12th September, 2023

Don’t Wait for Tomorrow to Improve – Take Control Now

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

Do you find yourself thinking “it will be better tomorrow”, or believing things will improve in a few months’ time “when x happens”?

In this quick dip episode, Rachel reveals how waiting for outside events to occur leads to more problems – because even when tomorrow comes, we’re still the same person facing the same challenges as we were yesterday.

This mindset can lead us to looking for partial solutions which ultimately keep us from solving our bigger problems. But by focusing on our zone of power, we can reclaim agency over the things we can change, instead of waiting on events we can’t control.

If we don’t try and take control, we can end up in a continued cycle of waiting for tomorrow to come. This leads to more stress, burnout, and exhaustion becoming the norm. But when we’re in our zone of power, we’ll find it much easier to deal with what today and tomorrow has in store.

Show links

Reasons to listen

  • Challenge your “it’ll be better tomorrow” mindset
  • Learn practical strategies for creating urgency and focusing on your zone of power
  • Know when to wait and see, and when to take action

Episode highlights


Making it better now


Going down the vortext of busiyness


Urgency to change


What is the burning platform?


Be in your zone of power


If I could wave a magic wand


Ignore things for a period


Watchful waiting


Take action

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Rachel: A few weeks ago, I had almost an identical conversation with two different people on consecutive days. The first conversation was with a good friend. I said to him, how are you doing? How’s things going at work? And he said, it’s okay. We’re a bit overwhelmed. We’re a bit overloaded at the moment. It’ll be better next year. We’ve got adverts out. We’re going to recruit two new people. So I’m just holding on till then. It’ll be much better and then I think I’ll be able to cope with it. He looked worn out to be honest.

[00:00:30] Rachel: The second conversation was with another friend who I’d not seen for a long time. I said, how are you? And she said to me, well, We’re okay. She had a partner in her practice who was really stressed. And she said, to be honest, this, this person’s on the edge of burnout and we’d really like them to take some time off. But we need to wait till they’re not quite so stressed. We need to wait till they’re feeling better to have a conversation with them about it. Because if we did anything now, it would just tip them over the edge. And it’ll be better in a few months time because we’re going to try and recruit some more people.

[00:01:03] Rachel: Both conversations was, it will be better when, and it was obvious that both people were really struggling. That got me thinking about this concept that we all have about, it’s going to be better tomorrow or it’ll be better in a few months time when this happens and when that happens.

[00:01:20] Rachel: My experience is that tomorrow never comes and the things that are going to happen sometimes happen, but they sometimes don’t. And even if they do happen and things ease up, then there are other things that just come to take their place.

[00:01:34] Rachel: I know that whenever tomorrow comes in a few months time, I am still me. So it’s quite likely that if I get a bit of space and time, I’ve then over committed to something else. And then I’ll be thinking, well, it’ll be better when this is finished or that’s finished, or I’ve done this.

[00:01:50] Rachel: This is a You Are Not a Frog quick dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to, feeling energised and inspired. For more tools, tips and insights to help you thrive at work, don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not a Frog wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:02:18] Rachel: ‘So this idea that it is going to be better in the future is just a complete fallacy. I’d like to talk to you about that today because I think unless we start to make things better for ourselves now, then we’re always just going to be looking towards a time when things are better.

[00:02:35] Rachel: And the other issue is, all the conversations I had with these people were based on things that other people were going to do. It’ll be better when they’re not quite so stressed, when there are people around to do these jobs, when the department has decided to recruit. None of it was in their own zone of power. None of it was in their control. So they weren’t able to make it happen. They just had to cross their fingers and hope that it would all turn out okay. Because if we’re relying on other people to do stuff or to change, there’s no guarantee that that’s going to happen. The only person we have control over is ourselves.

[00:03:13] Rachel: Now, the problem with this, it will be better tomorrow mentality is that while we’re waiting for tomorrow to come, we go further and further down the vortex of busyness. We keep overworking because we say, well, it’s going to be better than even if there’s no end in sight. We kid ourselves that what we’re doing now is just short term. And then what happens is become like that proverbial frog in the boiling water is that the water just keeps getting heated up and heated up and heated up. And soon this overworking, this extra stuff that we were just doing short term just becomes normal. It’s the norm.

[00:03:50] Rachel: So we end up not changing it at all. And we end up with these feelings of stress, burnout and exhaustion, just being normal. And that then resets our baseline for what we expect to get out of life.

[00:04:04] Rachel: So instead of thinking it will be better when, we need to start thinking it needs to be better now and this is how we’re going to do that. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but I’ve got a few suggestions just based on my own experience.

[00:04:20] Rachel: Firstly, whenever we think about change and communicating change in an organization, one of the key principles is urgency. You need to create the urgency to change. You need to create that burning platform.

