The Resilient Life with Dr. Susan Biali Haas, M.D
How do you go about living a resilient life? Today’s guest is here to guide you. Dr. Susan Biali Haas, M.D. is an award-winning medical doctor, health and wellness expert, coach, speaker, and author. She joins host Katherine Twells to share how she helps people worldwide build resilience with insights you can find in her upcoming book, The Resilient Life: Manage Stress, Prevent Burnout & Strengthen Your Mental and Physical Health. Susan highlights the importance of addressing burnout, the detriments of neglecting your well-being, and the positive impact it has on yourself and others around you. Don’t miss out on these valuable insights by tuning in to this episode.
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The Resilient Life with Dr. Susan Biali Haas, M.D
Finding Your Path To Mental And Physical Health
I welcome the amazing Dr. Susan Biali Haas. She was a guest speaker in the Compassion Lab here at Coke. Her passion and commitment to resilience are evident in all that she does. Before we get into the conversation, I’ve got to share a little bit about her background because she is an incredible human. She’s an award-winning medical doctor, health and wellness expert, coach, speaker, and author. She helps people all over the world reduce their stress, prevent burnout, improve their mental health, and live with increased wellness.
We all need more of that these days. This was a hard experience. She went on her own journey with burnout and depression at the beginning of her medical career. As she overcame these challenges, she was able to use that knowledge to help others. With over two decades of studying wellness and resiliency, twenty years of clinical experience, and more than ten years of coaching, she applies all this experience and skill to help people live better lives.
She’s also a popular blogger for Psychology Today. Her posts on wellness and resilience have attracted over 10 million views. She’s been featured on the Today Show. Her opinions have appeared in many places. There are too many to list, but I’ll highlight a few, Oprah.com, Forbes, Fast Company, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and many more. You’re going to read in the conversation how much passion Dr. Susan has for taking everything she’s learned to help others find a path forward that gives them greater health, balance, and joy. Without any further ado, please enjoy the conversation with the incredible Dr. Susan Biali Haas.
Susan, it’s nice to see you again. I know you were with us not that long ago in the Compassion Lab, doing an amazing talk. I’m grateful that you are also taking the time to memorialize this in the show and share some of your wisdom. Thank you.
Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here. You know how much I love talking to you.
Susan’s Origin Story
It is mutual. We will dig right into all the good stuff. On the show, we always begin with the origin story because it’s telling. How do we get to where we are? What’s happened to us in our lives that shaped our passion? Can you share a little bit about your origin story?
There are a lot of touchstones along the way, but the foundational one that changed the entire direction of my life happened during my emergency medicine residency. I was in my twenties. I had overachieved my way into this position that was extremely competitive to get into, which I was totally the wrong fit for. I was training to be an emergency physician. I panic under pressure. I can’t stand the sight of large amounts of blood just to give you an idea of how in the wrong place that I was.
There was so much going on. I was profoundly sleep-deprived at that particular night. I came off of a 36-hour shift in the cardiac care unit of the ER, zero sleep, and had been forced by the nature of the job to witness all kinds of things that are not normal within the realm of human experience, thankfully, but had not had any help with processing those things. We were expected to keep going.
There were a lot of things going on, but ultimately, I’d been diagnosed with depression by my doctor. I was experiencing trauma-related symptoms that I didn’t come to fully understand until many years later. Also, perhaps first and foremost, I was experiencing severe burnout. Thankfully, I was in a dark place on that particular night. I even considered ending it all, quite frankly, which I shared in the session that I gave.Allow yourself to feel how you feel and be honest with yourself about what you would ideally like to be doing. Click To Tweet
Incredibly, at that very moment, the phone rang. It was this woman, Karen, one of the chief emergency medicine residents. I’ve been saying over and over, especially during this time in history, that it is critically important that we check in on each other as colleagues. She could tell I was having a tough time, even though I thought I had this perfect facade hiding all of that. She called to check in on me.
That conversation that we had, at first, I pretended everything was fine, but eventually, she was kind and compassionate. She was wonderful that I eventually let my guard down. Only my doctor knew what was going on with me, but I ended up telling her everything. She ended up strongly recommending that I take a stress leave and reflect deeply on a couple of questions such as who I was, what I wanted to do with my life, and what I wanted my life to be like.
