The Act of Receiving Help

There is a subtle opportunity when you are being offered help. 

Individually, this opportunity is often one that we resist due to our egos feeling stubborn or embarrassed. Or maybe from feeling undeserving. We may find ourselves thinking that we should be able to do it ourselves. That we need to try a few more times first. We may believe that we need to do it ourselves if we are to learn how to survive in this world.

As a strong-willed, but shy, little girl, I was presented with plenty of life challenges navigating friendships and social interactions at school. They were perfect opportunities to admit that I was never meant to do this alone. In hindsight though, I can see that too often I refused to ask for help. I was always determined to do things on my own. Why? Probably to avoid all the emotions I’ve already mentioned.

I remember a time during college after I had returned home for the holidays. Sitting with my mom, reflecting on my grade-school years, I mentioned how much I had been teased when I was young. She was surprised. Because as attentive as she had been she had never known. She never knew because I never told her. She expressed how sad she was that she didn’t help me when I needed it. But her little girl had thought she could handle it on her own and that her parents would be disappointed to hear that she wasn’t liked — because perhaps that meant that there was something wrong with her. Unfortunately, at the time that little girl didn’t know, as I do now, that the other kids’ responses really had nothing to do with her.

In particular, I remember being made fun of for my name. “Ash-WEE-NEE” they would say, with emphasis on the last two syllables. (Even now, when people unintentionally mispronounce my name, I consciously have to intervene on my thoughts to override the emotional memory of shame. I remind myself that they just don’t know how to say my name yet, or that they can’t. Interesting right?)

I also remember the attention I received for my love of wearing printed, patriotic-themed T-shirts. For several years, this was a popular style for kids printed T-shirts. I felt such a pride and sense of community with my country when I wore those shirts. But several boys in my class would yell, “Patriotic Woman!!” Being seven or eight years old, I was embarrassed and felt the sting each time they drew attention to my preferences. The sting was felt not because of embarrassment from the attention, but due to the sadness of being truly unseen.

Only in recent years did I realize more fully this lifelong pattern of resisting and rejecting help. In fact, as I had alluded to above, often I would try to preemptively demonstrate my ability and strength in order to create an image of someone who didn’t need help to be offered. This way, I didn’t have deal with the possibility that people didn’t see me, or care enough to reach out. Or in the event that people did care, I wouldn’t have to go through the discomfort of feeling that connection, that oneness that you feel when you actively accept the help that you are receiving.

When we’re young, receiving help is filled with practical meaning. Sometimes, it may be very transactional in nature. “I wanted ____, so I asked for help.” Other times, there is a bit more of a narrative that’s layered on: “I couldn’t do it, so they helped me.” The explanations often end there — a desire fulfilled, a lack of ability, and so on.

As we grow and evolve, we realize the act of receiving help is more nuanced, and goes deeper than what we can see with our own eyes. As someone is in the process of giving you help, of delivering help directly to you, you start to receive it. What is your response then? This is where the opportunity lies. 

There is a distinct moment in the act of receiving help where you have the opportunity to respond with acceptance. Acceptance of your own human limitations. Acceptance of another person’s love. Acceptance of the of the fact that you are not a lone individual in this world, but rather connected to a larger whole. In fact, acceptance that you really aren’t that different from the one who is offering the help — there is a oneness that exists. And in that oneness, you are bigger and more capable than you imagined — not smaller or less than. In this way, you are empowered to make a difference as well.

But many times this can all feel scary.

So we avoid, we resist, and we reject help.

But what if there could be a joy in receiving help?

If people are wholeheartedly helping you without any expectations in return, including for recognition or accolades; if they are able to help you because they see your own power, not the absence of it — then your own growth, ability, joy, and impact are enhanced when you receive that help with full acceptance.

Are you willing to receive help in this way? Are you willing to give help in this way?

As a leader, imagine the healing that would occur, within yourself and in the world, if we all approached helping in this way. Imagine how much stronger we would be. Imagine the ideas that would emerge. How much impact could be made! 

It is difficult, as kids, adolescents, or young adults, to understand these lessons, because we are so often taught that receiving help is weak. As leaders, so many adults believe they have to figure it out on their own too — that they alone must make decision, that solutions will ultimately come from them alone. We create endless narratives in which we play the parts of “heroes” and “victims”, and thereby further perpetuate these narratives. But this doesn’t have to be where it ends.

