We invited positive psychology practitioner, Jordyn Feingold, MAPP to share her tips on improving well-being while in medical school. Jordyn, in a week-long series, will explore the concepts of REVAMP—a novel approach to well-being. Here, she discusses the second element of the model: engagement.
The ability to live in the present moment is integral to experiencing well-being. I recommend three ways to find optimal engagement—based on the science of Positive Psychology:
- Create a daily work flow.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Find your key strengths—and use them.
Flow is a psychological state that enhances a person’s life and work experience. It is reached when people are able to match their challenges with their unique skills. People who find flow, can fully concentrate on their goals and tasks because they have found a balance between arousal and boredom.
From conducting physical exams to participating in rounds, we as medical students need to be fully engaged with our assignments and develop a work flow to be successful in our careers.
How can you achieve flow? Try these six tips:
- Create clear goals for yourself.
- Ask for immediate feedback.
- Take on challenging tasks.
- Get in the zone and work free of distractions.
- Step outside of yourself.
- Work on purposeful activities that are intrinsically meaningful to you.
In addition to the aforementioned tips, remember to focus on what you’re doing—not how you’re doing. Breaking down our tendency to self-scrutinize is a major key to finding flow.
Stop. Take a Breath. Observe. Proceed.
Practicing mindfulness allows each of us to live in the present moment by letting go of self-deprecating beliefs, thoughts, or emotions. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (at the University of Massachusetts Medical School), elaborates: mindfulness is “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness in medicine is associated with:
- Greater physician well-being
- Higher quality patient care
- Improved medical decision-making
Instead of living on auto-pilot every day, we can become fully attuned to life and our interactions with patients, colleagues, friends, and family.
A formal training isn’t necessary to start practicing mindfulness (although I highly recommend one). You can begin by joining HEADSPACE for daily meditation tips, visiting Calm to capture reflective moments throughout the day, or signing up for the ISMMS Mindfulness Nexus Course which will be available fall 2017. You can also test out your listening skills with this exercise:
Listen Like a Sponge—Adapted by Dr. J. Bays’s technique in How to Train a Wild Elephant
- In your daily conversations, try listening to others as though you were a sponge—without interrupting.
- Tune into subtle changes in the speaker’s tone or voice quality, paying attention to non-verbal cues.
- Do not formulate any response in your mind until a response is requested or needed.
- Reflect: Did you notice any changes in the way you felt? Did you keep your mind and body still to absorb everything that another person is saying? Does listening fully to patients change anything about the therapeutic quality of the interaction?
- If you are completing this exercise in a group setting, how did it feel to be fully listened to without interruption?
When we focus on our unique character strengths, we are positively impacting our lives, by becoming more conscious of our personal well-being and how we engage with our colleagues and patients. As aspiring doctors—and the conduits of medical knowledge to our patients—our well-being and performance in medical training is integral to ensuring better patient outcomes and satisfaction.
Before we’re able to apply our unique strengths to medicine, we need to identify what they are. One way to discover your unique character strengths is by using a self-assessment tool like the Values In Action (VIA) Inventory of Strengths—used by researchers and practitioners worldwide.
After completing the VIA survey, you may see that your strengths are not fixed traits across settings and time. Instead, they are malleable, subject to growth, and based on context. For example, you may see yourself as a risk-taker in your personal life, but when treating your patients, you may be highly cautious and reserved.
Try this exercise to channel your top professional strengths:
- Set aside 15-20 minutes and complete the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
- Review your results.
- Reflect: Do any of your top strengths surprise you? What about your lower strengths? What would your life look like if you were unable to use your top strength? Do you think that it would be more beneficial to focus on your using top strengths or improving your lesser strengths?
- Find three new ways to use your top strengths this week and write about your experience. Can you use your top strengths to become a better student? A better doctor? A better friend or family member? To overcome some obstacle? To create a positive experience?
- Optional: Focus on a lower strength. How does it feel to exercise a strength that may not come as naturally to you?
- Optional: Invite a friend, classmate, or family member to take the VIA. Before he/she completes the test, try to identify what you think his/her top 5 strengths will be. After he/she takes the test, debrief the scores together. Were you right about your predictions? In what situations do you notice this person using his or her top strengths in daily life?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordyn Feingold is a first-year medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine. She is passionate about integrating the science of well-being into medicine and creating cultures that enable practitioners and patients to thrive. Jordyn completed her undergraduate studies in Health and Societies as well as her Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at the University of Pennsylvania. For more information about positive psychology or the REVAMP theory, reach out to her at: Jordyn.Feingold@icahn.mssm.edu.