The Physician Philosopher Podcast

TPP #24: Quid Pro Quo & Disappointing Relationships

Quite often, we get mad at others for reasons that are out of their control. In our minds the problem is that our expectations were not met. 

However, the source of the frustration isn’t the reality of things happening or not. It’s actually that reality doesn’t match up with our expectations. This can cause unhealthy relationships both at work and with your family. 

Today I’m discussing how harmful conditional love sets you up for disappointment with your co-workers and family. Instead, I want you to choose to love unconditionally and appreciate the people in your life.

Today You’ll Learn

  • How our expectations of other people impact our happiness and satisfaction in our relationships.
  • Why a “Quid Pro Quo” or “Tit for Tat” relationship is a recipe for disaster in relationships.
  • How to have better relationships at home friends and family as well as at work with colleagues and co-workers.
  • What mirror neurons are, how they work, and why we should be excited about that!
  • And more!

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You've likely heard it said that your happiness in life is an equation, where happiness is equal to reality minus your expectations. What if I told you that this is simultaneously true, and total BS, all at the same time? Keep listening to see what I mean.

This is the Physician Philosopher Podcast. I'm Dr. Jimmy Turner, an anesthesiologist, personal finance blogger, and life coach for doctors. Physician Philosopher Podcast teaches you how to create the life that you deserve, one thought at a time. Start before you're ready. Start by starting. Start now.

Hey, hey, hey everyone. Welcome to episode number 24 of the Physician Philosopher Podcast, where we take an uncurated and unapologetic look into physician life. Before we dive into the show, I wanted to let you know that the Alpha Coaching Experience is going to go on sale next week, February 13th. That's a Saturday. And as part of this spring enrollment, I'm going to be holding four free webinars, completely free. The webinar is called Physician Burnout, Three Essential Concepts to Freedom.

So if you're a doctor who feels overwhelmed by all of your responsibilities as a partner, a parent, and a physician, or you simply don't feel like you have the work-life balance you want in your life, this webinar's going to help equip you with some of the tools that I've seen help a ton of doctors find the balance that they are looking for in their life, which allow them to take back the autonomy that every doctor deserves. Also, I recognize that you're busy doctors. So if you look at the four times and you're like, "I don't know if I can make any of them," no worries. Not a big deal. We'll be sending out a replay to anyone who cannot make them live. So what I'm saying is that there's really no reason not to sign up if you're someone who thinks this webinar might be right for you, but don't wait because the platform we're using does have a limited number of seats. You can sign up for the webinar by visiting thephysicianphilosopher.com/webinar, or by clicking the link in your podcast description in your podcast player.

All right, back to the show. Today's thought is this. If you want to find happiness in your relationships at work, and at home, choose unconditional love and let those mirror neurons get to work. All right, that thought might be a little confusing right now, but we're going to dive into it. We're going to explain exactly what I'm talking about so that you can really have the best interactions possible, both at work and at home, with your colleagues, your partners, your spouse, your family, your friends, and we're going to really dive into what these mirror neurons are and why unconditional love is better than quid pro quo.

I'm going to give you a few different examples, but I had a client recently who was trying to get records from an outside clinic or hospital. And the outside clinic had records that this doc needed to make a decision about the patient's care. Basically, he couldn't move forward in taking care of this patient until he got these records. So we asked his assistant, his medical assistant, for the records, asked them to call. When he checked back two, three times, the assistant hadn't been able to procure the records yet. They had tried to call a couple of times, but hadn't had any success. And because this doc was stuck until he got the information he needed, he became really frustrated and basically said, "Why can't we just get the records? We get records from this place all time. What's the problem?"

And when we dove into why he was frustrated about this situation, it became apparent pretty quickly that the reason he was frustrated was because he had certain expectations for what his medical assistant could and couldn't do, and what they should, and shouldn't be able to accomplish. It didn't really matter that they couldn't get the records, in terms of why. It just mattered that he expected it to get done and it hadn't happened yet. So despite checking in two or three times, the records weren't there, and that thought that this should already be done caused the frustration.

The interesting thing is that it isn't really about whether the MA had gotten the records or not. If the doc didn't have an expectation for what to be done by the end of the day, or whenever it was that he wanted them done by, then he wouldn't have been upset, right? So in truth, it isn't really about the MA; it's about the expectations the doc had. And this story may not be one that you relate to. So let me give you another couple of examples that are pretty common, both in my life, and a lot of other docs that I help coach. But classic one. Huge pet peeve of mine. I have this expectation that when you're driving on the Interstate, the right lane is for driving, the left lane is for passing. So if you're listening to this and you're ever driving around me, and you're driving slow in the left lane, just know that I'm coaching myself because of what you're doing.

