Some people are naturally very empathetic. I am one of those people. This is a great gift that allows me to connect with people every day when they share with me why they have come to see the doctor. I have grown aware through years of practicing medicine that people long for these connections. People long to be heard, share a moment and have someone appreciate their circumstances.
A patient last week told me, “I always feel better after coming here”. I made no medical adjustments during that visit. She shared with me how her best friend died and we simply felt sad for a few minutes together. Nothing that required a medical degree but healing occurred.
I understand why more people don’t practice empathy.
It’s hard! Not hard to do but hard to handle. Sharing someone’s situation can mean feeling their pain. I know I am asking you to do something hard. But this matters more than anything else we can do in this life. Let’s share each other’s pain.
We will change the world when non-minorities share the pain of discrimination, when straight people can know in their hearts that all love is love or when the well-nourished feel other’s hunger.
Walk in another’s shoes until it hurts. Look for opportunities today to ask yourself, “I wonder what that person is going through.” When a person is short with you think about what must be going on for them to make them so upset today. When a person looks down, frustrated, upset see if you can connect with them.
Simply select one person today and ask yourself what it must be like to be them.
Obituaries are never read by the one person who should read it. We go through our lives without telling people how much they matter. We point out the places our children need to improve in attempts to be motivating parents who push our children to be their best.
How often do we simply list off all the things our children did right today?
We let our spouses know the dishes are not done, the toilet paper roll is empty and that we can’t stand their shoes in the middle of the floor.
Do we tell them we couldn’t get through life without them supporting us or that we always feel better after they let us vent about our bad day?
Families are spread all over the country. When did you last call someone you miss to simply tell them you miss them? Take a moment today to say out loud something good. Tell someone the deepest thoughts that you don’t share enough.
Don’t just think about how great someone is, say it.
Would you like to know a secret that doctors know? People don’t take very good care of themselves. Another secret is that doctors don’t take great care of themselves either.
There are so many reasons why we do things that are bad for us. It’s easier, it feels good at the moment, we are too busy or stressed out. Here is my simplified conclusion. We don’t take good enough care of ourselves because we do not value ourselves enough. Do you eat junk that you don’t let your kids eat because it is not good for them? Do you make time for others but never yourself? I want you to say to yourself, “I matter and I am worth taking care of”.
Your challenge today is to value yourself. Do something good for you today.
– Get in your exercise, get a massage, make the appointment for your hair or nails or doctor’s visit (yep, I snuck that in).
– Make a list of what makes you the great person you are.
– Make a permanent decision to stop feeling guilty for taking care of yourself.
When the airplane is crashing and the oxygen mask drops they always say to put your mask on first. You are little help to all those you self – sacrifice for if you don’t take care of yourself first.
In college, a friend of mine told me, “You don’t always have to be talking”. I was so mad at him. Since that time, I have realized that was the most impactful thing anyone has ever said to me. I have always liked to talk but I am very aware that the most important thing I can do is listen.
Let me clarify what listening is not. It is not leaving a pause for the other person to have a turn while you rehearse what you’re about to say in your mind. Listening is opening your ears and mind to hear and process someone’s reality.
I tell every medical student I train that the most important part of being a doctor is listening. People will tell you what is wrong with them and you will only be able to help them if you are listening. This is not unique to the doctor-patient relationship. Your kids will tell you what’s up with them. Are you hearing what they tell you or what you want to hear? Your family and friends will see the world differently than you. Do you listen to them to appreciate their views and maybe even grow within yourself?
When you truly listen you will learn, grow and validate the people you care about. I challenge you to listen to the world around you today. Put down the distractions, turn down the noise, clear your mind of preconception and just listen.
One of the most important things to me is to make sure I say “Thank You”. I never want people to think I don’t appreciate their kindness or efforts. But lately, I am trying to make the most important thing for me to feel “Thank You” when saying it and when not saying it.
It is easy to get hung up on what did not go our way on this day or in this life. But if we redirect our feelings to intentionally focus on what we are thankful for then there will be no room for those negative thoughts. Many people will attest that an attitude of gratitude has changed their life. Gratitude helps people feel positive emotions, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
We are reminded one day a year that our ancestors were Thankful for a great harvest. My pantry and fridge are never even close to empty yet throughout the year, I sometimes forget to take in all that I have.
I want to challenge you to be more grateful.
– Start a gratitude journal where you find a piece of paper and 1 minute to write down a few things you are grateful for each day.
– When you are feeling frustrated or short-tempered today, close your eyes for 30 seconds and think of something you are thankful for.
– Before you get out of your car at work this morning, make a list of some things and feel the gratitude.
I have a 98-year-old patient who was dying and told me; “98 years goes by in a blink. Spend your time doing things that matter.”
It’s hard to define what matters. There are things that must be done whether they matter or not – I get that. But do we ever really think about whether we are spending our time in ways that will make us feel full-filled at the end of our 98 years?
If today was your last day would you do or say something different? If I asked you to take the next 30 seconds and think about what matters to you, could you do something today to emphasize those people and things that matter?
– Tell your child you are proud of them, not for one thing they do but for who they are.
– Think of someone that you are amazed by or someone you greatly respect. Drop that person a quick text to tell them what they do that amazes you.
– Reach out to someone who is suffering a loss and show them love. You don’t have to say anything magical just send a text or card or call to let them know you care.
– Put down the electronics and be present with the people you love. Nothing shows you care like your undivided attention.
As you check off the list of all the things you have to do today, do something that matters. Something that you will know at the end of your 98-year life mattered to someone. That thing that matters will likely change the course of someone’s day. It will definitely change the course of your day.
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