A Hundred Days to Happiness #44: Happy Humpday!

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For the majority with a Monday to Friday work or school week, midweek can be a low point. We find ourselves slogging our way until the weekend, and by Wednesday morning, we’re not even halfway there.

Is Wednesday your Humpday?

A lot of us live and work for our holidays, vacations and weekends. Those brief stretches of fun pass too quickly. The rest of the time is just filler.

Now that’s depressing.

We can all do better than that. In every day, in every school and in almost every work place, we can find something to make us and others happy. We just have to seek and see, improvise and follow through.

It helps to have a naturally gratifying job like mine. Though some of my workdays have stretched to 24 hours and I can work 12 days straight without a weekend break, I find every patient encounter meaningful. If I do my best, I can make a positive difference in every patient’s life.

But you don’t have to be a doctor to find meaning in your work. My favourite people do more than their job descriptions. They put a positive personal touch in all that they do, and by creating happiness for others, they are happier themselves. These people can put a positive spin on almost any job and change the tone of any workplace.

Find meaning in your work. If you can’t, what work should you be doing?

Don’t wait for weekends and holidays to take breaks. Build them into every day. Though I might look after as many as 40 patients in a day, I wouldn’t be doing my best if I didn’t take breaks when I needed them.

I begin each day with a 2000 metre swim. It serves as a meditation and a workout before I become a doctor for the rest of the day. I make enough time to eat a healthy breakfast and to touch bases with everyone at home before they’re off off to school.

Even in the middle of the busiest mornings, I’ll take a minute or two at the office for a cup of tea, an apple or an orange. Yesterday, my schedule was fully booked before the day started. However, two patients didn’t show up just before my lunch break. Instead of wasting a moment frustrated for the other patients who needed an appointment but couldn’t get in on such late notice, I grabbed my swimming gear and dashed back to the pool for another 30 lengths.

Schedule and seize your breaks when you can!

Your happiness exercise for today: Tomorrow is Wednesday – Humpday unless your workday doesn’t start on Monday or your work week extends to 12 days. Plan something so fun, enjoyable and rejuvenating that you’ll look forward to Wednesday arriving.

To double or triple your potential happiness, plan it with others at home, school or work. Imagine waking up tomorrow, saying “Thank God it’s Wednesday!” and greeting everyone with “Happy Humpday!”

You might have so much fun that you’ll want to plan something bigger each week.

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A Hundred Days to Happiness #45: Creating More Happiness Today

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Unless you make happiness a priority, the rest of your life can take over.

As you go through this day, be mindful of your words and actions, and as you reflect on your choices, ask, “Does this contribute to the happiness of myself and others?”

When we’re busy or distracted, it’s easy to deny our impact on those around us. There are many ways to give feedback. If we aren’t mindful of our tone and choice of words, we can create more unhappiness for our loved ones, friends and peers.

If we don’t look for them, we can miss many opportunities to help and encourage the people in our lives. And even if we do see them, we don’t always follow through.

Your happiness exercise for today: Regardless of the competing priorities of your day, make it your purpose to create more happiness for yourself and others.

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How Do You Think About Your Past and Future? How Does It Influence Your Experience of the Present?

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At an inspiring workshop last weekend, clinical psychologist, Dr. Lee Pulos spoke about how our beliefs about the past and future influence our enjoyment of the present. He showed us how visualization of a positive future is a key to success in life.

Dr. Pulos is an expert on success. He’s presented motivational seminars to many organizations and businesses, counselled elite athletes and served as sports psychologist to world class teams.

In our conventional thinking, we see our present as the consequence of the past. That’s how most of us see reality: who we are and what we have are the products of our past experiences and actions.

He explained how the future really creates the present.

There are many potential futures. The most successful people have acquired the habit of setting ambitious goals for themselves. They visualize a positive future that is clear and compelling.

This provides a blueprint and the motivation to move towards that positive vision, and that future will become our present.

He asked us to imagine ourselves as passengers on a grand and bountiful cruise ship. On board we have a wealth of interesting people, a variety of entertainment and a vast choice of food to enjoy. We can hop off the ship at every shore and enjoy the beauty and culture of destinations around the world.

But many of us tow behind us a barge loaded with junk from the past.

The weight of that junk slows us down and prevents us from sailing forward. When we ruminate – recycling the same old thoughts about our most negative experiences, we actually spend more time on that rusty old barge of the past while we could be enjoying what is present on the grand cruise ship.

As you sail through your life, how much time do you spend enjoying cruising through the present? How much time are you spending on the rusty old barge of the past? Do you need to hop off the barge, cut off the line and set free the old useless junk of the past? That can be one way to set your self free to enjoy more fully the present.

Are there negative experiences in the past you keep rehashing? By replaying the same scenes over and over again, we bring the past back into the present. It becomes a habit of thought that prevents you from seeing yourself, others and your world any differently. It contracts your vision and therefore limits your capacity for happiness and success.

Too often we replay negative soundtracks from the past. Listening to the oldies is nice if that puts you in a positive mood, but too often the negative words you heard in the past can become the monologue of negative self-talk in the present, feeding feelings of misery, inadequacy, victimhood and anger. None of this enriches your present or empowers you to work for a better future.

