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  • Dr. Lalit Chawla

E#31: The Disgusting Patient: How Our Self Identity Shapes Us


In this weeks episode I'll share with you an encounter I had with a disgusting patient and reveal how I was a bumbling magician who had much to learn...the hard way.


What you think you are is what you do


(This is the core of the transcript from the podcast. The Intro has been removed and some areas improved for reading ease.)



In this week's episode, I want to share an encounter with a disgusting patient and the outcome of that. Still, before I dive into that story, I want to share with you a little something that only a few people know about me, and it will also answer part of the question I get "how did you become a magician?"


Today I'll give you the short version of that story. I grew up, after age 14, in a small rural village New Sarepta, Alberta. The population was only 300 people, and we were the only East Indian family, not to mention the only visible minority for miles and miles around. So anyway, I was your standard science and math person. I never had any hobbies other than playing sports. And as life would have it, I met a magician, Keith Lewis, in this little village, and we ended up becoming friends. He ended up teaching me magic tricks, and I developed a real passion for it.


I learned how to perform small tricks and then ended up wanting to do bigger Illusions, and Houdini escapes etc. Keith, at the time, was about 33 yrs. old married with two little boys, and he was, and still is, an exceptional creator, visionary and teacher. So anyway, how it worked was that I really liked performing, and so did he, but he was more of a builder and creator overall. He would build the illusion, and I learned through watching, talking and hanging out with him and learned how his brain worked


we had kind of an unspoken arrangement, I performed illusions and shows and he would build them

So anyway, life was great, and we had kind of an unspoken arrangement, I performed illusions and shows, and he would build them. I started to take performing really seriously and then decided while doing my pre-medical degree that I no longer wanted to be a doctor, but would be a professional illusionist because I was having some early successes. It was so much fun doing magic. Now the important part of the story I want to share with you is that Keith and I got along great, except for one time where we had a real conflict and where things went sour.


Here’s the critical part, while I was perfecting the skill of performing and entertaining, I lacked one essential ability- I didn’t know how to build new illusions. I was dependent on Keith Lewis to make them for me. While we worked together on the ideas, the mechanical aspect of physically putting them together was his responsibility. I didn’t think it was necessary to learn how to build them; after all, that’s what Keith Lewis was for, right? Yeah right?


In light of this, our partnership made sense. I didn’t know how to use power tools. I had never constructed anything in my life, while Keith was good with that stuff. I believed building something with my hands wasn’t within me. It was a skill I couldn’t learn, and my life experience supported this. I had a firm, fixed belief, which is the definition of a delusion. I believed I was a performer, not a builder. I was about to learn a hard lesson from Keith.

The surprise and unintentional lesson started when I asked him to build a new Illusion I’d thought up. I explained it to him, and he said: “No, I can’t.” Which really shocked me. This is the first time he ever said no.


The dialogue is as clear to me today as it was back in 1989. He said to me, “You can build the illusion yourself; you know what to do, I don’t have time to do it.” I responded, “I can’t, I don’t know how to build stuff. I’ve never used power tools! I’m East Indian; we don’t know how to use power tools. My dad didn’t know how to use tools, and I don’t how to...what the heck?”


He replied, “Well, that’s one of the stupidest things I’ve heard you say this week. You can learn to do it, just like I learned. Do you think I was born with this ability? No, I learned it through trial and error. I cut the wood too short many times, I spent plenty of time and money, but eventually, I figured it out. Everyone learns by making mistakes.

You can do it,” He added, “Just remember this: what one person can do, so can another.”

This was something I’d heard him say before, but I’d never believed him. I thought it was some “rah-rah” motivational crap he saw on some billboard. We argued back and forth, and I left his place angry, believing he was unwilling to help me. I couldn’t understand why he was behaving this way! I thought our friendship was over.


I just couldn’t identify with what Keith was saying. I couldn’t identify with the idea of learning a new skill, especially as complicated as using a skill saw, table saw and other power tools. I didn’t think that merely re-framing my idea of who I was could change anything and what I could do.

"Just remember this: what one person can do, so can another"

Ironically, after that argument, and my deep desire to build a shadow box, I was more determined than ever to create this new illusion. I remember thinking, "I'll show him. I can do this without him, even if he doesn't want to help me!" I was unjustifiably angry at him, even refusing to take his phone calls!


Fortunately, my self-image was linked to the idea that I saw myself as a resourceful guy, and that I don't give up easily.