The questions that I had never asked myself and all the striving. As a result of Karen’s phone call, I’m here now and it completely changed the course of my life. I’ve resigned from my residency. I got my license to practice medicine in the community. I embarked on this passion journey for many years now about understanding whole person mental health and whole person resilience first for myself, but ultimately now I to help as many people as I can to not end up in a situation that I was in if I can at all help them to avoid that.
Susan, first of all, I want to honor you for your vulnerability and sharing that story. When we see how others have gone through these challenges, it helps us all understand that we’re all walking this path. I love how you call it a passion journey because it did change everything for you. For Karen, we never know when we’re going to do something at the right time that makes an impact. That in itself is powerful in the difference we can make in each other’s lives. That’s amazing. A question on that with you was in a place that you said was not aligned with you. You were not well suited for that. It wasn’t a fit. Why do you think you felt you needed to be there, that striving, that achieving? What puts you in that place in the first place?
It was something that I was primed to do, and not intentionally, by well-meaning enthusiastic adults as I was a child, it started initially when I was 5, 6, 7, 8, quite young. I joke that the grownups hadn’t gotten to me yet. My life goals were to be either a novelist or a journalist by day, and by night I was going to be a Solid Gold dancer. I practiced every night in the basement. My parents had no idea. I had my pile of Abba records of my all-time favorite Sesame Street Fever, which I still have on vinyl.
That was who I was authentically. I love to write. I’m curious. I loved the arts, performing, and teaching people things, but I got identified as being gifted in the sciences around the fourth grade. That’s wonderful. I find it quite astounding that many years ago, people were excited about a young girl who was showing a lot of promise in the sciences, mathematics, and things like that. My parents were focused so much on my excellence and achievements in school, and so did my teachers. Eventually, as the years passed, I started to get awards and scholarships, all kinds of attention and rewards for my academic performance. Unfortunately, what happened is I got the message that that was where my value came from.
I developed this framework about how life worked, where I looked to the older people around me and whatever seemed to make them the happiest or whatever ideas they had. Those were the things that drove my choices. I was originally studying Dietetics. I was passionate about nutrition and preventative medicine. I had a professor when I was about to finish that program. I was doing a summer research scholarship. He told me, “No. Your grades are way too high. You can’t follow that path. You need to either be a lawyer or a dentist or a doctor.”
Again, that conversation, which was not quite as perceptive and on point as Karen’s, that changed the course of my life. I said, “I’ll be a doctor then.” Literally, from that moment, I decided to apply to medical school. It hadn’t occurred to me prior. When we don’t have that sense of ourselves and we haven’t been stewarded to ask the right questions, the older people in our lives are there to provide wisdom and guidance, but I got lost. Thankfully, my depression and burnout and trauma are what redirected me, which I’m grateful for.
Climbing The Wrong Ladder
People talk about trusting the process. There is a process that brings us to where we are. The story you’re sharing is true for many people. It is well intended, but people end up climbing the wrong ladder, doing the wrong things after all this time. It’s crazy. You might be reading this and you find that you have climbed the wrong ladder, or maybe a younger person who hasn’t done that yet. There’s this idea of your own inner compass and your inner guidance. What would you say to people who might want to rethink where they are right now?
It is a process. I encourage things like journaling, talking to wise people, allowing yourself to feel how you feel and being honest with yourself about what you would ideally like to be doing, who are the people that you admire, who are the people you’re envious of. These are things that can point to perhaps a path that is better suited to you.
However, what I did at one point and what I also see a lot of other people do is that we can get to a point where we feel strongly in a negative sense about where we’ve ended up, that we can go through an extreme rebellion phase where we push too hard in the other direction. There was a time when I was convinced that I wanted to be a flamenco dancer. I was a professional flamenco dancer as part of this journey and salsa.