You can’t change the past, but you can choose your thoughts – how you think of your past and how much time you choose to spend there while actually living in the present. Look around and enjoy what is good and be mindful and kind to the people in your life today before they drift off into your past.

Posted in Happiness, Coping with Loss, Forgiveness, Letting Go, Growth, Awareness | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Secret to Breaking Bad Habits

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Though accidents, genetics and many conditions are beyond your control, of the things in your life that are, the best predictors of your future health are the habits you practice today.

Knowing that smoking damages our lungs, causes cancer and leads to heart attacks, strokes and vascular disease, why is it so hard to quit?

Understanding that obesity wears down the joints of our knees and hips and increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, why is it so hard for us to eat the right foods and get enough exercise?

Why do we keep making the same mistakes? Why do we keep getting into the same arguments?

We are creatures of habit, and that includes the habit of thought.

It is part of our human nature. 2700 years ago, the Buddha noted that which we habitually ponder upon will be our inclination.

Habits are functional. Our tendency to fall into habits gave our brains an evolutionary advantage. When we repeat a behaviour numerous times, it almost becomes hard-wired into our central nervous system. The connections between the neurons connected in the same pattern create efficiency and reduce the effort of thinking.

It makes it easy to find the path home, build a campfire, catch a fish and defend yourself from a rival.

In our everyday life, we easily fall into a pattern of relating to the people we know well without having to get to know our friends and family all over again. Even lost in thought while driving home, we find it without even trying.

Once our brains are set up with a longstanding routine, it can take Herculean effort to break out. Anyone who has tried to quit smoking, stick with a new exercise routine or switch to a healthy diet will agree.

Bad habits stick because of the brain’s efficiency – even when the brain’s logic commands us to do otherwise. I call this neurorigidity.

But the opposite is neuroplasticity – the now well-documented ability for the brain to change itself. We don’t have to remain stuck in the same patterns of behaviour and thought. Meditation, cognitive therapy and hypnosis have been shown through functional MRI studies to change how our brains work.

With commitment and practice, we can break out of maladaptive patterns of thought and create new and healthier habits of being.

If you really want to kick a bad habit, visualize the new you having achieved the goal you want to achieve. Engage your imagination with a clear and compelling vision of the new future you who has broken out of old patterns of thought and instead is supported by positive self-talk. You will have created a new pattern of thinking about yourself.

Then practice and practice a new way of being with this new vision of self in mind.

One of my teachers in clinical hypnosis, Dr. Lee Pulos will be teaching a workshop on “The Power of Visualization” from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 at the Vancouver Masonic Hall 1495 West 8th Avenue in Vancouver. This seminar is open to both the public as well as health professionals. The cost is $175/person. For more information, contact the Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BC) at (604) 688-1714 or http://www.hypnosis.bc.ca.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. You can read more about achieving your positive potential in health at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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Visualize the change you want to see

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There are periods in our lives when we can feel stuck in the middle. These are the in between times when we feel far from where we want to be in life.

It can be when we’re young and single; when we’re in high school, trying to get into a good post-secondary program or just trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives. It can be the mom who can’t wait ‘til her toddlers are in school so that she can get some of her personal life back. Then there’s mid life when we longingly think back to those very times when we were young and most of life was ahead of us.

Med school was one of those in between times for me. Often what we were doing was far removed from our goals. Though I had many good preceptors, some were not great teachers and treated students poorly.

I just made it through one surgical rotation after getting on the bad side of my preceptor. As we were transferring a patient from gurney to operating table, the sedated patient passed gas.

I asked, “Was that the patient . . . or someone else?”

The surgeon said, “It’s usually the first person who mentions it.”

I foolishly said, “It’s usually the first one who blames someone else.”

Unhappiness arises from the gap between what we have and what we want.

When my patients need a reminder to appreciate the good things in their lives, I ask, “What is it we don’t want?” After a moment of surprise, they usually start listing bad things they would like to avoid.

But the answer of course is that we don’t want what we already have.

We want what we don’t have – something we want in the future or something we’ve lost in the past.

We take what we have for granted.

But sometimes what we want is something better for ourselves – communicating better with others, stronger personal relationships, feeling more engaged in our work and our studies, enjoying a healthier lifestyle. Maybe what we want is a better world –solutions to poverty, disease, injustice and other forms of suffering.

So when we’re unhappy, we have three choices. 1. Do nothing and stay unhappy. 2. Learn to love what we have. 3. But when we need to create a better life, we can take steps toward positive change.

At a physician leadership conference last week, I saw an empowering aphorism on a colleague’s notebook: Accept what you cannot change; change what you cannot accept.

Every day in my office, I treat patients who bring their lists of problems to be solved. Sometimes the problems are difficulties quitting smoking, losing weight and eating a healthier diet. Sometimes they are uncomfortable psychological states, such as anxiety, anger, depression or low self esteem.

In the case of lifestyle changes, the greatest challenges are old habits. The man who wants to quit smoking repeatedly fights against the habitual pattern of smoking in response to old triggers. The one who is struggling with anger replays the thoughts that reinforce his sense of being right and feeling justified in his anger.