In fact, when helping goes beyond a transactional interaction (and maybe when it is just that too), I think a commitment to personal evolution allows us to eventually embrace being helped from a new consciousness. To let go of victimhood and the hero character. To see the expansiveness of what’s possible when we embrace each person’s unique abilities as well as our collective oneness. 

Don’t be afraid to evolve

Through med school and my clinical career, some situations were easy. I just dropped into the joy of serving my patients. As a senior on one of the oncology teams, I remember holding the hand of one of my young patients, a father who was dying from complications of cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the liver bile ducts. It was a heartbreaking experience, but one of the deepest connections I have felt to what gives life. I wished for him, and his wife and kids, to be loved as they processed through the news of his prognosis. I also remember my very first patient as a primary care attending – a man with Parkinson’s and a dry sense of humor. Over time, he and his wife expressed an acceptance and fondness for me that I cherished. It simultaneously communicated trust and gave me permission to learn and grow as a young clinician. It was a journey they were willing to take with me.

Other times, I remember asking the question, “How am I going to get through this?”

There was a day that I stayed awake for 36 hours during a 24-hour shift – only because I hadn’t learned how to work efficiently, delegate family meetings, or stop thinking about everything that I could have done wrong. I was exhausted. I remember almost falling asleep while driving home and then feeling bad about asking my program director for an alternative way of getting home, should I ever feel so tired again. (They were more than helpful with this by the way.) Now, I think, “Do not ever feel bad for taking care of yourself.” The focus on taking care of others before myself, of thinking that I had to earn everything I wanted – even if it included the most basic needs in life – was hard to overcome. Apologetically surviving and staying small was a pattern; only a part of me saw life challenges as opportunities for growth. Now, things are very different, but I still see evidence of my past thinking. It’s an evolution.

Over the years, I watched how people in the world survive, how they are resilient, and even how they transform themselves. I started to understand on a deeper level what it takes, and what we need to let go of to finally realize the power we have. On all levels – whether on a physiological, psychological, emotional, or spiritual level – understanding what it meant to be human intrigued me and pulled me in. It’s always been a part of who I am. Connecting with the suffering of others, as well as my own, I was guided by a deep belief that life doesn’t really have to be so hard, if only we can see, accept, and respect ourselves (and each other) for who we are. If only we are willing to love and be loved.

There are so many layers when thinking about the human condition, but it’s ultimately led me to appreciate what it means to be here, right now. I’ve found answers in learning to be more present. By no means am I perfect, but I am here, and ready to receive knowledge that doesn’t just come from books or other people. One lesson I’ve learned, little by little, is that the essence of me is beyond labels, and that I am allowed to be here, with all of the excitement, and sadness, and anxiety, and love that I possess. With all that I want to create. And – I don’t need to apologize for any of it.

I see this in others too. I see their greatness, their unique creativity, and their vision for how they want to experience life more fully.

I love their desire to make the world a better place at the same time. Sounds corny, but truly it’s what excites me. I know it’s possible to live in a way that honors the things in life that sustain well-being and satisfaction, while also making a unique difference in the world. Also, from all my observations professionally and personally, I also deeply believe that so much of our human suffering, and that of others, can be alleviated by how we lead our lives. I want to create a ripple effect in the world by supporting physicians to define and live their lives well, through the purpose they are inspired to live in each moment.

Over the past week, butterfly metaphors have been in my head. So, it’s not unexpected that the visual of a caterpillar came to mind when I considered recent changes in my own identify and in my business. (Some may hear them as stereotypical personal development, life-coachy metaphors. But there are so many lessons contained in them, that if we are critical, I think it’s worth asking why.)

Earlier this summer, I had transiently shared about a new brand name – TRENDUP Life Coaching. So many things led to the development of this brand, and then to the evolution of Ashwini Nayak, MD.

On a quick internet search, I learned that in a matter of about a month, a caterpillar can progress through the metamorphosis to become a butterfly. Interestingly, the climate can affect the rate of its progression through this cycle.

TRENDUP Life Coaching was a stage, albeit short-lived, that I needed to go through to solidfy my ideas for this next phase of who I am and what I do. In the meantime, the climate this year was perfect to help me evolve. The pandemic, a career change, working with a new coach, new relationships and mentoring, and more time to think – all helped me to see the obvious: at Physician Wellness Through Coaching, what I’ve been offering people all along has been through me.

 

At this stage in my life, I’m still serving, but now informed as a physician and knowledge-seeker who is skilled as a coach.

