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Calm the Chaos & Cultivate Harmony: Step 2 - Take back control of your attention.

Calm the Chaos & Cultivate Harmony: Step 2 – Take back control of your attention.


Last week we covered Step 1 – Taking back control of your time.


As residents and academic physicians with full lives outside of work, the demands for your attention are numerous! Those demands add to the chaos and seeming lack of harmony. This week, we are moving to step 2 of calming the chaos – control your own attention with 4 key tips.


Be present. You may recognize this from other blog posts, so it must be imperative, right? Right! When you're at work and thinking of the discussion with your spouse, partner, kid, sister – your attention is not on the patients and work-related tasks. When you're at home with your loved ones or out with friends, and you're thinking of the undone tasks at work, the medical concerns about a patient, the interpersonal issue with a staff member, your attention is not fully on your relationships.  So, you're rarely altogether putting your attention in the moment you're living in.


The good news is this is within your control! It will take effort as your brain may be accustomed to being rabbit-like, hopping to various thoughts, here and there and everywhere without intention. So how do you begin? Well, start by noticing when your attention is somewhere other than where you are. Then calmly, without judgment, bring your attention back to the present. It's also helpful not to keep notifications on your phone/computer. Set a focused time for the demands they offer. 


Some people do great with physical reminders/anchors at the transition point.  An example could be when you get in your vehicle to leaving work, you can toss your backpack, purse, or briefcase in the backseat and imagine it has all the cares of work in it. You can pick it back up when you’re on your way back into work the following day. Or, if you notice that your thoughts had drifted, adjusting your glasses to bring your focus back to the present. You don’t have to be ultra-rigid. Occasionally you may need to think about things in a different setting, such as reading on a patient case in the evening, calling your personal bank during lunch, etc. But the majority of your attention can be placed on the task or person at hand.  It’s so much more fruitful and calms the chaos a bit.


Use Filter #1. Values/Priorities. Have you spent time defining your values and priorities? Knowing those gives you a solid template. When you’re being asked to do x, y, and z, ask, "Does this align with my values and my current priorities?”


Use Filter #2. Questions. If the demand for your attention passes filter #1, then use questions for filter #2. (1) Do I feel like I should say yes from a place of “people-pleasing?” (2) Am I considering saying yes because I may feel guilty if I say no? If you answer no to those 2 questions, ask the most powerful question. (3) Do I want to do the task or spend my valuable attention on this demand? If yes, then great.  If no – well, that leads me to the fourth tip.


Learn to say no without regret. “No.” is a complete sentence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You can dress it up or down if you want. “Thank you for thinking of me, but I am not going to be able to do that.” “I wish I could say yes, but that is not going to work for me.” If you feel pressure to say yes, you may just need to create some space so you can really run it through the filters. "Let me check my schedule and get back to you." "Let me check in with my family, and I'll let you know.” Give yourself permission to do say these things without guilt. You have a limited amount of attention to give to the MOST important people and tasks. There is no guilt in using that wisely.


You get to take back control of where you spend your attention by being present and only giving attention to the most important things after knowing they align with your values and current priorities.  This is step 2 to create relief, calm the chaos, and build harmony in your life.


Have a joy-filled day!   Tonya

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