’m just aware of the time we don’t have huge amounts of time left. But have you got any practical suggestions? You know, what can people do in terms of if they do want to hop out the pan, and that’s the right thing for them to do. What sort of options that they got? And what options have they got practically staying in the pan and, and turning down the heat a little bit?
Chris: Right. I think that there’s options, there are always options. And I think people feel trapped and feel that security and that commitment means they have to keep doing what they’re doing, keep earning what they’re earning, and they feel committed to not just family and paying the mortgage, but they also feel committed to colleagues and their workplace. However, there always are alternatives. And the alternatives are either to improve things where you’re currently working and what you’re doing; do less of it, do it differently, do it a different speed. Or to say, some people say no, I really do want to do something different now, or I need to have some time off and then do something different. And I’m just frightened about, how you go about though I’ve not, I don’t know what qualifications I had, needed to be able to afford to live on the money there. It’s not like swapping a car, you don’t get a chance to have a test drive and then say, ‘Actually, I quite like the car I’ve already got. And I’ll keep that. Thank you’. People don’t tend to do that. And so I’ll do a week doing another job and see whether I like it or not. So I think I think the first thing to do is stop, that’s my top tip. Stop. And just say, ‘Can I do something, can I just find some time,’ you know, get the calendar down, or get it up on your phone or on your laptop and just say, right, ‘I can cancel that,’ or ‘I can make that time,’ and that is just going to be taking stock, taking top stock of time, even if only half a day.
And then don’t do practical projects. Do the writing, a list of questions or the 20 things you’d like to do. Write it, never on a letter, just do some writing, see where you go. Just see what comes out in a run. And then the third thing I do after that is I’d find somebody, find somebody and say, ‘Look, you know, I just want to reconsider my options, plan my actions. And I’d like you to, if you will, listen to me. And then and then hold me to account and say, ‘Have you done it? How are you getting on? Is there anything I can do to help?’ You said, ‘You’re going to do this?’ Is it working?’ Yeah. And that could be a good friend, it could be a mentor, could be a professional coach, it could be all three of those. I’ve always found those three things really, really helpful things to do that lots of, you can Google ‘professional coach’ that there’s an organisation called www.trustedcoachdirectory.com that matches people to coaches. They are an option, you know, we forget and having benefited so much from coaching myself, you know, training to be a coach was a natural thing for me to do. And I think it’s, how can we, what happens when you listen to people? And it’s just so powerful. And it creates such fantastic outcomes that I, hence I said, ‘Yes,’ and came on your show.
Rachel: Well I’m very grateful for that. Well, it’s interesting you mentioned this whole test drive thing. Saying, you know, it’s not like buying a new car, we can’t test drive it. I think sometimes you can, though, can’t you? Because that’s the great thing about things like general practice or some other professions, particularly in healthcare is that you can actually take on different roles in places and think ‘Well, I’ll just try this role. See if I like it, for example, I’ll try a bit of education, a bit of teaching, see if I like it, I’ll try working for the CCG or perhaps the training hub or I’ll do maybe a session doing that. And then you can just see how that suits you. I think I sort of call that diversifying in your career. And that can be as good as jumping out of the pan sometimes, can’t it?
Chris: And sometimes just having a break. And a change is enough to say, right that I can keep going now. Certainly after my sabbatical in New Zealand, I came back and thought yeah, this is a great job again, I’m missing it. Or doing something different for a while can make you think, yeah, I was good. I enjoyed doing that stint for the primary care network, whatever it is, but now I’m glad I’m back doing, you know, doing a normal session on a Wednesday afternoon, or whatever it is. So I think you’re right, you know, just thinking about that Nirvana letter. I remember a colleague telling me that it read some research on people in elderly care facilities in the United States. And they basically were looking at people who’d got to a ripe old age and a deep thought that had a very contented life. So they were happy, elderly people. And the researchers compiled a list of things these people wish they’d done more of in their life. And there’s a top three. People wish they’d done more public service. Wish they’d taken more risks. And they wish they’d have more baths. So there you go.