[00:04:32] Rachel: I remember a few years ago, I was talking to a colleague who was a And she was very involved in leading a particular area in the CCG. And it was obvious to me that she was on the edge of burnout. She was running at a hundred miles an hour. She was incredibly stressed. And I think everybody could see it. But even when we said to her, don’t you think you should slow down a bit? Are you okay? She didn’t see that herself. She couldn’t see it and she couldn’t recognize how bad it had got for her. And then, lo and behold, a couple of months later, I heard that she had gone off with stress for six months. And it took her a long time to recover.

[00:05:09] Rachel: But when we feel we’re on the edge of burnout or we’re very stressed, often, particularly in healthcare, we don’t see the urgency in the situation. We think, well, you know, everyone else is stressed, so, you know, I’ll address this when I’ve got time. We need to urgently realize that we need to do something to manage that. It’s not an option to carry on and on and on. In fact, most people don’t carry on and on and on because they can’t, their system will just shut down, and that is how burnout happens. And often burnout can happen very quickly after an extended period of stress.

[00:05:45] Rachel: So we need to up the urgency, we need to see the current situation as unsustainable and make it our highest priority to sort it out. So in change language, we would call this creating the burning platform.

[00:05:59] Rachel: So to get some urgency, work out what the burning platform is. Think to yourself, if I carry on like this for the next six months, what might happen? And what might the consequences of that be? Because burnout often has quite severe consequences.

[00:06:14] Rachel: Secondly, I would say, beware the partial solution. Beware the a bit. You know when you’re talking to someone who’s quite stressed at work and things are going really badly and you say to them, How are you doing? And they go, Well, it’s been a bit better this week. And what’s happened is that that last week has been manageable. a bit better than the previous week. And when things get manageable, they go, Well, okay, so things aren’t that bad after all. So I don’t really need to look for any solutions or create any changes, and I can just carry on waiting for tomorrow, which will never come.

[00:06:48] Rachel: I’ve often seen this in people who are struggling with anxiety and worry and they know it would be good for them to go and see a therapist and talk things through, but then it gets a little bit better. It gets okay so that they can tolerate it. So all those ideas of, well, maybe I should go and talk to a therapist or take up some yoga or do something that’s going to help me goes, well, you know, I’ve gone from 10% to maybe 25% so it’s a bit better. I’m not going to do anything.

[00:07:16] Rachel: I would say that when you are a bit better, that gives you some time to actually get on and do something. So beware the partial solution, which will stop you from actually solving the problem.

[00:07:26] Rachel: So once you’ve created that burning platform, really understood the urgency of the situation, you’ve made sure you’re not just going with the, Oh, it’s a bit better, well, you need to take action and you need to take action now. And the first way to take action is make sure you are in your zone of power.

[00:07:42] Rachel: So. I talk about the zone of power all the time, but essentially, if you imagine a blank sheet of paper with a circle in the middle, inside the circle is everything in your life you have control over, that’s your zone of power, and outside the circle will be everything that you have no control over.

[00:07:58] Rachel: So obviously if you’re going to take action now, you have to focus on the stuff that you have control over. Focusing on anything else isn’t an option. Because you cannot change it, you have to accept the stuff outside the circle. So it’s great if the department is trying to recruit some new consultants, for example. Brilliant. That might not be in your zone of power. So focus on the actions that you can do.

[00:08:25] Rachel: So what can you do? Well, there’s a question that I quite like to ask when I’m coaching people, and I quite like to ask it myself sometimes. And that is, if you could wave a magic wand right now and make things completely brilliant, what would be happening? That takes away all the, well, I haven’t got enough money. I haven’t got enough time. That’s never going to happen. That’s never going to happen. You take away all the blockers. You think if I could wave a magic wand and just create this new reality, what would be happening?

[00:08:53] Rachel: And the interesting thing for me is whenever I’ve done this, what would be happening in my new reality isn’t that far off from what’s going on now. It might be things like, well, I’d, I’d employ a cook and a housekeeper full time to get all the housework off me. And I think, well, actually, there’s quite a lot of that I could do right now. Maybe I could up the hours for the cleaner, or maybe I could get a food box in and ask some of the other people in the family to do some cooking. You know, there are some things that you can do now that you think are only a pipe dream.

[00:09:27] Rachel: So what is there in your magic wand wish list that actually you could make happen now? It’s a great question to ask.

[00:09:36] Rachel: And then there are a couple of strategies to take action. Now the first one… is to just ignore things for a time period. Okay. Now this is a bit of a risky strategy, but if there is a definite time period on something, you can say, well, my action here, the thing that is in my zone of power is to choose to do nothing for this amount of time.

[00:09:57] Rachel: Over the summer, I had the double whammy of A levels and GCSEs. And so for that period of time, I chose to be at home, not travel around a lot, not to go out so much, just to try and be around with the kids. And any issues that they were having or things that we needed to address, we just put on hold for those few months so that they could get through their exams. But it was a very definite timeline. We knew that there was an end to it. It didn’t have this sort of indefinite finish.