I was taking it to an extreme where I was rebelling against all the structure and academics and achievement that I literally ran to Mexico and had a dance company there. That was not the correct path either. I swung too far in the other direction. When I talk to young people now, I talk a lot about practicality. Ideally, it is important to have some foundation or training to reliably earn a living. That’s important. Same time to give yourself lots of room to explore when you’re young, but also when you’re older. You can intentionally pivot. Get a coach. I coached people a lot over the years to help them make transitions. The one piece of advice is don’t do the extreme things if you can avoid it. Try to be thoughtful and get wise counsel from people that you admire and trust.Pay attention to those thresholds and where you're at, and be responsive to them. Click To Tweet
That is good coaching. I also find that no matter what roads we go down that divert us off our past. Whether it’s fate, destiny, I don’t know what it is, we find our way back. Look at you now. Here you are, you are writing and doing all the things that the seeds of that initial passion existed in you before you had this experience. For any of us, when you have trauma and challenge, you’d prefer not to, but if you didn’t have that, you might not have the same level of compassion for others in the work that you do now, would you agree?
Yeah. I would not trade it. Obviously, there are levels of suffering that occur in this world that no one would ever wish on themselves or anybody. In my case, my passion for mental health and learning about that started way before our culture became aware of it. It was an equipping that happened over the last several years that I feel now in this time in history that I feel that I was preparing for what I did not know what was coming in the world.
Also, you make a good point, which is an important one to help take pressure off people that even though I ran to Mexico and started a dance company and wanted to leave behind all the academics and all the structure and pressure there, I believe that there is something bigger going on that’s orchestrating things.
In the crash of 2008, I had to come back up to the city and reintegrate. I started speaking more intensely and stepped into what I was doing now from a much stronger place. I feel I wasn’t allowed to stay down. Hiding in Mexico life brought me back. I agree with you. People don’t need to be frightened that if they make a wrong step, everything is lost because I don’t think life works that way. We do have to be careful about our choices.
Identifying And Mitigating Signals Of Burnout
There are choices and consequences, but life is also about experiences. Sometimes we need to go down a side road that isn’t our road to learn and have the lessons that we need to get in this lifetime. There’s some level of trust in the process there. Now you’re fully immersed in your passion journey. You’re doing what you want to do every day. You’re riding, coaching, teaching, and providing wisdom to others. You’ve talked to a lot of people about these issues.
I was reading one of your blog posts on this burnout, rushing, pushing, and intensity that people have. Why do you think that is? There’s this pressure to be doing. It’s like doing versus being. How productive? How much can you achieve? How much can you accomplish? What do you see with that? How can we maybe temper that a bit?
With respect to the pushing, that comes from the vast majority of us constantly feeling perpetually behind, especially now with workloads across all sectors over the last few years having increased for everyone. I work with a lot of organizations. I’ve seen it everywhere. There’s also all the social media that’s taking up a lot of our time. It steals a lot of time from us. It’s accessible all the time. There seems to be more and more pressure all the time.
The natural response to that is, “I can’t stop. I have to keep going.” There’s a sense of urgency that’s often artificial, but we get used to living in that space. Also, some of it is hormonal, even in terms of stress hormones. If the primitive part of our brain is in a fear or stress zone, it’ll turn on all those stress hormones that elevate blood pressure and heart rate and increase muscle tension. Our body is literally more activated.
It’s like we’re constantly living in that cortisol-driven fight or flight situation.
Some of it is our thoughts and our circumstances, but some of it is also biological. A simple thing that I encourage people to do is to notice when they’re pushing. Even I say to healthcare professionals, for example, if they’re walking around on the ward, can they slow down a little bit? If you notice, most of us, when we start to get into this pushing zone, we hold our breath. If you catch yourself holding your breath, pushing and dial it back, even driving, always try to give yourself a few extra minutes so you’re not trying to make every light.
Giving yourself five extra minutes will completely change how that drive feels. A lot of us have to commute again now. Paying attention to that level of tension, using breathing to get into the present. Nothing suffers as a result. We’re so much more productive. That little extra bit of pushing accomplishes nothing.
It’s interesting to me, especially here in the US. I know some people may be reading this in other countries, but this pushing, rushing dynamic here is the real deal. The other piece about it is we’re in our heads because of rationality, and even when you tell your story and you’re going through school and it was all about your IQ and your grades and what you needed to do about the power in your mind, but our bodies have all kinds of wisdom, but we’re out of touch. Sometimes we might be sitting here and it’s like, “I’m not breathing right now.” You’ve mentioned some things about slowing down, but how can we become more somatically attuned so that we can look for these signals of burnout and issue?The most resilient people are not the ones who white knuckle it on their own. Click To Tweet
It’s important that we know that in our society, there classically is that division between mind and body. We’re so in our heads. I attend courses at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School whenever I can. I’ve gone to a couple of their big courses. There’s so much research about even DNA level benefits, metabolic benefits, reversing of cell aging.
