As physicians and parents, cultivating attention to things that matter is vital….Remember how time seemed to be endless when we were children? Summers lasted forever and years felt like decades.
As we get older, time seems to fly by faster each year. The days seem like minutes and years seem like days. What is happening? Time is still the same for all of us.
Our ability to pay attention to our time is the main thing that has changed.
When we were young, everything was new and captivated our attention. We were fully present as we learned about ourselves and the world around us.
As we got older, however, we settled into comfortable routines and mental models of life.
The simple wonders of each moment were no longer enough to hold our attention. Play was replaced by work, close conversations with friends were replaced by quick texts and each day started to feel the same.
There was not much new to learn or experience in our daily routines so we began looking forward to the weekend, our next vacation or even retirement. This only served to speed up time even more.
Many of us are bored with our lives. We seek adventure and new experiences, even if only found on our phones. We can do better. We can slow time down while also fully experiencing the joy and wonder in each day.
The solution to boredom and routine is to cultivate attention, constraints and novelty about everything we do.
If we can really pay attention to what we are doing (and we do this by imposing some constraints that force us to focus), we can find new things about the task, different ways to do things, and notice something we never noticed before.
This provides novelty which in turn infuses a sense of wonder/fun into our lives.
Playing catch again with my son? How can I throw the ball even harder or ask different questions to have a deeper conversation while catching?
Reading another 100 cases today? Can I identify a subtle finding that explains the patient’s symptoms?
Can I read the imaging study like it was my mom’s scan? Can I be thankful that I am able to read a complicated CT and think back to my training when things like this seemed so hard?
Seeing another patient in a 10 minute time slot? Can I treat this patient like I would my close friend? What suffering of theirs can I alleviate?
Feel stuck in my career? What skills can I acquire to help solve important problems in the world?
By increasing and focusing our attention to questions that matter, we can notice and appreciate the new in the old, the good in the mundane, and the minutes as they are passing by.