The examined life – happier and less stressful! A physician coach takes the seat of observer

Mounds of dirt. Beeping trucks. Parking blocks away from our house. No water.
This was our reality for months as our street was torn up, day after day, in order to replace the sewer line. When I turned on the water and nothing came out – again – I went outside to find out when we might expect the water to be turned back on. We were having guests for dinner and they wouldn’t appreciate not having a toilet if it was needed!

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As the worker casually told me that perhaps we would have water in “an hour…maybe two,” I found myself becoming irritated, argumentative and condescending. He was kind enough to listen for a minute and then simply turned away. His response wasn’t what I was looking for – and my harangue definitely wasn’t what he wanted to listen to.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And, as Joe Dispenza remarks in his book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, “the key moment in making any change is going from being it to observing it.” So I shifted into observation mode. I was irritated by the prolonged, daily construction on our street, concerned that our guests would be inconvenienced without a bathroom and worried that I might not be able to provide dinner, as we had promised. I didn’t want to consider an alternative plan for our guests and so decided to release my anger on the man standing next to the giant ditch in the street. Blaming the person who was supervising the repair of the water line damaged by someone else wasn’t appropriate or helpful. Given what I was really concerned with, what else could I do that would actually solve the problem?

I asked the city worker if he could be sure when the water would come on. “No,” he replied.
So I went inside and made reservations at a nearby restaurant for dinner.

While not as happy as if I could have cooked dinner for our friends,  this solution satisfied my real concerns. The restaurant would be able to supply both the dinner and the restroom that we couldn’t.

We have a choice whenever we become angry or frustrated. We can continue our self-righteous stance or we can become an observer.  Why is this making us so angry?  Is it worth fighting?  What can we change? By taking a moment to examine these moments of our lives, we can bring them into greater alignment with what’s really important and make our life not only worth living, but happier and less stressful.

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About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
This entry was posted in effective communication in healthcare, mindfulness, physician coach, physician coaching, physician communication, physician fulfillment, work life balance and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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