The list of benefits goes on and on when we intentionally set aside time in our day to get semantics into our bodies and into the present moment. For example, this morning I woke up and I was feeling fried. I do this every day anyway, but I did it longer. I have a spiritual practice called Lectio Divina that I do with an app.
That was ten minutes. That’s listening and there’s wonderful music playing and breathing and reflecting. On another meditation app, I did a ten-minute nature reflection about peace. I did some stretching to get into my body because I could feel my whole body was so tight. I teach this. That’s pretty high level, what I did this morning. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of time, but there are lots of apps out there. Calm Insight Timer is another one. It’s a weird name, but it’s free.
It’s my favorite. I love Insight Timer. It’s great.
That was Insight Timer when I did the nature meditation this morning. Even just breathing. Doing those kinds of practice, those kinds of apps often have three-minute breathing exercises where you follow a sound for three minutes. The more you develop those skills, it’s like going to the gym. It’s like when you take that time. You’re developing those skills to tune into your body and to use your breathing and to get into the present moment. That equips you that when you catch yourself pushing, you’ve practiced breathing. You can calm your body. You’ve primed that connection. There are many physical and mental health benefits from doing that.
It’s deep how much you can change your state by doing these things. You said something. You might not have the luxury of time. As we think about our priorities, do we have the luxury of not doing these things even if they’re shorter to ground ourselves for the day? The pressures aren’t going away. They’re probably increasing as you look at the challenges we’re all facing worldwide. Our ability to have that inner strength, resilience, and ability to drop into our bodies and be in touch with that is how we will navigate. We might say, “I don’t have time,” but in some ways, it’s a dire ask for us all to find that time because that affects how we show up to each other during the day.
This is why I teach so much about mindfulness, its benefits, and even how it enhances brain performance. Depending on the person, some people may want health benefits. Others may want to be sharper through their day and improve their failing memory because their memory is failing from all the stress. When I talk about it, first of all, I try to identify what benefits that particular individual is interested in because that’s what’s going to motivate them.
Also, we all feel so much pressure that even though what you’re saying is true, like, “For me, this is top priority. This is my spiritual life. Getting enough sleep, eating exercise, and doing these kinds of practices are so foundational to my health and my mental health,” but when people feel overwhelmed, I like to point them toward the true fact that even doing this for three minutes, you’ll start to get benefits. Most people they’re like, “Three minutes, I’ve got this app. I’ll breathe for that period of time. That’s accessible.” Once they start to feel what a difference it makes, they’ll often naturally start to do more.
How Burnout Looks Like Before And After The Pandemic
Once you start to see the effects in your own life, then all of a sudden, you get the religion of it. You start like, “This is worth my time.” You were doing this work before COVID and, of course, after COVID. We’ve all gone through this fascinating collective challenge shift. Everything went still as we went into what are we going to do about this into this now, re-entry.
I don’t know about you, but we’re still a little wobbly about all of a sudden. In one way, we wanted it all to go back to normal, but in another way, we’re like, “How much do I need to do now? I’m not used to that.” Even social interactions. I’ve talked to some people at meetings, like, “I’m not used to being on from morning to night. I got used to being more still or in more solitude.” What do you see before and after COVID with these dynamics?
I’m excited that COVID naturally had such a negative impact on people’s mental health with anxiety rates, triple in depression rates. There’s been so much discussion around that. I see that a lot in organizations that I feel that even though we’re more wobbly, we were already significantly burned out as a society and experiencing rates of depression. I can’t remember what year it was that that happened.