[00:10:28] Rachel: So if you are going to ignore something, make sure there is a date when you are going to start addressing it. And that date is set in stone. It can’t just be elongated and extended.

[00:10:38] Rachel: The next strategy is wait and see. Now, I’m a former GP. It’s a huge strategy in general practice to use watchful waiting with our patients. But if we’re going to use watchful waiting, we also need to use a safety net. So if we’re watchful waiting with someone’s illness to see what happens, we will make sure that we know what we’re going to do if things get worse.

[00:11:03] Rachel: We make sure we’ve investigated properly to make sure there aren’t any other causes for it. And we make sure that that person knows to come back and spot any red flag symptoms or anything like that. So even though it looks like it’s in action, we’ve actually got a plan together and think, well, if this happens, this is what I’ll do, and if this happens, this is what I’ll do, but let’s just wait and see how things play out.

[00:11:29] Rachel: Again, it can be a risky strategy, but you need to make some plans for actions and say, what are you going to do if things don’t quite work out the same?

[00:11:38] Rachel: And the big thing here is, what are you going to do if things get worse, and it escalates? And maybe find some way of measuring it, because things do get worse just in incremental steps. They don’t suddenly get worse all at once, well unless maybe another partner leaves the practice and you’ve suddenly got double the work. But beware that frog in boiling water thing, things getting worse so slowly that you don’t realise how bad that they’ve got.

[00:12:01] Rachel: And then finally, the option is to take action. And I would always encourage you to look in your zone of power and just brainstorm what options you’ve got here. What choices have you got here? If you waved a magic wand, what would you love to be in your zone of power? What could you do about things?

[00:12:18] Rachel: Now this might be just making sure you’ve blocked off time at the weekends and the evenings when you know you’re not at work to put in that extra self care to get through stuff. It may be asking for time off. It may be dropping some work. It may be dropping a role. Whatever it is, work out what is going to make things sustainable for you right now.

[00:12:42] Rachel: I was talking to someone recently and they had been coaching somebody who really needed to drop some sessions, but she was really worried in her practice about whether she could even ask or not. She was very nervous about asking. Anyway, this person came back to her a few months later and, and the coach said, well, what’s happened? She said, well, I just decided to ask for the outrageous. Because long term, if what had been going on had not changed, I would have left anyway. So I thought, well, they’ve got a choice. Either they can say yes to what I’m asking them or I’m probably going to end up leaving. So I asked for the outrageous, and you know what? They said yes.

[00:13:21] Rachel: So many times we don’t ask for the outrageous because we’re very worried about upsetting people or we might seem demanding or we might seem needy or it might seem that we can’t cope. That dreadful sin of not coping that we are very fearful of as doctors.

[00:13:39] Rachel: But what if you did? What if you asked for you actually needed? The worst that can happen is that somebody can say no. That short term consequence, which is very upsetting and worrying. This is what stopped my colleague speaking to her partner, who she knew was stressed and burning out. She was so worried about the short term consequences, about upsetting her, about causing a problem, that she hadn’t looked into the long term consequences. The long term consequences of someone getting more and more burnt out, going off sick, being unwell for an extended period of time are much worse than that uncomfortable conversation that you might need to have.

[00:14:21] Rachel: So think long term and I’ve talked about this in another episode when we talked about power language and power language here is very useful. If there are some actions that you know you need to take to make things better , . You can use the power language. Saying, well, I am choosing to do X. I’m choosing to do this. Why am I choosing to? I’m choosing to do it so that. Think of what the long term consequences. So that this job is sustainable. So that I have a happy family who I actually get to see. So that I carry on thriving and enjoying my job.

[00:14:57] Rachel: And then the bit at the end, you could say, even if. Even if this conversation is going to be awkward. Even if this person might be offended by me asking them something or by me pointing out that I think they’re, you know, have been quite stressed recently. So I am choosing to, so that, even if, is your friend here. Stick in your zone of power, look at the choices you have.

[00:15:19] Rachel: Now, if you get stuck about what choices you have, phone a friend. Go ask someone who knows you really well. Say, what other options have I got here? Because they may state some pretty obvious ones, or some pretty outrageous ones that you hadn’t even thought of, or were even worried about raising.

[00:15:36] Rachel: So next time you find yourself thinking, It’ll be better when, or it will be better tomorrow, or in a few months time, then I want you to stop and ask yourself, will it really? Is this guaranteed? Is this something I’m in control of? And then you can ask yourself, okay, what is in my zone of power to do right now that I am in control of that are going to make things better today? Because we all know tomorrow never comes and when tomorrow does come there you are with all your own stuff, so you’ll have overloaded yourself with even more tomorrow too.

[00:16:13] Rachel: Make sure that things are sustainable today.