Much of medical training is about deferring happiness*. Every study session, every 24-hour-plus call shift, is an exchange of the fun things I could be doing now for the benefits I hope to get in the future. In my case, I invested 16 years into post-secondary education with the expectation that it would make me happier in the long run.
It occurred to me recently that I have finally left the stage of deferred happiness. The studying and exams and overnight call are all behind me, and the time for enjoying life is here. The unfortunate thing, however, is that I have spent so much of my life looking ahead and waiting that it's hard to adjust to being in the present and enjoying it for what it is. Whenever I think about my life, it is reflexively with a forward-looking gaze, wondering what is over the next horizon and how soon I will get there.
Which is something that I want to change. So my overarching goal for 2016 is to learn to be present. To stop thinking about what comes next and instead focus on what is happening now. To enjoy the life of a physician that I worked so hard and so long to create. To be mindful of the multitude of blessings in my life. To do this, I plan to set little goals for myself, along the lines of the "gradual, long-lasting change" that I talked about in December. I'll probably set one or two goals every month, although sometimes I'll set weekly goals just to try something out for a short while. All of the goals will be focused on making life better in the now, rather than banking happiness for the future.
For January, my main goal is a resurrected one: get to the gym three days a week. I had been doing well prior to catching the cold from hell, but I stopped entirely when I was sick and missed about two weeks. This week I regained the ability to breathe through my nose, so I started going to the gym again, and I've made it all three days (go me!). This may seem like a goal with a more long-term purpose (lose weight, get healthy, don't die of a stroke at 40), but I'm really doing it for the way that exercise makes me feel in the present. It helps my anxiety, it helps with sleep, and it simply makes me a happier person than when I'm sitting on the couch eating cheese.
My minor goal for the month is to find a counselor. My job weighs on me emotionally - I feel anxious about the possibility of screwing things up, and I am at times devastated by the bad health outcomes that my patients experience despite my best efforts. Although I'm coping with all of this, I don't want my work life to be just about coping. So I'm going to try to find a counselor with whom I can talk and debrief periodically.
We'll see how I do at the end of the month.
*SLukettG writes in her typically eloquent way about this in a post entitled "Marshmallows". Definitely worth reading.