I believe it was around 2018, 2017-ish that the World Health Organization stated that depression had, ahead of schedule, become the number one cause of disability worldwide. Mental health was a big thing, but we weren’t all aware of the way that things were impacting us as we are now. I feel we have more awareness, creating more opportunities to make better choices.When we take care of ourselves, then we're actually in the position to be there for other people. Click To Tweet
I would say to everyone right now, as we are all readapting in some way to change, whether positive, whether negative, however you view it, to cultivate that connection again to your body, energy levels, and mental health levels. Getting sensitive with yourself, like, “Am I starting to feel fried? Am I starting to get edgy? Am I starting to feel like at any minute, if one more thing happens, I’m going to lose it.” To pay attention to those thresholds and where you’re at and be responsive to them. I’m doing that right now. I’m speaking to you. I’m on vacation this week, but I’m working. We have family nearby.
We’ve been doing vacation things and also visiting family. My husband’s helpful. He’s great this way, but we talk about, “What is our capacity right now? We have plans to do another family thing, but what the best thing tonight be to do nothing.” We’re constantly asking ourselves that, “Where are we at? What do we need?” We’re careful not to push past that edge. I would recommend that to everybody as part of this transition we’re in now.
Your practice shows us the power of having that awareness and learning how to be an observer of yourself. That’s where you’re going to be able to take the right action from there. It was fascinating too. I was on a call this morning. At Coke, we were consumer-centric. Are we participating with consumers in a place they’re at, the passion points they love, and how are we participating in their lives? We always take a look at the layers of consumer research across generations.
The Three Components Of Burnout
You mentioned the awareness of mental health. For the first time in a meeting that I’ve ever sat in, it’s obvious. We talk about the younger generations, loving music, going to the movies, gaming, and things like that. What did show up was a passion around mental health. It showed up on the scores that our younger generations are asking questions and having conversations about their mental health. That’s incredibly promising for them to have to see that, which was pretty cool. You mentioned awareness and you shared with us in the lab, that there are signs of burnout. There are things that you can notice that can tip you off, “I’m operating beyond my capacity.” Can you share some of those?
I love teaching about burnout because it is something that is talked about a lot. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot. I would say most people don’t know what the word means from a clinical point of view. It’s helpful to know what those things are. For burnout to be present, and this is for information purposes only, you can’t diagnose yourself. That’s the job of a qualified mental health professional.
I would always say to people as well, “If you’re not feeling yourself, if you hear things that resonate with you, the first step is to see your doctor because there can be biological causes.” I want to get that out of the way. Back to what burnout is. There are three specific components. Burnout is something that develops as a result of chronic work-related stress.
There has to be work-driven stress in order for burnout to result. The first key component is emotional exhaustion. People can feel that it’s physical as well, where you have no idea how you’re going to get through your workday. The second hallmark component is a real change in your personality towards the cynical, and another phenomenon that gets tied in with depersonalization. That can present with increasing feelings of resentment towards your work. You’ve gotten negative. You find yourself complaining about your work all the time, and it maybe even bothers you because you don’t normally consider yourself a person who complains.
Also, the depersonalization piece. I know at Coke, it’s customer oriented. If you used to be somebody that loved serving and helping people, but now you’re feeling like your clients or customers, or even colleagues are obstacles to you survive in your day that you need to get past, like you’ve dehumanized them and are trying to survive, that’s that depersonalization piece. Finally, the third component of burnout has to do with efficacy and accomplishment. That has to do with your productivity and your ability to do your job.
If you’ve noticed that your ability to do your work has dropped and/or your confidence in your ability to do your work has shifted. Maybe you’re even questioning whether you should be even in this job, whether you’re doing a good job at all. Again, that’s not you to doubt yourself like that. It’s typically the burnout talking. I always say to people, “If you’re in that zone, ideally, that is not a time to be making decisions like quitting your job, for example. You want to first address what’s going on and get some help and support around it and then not make any big decisions if at all possible.”
Dealing With Burnout
That’s helpful to be able to see those signs when you are outside of your normal mindset. That’s going to tip you off, like, “Something’s up with me.” That is the journey for all of us. Sometimes we get triggered. We react versus respond. Something happens. These are all clues like, “There’s something that I need to look at and to address.” There are a lot of ways to do that. You’ve already talked about some of the apps and certainly getting help from professionals. Are there other things that you could recommend? You find yourself in this place. What else might you do to level out?
