New Year, New Mentality

By Dr. Michele Foster

The beginning of each year marks a fresh start.  I, like many other people, am guilty of setting numerous (often unrealistic) New Years resolutions related to personal health and fitness, nutrition and career goals. Many of these are abandoned within the first month, after a busy night on call, when all I can think of is stopping at the McDonalds drive-thru for my morning egg McMuffin, or when I get home from a stressful day and would rather be distracted by the latest Netflix offering than read up on Psychopharmacology.

Residency is hard; by nature, we strive for excellence and have high expectations of ourselves and our fellow resident physicians. It is easy to set ourselves up for failure and self-shaming with unreasonable goals. It is easy to see things in black or white–all or nothing. As Vancouver-based wellness coach, Catherine Roscoe Barr writes, we need to “banish the all-or-nothing mentality.”

That’s why, this year, I decided to do something different.  Instead of setting specific goals, I’m focusing on a more basic approach, day by day, asking myself “will this [insert food/activity/extra-curricular etc] bring me joy?” In much the same way that Marie Kondo has inspired many to de-clutter their homes using this approach, it seems fitting that we can apply a similar principle in life–simplification! I have identified some of the things that are most important in my life, and am focusing my time and attention on those things. Of course, there are always those resident physician obligations–exams, call, or grand rounds presentations to name a few–which may not always bring us joy. I am learning to take a more positive outlook to this, by remembering that practicing medicine is a privilege and yes, there are more than a few hurdles to jump over before we have earned that privilege.

So this year, why not try banishing the all-or-nothing mentality? Sure, I may not have made it to my 6 a.m. spin class, but rather than being self-critical for the rest of the day, I’ll take the stairs, and stop worrying about it! And when I get home, I will probably watch Netflix, and may even indulge in a glass of wine, guilt-free.

[The Life Delicious: The Science of Health, Happiness and Productivity: http://www.thelifedelicious.ca/]

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Dr. Michele Foster is a Psychiatry resident physician at University of Alberta.