A Critical Care Surgeon’s 4 Secrets To Balance & Success

The Challenge: It’s hard not to feel drained at the end of the day
The Science: If you learn to unplug the right way, you can recharge yourself easily
The Solution: A critical care surgeon’s 4 secrets to recharging 

One of the biggest problems we face in today’s society is that our work is an increasingly large and pervasive component of our lives. Here’s what I’ve learned as a critical care surgeon: Unplugging is essential if one is to remain balanced, perform at optimal levels, and achieve high levels of success.

1) The first step to being able to unplug is to fully understand, both intellectually as well as emotionally, the benefits of unplugging.

Looking at the bigger picture: Taking a mental vacation and unplugging allows the individual to escape the daily grind and better appreciate the bigger picture. This means engaging in deep, meaningful thought and reconciling thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about one’s life and place in the world.

Time for uninterrupted recreation: Think about the word recreation (re-create). Unplugging will allow the individual to be relieved from worries and obligations and to spend time doing something that brings joy for the sake of happiness itself. Oftentimes, creativity, euphoria, flow state, and peak experiences occur while one is in an elevated mood during recreation.

Time to spend with family: Because of the rigorous work schedule of those in the medical field, intimate relationships become strained. Unplugging will promote relationship reconciliation and improved quality of life for the individual in the medical field, as well as for his or her family members.

Reduce Burnout: Burnout is associated with job dissatisfaction and disruptive behavior. Unplugging can rejuvenate and replenish with energy and reduce burnout.

Exercise: Unplugging will allow for exercise which will improve health, well-being, and quality of life. It will also increase energy and reduce burnout and feelings of depression.

Increased Productivity: Feeling well-rested and refreshed will promote increased energy and an improved ability to think more clearly and solve problems. Peak performance is achieved when both the mind and body are at an optimal level of energy and endurance.

2) The second step is to evaluate your personal narrative (your “life story”) so that you do not identify yourself with your occupation.

Identifying yourself as your profession can severely narrow your perspective and cause you to think and behave that are only consistent with that profession. For example, I am a doctor, but I identify myself as a human being who is trained and specialized in medicine and the healing process. This allows me to better understand the world and other peoples’ perspectives. Improving your personal narrative can greatly reduce the stress of work. Here is some advice on how to improve your personal narrative.

Create an empowering meaning for everything. You can do this by believing that everything that happens to you is serving you in some way and that you can learn from it. One of the best ways to create an empowering meaning is to ask empowering questions, as this will lead to empowering answers.

What is good about this?
How is this making me stronger or smarter?
What is funny about this?
How can this help me?
How can this help other people?
How can I use this for future experiences?

Focus on what you can control, and do not focus on what you cannot control. Fully understand, both intellectually as well as emotionally, that you are in complete control over how you respond to situations. You are not in control of what happens, but you are in complete control of how you react to it.

Make a conscious decision as to how you want to respond, as opposed to having a visceral reaction to your surroundings.

Accept the fact that there are plenty of things in which you have no control over.

Cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is essentially the opposite of entitlement. Gratitude turns scarcity into abundance. Discontent occurs when there is a gap between expectations and reality. Entitlement is a predetermined sense of expectancy. Gratitude closes this gap as it removes entitlement. There are countless studies demonstrating the beneficial social, psychological, and physiological effects of gratitude on humans. Utilize it to increase your well-being and improve your personal narrative. Live with an attitude of gratitude!

Cultivate acceptance. Knowing that the pain you experience in life is because of the gap that exists between your expectations (the way you think things should be) and your reality (the way things actually are), you can mentally bridge this gap by accepting things the way they are. This does not mean to be passive, apathetic, or indifferent; this means that you understand that the world is the way it is before you existed, and the world will remain long after you are gone. Remind yourself and accept that you are finite.

3) The third step is Mindfulness

This is the opposite of mind-wandering. Being mindful means actively and consciously directing your focus and concentration toward the present moment. While being mindful, do not pass judgment on anything you notice, just recognize it and let it be. Do not think of it as being good or bad, right or wrong, just there. This can bring a deep sense of relaxation to the mind as mental chatter begins to dissipate. These are the things you can be mindful of at any moment.

Awareness of your body

Attention to breathing

Attention to the position of the body

Attention to sensation

Awareness of your feelings

Awareness of your state of mind

4) The Fourth Step is Meditation

Dedicate time to be alone without any distractions. Sit in a room alone and focus your mind on a single object, such as your breathing. Every time you notice your mind begin to wander, redirect your focus toward your breathing. You may notice this happens several times, and this is normal. Just continue to redirect your focus without getting frustrated. This technique gets easier with time and can be a great source of peace, joy, serenity, and equanimity.

Akram Alashari
Akram Alashari, MD is a Trauma Surgeon and Critical Care Physician. He earned his MD at the age of 23, and completed General Surgery Residency Training at the University of Connecticut. He then earned board-certification in general surgery at the age of 28, among the youngest in the nation. He subsequently completed Surgical Critical Care sub-specialty training at the University of Florida. He is passionate about exploring and expanding untapped human potential and is also an author and public speaker. He is the author of the book The Power of Peak State: Massively Enhance Your Personal Potential, available in the summer of 2015. He gives speeches about improving workplace environment and productivity, increasing mental and physical capacity, health and well-being, stress reduction, medical education, and public health issues such as injury- and violence-prevention. He enjoys reading, running, and spending time with his wife.
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