It’s important to emphasize that when people are burning out, fundamentally, it’s not your fault. It’s important to understand this. This isn’t some other additional burden on your shoulders that now you have to figure out how to fix. When we look at the root causes of burnout, the main ones are typically at the organizational and team levels. It’s an exciting time in history because I see organizations worried about their people. They want to keep people. It’s hard to keep people these days.
A big part of that is having that two-way conversation. This is an important opportunity for people in the workforce to say, “I find this stressful. This policy seems unnecessary yet it causes us a huge amount of stress or ways of doing things.” Too many meetings. There are all kinds of ways that we can give feedback.As you get clear on your why, you can often get stronger with your no. Click To Tweet
Hopefully, you’re in an environment where people are interested and they want to know what are the things that are hardest on you that maybe can be fixed. Those conversations are a big part of addressing burnout. It’s also how you interact with your work. Are you a perfectionist? Are you too hard on yourself? Do you set unreasonable standards for yourself for how much work you’re going to do? Do you take breaks? Do you take lunch? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you spending time with your family?
If you’re feeling awful, you must talk to your doctor as the first thing. Also, we know from research that the most resilient people are not the ones who white-knuckle it on their own. That is not the way to go, especially during these times. Take advantage of your employee assistance program, any access to counselors you have. Talk to your doctor. Have a mentor. Talk to wise family members and friends. Bring in your network. Get support and advice. That’s how I typically approach it.
The gift as we talked about what changed in COVID is being able to have more open, accepting conversations that, “I sprained my ankle. I’m feeling a level of burnout that needs to be addressed,” so that we can normalize all of that. The other thing that you said that was important was this idea of internal conversation and the outer situation. Sometimes it’s the outer dynamic. Sometimes it’s our beliefs about what we have to do and how we have to show up.
I’m thinking about that conversation that one of our account leaders, Sam, asked when you talked at the lab. You may recall this. He said, “You were working in medicine. It was life or death. There’s unbelievable stress.” We’re working in business and we have customer stuff, but there was almost this level of, “Am I worthy to have burnout because my job isn’t as crazy as yours, so I should be fine with mine?” There’s this interesting belief system running in our heads about whether we’re allowed to be burned out.
It even expanded a little further. It was such an interesting question. Even if I am burned out, do I have the right to be concerned about it and get help? Shouldn’t that be reserved for the people who are the heroes and heroines of our society? from my perspective, I see that everybody who is suffering from this, and I want to help everybody because no human should have to suffer if they don’t have to.
Obviously, suffering can play a role. It’s not like life is about entirely avoiding it, but if there are unnecessary causes of suffering that then impact our workplaces and then our families and our communities, because any time one of us is experiencing anxiety or depression or severe burnout, that has an impact on all of those around us. Understanding that how valuable we are, no matter what we’re doing and that anything that we can do to help us heal or be better, be healthier, it benefits everybody. It’s not selfish.
One of my interviews with Jim Blake at the end was what’s a piece of wisdom that you would leave. The number one thing he said was this journey towards worthiness, self-love, self-care because there’s a hidden track with many people. “I’m not worthy of this or that.” I go back to Karen and the phone call for you. For every human who shows up, they first take care of themselves. They believe they’re worthy. They’re lovable. They’re powerful. They have all these things. They show up in their fullness. When another human is showing up that way, they have the capacity and ability to be Karen and asking deeper questions of you. They have the ability to say maybe something small that turns around the entire day. It’s an important ripple effect that we have.
I use that a lot when I’m coaching working mothers in particular. They have a hard time. They’re so other-oriented that they can have a hard time justifying taking care of themselves properly. It becomes clear to them when I say it. If you’re working and you have kids, it’s not going to be your ultimate best. When you’re in as good of a zone as you can be given your circumstances because you’re carving out time somehow to exercise, you’re eating good foods, you’re sleeping, and you are giving yourself the gift of a little bit of time to yourself if you can in the day, you’ll have so much more patience with your kids. You’ll be so much more present. Their whole experience of their entire childhood is enhanced if they’re in a good zone. It’s very much about what we have to give others, which is ultimately why we’re here. When we take care of ourselves, then we’re in that position to be there for other people.