 

The focus is still on people, on relationships, on YOU – but I’m taking it to a deeper level, both for my own joy, and in service of my clients and people with whom I’m connected. I want to experience more of what the world has to offer, expand my perspectives, and create paradigm shifts that I can share with people in my life. This is what motivates me to learn broadly and to have deep conversations. I bring this back to the coaching work I do, as I offer personalized one-on-one coaching to physicians. Many of the people who I work with are going through a career transition within or out of medicine. But this is just the beginning of where we start our work. Ultimately, the common thread is that they have a vision for creating a more conscious way of experiencing life, and for making a difference through some creative spark. They see that it’s all possible, and by working together I guide them to solidify that possibility and make it a reality. With a focus on personal leadership, my clients are able to find more inner joy and acceptance as they confidently navigate life’s decisions and lead themselves and others.

Catching Up Won’t Get You There

Catching up isn’t what you think it is.

When it comes to time and our calendars, there is this idea of “catching up” that comes up frequently among people who never quite feel complete in their day – and I’m a long-time member of this group. Over time, I’ve started to truly understand the reality of what is. One truth is, we’ll never completely catch up, at least not by the default standards we set for ourselves.

On the surface this sounds like a bad thing. What does that mean, that we’ll never catch up? Are we doomed to suboptimal productivity, to letting others down, never being able to accomplish what we want or reaching our highest potential?

Of course not. But continually trying to catch up doesn’t help.

Strategy matters, but it’s limited.

In life, we develop strategies for how we spend our time. We develop strategies to succeed in other areas of our lives too. The thing is, we make some incorrect assumptions when we engrain these strategies: we think that these processes are going to work no matter what, and that they’ll work in any situation indefinitely. This just isn’t true.

Even if we get what we want, or some of what we want, as Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here won’t [always] get you there.” Interestingly, we aren’t conscious of the fact that we are blindly and universally implementing these time management strategies.

And, the successes that we see – even if they relate not to tangible results, but rather familiar and predictable outcomes – often keep us stuck in doing what we do. Why would we try anything new that wasn’t certain?

 
What leads us to want to catch up.

In the process then, for a multitude of reasons some of us will learn to commit ourselves to more than we have time for. Or, we lack skill in prioritizing the things that need to get done first. These two scenarios lead to a perception of unfinished tasks that set us up for wanting to “catch up.”

 
“Should” doesn’t have a place here.

Catching up means to “do work or tasks that one should have done earlier.” What an interesting definition that avoids the facts of what actually happened – that desired tasks weren’t completed, and that was all.

Even if it was theoretically possible to do the tasks sooner, who determined that it was actually realistic, or that we possessed the capability to do so? There was obviously still some learning with regard to timing, planning, committing, and executing. Therefore, in some way we didn’t have the capability. Let’s accept this without judgment, learn about what we can do better, and look forward.

Having a moral judgment that we should have done tasks earlier creates a fixed, unquestioned belief that those tasks must be finished, even now. We feel urgency to get things done. Things feel incomplete. The feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment or humiliation may come up and lead us to play “catch up.”

 
An important distinction

The thing is, we may actually have good reasons for why we want to complete those tasks. I’m not diminishing our ability to decide this. The distinction then really revolves around whether we’re rescheduling those tasks into the present due to feeling a sense of urgency or incompleteness, or whether we are feeling grounded in integrity and wholeness. The energetic outcome is completely different depending on the starting mindset.

In trying to “catch up”, the deeper emotional need is for calm and completeness. Recognizing this, we see that we can create calm and completeness whether or not we complete the original tasks on the “catch up list.” How do you think you would do that?

 
The present moment has the answers, once again.

One solution is to be grounded in the present moment as we consider our tasks. By ensuring that we look at the optional “catch up list” in this way, we’ll be more likely to decide what is still important to us and listen to our bodies when we sense we’re depleted. Not only this, but we will be more likely to identify when “catching up” is not an intentional pursuit, but rather a distraction from what we really need. In my experience, when I’ve wanted to catch up, there has almost always been a feeling of overwhelm, guilt, or incompleteness. For true healing, these emotions (and those unique to you) need to be acknowledged, accepted, and heard.   

Ultimately, the idea of “catching up” is inherently grounded in the past. This past focus causes us to miss attending to what we really need right now. Not only that but continuing to play “catch up” keeps us from fully opening up to the future possibilities that are available to us.

If you’re someone who regularly tries to “catch up,” what would need to change to no longer approach life from this mindset? What more could you create by exercising constraint and focus in your moment-to-moment commitments?

 

(updated 9/28/20)

Meditation – Day 1: Reaction

My mind seeks out understanding and wants to react.

