Seven Habits Of The Highly Resilient Clinician

by | Jul 28, 2020 | Physician Resilience

Before the present pandemic, we had an epidemic of physician and nurse burnout. A majority of those in healthcare caught in a cycle of exhaustion, cynicism, and loss of purpose. And all the change and uncertainty the virus has brought certainly doesn’t help! It’s now more imperative than ever that clinicians build resilience to all the pressures and stress of our careers.

In my 30 years as a physician and decade as a physician coach (having coached over 500 physicians,) I’ve seen seven habits, thought patterns, and practices that distinguish the ones who can thrive despite pressure, and bounce back from burnout, and those who cannot. These seven can be implemented by anyone, and are the difference between a calm, fulfilling, purposeful career, and burnout.

1. Resilient clinicians remember that life is short

Last I heard, death is inevitable. Illness too. Thanks to the pandemic, this is more in the forefront for all of us than it may have been before. But how often do most of us lose sight of these truths and delude ourselves by believing that death and aging affect others but not us?

The costs of this delusion are twofold. Firstly, ignoring the reality that life is impermanent means we can spend our days sleepwalking and biding time that won’t be there forever. We can spend hours on charts, and then come home and scroll on Facebook and LinkedIn, instead of taking in the goodness of our families and the present moments around us. 

Secondly, thinking that we and our families won’t experience pain,sickness, and tragedy, leads to much suffering when difficulty inevitably arises. We can feel like life has been unfair to us – or that we deserve better. 

Resilient clinicians recognize that the misfortunes of life happen to everyone – and they react with strength, compassion, and wisdom when they do.

2. Resilient clinicians let go of perfectionism

Are you a perfectionist? In healthcare, you definitely aren’t alone. It’s a trait that helped us get into and survive our training, but it’s also a trait that gets in our way as we progress in our lives and careers.

We can find ourselves overly focused on living the perfect life, on getting every one of our actions perfect life, on getting every one of actions perfect, on having the perfect exterior. All these expectations create a mountain of pressure for us. 

Feeling a need to get things perfect creates anxiety around the experience – whether it’s charting, spending time with our kids, or picking up a new hobby. And all that anxiety is exhausting!

Resilient clinicians recognize that perfection is largely an unattainable goal – and they realize that doing their best is what they set their sights on. They accept and enjoy the bumps in the road that come along the way. 

3. Resilient clinicians lean into gratitude

We’re told that gratitude is good for us but resilient clinicians know this deep in their bones. They spend time appreciating what they have and try not to focus on what they don’t. They count their blessings and they do so regularly.

Numerous studies have identified the multiple benefits of gratitude. Gratitude increases empathy and decreases depression and aggression. Gratitude improves sleep and decreases aches and pains. Gratitude enhances the strength of meaningful relationships and increases our sense of well-being. 

The more we focus on the blessings that we have in our lives, the more happy and fulfilled we become. The more we focus on what we do not have, the more miserable, exhausted, and grumpy we can find ourselves being.

Leaning into gratitude does not mean adopting some sort of artificial Pollyanna stance! What it means is taking time to appreciate what is truly good in your life. That may be the fact that you are employed, that your health is good, that your loved ones don’t have Covid. It may  also involve savoring a good meal, the warmth of a sunny day, or the smile of a close friend. Small or large, begin grounded in gratitude builds our resilience to the stresses we face.

4. Resilient clinicians know which thoughts to believe 

We all have filters that obscure how we view ourselves and our worlds. These filters lead to cognitive distortions – ways of seeing ourselves and the world around us that are inaccurate and untrue. We can have repetitive unhealthy, distorted beliefs in our heads, and we often stop questioning these. Instead, we may find ourselves reinforcing these over time, so that they only become  more and more concrete. 

Resilient clinicians recognize which thought patterns are serving them and which aren’t. They understand that thoughts are simply thoughts, mental events generated by the mind. They are curious and discerning, and develop the habit of observing rather than engaging with each and every thought.

Questioning the filters through which we see the world forms the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other highly effective psychological interventions. It’s also at the heart of mindfulness.  With mindfulness, we heighten our awareness of what their mind is up to. We begin to see more clearly when our mind is spinning a yarn about something, and when we’re focusing more on a mental narrative than the reality that lies before us. Doing so is key for building our resilience.

5. Resilient clinicians move past the Imposter Syndrome

The Imposter Syndrome

Many in healthcare suffer from the Imposter Syndrome, that belief that what we know is miniscule and what our peers know is massive, and that it’s only a matter of time until we’re found out as a fraud. But we don’t stop there. No, our mind is often busy fueling a host of self-defeating messages. 

Because we see ourselves from the inside, and know all of our own insecurities, flaws, and embarrassing failures, we feel like we pale in comparison to everyone else’s polished exteriors. 

Resilient clinicians are aware of this information imbalance, and work to be more gentle with themselves. They are able to view their own accomplishments objectively and they compare themselves to others less, because they know that they are on their own path. 

For more advice on how to overcome I.S.,, watch my CoachX on the topic.

6. Resilient clinicians let go of what they can’t control

It’s become clear that there is much that is dysfunctional in the American healthcare system. Whether it’s the out-of-control prices of needed medications, uninsured families having to utilize busy emergency rooms as the only way to access care, or the profound disparities in outcomes for African Americans, the problems are many. Sadly, many of the problems in our system are out of the control of most clinicians. Yet, how often do we find ourselves railing against some problem or other? Banging our fist, literally or figuratively, and wanting to scream “How can this be?” or “This has got to stop!”

Resilient clinicians know that all that railing dissipates their energy. They know that energy conservation is a key ingredient in avoiding burnout. They notice when their emotional temperature is rising and ask themselves: Is this something I can change? If it is, they think about how best to intervene. If it is not, though, they remind themselves that the one thing they always have control over is themselves! They can decide how much to engage and how much to let go. Doing so preserves their energy so they have it to utilize in taking care of themselves, their patients, and their loved ones.

7. Resilient clinicians have a growth mindset

In order to weather the storms of life, we have to have an internal belief that we can shift our own behaviors, and improve and grow. 

Think about your own thought processes as you read this piece. Did you think of these habits as things that could be adopted? As things that you could integrate into your life?

When you think about your shortcomings, do you think about them as immutable truths? Or things that you can incrementally improve upon?

Resilient clinicians take gradual approaches with things they want to improve upon, and they are gentle with themselves throughout the process. They know that self-kindness is more motivating that self-bullying! They know that resilience is built by being patient with themselves as they learn and grow.


Resilience is something that lies within each and every one of us. But we don’t always realize this. I hope that you can take some time to reread this post, and choose one or two things that you’d like to do to build yours. Let me know how it goes.

If you enjoyed this post, I know you’ll enjoy my book Everyday Resilience. A Practical Guide to Build Inner Strength and Weather Life’s Challenges. 


Download your free chapter and order your copy.

  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.