Not compatible with life.

I’ve written about having clear goals and looking to heroes as ways to live life effectively. These things give us the direction to go, they keep us on track. A second part to this is the need to let go of things that aren’t aiding these goals, things that wouldn’t be done by the heroes we look to emulate. In order to live the life we want, we need to let go of the things that aren’t compatible with that life.

I write today to reflect on the need to stop doing the things not compatible with the life we want.

I’ll be honest in saying I have a few bad habits and behave terribly sometimes. I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard but I don’t believe the term ‘safety in numbers’ applies. Reflection has given some clarity and some desire to change. I have big goals and great heroes. If I am to achieve these goals and emulate these heroes my actions should be compatible with them, they should be actions that help rather than hinder.

I won’t go into the details of my bad habits. I don’t think that would help. My hero Kim once said to me, “Chris, don’t you ever, ever, ever look back.”, I’m going to channel that. Eyes forward, embrace change, realign my actions. I’d encourage you to do the same. Pick something that is not compatible with your goals, something like smoking or drinking, too much TV, giving in to stress, and let it go. Be honest with yourself and be brave. If it’s not helping, it’s probably hindering so eyes forward and embrace new things.

I attempted a career racing motorcycles. I never quite got there but it taught me a lot and I still think about the lessons I learnt. I learnt about perseverance, about helping those around you. I also learnt, very practically, that when racing there is no point in coasting. You need to be either accelerating or braking, coasting is not helpful, coasting is a hindrance. Having behaviours that aren’t helpful is like coasting, you know you shouldn’t be doing it but you catch yourself there every time.

Fear often held me back when I was racing. It once caused me to hesitate on the up ramp of a jump, I stood when I should have seat-bounced. I came up short on a twenty something metre double and wound up with a broken humerus. Hindsight is beautiful isn’t it, why oh why did I hesitate? I wish I hadn’t, I wish I’d been braver and fully committed. While I no longer race motorcycles I’m sure the lesson I learnt there can still be of use. Giving in to fear is a hindrance, it’s not compatible.

I have picked a behaviour I don’t like, a behaviour misaligned with my goals and heroes, and I am going to drop it.

Maybe you should too.

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Progression, not perfection.

As a medical student, there isn’t time to be perfect.

As I’ve written about before (https://wildermedicine.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/how-to-study-effectively/) I spent the early months of medical school making perfect notes. Hours and hours of work to get the finished product. I watched some of my classmates do the same thing. They went for the details, chasing the perfect summary, the perfect diagram, they constructed beautiful notes with all the colours of the rainbow.

“But the world doesn’t reward perfection….”

In the end, we ran out of time. The first six months of school had accumulated somewhere upwards of 150 lectures. When exam time rolled around, the breadth of material we had to cover was quite staggering. Our rainbow notes and perfect summaries of the first few weeks were pushed aside as exams crept steadily closer. We needed to plough through content, those of us realising this changed our focus. Progression, not perfection, was the name of the game.

“… It rewards productivity.”

Peter Bregman, quoted above, could easily have been writing about medical school. “How to Escape Perfectionism”* was published through the Harvard Business Review** last year. I read the article long after the experiences of first year exams but the sentiment captures the situation perfectly. Passing our exams was about progression, not perfect notes and pretty pictures.

Bregman describes the trap of perfectionism. One where projects are slow to start, take few steps forward and rarely finish. He points to a focus on getting every detail perfect as the cause for this. Again, he could have easily been writing about medical school. The perfectionism trap is rampant in this sphere. Example; you’re crawling through a metabolic biochemistry lecture, the krebs cycle is taunting you, it hides it’s details in dusty textbooks and a maze of wikipedia pages. The perfectionist in us tells us to grab the highlighters and a fresh sheet of paper. We draw picture after picture trying to get it right, to ingrain each step, to memorise every active enzyme. If we can just get the colours to match, the picture will be perfect and surely we’ll remember…. STOP!!

Learning the krebs cycle should be about broad brushstrokes, a few keys steps and the rate-limiting enzyme. Get those things in your head and move on. You don’t have time to get that picture perfect. The next 149 lectures are pleading for you to move on.