The secret additional thought is that I also have a lead foot. While I will not admit on a publicly recorded podcast how fast I drive, I will just say that I may or may not have a Uniden R3 Radar Detector in my truck to listen out for those lasers and Ka bands while I'm driving. But I have this expectation. You drive in the right, you pass in the left. And when you pass the car, you get back in the right lane and continue driving. It's kind of like the Autobahn. There's a driving lane and a passing lane. It's one reason why you can go as fast as you want, is because people understand those rules. Now, I'm not saying I drive like the Autobahn on the Interstate. Don't mishear me there. But because I have this expectation about passing on the left and that you should get over after you pass somebody, it used to drive me absolutely bonkers, straight up the wall to pure unadulterated anger, when people would drive slow in the left lane.

Now, before I got into coaching, that's what would happen, I'd just have this anger. Now, I know it isn't the person in the left lane; it's my expectations of the person in the left lane that cause the problem. So I have this thought that you should drive in the right and pass in the left. And if you're just driving along in the left lane, going slow, well, you're not meeting my expectation, right? So if my expectation was that people get to drive however they want, and if they want to use the left lane to cruise on the interstate... Which one of my best friends does this, ironically. That's up to them. I wouldn't get mad about it because I wouldn't have this expectation that people are going to drive the way that I expect them to drive. I would just expect them to drive however they want to drive.

But is there a law that says you have to drive in the right and pass in the left? No. Sometimes there are posted signs that say, "Hey, slow traffic keep to the right." But other than that, there's not really a law, per se, that outlines this. My expectation is the problem, not the person driving the left lane. Maybe you're starting to relate a little more to that example now. I'm sure I'm not the only one that drives crazy.

So let me bring this home for listeners who are married or in a committed relationship. If Kristin, my wife, has an expectation for me to wash the dishes and take out the trash exactly when she asks me to, and I don't do it exactly when and how she wants me to, is it me not taking out the trash or doing the dishes on command that upsets her? Or is it her expectation that I do so? Now I don't want to make my wife sound bad. My wife is literally the best person I know. She's the most compassionate, forgiving person. She's literally a saint. She couldn't be married to me if she wasn't.

So let's not make this make her sound bad, because that's not ideal. Lord knows that she is certainly my better half. What if, for example, based on our past experiences, Kristin has always planned meals for the week. She's a detail-oriented person that loves doing that sort of thing. Now I may cook the meal, I may do the dishes, but the planning is usually left up to her and she'll ask me sometimes, "Hey, what do you want this week?" And we'll have a conversation about it. But in terms of grocery shopping and planning the meals, that's normally her thing. So when we get to dinner time, and I find out that there isn't a plan for dinner that night... I'm exhausted, I just got home from work, had a really bad shift. I've got three kids screaming at me. I get frustrated, right? And previously I used to think, "Oh, I'm getting frustrated because you didn't make a plan, Kristin. What are you doing?" From our previous examples, you'll now know that the reason that I'm getting frustrated isn't because there isn't a plan for dinner that night. And I'm not big fan of uncertainty, I've come to find out in recent coaching sessions for myself where I'm the client. So that's probably why it bothers me, is I hate dealing with that uncertainty. Maybe I'll do an episode on that later.

But it isn't Kristin not planning the meals so that I don't have something to cook for the family, or to eat, if she's cooking that night. It is my expectation of Kristin to have done that. Just like if she has an expectation for me to take out the trash or do the dishes when and how she wants. It's not that I didn't do it, it's the expectation. This is what it's all about. If my expectation changed to Kristin planning meals and she's able to, and us just thinking on the fly when she isn't able to do that, there'll be no frustration there. So it's all about this expectation.

So here's the problem. Whether we're talking about coworkers, a medical assistant, someone driving slow in the left lane or situations at home with your partner or spouse, the problem isn't really the reality. It isn't whether things happen or not; it's that reality doesn't match our expectations. And the problem is that we have expectations for how people in our life should act all around us. We have these unwritten rules and checklists of things that they have to do in order to appease us. And when people don't act how we want them to, we get upset. But that really has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with our expectations and this unwritten, unstated expectations for people. So whether you realize it or not, you have a checklist for everyone in your life. Instead of expecting people to do what they are going to do, because, hey, by the way, they're adults, they get to do whatever they want. And choosing to appreciate them, regardless of how they act or what they say, we place conditions on their approval, or our approval of them, I should say, based on their actions and words.

