E#2: How to Have More Energy, Presence and be More Attentive with People, Patients and Loved
In this podcast, I talk about how to increase our ability to have more energy, be more present with the people in our lives by using simple and effective strategies. Without the ability to be more present with people we can't be great connectors with them.
(This is the core of the transcript from the podcast. The Intro has been removed and some areas improved for reading ease.)
If you're an introvert like me, we can certainly have a greater sense of awareness of our surroundings. We also pay closer attention to the people we are with and on what we are doing. Often, that translates into being a good listener, but that isn't always the case for a variety of reasons. One of the most important things I've had to learn, both personally and professionally, was how to be more attentive and present with the people in my life. And to do that more consistently.
As technology, phone apps and video platforms became increasingly accessible to my fingertips this goal became tougher to achieve, simply because they were, and still can be, such a powerful source of distraction.
I know that, at most times, I am very attentive with my patients, my wife, kids and with my friends. Then other times, well... not so much. Now, this situation is in no way unique to just me. If there is one thing I've learned from all the doctors I've met and worked with, is that they all want to learn to be more consistent at being present. Which as a result, will make them a better listener, whether with their patients, their colleagues, staff or their family. Isn't it true that the best doctors and communicators are the best listeners? They are so focused, and you feel you are the only one they are paying attention to.
"It's only when you have energy that you can effectively dialogue with your colleagues and maintain interest in what your friends, and children are doing. If you don't have good energy you won't even have the motivation to hug your spouse, walk the dog or even exercise."
Another attribute that is common with the best communicators, whether it's a great doctor, nurse, teacher, or therapist, is that they have an incredible level of energy that is focused and filled with so much presence. Now this is only possible if you have the right energy. Without good physical and mental energy you can't be your best self. It's only when you are properly energized that you can, not only be interested in what your patients are going through, but also be properly focused to motivate your patients into adopting some beneficial ‘self-care’. It's only when you have energy that you can effectively dialogue with your colleagues and staff. It's only when you have energy that you can maintain interest in what your children are doing. If you don't have good energy you won't even have the motivation to hug your spouse, walk the dog or even exercise. If you don't have energy, you just nod your head in disinterest, while your brain struggles to maintain a convincing blink on your vacant eyes.
So everything comes down to how much energy we have and the quality of that energy we have. In other words, is it focused and not scattered like a firecracker going off but rather steady and bright like a candle flame?
You've probably experienced this, because I know I certainly have. When I don't have energy, I don't interact with my kids, my wife, or my patients to the level that I’d like to. Thankfully, my teenage daughter is always quick to point that out to me. Usually as she is telling me about her day while we are going for an evening walk. If I'm zoned out even a little bit, she knows it and can feel if I'm paying attention or not; If I am ‘there’ with her, or mentally somewhere else.
As an introvert, you need quiet time, "me time" and that's normal. That restores our energy reserves. But how do you find the time?
Energy is the foundation of life. Essentially, there are two sides of the energy equation that determine if we can keep our energy up and our reserves high. Firstly, how do we input or replenish our energy; and secondly, what factors takes our energy away from us. That's it.
As an introvert, I know that both sides of the equation are crucial. I know how much having time alone to rejuvenate myself and stay focused is significant for me and must also be the same for others. I recharge my batteries by taking some quiet time; I walk, I read in silence or I build something in my workshop. So, if you're an introvert, you more than likely can relate to needing this quiet "me time" to restore your energy reservoir.
I would like to talk about the side of the equation that drains our energy. Short from being ill, energy drainage is not often a significant source in our typical day to day life, but rather, it is the micro-depleters or micro energy snatchers, that are the cause of our overall decreased ability to be more vibrant. The kind of drain that can be so tiny that it mostly goes unnoticed, like so many little pin holes in the balloon that lets the air out slowly. There are the little pokes that kind of nudge us while we are trying to stay on the path. It’s often the minutiae that can shift our attention. Little things that may look somewhat important but in reality, they’re not, and we find we are heading in a different, unplanned trajectory. Pilots know the importance of this. They know that if there is even a 1-degree shift in their flight path, then they will arrive in an entirely different destination. I'm sure you've noticed this too. So here are a few simple tips, based on research studies and practical experience that can elevate your energy and also prevent it from being depleted.
