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Optimizing Your Mindset in Medicine, Step 4 - Intentional Thinking

This week we continue the series for optimizing our mindsets as physicians. Last week, I introduced a framework for those of us not trained as behavioral scientists to use called the Thought Model developed by Brooke Castillo, Master Certified Coach.  In it, we put our automatic thoughts that we just accept as true.


This week we are looking at another advanced option that involves intentional thoughts.  Before I get there, I want to clarify that you do NOT have to move on to this step. Just the awareness of your thoughts and separating facts from the story, you can gain a better perspective. Plugging those facts and automatic thoughts into the Model is an excellent step to gaining more insight and awareness to what you are creating by embracing your automatic thoughts. 


Once you can see and believe how your view affects you, you can decide if you want to look at the situation differently. If you do, then we move on to an Intentional Model. 


There are 2 crucial aspects to moving on, with purpose, to other ways of thinking.


  1. It must be entirely believable. (This isn't where you click your ruby-red slippers together and wish).
  2. It must serve you better. (Why pick a perspective that gives continues adding unnecessary suffering?)


Let me first give an example using the automatic model explained last week:


C: Clothes from the hamper are on the bathroom floor. No one else is home other than my husband.

T (automatic): That’s a rude way to say the clothes need to be washed!

F: Offended

A: Passive-aggressively pile them in front of his shower, ruminate on why this is considered “the woman’s job,” remind myself of similar conflicts over the years, stomp, talk to him with curt answers, and increase my anger and resentment.

R (my result): I’m now being rude to myself and him and have ruined my day. (It wasn’t the clothes that ruined the day – just my thought about them.)


I could look at that and realize my automatic thought is an assumption, causing me to stop enjoying my weekend. Here are two choices. One, I discuss the situation from a non-judgmental place with my husband – losing the assumption. To do so, I can use the awareness practice and muster up some neutrality with a thought like, “I’m withholding judgment about why the clothes are on the floor.” Or, I could think about it in a way to improve my day without even discussing it. There’s no right or wrong here. You get to choose.


If I want to choose an intentional thought, what’s one that would give me a better perspective?


Maybe, “He is so sweet to make it easy for me to sort the clothes.”  Buzzer sound! No. That would be so NOT believable to me. My brain will not accept that. 


Okay, maybe, “He’s mad that I put his jeans in the hamper prematurely.” Buzzer sound again! Perhaps it’s more believable. But that would likely cause me to feel defensive and pity myself for my helpful efforts being rejected. So, probably still not going to help me continue my happy weekend day. 


What would be believable and serve me better? “I bet he was in a hurry to grab his work jeans to help the neighbor get unstuck.” Totally believable knowing my neighbor and my husband’s propensity for helping others. How does it serve me?  Let’s try it out:

C: Clothes from the hamper are on the bathroom floor. No one else is home other than my husband.

T (intentional): “I bet he was in a hurry to grab his work jeans to help the neighbor get unstuck.”

F: Proud

A: I smile and think happy thoughts about him, either put the clothes in the hamper or maybe sort them and put a load on or perhaps even leave them knowing he will get to them.

R (my result): I continue with my happy weekend day.


Since I was assuming the worst to begin with, what harm is there in assuming the best? If I’m making it up, I might as well make up something that doesn’t cause me unnecessary frustration.


And what if I’m wrong? What if he was providing a “hint” about wanting me to wash his clothes? Well, I’m still happy, and eventually, he can decide if he wants to have an adult conversation. And I can decide what I want to think about that then.  There’s no downside.


Okay, in the spirit of transparency, the above example actually happened after I had been doing this work for some time. I walked into the bathroom to grab something, saw the clothes, and walked out with a little smile. A couple of hours later, I realized my former, more negative way of thinking had been replaced with automatic positive assumptions. And that made me smile more.


So, if you’re feeling up to it, try it out. Use the link below to get some feedback to help you assist you with this new skill. Some nuances take a while to learn.  Or feel free to email me. Over the next two weeks, I will give you some tips and caveats to be looking for. 


Until then, have a joy-filled week!  Tonya

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