"I'll figure a way to create this new illusion even if I have to resort to hiring someone else to do it!"


In other words, I wanted the end result, the illusion, so badly that I'd find a way to achieve it. Now, this wasn't easy in a time when there was no internet and services available, and there was no such thing as how-to videos that exist today. There wasn't things like YouTube. I relied upon my imagination, a few tools I borrowed from a neighbour and a couple of carpentry books, not to mention the fact that I had little to no money and was borrowing money from my mom; she gave it to me, all in this small town of New Sarepta.

So, our disagreement had created a shift in my focus. I began to think that perhaps I could figure this out on my own or get help from somebody else.


After several weeks and plenty of sweat, tears and broken drill bits and saw blades, I had built 70% percent of the illusion. When my ego had simmered down, I realized the lesson I'd inadvertently learned in the process.

The lesson Keith had taught me, intentionally or otherwise, was:

If you define your identity by what you can't do, you will never discover a greater identity based on what you can do.


When I changed the way I saw myself, I changed the possibilities of what I could do. I apologized to Keith, and together we completed the last thirty percent of the illusion, with fewer broken drill bits and saw blades. From that moment on, my identity had changed from believing I couldn't build a dream of knowing that I could. I was now a builder of illusions, and that new identity destroyed my delusion that I was incapable of learning a new skill such as carpentry.

If you define your identity by what you can't do, you will never discover a greater identity based on what you can do

Reflecting on these experiences of building a career in magic, I realize how my self-identity has been shaped by my role models, the repetition of positive accolades from my magical performances, and overcoming the psychological barrier to using carpentry tools.

I’ve learned that how we view ourselves is the greatest shaper of our thoughts, emotions and decisions, which ultimately reflects our outcomes and life trajectory.


Self-perception—good, bad or indifferent—influences everything we do, from building illusions to studying for med school exams. It affects any new endeavour we pursue, our interactions in our relationships, our habits, trait or outcome we desire or need. If we believe we are caring spouses, we become caring spouses. If we think we can’t be good parents, we find ways to validate that belief. If we believe we can learn to be good/great/amazing at you name it, we can become that.


My personal belief is that as individuals, we are constantly evolving and learning different things about ourselves. Different experiences, and how we interpret them influences our self-identity. But what key influencers shape identity? Just as important, how does one change one’s identity? The disgusting patient, who came into my office, helped me uncover part of the answer.


Now let me tell you about the

T

The DISGUSTING PATIENT


A medical student and I were reviewing an x-ray with a young, healthy, middle-aged patient. The patient had been told by the emergency room physician the previous week that the x-ray was normal. She wanted to review the results again, despite not having any respiratory symptoms or risk factors for lung disease, such as smoking or exposure to toxins. My impression was that she tended to perseverate over things that perhaps many people would not (such as a normal chest x-ray with no clinical signs or symptoms of concern). However, I must always be mindful not to let my biases cloud my judgement when seeing a patient that I know from previous interactions.


This clinical encounter started uneventfully, with my asking a few basic questions about her breathing and concerns. After a complete history and focused physical, I reassured her that she looked well and that indeed the chest x-ray she’d had one week ago was normal. As she was getting up, she said to us, “You know me, I’m a worrywart.” I didn’t respond to that comment, hoping it was more rhetorical, plus I was running a bit behind with other patients. It seemed clear that everything that needed to be addressed had been, so I got up to let her out of my office. As I was turning the door handle, I asked a rhetorical question. “So, how’s everything else going?”


“Oh, Dr. Chawla,” she replied, “I’m so disgusting! I haven’t changed much at all; I’m trying to lose weight. I’m trying to control the junk food I eat, but I can’t. I’m so disgusted with myself! I’m simply disgusting.”


“You know me, I’m a worrywart.” I didn’t respond to that comment, hoping it was more rhetorical,

I paused, unable to let that comment go unanswered. I quietly closed the door and said, “No, you are not disgusting” and sat back in my chair.


I discussed with her how important language is in shaping our thoughts, behaviours and self-image. When someone says she is disgusting, she essentially does what a disgusting person would do. She eats disgusting food and behaves in a disgusting manner. She won’t exercise or pay attention to what’s healthy for her. Disgusting thoughts beget disgusting behaviours.


Everything starts with a thought. A thought gets translated into words, which shapes emotions and manifests in behaviours Negative language shapes negative behaviours; positive language shapes positive behaviours. Language is an incredibly important vehicle that directs us to achieve the life we want. Small things, as trivial as they may seem, can make a significant difference, similar to how a slight shift in the earth can ultimately produce a tsunami.