Rachel: Oh, if only all our problems were solved, just by having more baths, that would be good.
Chris: Although it would be sad to get to an old age and think we wish we’d had more.
Rachel: Yeah, I think that whole thing about taking risks as well, all this is quite scary. Like you said, we go through medical school, we go to university, we know exactly where our lives are headed. And then we get there. And then suddenly, this whole jumping out the pan thing, it’s like, well, there’s a few different places I could do. But what if it doesn’t work? What if I fail? And I guess my response to that would be, yeah, you will probably fail at some things but that means you’ll learn and if you do something you don’t like it, that means you’ll learn that you don’t like it and how are you going to learn that unless you do it unless you try, so.
Chris: I think that’s why I like the idea of man-frog. Because sometimes you land on a lily pad that you realise isn’t a lily pad, it’s you know, it’s an alligator or it’s a sinking lily pad, and then you hop very quickly into the water or somewhere else. So you, there isn’t a direct route necessarily to fulfilment in one way of working and living to another. We learn from the things we get wrong, don’t we? And then we move on and and we get stronger from it usually. So it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, I suppose.
Rachel: It is. And I guess there is that risk as well that if you are the main breadwinner in Europe, relying on a particular amount of income and etc, that does feel quite risky. But I guess that’s when a trusted mentor and a colleague can really help sense check your decisions, and you can do it in a very controlled way that reduces some of that risk, can’t you?
Chris: Yeah, I think so. And I think dipping the toe into different waters is probably more sensible than big leaps, you know, I’ve been there and done it, and it’s very uncomfortable when you’re panicking about, is there isn’t gonna be enough income coming in? And I think that’s the benefit of time and thinking space, because you’re less likely to need to react in crisis. From my research, talking to other people for the book, and from my own experience, talking to other people earlier, finding a coach earlier, there are things I wish I had done sooner.
Rachel: Yeah, because I think we think about the risk of making a change, that we don’t often think about the risk of not making a change. I think that risk is actually bigger sometimes, because the risk of, at your health and if you burn out, you’ll be off work. And that will reduce your income and blah, blah, blah. And I think we don’t think about what is going to happen to me if I carry on like this for the next 10 years?
Chris: Yeah, and you know, a bigger pension is no good if you’re not around to take up.
Rachel: Yeah, completely. Well, on that note, Chris.
Chris: But no, it’s I think it’s important. I mean, it’s a bleak way of thinking about it. But you know, it’s the difference. It’s so empowering to have a career where you feel you’ve got some control, and they often go through scary wilderness to get to that point. But when you get to a point where you think, now I can say no to work, I can decide to have Monday off, I can do whatever. The ability to build a career and a work-at-home life that you want, and to get out of the boiling water is, is definitely there. And I think you and your podcast is a good example of that, and shows the way. But there’s lots of us striving to have that fulfilled work and home life and it is achievable. So I would urge people who are in a bad place not to, not to despair, because you can get through it, and you can build a good future.
Rachel: Totally, totally. And the good news is that all the happiness research shows that if you’re happier at work, you’ll actually be better at what you’re doing and be more productive, which means better outcomes for you, your colleagues and your and your patients or your clients. So it’s win win for everyone.
Rachel: So Chris, thank you so much for being on today. If people wanted to contact you, how can they find you?
Chris: LinkedIn is probably the best place to get me, and my phone number and email addresses, all on LinkedIn. It’s Dr Chris Hewitt, coach, and there are about 100 Chris Hewitts on LinkedIn, but there’s only one that’s ‘Dr Chris Hewitt coach’.
Rachel: Brilliant. Well, we’ll put the link in the show notes so people can find you. So thank you so much. That’s been so interesting, and good luck with the Man Frog project.
Chris: Thank you, Rachel. It’s been a real privilege to be on here, and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s brilliant. Thank you very much.
Rachel: Speak again soon. Bye.
Chris: Bye now.
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