One of my most stressful high school class memories was an AP English class I took during my junior year. Each week, we had timed writings where we were given a specific amount of time to write an essay on a given topic. As soon as the timer went off, we had to put our pencils down and raise our hands, signaling that we were done, regardless of what was on the paper.
Early in the semester, I struggled with this task and dreaded it intensely. I was a slow writer who needed time to think and process, and it would take me days or even weeks to compose a proper essay. My timed writings often consisted of a single paragraph without developed ideas, resulting in poor grades.
However, by the end of the semester, after weeks of practice, I had mastered the art of receiving a prompt and composing a well-thought-out essay with a clear beginning, middle, and end in thirty minutes or less.
This experience turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons of my life, although sadly, I would later forget it.
Fast forward many years, and I am now an attending physician with a busy practice, three babies born within three years, and no training in managing it all. The recurring theme in my life was a persistent thought that constantly played in the back of my mind, something like the following:
“There’s not enough time.”
And what happened every time I had that thought, which was almost always?
You guessed it: I didn’t have enough time.
Whenever I believed that there wasn’t enough time, I felt stressed and overwhelmed. This, in turn, led to ruminating thoughts about all the tasks I had to complete, things I wanted to do but couldn’t, and how challenging my life seemed. I remained stuck, avoided planning, often felt unproductive, and resorted to coping mechanisms like eating or scrolling through Facebook to relieve my stress instead of getting to work.
The result was that I genuinely didn’t have enough time to do all the things I needed or wanted to do. I consistently had open charts and would work late into the night and on weekends, completing my work at home, leaving insufficient time for my family or myself. I was living in survival mode, trapped in a vicious, unproductive cycle.
Fast forward more years, and now I’m a mid-career attending physician who discovers coaching and learns about how my thoughts shape my reality. I acquire the skill of questioning my thoughts and deliberately choosing them.
So, I decide to release my old belief and adopt a new one:
“There’s plenty of time, and I can accomplish it all.”
Just like my high school timed writings, this thought required considerable practice. However, eventually, it felt genuinely true and believable, and it stuck. This new thought brought along other empowering beliefs, such as “I can close all my charts by the end of clinic” and “I have ample time for the people who matter most to me.”
With these new thoughts, I stopped attributing my lack of time to external factors, including my workload. I also ceased blaming myself.
I began to focus on becoming more efficient. I started viewing patient charting as an integral part of the visit, something that needed to be completed before moving on to the next patient.
Thanks to my newfound efficiency and extra time, I started enjoying both my work and my family more.
It became a virtuous, delightful cycle.
Fast forward to today, and I now have three teenagers, a busy practice, and several passions and interests. Despite the numerous challenges, I still find joy in practicing medicine and being a mother. I no longer feel trapped in survival mode but am instead focused on thriving. I now coach other busy mothers in the medical field and help them thrive in their lives, one thought at a time.
Some lessons take years to learn, but others can occur in an instant.
All it takes is a belief.
Sofia Dobrin is a neurologist and physician life coach.