Everything starts with a thought. A thought gets translated into words, which shapes emotions and manifests in behaviours. Negative language shapes negative bheaviours; postitive language shapes positvie behaviours.

I reiterated that someone who sees herself as disgusting is essentially “programming” her self-identity. In telling others that she’s disgusting, she reinforces the belief and helps solidify the new personality that revolves around it. She’s feeding her self-image. What you feed is what you grow.


So I asked her what would be three words that you would describe your best self?

She, like many people, even high performers, said she couldn’t think of any.

Too many people see the negative in themselves, thinking that will make them positive. People are more self-critical of themselves more than they would ever be of anyone else, but I digress.


I ended up asking her what other people would say about her? She, after some thought, said they would describe her as loyal, loving and disciplined. So then I asked her if she could do a straightforward exercise for 3 minutes every morning and evening for at least one month? She said she would. So I asked her to look at herself in the mirror and imagine she see her a little five-year-old girl and it’s her young self. And to say to her that you are loyal, loving and disciplined. And she sees that little girl her growing up before your eyes to the woman you are today. She said she could do this. And I wanted her to say these words with conviction and passion. And that was the end of our visit.


Several months later, she saw me in the grocery store and told me she’d lost fifteen pounds and was making better choices by merely having changed her language, which changed her identity.

what would be three words that you would describe your best self?


Everything starts with a thought. A thought gets translated into words, which shape emotions and manifest in behaviour. Negative language shapes negative behaviours; positive language shapes positive behaviours. you will never discover a greater identity based on what you can do

Reflecting on these experiences of building a career in magic, I realize how my self-identity has been shaped by my role models, the repetition of positive accolades from my magical performances, and overcoming the psychological barrier to using carpentry tools.

I’ve learned that how we view ourselves is the greatest shaper of our thoughts, emotions and decisions, which ultimately reflects our outcomes and life trajectory.


Self-perception—good, bad or indifferent—influences everything we do, from building illusions to studying for med school exams. It affects any new endeavour we pursue, our interactions in our relationships, our habits, trait or outcome we desire or need. If we believe we are caring spouses, we become caring spouses. If we think we can’t be good parents, we find ways to validate that belief. If we believe we can learn to be good/great/amazing at you name it, we can become that.


what would be three words that you would describe your best self?

As a doctor, educator and parent, I’ve seen how a person’s beliefs about themselves affect their actions. When an individual believes he can’t learn or do something, more often than not, he inevitably creates that result. I’ve also seen the opposite: when someone doesn’t appear to be ready to complete something, whether performing a medical procedure, learning a new concept or riding a bike without training wheels, but because she believes she can—because “that’s who I am”—then she figures a way to accomplish it. Our self-identity is the eyes with which we see the world and interpret its events. Our self-identity shapes the questions we ask, cultivates the answers we seek and nurtures the needs on which we focus.


Our self-identity is the greatest influencer in guiding our actions in what we do. If someone told me you’re a lousy basketball player, I wouldn’t take offence, if they said I was a lousy husband or terrible coach, then that would sting, I would take offence because I take pride in that.

Our self-identity is shapes the questions we ask, cultivates the answers we seek and nurtures the needs on which we focus.

What are the areas in your life limits you in the work you do, the relationships you have, and the goals you want to achieve?


Is there language you use that is affecting your ability to be more present, relate better with people? Connect better, be healthier? Do you feel that you can't be more fit? Be a better communicator? Why not? What three words could you use to be better at the work you do and the people you connect with and a habit or discipline that you need to add so that you can meet your goals and aspirations this year?


Think about your Identity in three areas of your life, work, home and play. If you're an introvert, that's great, but if you want more passion, you can. I'm not asking you to change who you are, but to dial into your inner greatness that already exists.


Thank you for listening, I hope this podcast served you in some way, if you've enjoyed listening to this podcast, please share with a friend or colleague and subscribe to us Apple podcast, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.


And if you go to the TheIntrovertedDoctor.com and sign in there, you'll get my weekly emails about the podcast episode that's coming out. Just a note, I' ve changed the release dates for every Friday.

I'm Dr. Lalit Chawla and thank you so much for listening. Let's together make a greater, more effective community in 2020 so that you live with greater passion, harmony and magic in your life and help others do the same.


Have a super weekend!


Lalit

I would love to hear any comments about this podcast and what would you like to hear in future episodes?





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