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.