The costs and rewards for mindfulness, or the lack thereof
The waiting room is backing up, you just got off the phone about an IME, your key staff person is threatening to quit, and your mood is bleak. And, with all that going on inside your office and your head, you’ve got to turn that doorknob, walk into the treatment room, and provide high quality.
So you put on a big smile and pretend that there’s nothing more important than that patient in that moment. But you know that you’re not fully present, and you suspect your patient knows it as well.
Which they do.
Giving the patient your all
The days of phoning it in are over. There’s too much competition, too much sensitivity, and too much hunger for attention to let you get away with being the doctor who is only partly there. Patients, whether they express it or not, are hyperaware of your focus. If you’re distracted, judgmental, frustrated, or insecure, they feel it.
That may not translate to an actual confrontation; in fact it’s seldom that your patient will let on that they’re aware of your lack of presence, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences.
The costs of mindlessness
First, you’ll pay in terms of referrals. That patient may feel they’ve committed themselves to your care and are therefore reluctant to leave midway through their program. But that doesn’t mean they’ll refer others to you. Why would they subject their friends and loved ones to someone who clearly doesn’t care enough to make them a priority?
Second, you’ll pay in terms of retention. The moment that patient feels just better enough to suspend care, they will. The implicit contract you’ve made with them is that you’ll ease their suffering and nothing more. So, having succeeded at that, there’s no reason for them to stick around.
Third, you’ll pay in terms of compliance. All those home care instructions you’ve given them? Without your emotional investment in their wellbeing, there’s less likelihood they’ll put in the time at home. Sure, it makes no sense. It’s only in their best interest to participate in their own care. But when they sense you’re giving less, their unexamined resentment causes them to follow suit.
Fourth, you’ll pay in terms of quality of care. Without presence, the alchemy that exists between a doctor and patient who are in sync with one another ceases to exist. The magic that transforms an adjustment into a transformative experience is dampened when it’s delivered with less than absolute precision. And the resulting health care benefits fall victim to the unfocused way in which those adjustments are delivered.
And finally, you’ll pay in terms of personal satisfaction. When you phone it in, when you allow yourself the luxury of doing the bare minimum while letting your mind wander more deeply into the distractions outside the treatment room, you feel empty. Given enough repetitions of that empty process, you’ll eventually wonder why you ever became a chiropractor, and you might even leave.
Patient visits as meditation practice
For years, deprived of the wisdom of mindfulness, I brought my frustrations, insecurities, and distractions into the treatment room with me, until the process was no longer sustainable. If I had it to do over again, I’d treat every patient visit with the same reverence I’ve given to my meditation practice. Nothing less than 100% focus.
How do you get present with your patient when chaos looms all around you? How do you respond to that inner voice that demands to be heard as it screams in your ear drowning out the moment? Here’s what I recommend, based on years of study and practice.
5 steps to becoming present
First — recognize the simple fact that your ego will always try to convince you that whatever you’re thinking about is vitally important and must be dealt with now. So, when you’ve got other things on your mind, you can expect that you’re not going to want to drop them in favor of bringing your entire focus into the present moment there in the treatment room. But that’s exactly what you need to do.
Second — take a beat. Even in the time it takes to turn that doorknob, you can create a moment of inner silence. Commit yourself to turning that doorknob into an off switch. The moment you turn it, the cares and frustrations, judgments and insecurities you felt a moment before are, even if only temporarily, suspended completely and entirely.
Third — get out of your head and into your body. With every mental preoccupation there’s a corresponding bodily feeling or sensation. When we focus on the sensation rather than the thoughts which triggered it, we can quickly let it go. Somewhere inside us is a strong desire to simply witness our own suffering rather than trying to solve it through thought. Ironically, the thinking we do about our suffering actually drags it out. When we churn about the things that bother us, we add fuel to the fire, and we continue to suffer. But, when we take even a few moments to just let the bodily manifestation of our suffering exist as we look on compassionately, it starts to melt away.
Fourth — the moment you enter the treatment room, take a breath and make eye contact with your patient. Perceive them deeply. Look past all your preoccupations and meet them as a beloved partner in a collaborative effort to end suffering. Make sure that before you get down to business, there’s a human connection that supersedes all your mental baggage.
Fifth — find a way to remind yourself as you deliver that adjustment that there’s absolutely nothing more important in that moment than your absolute and complete focus. That next adjustment is a work of art, and expression of love, a magical gift. Provide it with all the reverence it deserves.
Be willing to develop mindfulness
Naturally, the mental toughness required to make the right choice moment by moment is something you must develop. Absent a practice of mastering your own thoughts and emotions, you’ll continue to fall victim to them. So, start a meditation practice today.
Sure, it can be irritating and frustrating to come face to face with your current lack of focus and fortitude. But facing and vanquishing your unfocused mind. whirling thoughts, and obsessive emotions is the price of greatness. Be willing to sit silently for a period daily, even as your mind tortures you and tries to pull you back into your endless stream of thoughts, even as it whispers in your ear about how worthless this process is and how bad you are at it, persevere. Stay the course.
Only after hundreds of repetitions of reestablishing your focus despite the lure of thought will you gain any mastery over your mind, and only then will the advice I’ve given you here about bringing your attention into the present moment be sustainable.
And once it is, your practice and your life will change forever. All those irritations of the day will have their place, but they won’t be able to take over your life. And with every precise, undistracted, loving interaction you have with your patients, you’ll gain joy, mastery, confidence, and their loyalty.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Steve Taubman, DC, graduated valedictorian from NYCC in 1982, and ran a large sports medicine practice in Vermont for 14 years. He retired in 1996, becoming a popular stage hypnotist and performing worldwide. His bestselling book, UnHypnosis, is about reinventing your life and harnessing the power of the subconscious mind. His message has helped thousands build larger businesses and achieve greater happiness, and is available to speak at association gatherings. He can be contacted through stevetaubman.com.