I started practicing silent meditation regularly a few months ago. By regularly I mean three or four days a week, for 5-10 minutes each day, usually as I sat in the dark  in my son’s room waiting for him to fall asleep. Every now and then, I’d spend a few minutes meditating before I started work in the mornings too.

I remember what it was like the first time I had tried to sit quietly. I had set my meditation app for two minutes. After what seemed like an eternity, one minute later, my eyes popped open, looking down at the phone, surprised that only sixty seconds had passed. I wondered how I would ever be able to practice for longer. My mind couldn’t keep quiet, and I couldn’t sit still. 

Over the months, I found that I was able to sit silently for a longer period. It was even something that I looked forward to.

A respite from the constant chatter in my head.

I questioned whether this feeling of escape would ultimately become a barrier, but decided to just continue to observe that reaction.

I started noticing how I felt more calm too. I was able to finally allow myself to enjoy and seek out simple, restorative activities, like going for a walk in the middle of the day to clear my mind. (In fact, at first I experienced these actives as guilty pleasures due to years of not being able to take (truth: not allowing myself to take) a break midday during my clinical practice.)

The creative process had a new beginning now — in quiet, mindful observation. If I struggled to create, I would slow myself down and stop trying so damn hard. It worked. 

Being present has been a goal since the beginning, when I worked with my first coach. At that time, the motivation was to get the most out of my time with my son, and to enjoy my work more. Now, I see that presence — noticing without judgment or attachment,  current life circumstances, thoughts, and feelings — is the path to the peace that I desire, as well as the source of inspiration and ideas that keep life exciting and evolving.

So I am committing now to a daily practice of meditation, with a goal of eventually meditating an hour daily, knowing that it will enhance my ability to be present.

I had focused so much of my life on literally being educated and gaining knowledge, that I failed to trust my own inner wisdom and intuition. While I was up in my head, I had no idea what was going on in my body, even though so much valuable information was contained in it. This practice is opening me up to things I’ve never seen and known.

Here, I want to document what I learn so that others may learn from me, someone who is very much a beginner.

Today was Day 1 one of this commitment. 10 minutes. I noticed the sounds — cars driving by in each direction, birds calling and responding to each other, the lawnmowers running. Even in that description, I notice my mind wanting to understand, to make sense of it all. It created a brief story for everything I sensed.

I also noticed it wanting to react. Thoughts would arise about what I still had to do today. I caught myself starting to plan. Back to the breath… Then I noticed an itch on my forearm. I noticed that I wanted to scratch it, but stopped myself.

What would happen if I didn’t react?

I decided to refocus on the breath and…

It went away.

What Is Your Spark?

Over the past year, I’ve been personally exploring what it means to truly connect in my relationships, both personally and professionally. As a physician, I have been reflecting on my relationships with my patients and how much I appreciated learning about what it means to be human from their personal stories. Now, as a coach, I’ve discovered new meaning for the word engagement. As I’ve spoken with people from various backgrounds and diverse life experiences, I’ve been in awe as I’ve noticed a creative spark in each individual…

I’ve seen this creative spark in one of my patients who experienced pervasive and deep emotional hardship due to her life situation. Yet she came to each of her monthly visits with me with a persistent belief that she could achieve better health and be supported to create a safe environment for her and her family.

I’ve also been inspired by the creative spark of an innovative female entrepreneur with profound knowledge and expertise in her field. Her readiness to trust through community collaboration, even when the outcomes were uncertain, was astounding.

As a mother, I’ve learned to become more present with my son as he teaches me through his own wisdom, even at his young age. His emotional intelligence astonishes me each day. He asks the usual questions a young boy may ask as he studies his world but is also keenly attentive to understanding others’ needs and comfort. His emotional intelligence is also displayed through his humor and desire to connect with others. His humor has evolved from a simple appreciation and engagement with us through laughter, to now an advanced experimentation with joke-telling. 

In all of these examples — the creative sparks of the first woman’s ability to see beyond her circumstances, the entrepreneur’s readiness to engage with the unknown, and my son’s innate capacity to connect through caring and humor — guide each of them to live a rich life, making a special contribution to the people and the world around them.

These connections and others have led me to conclude that each person has creative sparks within them. By removing barriers that get in the way of this potential energy, they can ignite personal transformation and contribute something unique and valuable to our world.

Whether or not you’ve discovered your creative sparks, I want to help you fully uncover them and help you decide how to channel your creative energy into meaningful change.