Our phones can be wonderful in terms of staying connected with relevant information, and essential people, but they can also be the primary source of microscopic drain to our energy reservoir. Our phones allow us to check email, receive and send texts, look at FB, Instagram, check the weather, book airline tickets etc., but I'm willing to bet, because I'm guilty of this too, that most of us look at our phones quite often during our busy day in the clinic or hospital...more than we need to.
Now, if I'm honest with myself, much of the reason I check my phone during the day is to feed my need for variety or curiosity. Simply to what else is happening in the world. Is there something more exciting that I'm missing out on? The reality is, it's not anything significant that can't wait. In addition, those little checks and pop up notifications drains our energy supply. We tell ourselves we are multitasking, but it's not really as effective as we think.
Studies have shown that high-end multitasking makes us less efficient when we are switching from one task to another. It also takes several minutes to get refocused on to the first task that we were working on. Also, high-end media multitasking, (in other words doing many things at once), has negative cognitive impacts and people perform worse on cognitive tests. You can read download some of these research articles if you go to the home page on TheIntrovertedDoctor.com website and click the RESEARCH tab at the top.
High-end media multitasking makes us less efficient when we are switching from one task to another. It also has negative cognitive impacts...it affects our memory and concentration.
Now when I first read this, I didn't believe that this was true. But if it were true, that it wouldn’t apply to me. I thought I could multitask, check my emails, answer texts, send a text and I thought I would evaluate my efficiency in terms of my work accomplished and the negative stress level that I had. I essentially measured it. I decided my little tasks could wait and that I would answer any texts at lunchtime and turned off any social network apps I used.
Block time your day for little tasks. Shut off the little phone tasks, social media and avoid the beeps and notifications...it will change your energy level for the positive.
Also, I created a mid-afternoon break. Instead of micromanaging the multimedia tasks through the afternoon, I allowed myself 10-15 minutes at 2:30 pm and at the end of the work day. What I found, was that I was 50% more efficient and felt calmer by 30 % and most importantly, I was more present with the people around me. This is important for all of us, especially since we are trying to help patients and connect more sincerely with other colleagues and staff.
Ever since I learned that fact, and implemented that practice in my work life, I have been even more efficient and joyful at work and have been able to handle the day to day duties that may not always be so pleasant. Other colleagues that I've shared this with also have reported similar results, so take another look at your phone and email habits. If you can leave your phone off and away from you, that's even better. It's like excising the temptation out of your day. But I do realize that there are limitations to the degree we can eliminate technical distractions from our work day. As doctors and health care providers, we sometimes have the hospital or our colleagues calling us and we need to be reachable.
Try making these changes for 2-3 weeks and see what happens. Measure it and take inventory of your inner psychology, and efficiency. And if you're comfortable, ask people around you and get some feedback in terms of how you are doing overall.
In addition, the other thing that derails people's energy, especially if you're more of an introvert like myself, is having the little beeps and notifications on your phone that keeps going off randomly. Those little pop-up messages, pings and texts you get throws your state of mind off track. Just like when we were in university and writing exams. If you remember the time when you wrote exams in a big room, any little noise or cough or rustling use to annoy the heck out of you. Well it annoyed the heck out of me too! By shutting off those particular beeps on your personal device is useful to stay on your path of greater presence and focus.
Now I realize, we have a few key people we need to stay in touch with, whether it's our kids or our partner, but you can set that up on your phone with a special ring tone so you know it's somewhat important and that you will get to the message sooner rather than later. So to make these changes, shut off your notifications and beeps by simply going to your settings app on your phone and shut off the notifications that applied to you. And if you need more info, just google how to change notifications on my iPhone or android, or ask a teenager they'll help you too. Or you can ask the closes 10-year-old.This leads me to the next tip: constant bombardment of messages by staff.These messages may not be urgent and should really wait for an appropriate time.
Set up clear boundaries and parameters regarding your working style and responsibilities. If you don't then others will create your daily agenda for you and take your energy.
One of the key stressor for people for not achieving success in their professional life is not setting up clear boundaries and parameters as to your work style. When we don't set up clear guidelines, that's when we are subjected to other people's agendas, demands and what they feel is important vs. what you may believe and know to be important. So, it is our responsibility to set up good clear guidelines explaining to our staff, "if it's essential, or urgent please get me right away, but if you think it can wait for later in the day or the next break, then that would be best."
