The concept of mindfulness is an easy one to understand — “the quality of being fully aware and attentive in the moment during everyday activities” (Krasner et al., 2009). A growing evidence base of the positive effects of mindfulness in medicine can also be a compelling motivator to live and practice from this perspective. However, incorporating mindfulness into daily routines can be more challenging than it seems. There may be external demands that can act as barriers and well-entrenched habits might also get in the way.
Although there is not one “right” way to integrate mindfulness into your medical practice or any other areas of your life, here are a few useful suggestions for building momentum toward change:
Set your intention. Make the choice to live mindfully. Set it high on your list of priorities. As with any other skill, mindfulness will require focus and commitment to make it a reality.
Be aware. Once you have made the choice to live mindfully, you will become aware of the opportunities to practice being increasingly present in your life. There will be times when you are aware of being “mindless” – functioning on autopilot, disconnected from your experience or distracted from the present moment. If you have difficulty being aware of these opportunities as they arise, instead check in with yourself at predetermined times or when you are engaged in specific daily activities. Ask yourself…how do I feel? What am I experiencing right now?
Create space. Whether it’s creating a physical, emotional or mental space for mindfulness, you will need to rehearse new behaviors. For example, you may choose to reserve some time to meditate. You could participate in a workshop or seminar on mindfulness. You can also simply take time to practice deep breathing between your appointments with patients and colleagues. Or you may just take a moment to check in with yourself.
Practice. Ask yourself reflective questions to promote curiosity about your internal experience. Focus on the present moment from an open and non-judgmental perspective. Use the information you gain to assist you to seek out practices that match your unique needs. There is no “right” or “wrong,” draw on your wisdom to inform the choices you make.
Interact with others. Share your experiences, including perceived successes and failures, with others. Exchange ideas about how you may incorporate mindfulness into your medical practice and life. Elicit feedback from others about their observations of how you are interacting with patients and colleagues and ways to refine your mindfulness strategies. Use your exchange to continually assess and make adjustments as needed.
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.
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 sixth in the series. Log in and post your comments on this month’s feature in the space below. And go to www.cms.org/resources/category/physician-wellness to view others in the series.