Prismatic & Pragmatic

I was seven or eight years old, sitting in my bedroom with an 1800-piece box of Knex®. The building set was a luxury at the time. I remember a daunting feeling come over me as I reviewed the designs I could make, followed by an eagerness as I started to sort through the pieces: gears and connectors in red, yellow, blue, green, white, grey, and black. From that disorganized box, which was overflowing with a variety of loose and partly-assembled pieces, I separated and consolidated each type of piece into separate bags, making it easy to find the parts I needed for my chosen design. Over the course of a weekend day, including several interruptions, I was able to assemble a magnificent Ferris wheel!

Imagine the disarray of those eighteen-hundred pieces in that box. I had learned how to create small objects without going through the extra step of organizing the Knex® pieces, but the task of creating that Ferris wheel seemed more fun having first prepared my building set (and my mind). Not only that, it was natural to do so.

Creativity in the form of innovative building design was not my forte then. Neither is it now. I preferred following a well-thought-out pattern, much as I preferred playing classical piano to pop or jazz. However, the skill of being able to organize myself would prove to be useful. Years of playing with building sets demonstrated that disorganization and chaos do not preclude creativity and practical design. Rather, they are a normal, necessary precursor to creation. Through play, I generated a deep, intuitive sense of what was possible. This has guided me ever since. Yes, the complexity of the world still overwhelms me at times. Yet, it does not prevent me from believing that problems can be solved or envisioning enhanced systems for living and creating.

Over the years, this appreciation for organization and mental models supported me through my medical education and training. I remember reading a textbook chapter on the renal system and integrating the concepts with my class notes; I generated a pictorial representation of the nephron, including the key physiological processes and clinical correlations, on a 3-feet by 2-feet piece of paper that I kept rolled up and used as a reference for years. All of those pieces of data were organized and then used to create connections to understand medicine.

In order to organize myself in my coaching, I continue to expand my repertoire of frameworks and mental models, and my understanding of distinctions and paradoxes. Different from when I was young, the organizational schemes I use now possess a few more limitations than the simple mode of organization I used in building. Still, whether I am coaching myself or my clients, each idea, feeling, action, and outcome that are shared are naturally integrated into models that allow me to more deeply understand the complex individual in front of me, and to help them develop the awareness and skills toward improved personal leadership.

I have appreciated the pragmatic aspect of this skill, in order to help people make decisions, set and achieve goals, improve relationships and self-confidence, and to be more emotionally resilient. I also know that there is a prismatic component to my coaching, which lets me see what is possible for those individuals whom I coach, even when they present with a singular view of their identity or future. Like a prism, where a beam of white light can separate into a spectrum of light including all colors of the rainbow, I similarly imagine a spectrum of possibility for each individual I work with. Also, I see that each person has this possibility within them already. With guidance, they are able to expand their own self-perspectives and life-perspectives, and then have fun intentionally choosing a path that they haven’t been on before in order to create a result or personal transformation they desire.

First steps to make the “right” decision

You may notice that as you go about your day, at some point your brain offers you a story of “right vs. wrong” to give meaning to what is happening in that moment.

—–

Example #1: I go to a coffee shop and stand in line to order a coffee. Seeing at least ten people in front of me, I pull out my phone and start to browse my e-mails and social media. After a few minutes I look up, and a new person has just stepped in front me… Well, actually, I’d more likely think “they cut in front of me.” In my mind there is a rule that people shouldn’t skip other people in line. My brain says they did something wrong.

(Interestingly, the flip of this story may be discovered if we imagine what was going in the other person’s mind. Perhaps they looked at me, and said, “She obviously isn’t paying attention, and if she wants to get coffee, it’s her job to keep moving with the line. There’s no problem with me jumping in now. I’m going to keep the service moving.” He/she/they may think I did something wrong.)

—–

We create stories of “right vs. wrong” all the time. There could have originally been a social or survival advantage to doing this; it is definitely one way in which we communicate, create groups, and move our causes forward. But sometimes this specific binary approach to looking at the world can hold us back.

Creating a judgment of right vs. wrong may be helpful in some instances, and not helpful in others. When it comes to decision-making, I think we’re often misplacing this judgment.

Here’s a simple description of what making a decision may commonly look like given the above framework:

Life happens. –>

We identify an opportunity or a problem. –>

We engage in decision-making, often wanting to make the “right” decision (or not make the “wrong” decision). –>

Feeling uncertain, we become stuck, stall, and ruminate. –>

Ultimately, we make a decision and observe its impact.

