I’ve just finished 3 days of 13-hour shifts at work as the Obstetrics & Gynaecology junior doctor on-call. Each day was pretty relentless, with back-to-back patients to see, operations to assist in, discharge summaries to write, arterial blood gases to take and cannulas to insert.
Halfway through, I found myself somewhat resenting the job but then two pieces of advice that I’ve written about in the past came to my mind and immediately made my days better.
1 - Do what you’re doing (Issue #93)
It’s about the idea that when we’re doing stuff, we should be fully immersed in the thing we’re doing, rather than thinking about other things.
David, the author, quotes from a 1990s book about Spring Cleaning
Pay attention. Almost everything else will fall into place if you do. Don’t think about revisions in the tax code. Or anything else. In Latin: Age quod agis—”Do what you are doing.”
I take this to mean something more than just “don’t get distracted from the act of cleaning.” I interpret it as, “bring all of your concern to exactly the task you’re on now,” whether it’s wiping away soup spatters from the stovetop, or dragging the coffee table aside so you can vacuum.
While I was at work, part of me was thinking ‘okay I just need to get this task done and then I can continue revising renal physiology while filming a study-with-me video’. But then something would come up immediately after (or during) the original task and so my master plan of filming a productive studying video whilst on-call was constantly thwarted.
Initially this annoyed me (“aargh why are things so busy I just want to have a spare hour to do my own thing”). But then I remembered the advice age quod agis. I focused on what I was doing, rather than treating what I was doing as an obstacle in my path to what I really wanted to do. I stopped thinking about the dream of filming that video, and started thinking instead about applying all my attention to the tasks at hand.
Immediately after having this realisation, I stopped being irritated by the workload and started to enjoy it.
2 - Have to vs Get to (Issue #54)
I’m a big fan of how changing the way we talk about stuff changes the way we think about it. In Medicine, we love to complain about how we have to do these discharge summaries, how we have to go through the tedium of our e-portfolio and getting things signed off. Instead, if we internally (and perhaps externally) rephrased it as get to, perhaps our working lives would become more pleasant.
In general, I wonder to what extent we can hack our own brains into acting as if doing stuff is a privilege rather than a burden.
Replying to comments for instance - I could think of it as “aargh I have to reply to these hundreds of comments from random people around the world #humblebrag”. That wouldn’t be very fun. Instead, I think of it as “I get to offer my thoughts to people around the world who somehow found me on the internet and seem to value my advice about their personal issues, this is awesome”.
Ultimately, I’m doing the same thing - replying to comments. But in one version of the narrative, it’s a chore. In the other, I’m having a great time. And it’s just that seemingly simple switch from have to to get to that makes the difference.
At 8:30pm earlier tonight, I was ready to head home when a bleep came in that a patient needed a cannula inserted. I went over to the ward and started preparing the equipment with a mild grumble in my head of “sigh, guess I have to do this cannula”.
As soon as I had the thought, I reminded myself “no Ali, you don’t have to do this cannula, you get to do it”.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked. Either way, the patient would’ve gotten the cannula. But the subtle change in mindset made me enjoy the process of putting it in much more.
It’s easy when we’re reading (or writing) life advice to think “damn this is good stuff” one moment and completely forget about it the next.
But the more we remind ourselves of it, the more our neural patterns develop around those new processes, and the easier it becomes to maintain a positive and productive mindset in the future.
Have a great week!