With depression and anxiety, we can be preoccupied with those negative feelings, fight them but replaying the very thoughts that reinforce them. Thinking that we’ll never be happy, reinforces feelings of hopelessness. Thinking that something bad will happen, reinforces anxiety.

The first step to positive change is to set a clear goal. Ask, “What do I really want?”

Once you’ve articulated your goal, you can break that big goal into the necessary but small, manageable steps, and when you successfully complete each successive step, your confidence grows and you move steadily in the direction of your dreams.

The crucial ingredient is the power of visualization.

Visualization allows you to clearly see your goal. When done effectively – not only using visual images (seeing yourself having achieved your goal) but all of your senses and feelings – you create a blueprint for success. You engage your subconscious mind and consciously create new habits of thinking about yourself and your future.

To get me through the in between times of medical school, I started using hypnosis tapes from the Burnaby Public Library. Most useful was a recording on relieving stress and anxiety by well-known psychologist, Dr. Lee Pulos.

By amazing coincidence (that some would call synchronicity), Dr. Lee Pulos will be teaching a workshop on “The Power of Visualization” from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 at the Vancouver Masonic Hall 1495 West 8th Avenue in Vancouver. This seminar is open to both the public as well as health professionals. The cost is $175/person. For more information, contact the Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BC) at (604) 688-1714 or http://www.hypnosis.bc.ca/training-opportunities/upcoming-workshops.html

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. You can read more about achieving your positive potential in health at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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Making sense of screening tests and symptoms

Next Tuesday, May 12th, I’ll be giving another free public lecture as part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s public health education series.
We started this program because most of the information that people get from television and the internet is incomplete, incorrect or biased. We wanted to fill in the gap to empower everyone in our community with the information needed to live a healthy life and get the most out of our healthcare system. The Burnaby Division of Family Practice is a non-profit organization whose members are the family doctors who serve the Burnaby community.
The talk is at 7 pm at the Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch library. I’ll be talking about screening tests (the tests that are recommended at different ages for each gender) and the symptoms that may indicate illness. I’ll go over the questions that physicians normally would ask patients during a complete physical. Most people never hear these questions because only a minority qualify for a physical covered by the Medical Services Plan.
To register for this free public talk call the Bob Prittie library at 604-436-5400 or register online at http://www.bpl.bc.ca.
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We Were Made to Move: Let’s Get Walking!

Drs. Davidicus Wong, Karime Mitha and Shelley Ross

Drs. Davidicus Wong, Karime Mitha and Shelley Ross

To some, the idea of exercise brings to mind four-letter words, like pain and work. But physical activity is not just for athletes and kids. It is essential to all of us. Healthy physical activity is one of the four foundations of self-care (a healthy lifestyle). The others are a healthy diet (what you put into your body), healthy relationships (how you relate) and emotional health (how you feel). The most important predictor (what you have control over) of your future health are the habits you practice today. We were made to move. When we don’t our health suffers. When we do, we thrive. The human body evolved to survive in times when food was scarce and life more physically demanding. Our genes are more suited to the prehistoric world. That’s why we crave fatty, high calorie foods and why we accumulate body fat if we don’t keep moving. If physical activity is a part of your everyday life then your life every day will be better. Daily physical activity can boost your mood and reduce anxiety. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, muscle strength and tone, coordination and comfort in your own body. We need a certain level of fitness in order to do the essential activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, meal preparation, housework and getting out of the house to do the things we want and need to do. Fortunately, we have bodies and brains that are highly adaptable. With regular practice, physical activity becomes easier: we grow in strength, skill, speed and grace. We can acquire healthy new habits. Though technology intends to improve the quality of our lives, it often degrades the quality of our health. Most of us would be much healthier if we walked or cycled instead or riding and driving. For many young people, thumbs get more exercise than legs. Even the couch potatoes of the sixties got more physical activity than couch potatoes today. We now use remotes to avoid the few extra steps to change the channel. If you’ve become less active because of the demands of everyday life or if you’ve just fallen into some bad habits, it’s not too late to change. Being more active can benefit you at any time in your life. It can make the difference between just getting by and feeling great. I invite you to take the first steps on the path of better health. May 9th to 15th is the Doctors of B.C.’s Walk With Your Doc week, and doctors throughout the province will be promoting physical activity in a variety of community events. On Saturday, May 9th, we’ll kick off the week with a free and fun 2 km walk at Kitsilano Beach Park in Vancouver at 9:30 am. As the event’s emcee, I’ll be there with many of my colleagues along with our patients. Even if your doctor isn’t there, you’re welcome to attend. All members of the public are invited, but come early to get your free pedometer. For more information about this event, check online at www.doctorsofbc.ca/walk-with-your-doc. To celebrate the World Health Organization’s Move for Health Day on Sunday, May 10th (Mothers’ Day), the City of Burnaby has organized a large number of free events including pole walking, canoe lessons, boot camp,. For more information check the City’s website at burnaby.ca. Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise column appears regularly in community newspapers. For practical tips for healthier living, see the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s website at divisionsbc.ca/burnaby.

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