 

—–

Example #2: I’m currently an employee with a moderately enjoyable job. I’m used to the routine I’ve created. One day my friend tell me that there is an interesting job opportunity at their company. In that moment I’m faced with an option – to either pursue that opportunity, or not. I spend days thinking about what to do, not wanting to make the “wrong” decision and end up in a job that I don’t enjoy.

—–

Notice how we aim to make the “right” decision. The truth is, there really is no right or wrong decision. (Who determines that?) There are only desirable or less desirable outcomes.

However, the outcomes we think we care about are not always the outcomes that truly matter most to us.

Take the last example: I think that one of the jobs, either my current job or the opportunity at that company, will make me happier. The truth is, neither of those jobs determine my happiness – my thoughts do. If so, then solving for my happiness by selecting the “right” job will be frustrating and possibly never-ending, because I’ll find reasons to like and dislike both options.

If our goal in making a decision is to increase our likelihood of a certain outcome, we need to very clearly distinguish between the emotional outcome and the experience we want to have. The way we will feel may be influenced by the consequences of our choices, but not necessarily dependent on it.

We can acknowledge that certain situations may contribute to an easier time being happy – but that’s not usually because of the situation itself, but because we were able to get something that we wanted.

So, if you’re facing a tough decision, take time to write down:

  1. the deeper wants or needs that you want fulfilled
  2. the most important immediate outcomes you predict, as well as some of the downstream effects for each choice you have

Intuitively, in which of your choices do you think your needs or wants will be best met? What do you most want to experience?

If it’s difficult to decide, you’ve probably got a good chance of being happy either way. In this case, if it’s difficult to move forward, pick a priority or a value that is important to you. See if honoring that helps you make a decision.

We also misplace the “right” vs. “wrong” label in decision-making in the following way:

We are often so focused on taking action and finding a right solution that we don’t stop to ask ourselves if we are solving the right problem in the first place.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate this point: If a patient seeking care presented with hypokalemia (low potassium) on their labs, the clinical team would likely not just treat the low potassium without addressing the root cause (e.g. some syndrome of diarrhea and vomiting). Addressing the symptom alone would be an incorrect approach and harmful to the patient. Instead, the clinical team will look at that problem of hypokalemia as a symptom of the deeper problem.

In the same way, if you’re faced with an opportunity to apply for a new job, instead of deciding whether you should take that job or not, ask yourself why you’re thinking of making that decision in the first place. Is there something that you’re not currently satisfied with in your current job? What is it? Are there other ways of relieving that dissatisfaction without having to find a new job?

What I’ve described is a core part of doing a Root Cause Analysis (RCA), which is used in various fields for process and quality improvement. You can use this concept in your personal and professional decision-making to find practical solutions. This also relates to the “thought-work” we do too, because ultimately the root cause of any problem is a set of limiting thoughts or beliefs.

Complex Decision-Making 101

TRENDUP –

See yourself and the world more clearly.

Commit to what you want to experience. 

Execute powerful decisions.

Face uncertainty with confidence.

Make your impact, with more ease and fun.

My family and I are moving next year.

Was it an easy decision? In some ways yes, and in other ways, no. We’d be leaving our familiar community and friends, a region of the country with amazing cost-of-living, and proximity to a city that offered so many activities – sports, theater, music, arts – that I looked forward to sharing with our son.

Reflecting on my path through medical school and residency, I realized I hadn’t fully taken advantage of experiencing each of the locations I had lived in. I had finally reached a stage in life that I was ready to do this…but the COVID-19 pandemic had struck, delaying most socialization and opportunities, and we were thinking of moving.

Most importantly, we’d no longer be within driving distance to our parents and extended families.

You may have had to make a similar decision in the past, or maybe you’re facing one now. It may be a decision that you can’t immediately take back if you change your mind, or one where you see there’s a lot at stake.

 

Complexity Results in Uncertainty – This is Okay

These types of decisions – the ones that have us staying up late or posting anonymously on social media (hoping for some miraculous piece of advice), or where family and friends observe us saying the same thing week after week, “I don’t know what to do….” “I don’t know what’s best…” – are challenging not just because of the stakes we perceive, but because of the fact that there are complex considerations and elements of uncertainty involved.

Let’s pause and consider that for a moment. It’s important to do this because we must accept that uncertainty will inevitably be a part of a complex problem, and in many ways it’s something we can’t control.

However, when it comes to complex decision-making, one of the tendencies I’ve noticed in people is the persistent effort to try to anticipate and control for every potentiality.