Breaking Down The Barriers Around Self-Care And Setting Boundaries
We talk a lot about this in the Compassion Lab, because in the lab, we’re talking about all kinds of things from mindfulness presence to resilience and all the things that make up mental fitness and mental wellbeing so that we can show up. It’s a conversation we’re having a lot. We certainly have shared a lot of pathways to do that, yet the epidemic of challenge, stress, depression and health issues continues. You coach a lot of people. We talked a little bit about beliefs already. What are the other reasons why we can’t seem to do it or give ourselves this gift? What types of barriers do you see in that?
I see a lot of people pleasing. In my presentations, as I did in the one for Coke, I talk about a book written by Greg McKeown, a leadership expert, called Essentialism. I love that book. The concept is that, first of all, we identify what’s most essential to us. When I work with people, I focus on them and choosing a few things, like maybe four things. Once you know what’s important to you in your life, the next thing is protecting those things. Fundamentally, it comes down to saying no to things, both at work and in your personal life. That’s what we bump up against what’s going on because when you start asking yourself, “I know I could have said no. I know I should have said no. In fact, I have to say no, because I already don’t have enough time to do everything that I’m trying to do. Why did I say yes?”
There’s a set of answers that I typically hear. Some people feel guilty. They don’t understand their why enough to justify saying no. They’re not strong enough to know why they have to say no to this to make time for it. As you get clear on your why, you can often get stronger with your no. Other people don’t want the resistance that they’re inevitably going to get from some people because some people won’t like it.
Conflict avoidance.Perspective is really helpful. So many of the things that we're worried about will not matter at the end of our lives. Click To Tweet
One of the most profound things I learned along my journey was that boundaries are obviously important to getting anything important done in our lives, including self-care. We have to realize that it’s going to be uncomfortable. We’re probably going to be anxious at first. There are people who are not going to be happy. That’s part of that healthy journey that it’s never going to be that everybody says, “I totally support you with that.” Anything in life that’s worth fighting for, we’re going to come up against resistance. There’s going to be pushback and it’s going to be uncomfortable at first. That stops a lot of people from doing that because they don’t fully understand that.
It’s also hard in the workplace because you have the psychological belief systems of pleasing other people and conflict avoidance, and you worry about your job. “What if I say no to my boss? What if I say no to this other person? Is that going to threaten my livelihood?” It gets all the way down into survival in life. These are deeply rooted systems.
I was talking to a brilliant coach who was talking about this thing. It was understanding your core commitments back to what’s essential. What are the hidden core commitments that you’re operating by? These hidden ones are, “I said these are my commitments, but I’m making decisions based on these hidden operating systems.”
That’s the work we do. That’s why when we get into these conversations about self-care and we go,
“There’s meditation. You use an app and take a walk.” Everyone’s like, “That’s easy enough.” The reason it’s not that simple is because of the belief systems that we hold. The work is to bear witness to that and not compassionate witness to it. We’re human, but how do we work through those things? That is the unlock here.
I also want to comment that this is a learned skill that you can get help with through a coach, mentor, or counselor. For example, at work or also in your personal life, there are ways to say things that help. For example, rather than saying to your boss, “I’m not going to do that,” if it brings something new to you, you can ask them, “I fully appreciate that this is a priority for you. I want to focus on that. However, can you help me identify what is already on my plate that I can maybe put aside for a time because I need to be able to create the time to work on this thing?” and inviting them into that conversation.
For example, in your personal life, let’s say that you’re turning down an invitation with a friend. It can be helpful because your priority is to say, “My partner and I haven’t gone on a date in two months. As much as I would love to see you, I have to prioritize my partner.” Most people will be like, “That makes sense. I understand that.” You can even communicate that framework in those contexts. That helps smooth out your language. How you do that can be effective and make it much less stressful and get people on board more easily.
That is helpful, Susan. Let’s stay on this track on resources. How can people find you? You’ve written a lot. There are a lot of resources out there. How can they access more of your wisdom?
Thank you. My website is ThriveWorkLive.com. There’s a complimentary 48-page eBook there, 10 Essential Easy Changes, that you can get for yourself. That dives deeper into some of the foundational principles. I have a blog and I have a book, The Resilient Life, that’s coming out in the fall of 2022. I don’t have a release date for that yet, but you can watch out for that as well.
