Mindfulness Leadership For Physicians

by | Jan 24, 2019 | Physician Leadership

Demystifying Physician Mindfulness: a 12-Part Series

More and more, popular culture is catching on. Mindfulness leadership for physicians is a game-changer. I work with physicians to support greater health and vitality, and I have found that mindfulness is one of the most essential tools in the toolkit.

I’ve put together this series exploring how mindfulness is beneficial for busy physicians battling stress and burnout. Through the series, you get a taste of real-life stories from physicians, and learn actionable steps to integrate a mindful approach into your practice. These are practical, accessible resources to help you be a happier and more balanced version of yourself, in the workplace and at home. 

In this installment, we explore how mindfulness leadership can be applied to the challenges that show up among physician leaders, helping them be more organized, clarify priorities, and reserve energy for what matters most.

Today’s Topic: Mindfulness Leadership For Physicians

Our physician, Dr. O, is overwhelmed with responsibilities. 

“I’m completely overwhelmed. My days are full of meeting after meeting. When I finally have time to sit down to work on projects, my mind just seems to flit here and there and I am too scattered to be productive. Then, when I finally have time to get something done, someone calls and needs something — and they always say their need is urgent.  It’s like they all want a piece of me! I feel like the days just keep getting away from me, and I’m just not getting things done. I’m so stressed that I’m worried I’ll develop an ulcer.”

Dear Dr. O, mindful leadership course

Thanks for your query. You’re not alone. It’s understandable to be feeling overwhelmed because of your many responsibilities. I often hear from physician leaders that they feel pulled in too many directions, get caught up in fighting fires, and struggle with competing priorities. Everyone needs something from them, and they never have enough time to focus on their own priorities.

Professionals who’ve incorporated a mindfulness leadership practice share a different story. They’ll tell you it’s possible to find more time in the day, create more room for priorities, sustain more direct attention in conversations and meetings, and establish clearer boundaries.

Most basically, mindfulness is about presence. Because of our endless to-do lists, because colleagues and patients are constantly pulling us in all directions, we rarely find ourselves actually being present with whatever it is we’re doing.

Mindfulness Works for Physicians
Bringing mindfulness into your work has significant impact on these patterns.

Stress management.
It’s critically important for leaders to find calm. Have you considered meditating? Many physicians tell me that their mind is too busy to meditate, but a busy mind is actually the best kind to work with—it gives you a lot to practice with! Through meditation, we learn to quiet the busyness of the mind. But it’s called a practice for a good reason. I’ll give you some pointers in a bit. 

Improved focus.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the clear mind needed to apply yourself to the task that’s in front of you? With meditation, we’re building the muscle of focusing so we can apply our attention exactly where we want to focus, tune out distractions, and be present for whatever task is in front of us.

Greater clarity.
Recognize and appreciate what’s truly urgent and what is not. Be more discerning with how you apply your energy.

Whether it’s during meetings, one-on-one with employees, or struggling with the never-ending demands of your inbox, greater presence improves the quality and efficiency of your work.

A steady pace.
I’ve shared before about the purposeful pause, a structured intervention to increase clarity and perspective. Consider the S.T.O.P. protocol:

  1. S. Stop. Actually pause. Mindful Leaders
  2. T. Take three slow, deep breaths.
  3. O. Observe. Shift your perspective to see the situation as if from an outside observer. Notice how your situation appears from this vantage point.
  4. P. Proceed now with more clarity and attention to the best next steps.

Improving Physician Leadership

Mindfulness, and mindful leadership training is now taught in business schools across the country. The Institute for Mindful Leadership has been a pioneer in growing awareness of mindfulness leadership practice for leaders in a wide variety of fields. A survey of 123 General Mills directors and managers gathered data before and after a mindful leadership course. The results demonstrated significant improvements in leaders’ self-assessment of their ability to:

  • prioritize work, Mindful Leaders
  • eliminate meetings that have limited productivity value,
  • be fully attentive in meetings, and
  • notice when their attention had been pulled away and redirect it to the task at hand.

Furthermore, there was an impressive decrement regarding “running on automatic, without much awareness of what I’m doing.“ (Source: Finding The Space to Lead. A practical guide to Mindful Leadership by Janice Martuano.) 

The impact of mindfulness for those in leadership is significant. One of the biggest impediments to creating these results for yourself may be a voice that says “I’m just too busy. I have too much responsibility.” But aren’t you to busy not to? Don’t your responsibilities deserve your best work? Wouldn’t you like to experience significantly less overwhelm?