The challenge in this is that we cannot know everything that will happen independent of us, and the contributions we make to a complex situation will undoubtedly have some unknown consequences as well. 

So much energy and time is wasted on trying to predict and control the future.

 

If you’re making a complex decision, one of the aspects of the approach then will be to simply determine:

  1. What is it the deeper want or need that you have as you resolve the problem (or as you lean into the opportunity?) [Pick your top 1-3 priorities.]
  2. What is it that you really want to avoid? [Pick your top 1-3 priorities.]
  3. What is within your control?

Another aspect that is not so much an approach, but rather a skill to develop, is the ability to handle uncertainty when making a complex decision. With my clients, I teach numerous strategies on how to do this effectively. I practiced processing uncertainty as I left my employed clinical position; as I considered the choices related to COVID-19, and long-term impact of the pandemic; and as I made my decision about moving across the country. The self-confidence gained through this skill is priceless when it comes to making complex decisions.

 
The Impact of Uncertainty

Perceived uncertainties will often activate our fight-or-flight response, creating confusion, fear, worry or overwhelm to keep us safe.

Let’s look at the emotion of confusion specifically, because this feeling is notorious for getting us stuck and by itself doesn’t inherently help. There are some things to consider as you look at the emotion of confusion.

 

Confusion – Some Remedies

First, notice that confusion is a surface-level emotion. If you really explore this more deeply, you’ll notice that there is another emotion underlying it. This emotion is commonly fear (worry about a perceived immediate threat) or some version of it – doubt or anxiety for example. Being able to identify these deeper emotions helps cue you to the deeper concern, and potential dangers, you are trying to address.

Also, notice that feeling confused is not a problem in itself. Allowing yourself to act from a place of confusion, however, can create undesired results – or lack of them. In this case, shifting your mindset to one that is more productive is helpful.

Third, another approach to dealing with confusion could be to take action in order to gather data.

Each major decision we have is actually a multitude of smaller decisions. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the size of the problem in front of us, if we can identify the next most important decision we need to make, and then to take action toward that, we can gather real information and decide what works or doesn’t work. We can see, for real, whether we are heading to where we want to be.

The lesson here lies in complexity again – in complex situations, it is impossible to create a master plan, to execute it, and to think that with things will go a certain way. Trying to create a refined, specific blueprint is a waste of energy, because often the feedback you get from the world as you execute your plan will change your situation and require a reassessment anyway.

What does this mean then?

  1. Start by simply identifying the outcomes you absolutely want to create, as well as those that you absolutely want to avoid.
  2. Having considered your situation and the facts available, and from experience, determine a reasonable general path to creating your result.
  3. Then, identify the next 1-3 steps you must take.
  4. Execute, gather data, and then reassess to refine your plan.

Interested in powerful decision-making? More to come later this week….

P.S. If you want me to help guide you through a high-stakes decision, e-mail me at  ashwini@physicianwellnesscoaching.com to let me know what’s going on for you. We’ll schedule a call to chat and talk about how my 1-month decision-making intensive can help you make a thoughtful, confident decision about that major thing you are working on, as well teach you the skill of mastering uncertainty. You can apply what you learn to all your future decisions.

References:

  1. Zimmerman, B., Lindberg, C., & Plsek, P. E. (2001).Edgeware: Insights from complexity science for health care leaders. Irving, TX: VHA.
  2. Shane Parrish offers various his articles on decision-making through his blog fs.blog
  3. A contact introduced me to the concept of simple, complicated and complex decisions in context of the Cynefin framework — check out some intro information here — Wikipedia article on Cynefin Framework

Racism: Becoming a Part of the Solution

I want to share what has been on my mind since last Monday when George Floyd was killed, and then witnessing the emergence of unifying protests against racism, as we remember the many black lives that have been lost. While we can appreciate that each individual that has been killed or subject to racism has their own story, unfortunately these situations are not unique. There are recurrent patterns of injustice and inhumanity that we can track throughout our history, to the present day. We again are facing an important opportunity to discuss racism, which occurs on both a systemic and individual level. Due to the injustice that comes from it, and a disregard for human dignity and life, so many lives have been impacted and lost. This has deeply saddened me. 

 

What I share here are my own thoughts, and I am taking this step knowing that I may not express everything “perfectly”. I am processing, listening, and learning in order to grow, myself. I am ready to take responsibility for my contribution to the systemic racism we see, understanding that no matter how much I say that I want to see peace in the world and human life valued and protected, that if I continue to remain in my bubble, in unconscious denial of what exists, and in inaction, I am contributing to the status quo that I find absolutely unacceptable. 