“… productivity can only be achieved through imperfection. Make a decision. Follow through. Learn from the outcome. Repeat over and over and over again.”

Bregman discusses this change in perspective on a much larger scale. He applies it to life, to happiness. He points to the people of Iceland as an example. They are the “happiest people on earth” due to their ability to be imperfect. They forgive themselves for imperfection, and the associated progression, and can therefore forgive others. Failure is not stigmatised so they are more likely to try new things. Being good at something is not perceived as important. Instead, they get an idea and go for it because failure does not matter, because they are happy to not get it right the first time. This ability to seek progression rather than perfection grants them unrivalled productivity. As medical students I think we need to channel this.

When studying we need to make progress, not to be perfect.

* Peter Bregman, How to Escape Perfectionism – http://peterbregman.com/articles/how-to-escape-perfectionism/#.VN6Ap8btXjI

** Anyone with an interest in these types of articles, or anything business and leadership related, should sign up to the free version of the Harvard Business Review website. You can set your preferences for the types of things you want to read and the site will make suggestions for you. Signing up to the free version grants you access to 15 articles a month. Go here – https://hbr.org – and click on the register bit down the bottom.

Why I have heroes.

I’ve listened to Cliff Reid’s ‘How to be a hero’ talk about a dozen times now (http://emcrit.org/podcasts/how-to-be-a-hero/). I get choked up every time when he talks about his heroic mate Mick. It’s an inspiring, heart felt, and very brave presentation. I like this talk not because I want to be a hero but because I want to hear about heroes, about heroic acts. I think we need to so that we have the chance to adopt these stories, these people, as our heroes. Today, I write about why I have heroes and what they do for me.

I think we should first differentiate between being a hero and having a hero. In my simple brain, I consider having a hero as having someone you look to, or someone you think about, when you’re faced with a tough situation. Maybe this is someone who displays the traits and behaviours you admire and you therefore look to emulate them. As a simple extension, I consider being a hero as being the person displaying the traits and behaviours that others are looking to emulate. Further, heroic acts are ones that others will look to emulate.

Considering the traits and behaviours that I admire, a hero is a selfless person. A hero acts for good, for others, in the face of adversity, in spite of this adversity, they are relentless. They even seek the challenge, pursue the chance to push themselves. They are curious, constantly smiling, kind, patient. They have empathy and understanding. I have heroes, people who act in these ways, so that I might follow their lead.

I have three main heroes; my Dad, Kim, and my Mum. I have many other people I consider heroes for their actions in different circumstances; Cliff Reid, Cliff’s mate Mick, Travis Pastrana, my wife Carly, the best man at my wedding Aidan, my best mate at med school Blair. Each of these people, each of their stories, inspire me to act in the ways I outlined above.

My Dad is selfless, never making a decision or taking a step without first thinking of his children. There are four of us lucky enough to call him Dad. For much of my childhood he was by himself with all four of us were under the one roof. He continues to work tirelessly so that we each have opportunities. So that the world is our oyster. He has an incredible work ethic and is incredibly generous. That’s heroic to me. I hope to be a dad like him.

Kim was a part of the push that got me to medical school. He is forever curious, forever learning. His knowledge of all things, and I really mean ALL things, is astounding. He taught me about truly setting goals. Big goals. He taught me to pursue them relentlessly. His body continually fails him but he doesn’t “have time for that” so he moves on, his will is strong, at times he is ruthless. Kim taught me about managing people. He offered endless words of wisdom in this sphere (“There are no difficult problems. Only difficult people.”) and was kind and ever smiling. That’s heroic. I hope to be like that.

I can’t remember my Mum ever actually yelling at me or getting cross with me (can’t say the same about my younger brother….). My mum can always, always, always see the positive in a shitty situation. She can sit with you, when the tears are rolling, and be tender and patient. She’ll listen, offer a wise quote from Russ Harris or Stephen Covey, hug you and push you back on the right path. My mum is honest to the end. She worked in Kings Cross as a counsellor for 15 years or so. She’s seen it all (and done most of it I think) so she’ll never judge and can see the ‘why’ in every crap decision you make. She is the definition of empathic. That’s hard, and I think it’s heroic. I hope to be like that.