And, is it true that you don’t have time? Consider for a moment how much time you spend checking social media or getting lost on the Internet. You don’t have to wait for a holiday or vacation to get started. Here are three ways you can begin to build mindfulness today.

Take Action. Build Mindfulness.

  1. Utilize the purposeful pause S.T.O.P. protocol. Schedule these pauses into your day, between meetings and projects, and keep a reminder around so you have these steps as a resource when overwhelm hits.
  2. Start meditating today. Download my Daily Dose of Calm free 14-day meditation series, designed for healthcare providers and leaders to get started with meditation. course
  3. Consider a mindful leadership course.
  4. Create a community of mindful support by encouraging your staff to practice purposeful pauses and mindful meditation as well. It may just change your workplace.

    Build your physician  mindfulness leadership muscles, and transform your professional and personal life by creating time and energy for your real priorities. Feel free to check out other posts in this mindfulness series to learn more ways to apply mindfulness in your life.

  1. Embrace uncertainty

When you stop and think about it, uncertainty and change are the only things that are certain. Impermanence is one of the basic laws of our world.

After all, everything changes. Our relationships change. Our kids grow up and change. Our bodies age and change. Our environments change. Our planet changes.

All too often, however, we forget this basic truth. We somehow expect things to be predictable and stable.

The problem is that this expectation sets us up for difficulty. It leaves us struggling unnecessarily when something shifts. It adds a layer of suffering above and beyond that caused by all the VUCA around us.

What I’m getting at is that we have a choice. We can meet uncertainty with reactivity or we can meet it with mindful understanding.

More than meditating on a remote mountainside, mindfulness helps us have the calm, steadiness, and clarity we need to work constructively with all the change and uncertainty.

At the same time, while we can find ourselves resisting change, we can remind ourselves that it does not have to mean something bad! Just take a moment right now to think of all the difficulties you have faced in your life and work that are now resolved and far behind you. This can help you see how change has actually been quite the positive.

  1. Respond to complexity with compassion

Even knowing that change is the only thing that is certain, it can still be difficult to weather. Living in such a VUCA time is difficult. You deserve compassion for managing all the challenges.

With mindful awareness, we can bring ourselves compassion for what we’re going through. There is increasing evidence that self-compassion is a powerful antidote to stress and even burnout. From where I sit, I think that it is actually one of the most powerful medicinals available to us.

  1. Take purposeful pauses

With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on within and around us. We tune in and pay attention to our experience. We learn to utilize our breath to take us out of the fears, worries, stories, and preoccupations our minds are so good at generating about what might come next, and bring us back to the present moment. Here in the present, we leave that overly activated limbic state and can experience a sense of calm.

A pause also serves to allow our prefrontal cortex to come online. It creates a critically important space between our emotional response and conscious, intentional action.

Once we have paused, we can then see more clearly that fear had taken hold. 

With a pause, we become the witness of our experience as opposed to the one trapped by it.

  1. View VUCA as opportunity

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself reacting to the VUCA environment with something of a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, I am telling myself things like ‘it shouldn’t be this way’ and ‘why is this happening?’

When I can utilize mindful awareness, I can see that I’ve boxed myself in with a fixed mindset. I can challenge myself to grow. By grow, I mean challenging myself to see whatever difficulty I’m experiencing as an opportunity to learn.

Here again, mindfulness again throws us a lifeline. Mindful awareness involves leaning into curiosity.

I can flip the script and ask myself:

What can I learn from this experience?

How can I use this to be a better version of myself?

How can I help others cope in this VUCA environment?

What do I want to look back and see about how I acted?

In summary, while VUCA is definitely the order of the day in healthcare and beyond, you don’t have to succumb. You don’t have to live in fear. There are constructive actions you can take to help you cope with uncertainty, build calm in chaos, and even thrive in chaos and VUCA. While we can’t control much that is contributing to the VUCA time, with mindfulness we can control how we respond to it.

I hope you’ll try out these 4 mindfulness strategies as I have seen them help countless people. I’d love to hear how it goes.


To learn more about how mindfulness coaching can help you cope with this VUCA time, please reach out for a complimentary consult.

6 Free Resources To Help You During COVID19 And Beyond.

  1. 14-day meditation series 
  2. Imposter No More PDF
  3. Resilience Book Chapter
  4. Leading In Crisis PDF
  5. Balance To Burnout PDF
  6. 30-minute consult

Take advantage of one or more of these valuable resources created for clinicians and non-clinicians.