Martin Seligman, PhD, in his book Authentic Happiness, references a colleague, Mike Csikszentmihalyi, when discussing the concept of “flow.” For Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, flow is that feeling one gets when fully engaged or “in the zone” with an activity during which the passage of time seems suspended. Often, the activity is aligned with one’s natural, signature strengths.
For me, flow comes when I’m mountain biking: There are moments without thoughts, it’s just my bike, the dusty trail, the chase, and the breeze cutting through sultry Chattanooga climate. I also feel flow when I’m fully present with my husband and our two-year-old daughter. It’s there when we are caught up in laughing as she runs from my tickling, pummels herself against my husband’s legs, sticks her head between them and yells, “Do it again!”
At work, I’m in sync when I’m conversing, unhurried, with my patients. Collaborating to ensure they genuinely understand their own health is fulfilling, and the work is more vocation and less job.
I’m an OB/GYN in private practice in Tennessee. My own sense of flow diminished as I struggled with a busy practice, unpredictable hours, and having a daughter. Fortunately, I’ve reclaimed that flow, through blogging and biking. These two rather disparate endeavors have allowed me to feel more grounded in my work as a physician.
Fresh out of residency, my income came from a hospital guarantee and I had leisurely time with a small number of patients. My patient volume peaked right after I delivered my daughter and my hospital income ran out. Quickly, I learned about the juggling act required to balance family, self-care, and seeing enough patients to pay overhead. My struggle centered around the daily rushing between patients while maintaining a calm, happy facade, even when I felt exhausted. In no way did I want my own stress to ever make a patient feel rushed. Despite my wonderful partners, camaraderie at work, and my own awareness of efficient time use with patients, even if everything went perfectly, at the end of most days, I was sapped. I kept thinking, there’s got to be a better way. How can I do health care differently?
At the pinnacle of my work stress, a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Susanna Carter, quit her OB/GYN position and transitioned to wellness coaching. Her journey starting her business turned me on to the tenets of lifestyle medicine and the exercise is medicine organization. That led me to read about physician burnout and preventive medicine. In thinking about how I could apply lifestyle medicine and population health insights to my own life, I realized that starting a women’s health blog was part of the answer and getting back on the bike trails was the other.
I began prioritizing biking, and I started a website with articles and a newsletter. Blogging has allowed me to efficiently get information to my community of patients and do something more creative than my usual daily grind. It often streamlines my interactions with patients in the office because they have read something that I wrote beforehand. Similarly, I now send patient education emails during pregnancy and do virtual pregnancy coaching via Skype and phone calls. As for commitment to exercise, biking keeps me healthy and connected to the visceral challenge, satisfaction, and glee that come from zipping through the woods or picking my way up long, technical climbs. Both have brought fun and flow back into my life.
Kristi H. Angevine is an obstetrician-gynecologist. This article originally appeared in What Works For Me.