May: A Practice in Mindfulness

Thursday, May 01, 2014 01:23 PM
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After you awoke this morning, how long did it take for you to begin multi-tasking? Were you getting ready for work and thinking about your schedule, patients and duties? Did you find yourself listening to your significant other or children with one ear while attending to something else? Are you rushing through activities or jumping from task to task? Do you run on “autopilot?”

This pattern of living is supported and even reinforced by our society. Technology and social media demands our attention each waking moment. Multi-tasking is also a way of being that physicians often depend upon to succeed both through medical training and in practice. Such productivity is recognized and rewarded, but at what cost?

A life of well-being — living in a manner that is consistent with your values — requires commitment, awareness and intention. Mindfulness, a way of being that enables one to attend to their experience, supports well-being by “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Langer and Moldoveanu (2000) describe the subjective experience of mindfulness as being in a “heightened state of involvement and wakefulness or being in the present,” which can be dissipated when multi-tasking.

The goal of mindfulness is to (1) maintain open awareness of one’s experience to support emotional balance and well-being and (2) recognize habitual thoughts and behaviors that do not support well-being, which allows for new and different ways of being (Fortney et al., 2013).  Krasner and his colleagues (2009) found that physicians who practice mindfulness show improved overall well-being and effectiveness in clinical practice. They also found that physicians who practice mindfulness experience increased attentiveness to the presence of stress, understanding of the source of stress and capacity to mediate the effect of their stress. Approaching their daily practice with a mindful approach lowers the physician’s reactivity to events and increases their resiliency in difficult situations.

When a person can approach their daily routines and behaviors from a place of mindfulness, change is more likely to occur (Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000). There is an increased awareness of one’s environment, openness to new information and observation from different perspectives. All of these facilitate a sense of empowerment, control and creativity.

Fortney, L., Luchterhand, C., Zakletskaia, L., Zgierska, A. & Rakel, D. (2013). Abbreviated mindfulness intervention for job satisfaction, quality of life, and compassion in primary care physicians: A pilot study. Annals of Family Medicine, 11(5), 412-420.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Krasner, M. S., Epstein, R. M., Beckman, H., Suchman, A. L., Chapman, B., Mooney, C. J., & Quill, T. E. (2009). Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 302(12), 1284-1293.

Langer, E. J. & M. Moldoveanu (2000). The construct of mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues, 56(1), 1-9.

The Colorado Medical Society and its Expert Panel on Physician Wellness have taken on the goal of improving physician wellness and reducing burnout in 2014. A crucial partner in the effort are the experts at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who will develop a toolkit over the next year specifically tailored to physicians to address the eight dimensions of wellness with a focus on stress and burnout. BHWP experts will provide monthly web posts and encourage CMS members to provide feedback to shape the development of the toolkit.  Above is the fifth in the series. Log in and post your comments on this month’s feature in the space below. And go to to view others in the series.



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