 

Several years ago, or even a year ago, I was not ready to do the hard work of advocacy and activism. I can easily identify all the surface-level reasons I might have previously given for why I didn’t get involved, but it wasn’t because I didn’t care. Now I understand, after deeper reflection, that my reluctance came primarily because there was a part of me that felt guilty for having had thoughts that felt disconnected from what I truly believed. Part of me lacked self-confidence in myself to make a difference. Part of me used the excuse that the problem was too complex, and that I didn’t even know where to start. Part of me didn’t have faith in humanity to ultimately do the right thing. And part of me believed the myth that it would always have to be this way, that these problems were too deeply rooted. So with this lack of belief in self, and lack of belief in humanity, together with the worry about offending others or needing to please others – even if this meant that I remained quiet against the exact thing I wanted to be different — I hoped, but I did nothing. I did not see the power I could have, as one individual, to make a difference. 

 

Now, I am ready to make mistakes and learn. Now I am ready to determine what it is that I want to do, and then do it. Even if I say that I want to see more justice and peace in the world, it means nothing, for me or for others, if I don’t step up and do something about it too. What that will look like as a whole– I am figuring it out. I think that I need to learn more and to listen more before I react, so that I can find out what response I want to give, and how I can be emotionally driven in a conscious way. One thing I know for sure is that as a parent, I want to teach my son about race and racism, and how to be an antiracist. I want to cultivate a community around us of people who are co-committed to the same, so that all of our children can live in a more just world. I want to hold space – no judgment – for those who aren’t there yet, who are still working to get on that path but who want to be there, so that I can guide them, having learned to do that for myself. That is my focus right now. 

 

I deeply believe in treating all of humanity with the respect and dignity that they deserve. I believe that Black Lives Matter. I am ready to confront thoughts and beliefs that I may unconsciously possess or repress, so that during my lifetime I can help to diminish the impact of racism. I believe that systemic racism can end, and perhaps one day in the future, racism will be eliminated altogether.

 

Here are some resources: 

 

Brene Brown’s interview with Ibram X. Kendi

 

Article: “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice”

 

The Conscious Leadership Group’s method to Conscious Activism

 

A document of additional resources that has been widely circulating: Additional Resources

Reimagining the future

What will you reimagine?

 

I saw a headline that Governor Cuomo has partnered with The Gates Foundation to “reimagine” what New York City public schools will look like in the fall. 

 

As I read into the story further, I understood that people had conflicting views about the impact of The Gates Foundation on U.S. education. I found myself both excited about the prospect of what was happening, as well as heavy with thoughts about why it may be important to preserve certain aspects of traditional education. 

 

However, being open to new perspectives, I set aside my initial thoughts to enjoy the situation for what it was – a collaboration to create something that hasn’t existed before, something that works for what we need now.

 

Before predetermining what was right or wrong, or squelching the idea of what was possible, I paused and said – “Let’s see.”  

 

The idea of reimagining is exciting, and I want you to start thinking about reimagining what your life, and your community could look like post-COVID. Obviously, you don’t have to be a billionaire philanthropist or a prominent national leader to do this. All you need is a human mind.

 

This isn’t to say there aren’t beautiful, perfect elements of what exists right now. Those things that work and that we value can be integrated into the next phase.

 

And, it’s true, we always have the opportunity to reimagine ourselves – so why now? I say, what an interesting time and opportunity to start reimagining. 

 

In many ways, the last couple of months may have felt stressful as you focused on taking care of your most basic and immediate needs, and those of the people you care for. 

 

As external demands changed, what remained of your emotional and physical energy may have been given to people and situations outside of yourself. Thinking actively about the nuances of the future may not have been a primary focus, if it wasn’t a part of your daily work already.

 

It was necessary, at that time, to refocus your energy and efforts. It may be that you’re still there in some ways. 

 

But I invite you to take a step, through acceptance, into a new normal. 

 

A new normal where you decide what is possible for you in this world, the way it is.

 

A new normal where you are allowed, and where it’s necessary, for you to refocus some of the energy back onto you. 

 

So that you can create something in your life that you’ve never had before. 

 

So that you can create for the world, something that it so very much needs – with you at your very best. 

 

Even during this time when there are still many unknowns, all of this is possible. 

 

I know this because I learned long ago, from my first coach, that I don’t have to wait for my happiness. I don’t have to wait to share my authentic self with the world. I don’t have to wait to exert my influence to create more of the world I want to see.