This, my friends, is what we call loving people with conditions. And I don't know anyone who's a big fan of conditional love or appreciation, where you have to do certain things in order for someone in your life, particularly if you're married to them, for them to love you. That is called quid pro quo, or tit for tat, right? It's this mentality that, "If you do this, then I'll appreciate you and not get mad at you. And if you don't do that, I'm going to get so upset and you are causing my upsetness and my anger and for me to stew on this until you fix the problem that you aren't doing." It's a guaranteed design for a failed relationship, whether we're talking about at work or at home. And when you place your happiness in relationships, or your satisfaction with relationships, on whether someone else does something or not, you're just setting yourself up for a massive amount, a huge amount, of disappointment.

And the reason is that you're placing control of your emotions exclusively in the hands of the other person, based on whether they do what you want or not. If you think this way, the only way for you to be happy is when the other person changes the reality, when they do what you say, they take out the trash, they do the dishes, they get in the right lane after passing somebody, they get the records that you asked for. If all of those things happen, then all of a sudden this happiness equals reality minus expectations make sense. So that's one way to manipulate the formula, is to make reality. But that's kind of stupid, right? Because you can't manipulate reality. You cannot control other human beings, particularly adults.

And when we think this way, we spend so much time trying to get other people to do what we want, which we can't do, by the way... And speaking of that, who actually wants someone to do something that they don't want to do just to make us happy? That's the definition of selfishness and self-serving. You want to be in relationships, whether it's a collegial relationship at work, or a marital relationship, or whatever kind of relationship we're talking about, with friends, family, coworkers. We want people to do things because they want to do them. Not because we want them to do them, to make us happy. We all know that adults get to do whatever they want. And if you love someone, that's exactly what you want too. You want them to want to do things. And if that doesn't line up for what your stated expectations are, whether they're said out loud or not, that's up to them. You want people to be able to do what they want in their life.

So the solution to having a good relationship with coworkers or friends or families, inside or outside of the house, isn't to try to state clear expectations. That's what some people say, is like, "Hey, are there unstated expectations?" Well, even if there are stated expectations, and the other person chooses not to do what you're asking them to do, there may be very valid reasons. They may do them later. But placing your approval or your expectations or your love or your satisfaction in the relationship based on whether they do those stated expectations, that is a recipe for just absolute misery and failure. People are going to do whatever the hell they want, and there's nothing you can do about it. So you just got to accept that. Now that doesn't mean telling other people in your life what you would like them to do, or need them to do, isn't appropriate. It just means that when they don't do something you ask them to do, you don't place your happiness or satisfaction in your relationship on whether they do it or not, because they're human. They're going to make mistakes. To be human is to err. And honestly, if they don't do it, that's not necessarily a mistake. It's just a mistake from your vantage point, because you wanted them to do it.

So the solution isn't about clear expectations. And if it's not about clear expectations so that other people can change their ways to make you happy, then what is the solution? It turns out that the solution is to stop focusing on micromanaging other people in order to change reality, and to instead focus on your expectations of other people to do what they want, how they want, when they want, because by the way, they're adults and they get to do those things. So by managing your own expectations, that is the key to success. To put it plainly, what I mean is to choose to love and appreciate the people in your life, regardless of whether they do what you want or not.

This, my friends, is called unconditional love. And it's a concept that if you check all of the major... Not all of them, but the vast majority of major philosophical vantage points, from humanism to religious worldviews, from Christianity to Buddhism, unconditional love is something that most religions, most philosophies teach. And there's a reason for it. Because humans understand, at a basic level, when you step back, that we don't want to be loved with conditions. And so we shouldn't love other people with conditions either. We want people to love us for who we are, even if we're making mistakes, we're not perfect, we're not where we need to be or want to be as a spouse, a partner, a parent. We want people to love us unconditionally, so we should love other people the same way.

Strictly speaking, unconditional love means that we drop our unwritten expectations for other people, and we choose to love them regardless of what they say or do. And the amazing thing is that you'll find when you do this, your happiness in a relationship is no longer dependent on what the other person does. As crazy as it sounds, it only takes one person in relationship to make your experience of that relationship better. So you will have better thoughts, better feelings, about your relationships, even though the other person hasn't changed. I know that's very meta, it's very mind-blowing, the idea that there's two people in a relationship. It takes two to tango, all of these different euphemisms we have for relationships. That's not really true.

If you want your relationship to improve, then you need to manage your expectations about that relationship and about the person that you're in it with, whether it's a work relationship or a home relationship. And if you do that, you're going to remove the control of your feelings about that relationship from the other person and take them back for yourself to control. You're going to have complete autonomy and control over the relationship because you now get to determine what the state of expectations are, which are none. "Hey, here is some things that I would like you to do. If you do them, great. If you don't, I'm still going to love you anyway."