I know from getting to know you through the lab that when you say passion journey, you mean it. For those of you reading, Susan shows up with this incredible field of energy, warmth, compassion, and willingness to engage. As much as you wanted to be a flamenco dancer or a Solid Gold dancer, which I’m sure would have been amazing to bear witness of, your calling is to be here in this conversation and to share your passionate voice and to help us all find our way.
I’m forever indebted to people like you, who make it possible for me to share with new audiences and get these messages out. Thank you so much for your commitment as well. It’s wonderful to see.
I always say in these conversations where we’re showing up to talk with each other about what’s going on. In doing that, we’re putting it out there for us all to bear witness to what’s happening in our lives and what might be some small change we can make. It doesn’t have to be a complete and total make-over. It might be small and incremental, and we suddenly find ourselves in a healthier place. I have to ask you one last question as we close. I always close with this question. We’ve already shared a ton, but is there a piece of wisdom that you’ve received from a teacher, a friend, or an aha-moment in your life that you would like to leave our readers with?
Yes, I would say perspective is helpful. Many of the things that we’re worried about will not matter at the end of our lives or will not even matter ten years from now. Also, for example, with the war going on in Ukraine, I got stuck in DC for three days on my way back from a speech. Even though that was significantly inconveniencing, I felt that these perspectives, will this matter? Will I care ten years from now? Also, thinking about people around the world who are having so much more of a difficult time that keeping our day-to-day things in perspective can also take so much pressure off. That’s something I’ve picked up from wise people along the way that I will leave with all in view.
Thank you again for taking the time, for all that you’re doing in the world. It has been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you again for coming to the lab and sharing so much of this with our team. I’m grateful for all of it.
Likewise, thank you so much.
- Dr. Susan Biali Haas
- Jim Blake – Past Episode
- 10 Essential Easy Changes
- The Resilient Life – Pre-Order
About Dr. Susan Biali Haas
DOCTOR SUSAN BIALI HAAS, M.D. is an award-winning medical doctor, health and wellness expert, coach, speaker and author. She helps people worldwide to reduce stress, prevent burnout, improve mental health, and live with increased wellness and resilience.
Dr. Biali Haas overcame burnout and depression at the beginning of her medical career, quickly becoming an internationally recognized influencer in health and well-being. With over two decades spent studying wellness and resiliency, twenty years of clinical experience with thousands of patients, and more than ten years coaching high performance clients worldwide, she expertly applies her experience and skills to equip people to live better lives.
Dr. Susan’s long list of speaking clients includes the US Navy, Google, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), McKinsey & Company, and Deloitte.
She also inspires a broad range of clients — from military leaders and senior executives to physicians and other healthcare professionals — to take control of their health and start living more impactful, meaningful lives. Dr. Susan has also provided focused support to patients with mental health challenges, providing virtual medical psychotherapy treatment during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A popular blogger for Psychology Today, Dr. Biali Haas’ posts on wellness, mental health and resilience have attracted over 10 million views. She has been featured on The Today Show and The Marilyn Denis Show, and her opinions have appeared in Oprah.com, Forbes, Fast Company, The Chicago Tribune, Health, Martha Stewart Living, People, InStyle, Elle, Prevention, The Washington Post, The New York Post and The Globe and Mail. She has also been a health columnist and “Embrace Life Expert” for Reader’s Digest Best Health.
Dr. Biali Haas has also partnered with organizations such as American Express, Hilton, Procter and Gamble, Toyota, and Bayer to provide information on health and well-being to the public. American Express recognized Dr. Biali Haas as a “Real Life Potentialist” who has broken away from traditional paths and followed a unique calling in life.
In addition to her Doctorate of Medicine and Bachelor’s of Science in Dietetics from the University of British Columbia, Dr. Biali Haas has received a number of awards, including the Rakesh Goel Prize for most outstanding clinical skills, the UBC Medal in Dietetics, and the Woman of Worth Award in Health & Wellness. She loves to attend courses in preventive and lifestyle medicine at Harvard Medical School, and is continually on the lookout for the latest science and data that will help you to thrive in both work and life.
Dr. Biali Haas’ latest book, The Resilient Life, will be released in Fall 2022.
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