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From the archives: Buildings stories (and causing suffering) one lego at a time.

This weekend, while I am cultivating friendships and life skills at the Brave Enough Conference (all of us vaccinated and masked), I decided to model protecting my rejuvenation time and take a week off from writing. I pulled from my favorites in the archives. 

Who doesn't love a good story?  Well, it really depends on the story, right?  Many of us make up stories in our heads and believe them.  I like to think of these narratives as massive Lego buildings – like skyscrapers or elaborate mansions that we build. At times, they become larger than life.


One of the first steps to maximizing enjoyment in life regardless of the circumstance is to look at these constructions and parse out facts from the presumptions.  I'll use a coaching situation to demonstrate.  One of my residents had consulted a specialist.  She told me he was quite rude and that he thinks she's a terrible resident.  I had her perform the exercise of separating fact from assumption.  The only fact she presented was, "He asked me a question that I didn't know the answer to and then answered it himself." Everything else ("he put me on the spot to show how ignorant I was." "He had already looked at the chart to put me in my place,"  etc.) was all part of a story she had made up to explain what happened.


Removing facts from thoughts can be tricky since we are convinced our thoughts are the absolute truth.  One tip I use is to ask yourself if someone else could think differently in the same circumstance. The resident really couldn't see how his question could be anything but an effort to highlight her ignorance and embarrass her.  We finally had a breakthrough when I asked what the smartest specialist in the hospital would think if asked the question.  She realized that he would probably assume it was a clarifying question based on what the consultant understood from the chart. She at least made room to consider other explanations.


After talking some more, we uncovered that she had this long-standing narrative, this Lego monstrosity, in which she believed all specialists think all family physicians are dense.  This latest encounter was serving as another Lego block to add to the skyscraper.  We then spent some time finding examples of specialists that respected primary care providers like herself or attendings.


The next step was to look at this over-arching narrative she had built and asked if she wanted to continue to believe it?  If so, what purpose was it serving her?  I mean, that's a lot of baggage to walk around with – thinking all specialists are shaking their heads at all family physicians in utter disbelief of their incompetence. How much unnecessary mind drama and suffering does that cause? She decided she'd like to let it go.  It's a work in progress as it wasn't built overnight. She's starting by examining each Lego closely, deciding if she wants to keep building, and then slowly starting the demolition process. That's not to say that there aren't specialists who look down on us, but there is no reason to generalize it. It only causes more defensiveness, self-doubt, anger, and misery.


It's natural.  Most of us do it to some degree or another, and most are unaware.  Often, we reflect on the same thing we accuse of others.  I recently realized this when I got off the phone with a friend who said she thought I was too busy to run.  I wondered how she had come up with that thought. Rather than ask her, I pieced together that she had taken a couple of things out of context over time and created this narrative about me.  It only took me a minute to pause and see, “Aha, and now I’m creating a narrative about her creating a narrative about me!"  Our brains like answers and can be wild places.  Awareness is key.


These stories that we create rarely display us or others in a good light. The one thing I recommend to those I coach – If you’re going to make up a story in your head about what people think of you, you should make it a story where you are the hero! That feels much better. 


With each negative encounter, pause, separate fact from assumption. What might someone else think? Do you want to add this brick to your building? Now set to work discovering the narratives you have created. Are they serving you well?  Do you want to keep them? If not, commence demolition! Coaching is an effective tool in this realm.


Have a joy-filled day!  Tonya

Now is a great time to see how I work with family medicine residency programs to help physicians enjoy their chosen careers. Learn more here. 



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