Fortunately, the beauty of this approach doesn't stop here, because humans have these awesome things called mirror neurons that I hinted at in today's thought for this episode. So you might've gotten this far in this episode, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, this is so froufrou, up in the clouds kind of stuff. What is Jimmy talking about? This stuff's crazy." It's not, it really isn't. Because, first of all, we all want to be loved unconditionally. So it is only right to love other people in our life unconditionally as well. Now this is different for employees and for children, where there are stated expectations and there are rules and consequences and boundaries and potentially contracts.

But in most other relationships in our lives, with friends, families, coworkers, unconditional love is huge. And there's amazing science reason behind this in mirror neurons. We know in psychology that you can't help but become like the people that you're around. This is why when you get married to someone, your family will say, "Oh my gosh, you're turning into them." Or you notice that your child does something, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, that's so annoying. Why are you doing that? Oh, that's something I do." We mirror the people around us.

So when you decide to love your coworker, partner, spouse, children, friends, family, whoever, unconditionally, those people will appreciate the lack of micromanagement, because every human wants autonomy. So now you're not micromanaging them anymore. You're now placing them in this place of freedom. And the fact that you're loving and appreciating them, regardless of what they do, they're going to notice that. And those mirror neurons, that they have going on in their head, can't help but try to do the same thing for you. Now, it might take time. It might not happen immediately. It turns out that when we do this, other people around you can't help it. And they have mirror neurons working in their head that are doing this exact same thing.

So now I'm not telling you that you should love people unconditionally, just so that someone will do the same for you. That's not what I'm getting at. But in this beautiful way that we've been created, we have these mirror neurons. And this is why they say that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. So choose your friends wisely. That's why that saying exists, and it's true. You do become the average of five people that you hang out with the most. So if you want to be a successful business entrepreneur, when you spend a lot of your time, you should probably spend time around people that have done a lot of mindset work, and that have really gotten past scarcity mindsets, because otherwise, you're just going to fall trap to the same thing.

And we actually have language for this, in the idea of mirror neurons, in our common vernacular. We have phrases, euphemisms. Things like, "She was on the same wavelength with me," or, "They just get me. We are so in tune with each other. We had a meeting of minds." We have so many different ways to basically describe that, "Two people are on the same frequency," there's another one, that we understand at a basic level, even before science showed this with PET scans and functional MRIs, that two people can have this same wavelength, the same mirror neuron mechanism, where they are on the same page with each other. And so can you imagine, if you applied this idea of unconditional love in your marriage, in your relationships at work, with your friends, with the person driving in the left lane... That's probably tough. Mirror neurons don't work across cars. But in all these other examples, they likely do, particularly if you spend any amount of significant time with the person.

And so when we drop our expectations for other people to do what we want, we can state our expectations, and whether they do it or not, we can choose to love them, regardless of whether they do what we've asked, they will in turn be prompted to do the same. In this way, we can stop the anger that we get when people don't get medical records we ask for, they drive slow in the left lane, or they don't take out the garbage or do the dishes, or have a plan for dinner. We can get rid of all of that by choosing to unconditionally love people, without this quid pro quo, without this tit for tat, and expect our mirror neurons that exist to get us on the same wave length, the same frequency, on the same page. Another euphemism.

There's so many examples that you already know that this happens. You already know that some people just get you, and that you don't have to explain things over and over and over. You already know that those mirror neurons are working. And so I just want to point out that you don't have to give your satisfaction in a relationship, or your happiness in life, over to other people; that this is something that you can actually control. And I'll point you back to the Doctrine of Charity episode, as a guide to tell yourself a different story when people do things that don't make sense or that upset you. Maybe there's a reason why they're doing what they do. And can you have space to see that a very intelligent person, who loves you, who respects you, would do something differently than what you've asked? And if you can make space for that, and make space for loving people regardless of what they do or say, because you want them to have autonomy and freedom, just the way that you want people to unconditionally love you, if you can do that, your relationships are going to improve. They're not going to have a choice.

And before we end this show, I just want to give you a reminder to sign up for the free webinar that's going to be happening. There's four dates for Physician Burnout, Three Essential Concepts to Freedom. If you can't make it, don't worry. You can get the replay. You can find out more information and register for one of those four webinars at thephysicianphilosopher.com/webinar.

All right, my friends. Today's thought is this. If you want to find happiness in your relationships at work and at home, choose unconditional love and let those mirror neurons get to work. Until next time, my friends, start before you're ready. Start by starting. Start now. I'll see you next week.

My dad, Dr. Jimmy Turner, is a physician, personal finance blogger, and life coach for doctors. However, he is not your physician or your life coach. He also isn't a financial advisor, financial planner, or accountant. Anything discussed in this podcast is for general education and entertainment purposes only. Life coaching sounds substitute for therapy, medicine, or medical treatment. However, if you're a doctor looking for a life coach, you can reach out to my dad at [email protected]

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