As I mentioned, I like to make sure I time block things, such as administrative duties and paperwork, so that I can focus and give full attention to the patients when I'm in clinic. When I'm with the patient, I want that to be my highest priority, and that usually works for me and it works well for many of my colleagues who are highly efficient and effective. Otherwise, from my experience, other people, who rightfully may be part of the circle of care, will come in and say "do you have a minute, or it will just take a minute" but in my experience, nothing takes a minute, and things can get stretched out. Now if something really takes a minute, then let's find the right minute that works for both of us. Note: this is not a hard and fast rule, as we do need to be flexible, but sometimes being too flexible leads to chaos.
Note: I'll usually time block 20-30 min in the morning before I start the day and also at the end of the morning to deal with messages, emails that need to be addressed. I'll do mid-afternoon time block and then at the end of the day. If I need to be out by 5 pm, I want to stop having a patient encounter at least 30-45 min before then to deal with phone calls, questions emails that have to deal with patient care. Scheduling buffer zones are essential as to not to get stressed. If you don't schedule it, it simply won't be done.
Setting the right environment makes it easy to control unwanted distractions which are the micro-energy depleters. I also find doing this prevents the micro anxieties that can occur through the day.I don't want to give the impression that technology is bad. It can be a great ally to serve as a reminder to get up and walk around; to go outside and get some fresh air and sunlight. Technology can be energy enhancers. Use a smartwatch or get an app on your phone or set your clock timer to beep at a specific time to remind you to get your micro energy-boosting activities in. One of those activities that are very helpful is to take one minute to close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
One minute, several times a day, has a positive impact on your overall health, productivity and interactions. Eight to ten nice deep breathes only takes one minute. It's also useful to close your eyes as you do this, because most of us spend so much time looking at computer screens, we receive a constant bombardment of the low levels of UV radiation that comes from it. So our eyes need to take a break as well. Also, because of the regular blue light that is being emitted from the screens, it's useful to blink often. You can also change your monitor settings to emit lower levels of blue light, so your eyes don't fatigue. I've done that on all my screens, and it does make a tremendous difference. You can change them by adjusting your computer monitor or going to your Setting Apps on your phone or tablet.
Also, if you are not lucky enough to do a little bit of walking as part of your regular workday, it's useful to take a break to and stretch your legs. Do some step-ups, or get a standup desk. This is an investment that you will be grateful for, for your whole career. Prolonged sitting is not good for our health. Prolonged sitting is like the new smoking.
One excellent way to schedule some of these micro-boosters is to schedule breathing or standing at the top of the hour. Schedule longer sessions at lunchtime, because I'm sure you'll agree, if you don't schedule it, you won't do it. Once you've scheduled it, guard that time, as if you had to see a patient. Give yourself that daily gift. You will thank you for it!Now, if you do a lot of standing or walking during the day, and you're healthy, you can buy over the counter compression stockings; knee high with the lowest grade compression. I heard about this when I was a resident doing surgery. I noticed the young vascular surgical residents did this, so I tried it, and it's amazing how much more energy you have. I don't know about you, but when my legs are tired, the whole of me feels tired. This is a great 30-80 dollar investment. The money you put into sustaining good health pays off short term and long term.
I want to touch on one more crucial energy enhancer… starting our morning off with the right mindset. I'll admit I've been guilty of the same thing we all do; we wake up reach over and grab our phone and check emails, texts, social media, etc. When you do this, you are dialing into other people's agenda. You are focusing on what they need/want for whatever they’re reasons are, and NOT what you need / want to do to live your best life. Start your day with YOUR agenda and prime your personal, mental, spiritual and physical engine right with an empowering morning routine by incorporating physical stretching, centering in a place of gratitude and deep therapeutic breathing. If you've never done this before, commit to one minute or even ten seconds. Wake up and ask yourself what you are grateful for and take eight to ten nice deep breaths. Doing this will increase your attentiveness to your energy and raise your awareness.
Being present and attentive is really a state of increasing awareness. If you think about the activities that you enjoy, or the responsibilities that you bare, the one reason you probably enjoy them is that you think or live in the moment of authentic presence. Time slips away. One reason people get addicted to exercise is that they are in the moment. That can also be said for many activities or hobbies, such as climbing a mountain, rowing, fishing, playing soccer, football or hockey. There is nothing else that can distract you while you are doing that. You are anchored to that point in time.