I could continue on about the other people, the other actions that are heroic to me but I think you get the point. I think I’m a better person for having heroes because they are a guide. They offer a reference point for how to act, why to act, when to act. As a student, as a young man, as a budding doctor, I feel like I need heroes.

I think you probably do too.

Replenish your motivation.

Back to school today. A fresh start, a new beginning, start of a new chapter. Words words words, so what do all these cliche’s actually mean for us students as we kick off a new academic year?

I write today as a means to get motivated for what is to come. A year of learning. Minimal holidays. Long hours. Consecutive weeks where my biggest expense will be coffee.

I’m heading into third year, which at ANU means the start of the Phase Two – the clinical years. It does feel like we’re a few steps closer to real medicine. Like maybe we’ll be part of the team this year? Surely we’ll now be seeing many more patients than books. That said, our previous head of clinical teaching referred to our position as medical students as being the bottom of the bottom. With a wry smile and a giggle, we would be assured that only when lucky enough to make it to an internship could we consider ourselves as having graduated to the bottom step of the ladder. So at two years down and with two to go, our cohort is slightly off the ground. We’re halfway to the bottom step of the ladder. Yep, time to get that motivation happening.

Today’s post is about where to find it.

The early years of a medical education are thick with interrogation – ‘Why do you want to be a doctor?’. If I’m honest, I hate this question. I don’t believe the details of our ‘why’ even matter. Perhaps I am biased. For me, medicine was not a lifelong goal. There are no family photos of me with a teddy bear and a stethoscope. My ‘why’ seeded during time with patients in a clinical setting. My hat was that of an exercise physiologist but I got to love the people side of the health industry. I was lucky to have some influential people in my ears, my desires shifted and I started my GAMSAT study. I haven’t looked back. I won’t follow that tangent anymore for now. I bring it up only to make the assertion that provided you have one, the roots of your ‘why’ are largely inconsequential.

Back to our search for motivation.

I believe that maybe the motivation is in the direction. Perhaps if we have considered the direction we wish to go, and can then see that the steps in front of us are going that way, some level of motivation will push us along. It’s clear that some of us carry higher levels of motivation than others. However, it seems that for the vast majority there is a strong ENOUGH desire to become a doctor that we will do whatever we need to do to get through. I believe that for each of us, the desire (or our ‘why’) gives us the direction, and having the right direction keeps the motivation topped up.

My second assertion for the day: at the outset of a new academic year, whether walking into third year, first year or your final year, you had better replenish your motivation.

For me, replenishing my motivation is about revisiting my ‘why’. It’s about tapping into my desire to be a doctor by reminding myself of the aspects of medicine that excite me. I get excited thinking about the challenge of the career, the people I will meet, the chance to be forever learning. I’ve got no idea where in the medical world this will take me, but I also don’t think that matters (Yet). With two year’s to go, kicking myself into gear is about setting my sights on the bottom step of the ladder. Sure, I know there will be much climbing from that point on but I want to be challenged. I want to see the best and worst of people and to make a difference in peoples lives. This is me recharging my desire.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have just spent two weeks on a John Flynn placement. These were two weeks of confirmation that my desire is in the right place. They were confirmation that this desire has put me on the right direction. Feeling as though I’m on the right direction has given me renewed motivation, it’s given me further confidence in my ‘why’.

So to the advice. As we kick off another year of school revisit your ‘why’. If you are heading into year one, be ready for the interrogation, be assured that the roots of your desire do not matter. Be clear that your ‘why’ is no better or worse than the person sitting beside you. For those further through the program, remember the ‘why’ you came in with. Remind yourself that your current direction, although dull and downright unpleasant at times, is a necessary step. Let this knowledge feed your motivation. Do what you need to get excited again.

Motivation means you will hit the ground running. Coffee will do the rest.