One reason I love performing magic or doing stage shows, is because I'm so immersed in the moment. I'm really attentive to the illusion that I'm performing. I am watching the audience, and I am thinking what the next step is. As a performer, you don't have any room to think of anything else, and if you do, that's when you screw up. This certainly has happened to me in a huge way when I was performing. I was hired to give a lecture, and my father was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. I was so worried about him and what was happening to him that I was unfocused. I know my head was not in the talk. One person in the audience who really knew me well said to me "you know you didn't seem like your usual self, you told the right content, but you appeared distant" and he was right. I couldn't be present with what I was supposed to be doing on stage.
I'm sure we all have some activities that give us that state of pure immersion, that provides us with a sense of calm and it's useful to reconnect with those types of activities as often as we can. We must enjoy those moments of pure mindfulness presence. Taking this ability to increase our awareness helps us be more present and attentive. Remember that old saying : "We are Human Beings, not Human Doings".
The list of energy boosters and drainers are endless, but one last important concept I'll share with you is the importance of the input side of the energy equation. Specifically, what we put inside ourselves in terms of nutrition. Specifically, water intake. Our body and brain are made up of more than 65% of water. So that means proper hydration is key to optimizing our health. So if you are healthy and don't have any medical issues that require you to restrict your water intake, you should be drinking at least three to four liters of water a day. Moreover, if you drink coffee, tea, pop, juice or alcohol, you need to drink an equal amount of water to stay neutral. Simply put, we need to flush the old toxins out. Our brain consists of about 75% water so it needs a lot of flushing! If you're brain and body is in a fog, you can't think clearly and make insightful decisions.
One way I increased my water intake was by keeping a big glass of water my bedside, and when I woke up, I’d take a big drink, brush my teeth, take another sip, take a shower, then take another drink. Once I'm dressed, I take another drink, and by the time I hit the breakfast table, I've consumed at least 750 to 1000 mL of water before I’ve even had breakfast. With water, I am priming my brain and body.
I also use natural triggers in my environment through the day. For instance, when I get home, the first thing I do go to the sink and drink another glass of water. So use your natural cues in your environment to make that happen. Get creative!Another thing, avoid heavy meals, especially meats at noon. That type of meal also takes away your energy. Ever since I stopped eating more substantial meals with meat at lunch, I found my energy in the afternoon was similar to the morning and lasted that well past supper time.
I hoped this served you well and that there was at least one tip that you can use. I'm sure some of you already knew many of these critical points and that this was simply a refresher for you. If you have any that you would like to share with me, please feel free to comment. Before I give you the summary, the next podcast is probably the most important concept I've ever shared with anyone. It's so critical to everything that I do, that I often joke that I'd actually like to have it on my epitaph! Please check that one out soon.
Here is the Summary of the Podcast
1. Avoid multitasking: it makes you less efficient and drains you of energy. It also leads to cognitive decline and has negative psycho-social impacts.
2. Monitor your phone use: Avoid alerts, notifications from FB, Instagram, News feeds unnecessary people who text you those are energy depleters.
3.Schedule time: To check emails, texts and phones. Use Block time and guard that time.
4. Resist starting the morning looking at your phone and emails; you're dialing into to other people's agenda. Start your day with your program and prime your internal mindset and spirit correctly.
5. Try taking a holiday from your devices, Whether it's for an hour to several days. Schedule those times regularly. We survived without them before they were invented, we can survive and rather thrive without them now.
6. Learn to further increase your awareness and your ability to be present: it's a skill that can be cultivated.
7. Tune yourself up: Breathe, walk, use a smartwatch schedule it. If it's not scheduled, it won't be done.
8. Stand when you can, be comfy when you can’t: Use a Stand up desk and make sure you have comfortable chairs that you sit on.
9. Welcome the tide: Hydration is vital, drink water regularly and use trigger points in your environment to help you.
10. Don’t feed a nap: Don't overeat and especially avoid heavy meals at lunch.
I hope this podcast served you in some way or at least served as a reminder. If you've enjoyed listening to this podcast, please share this with a friend or colleague and subscribe to us in Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or your favorite podcast app. Also, please don't forget to leave a rating, I know it seems like a small thing, but it makes a difference in terms of helping others find this podcast. I'm Dr. Lalit Chawla and thank you so much for listening. Let's together make a greater more effective community and inspire people to be their best. Here's Wishing you Greater Harmony, Joy and Magic in Your Life.Tell me what you liked what you would like to hear in future episodes. I'd love to hear your comments and feedback. Thank you and Have a Great Week!
(A special thanks to the talented William Brown who edited the above transcript)