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Finding Your Focal Point(s)

The modern world is ripe with opportunity, however, pursuing every bit of it can leave you stretched too thin. This is the classic conundrum faced by medical students. You spend years building your application, but have the joy of building it all over for your next stepping stone: residency. Don’t worry though, this simple, reflective exercise, inspired by Brian Tracy’s book Focal Point, will provide perspective and allow for optimization. Essentially, he proposes: highlighting the high-yield activities you do on a daily basis, and eliminating the low-yield activities, which exponentially increases your happiness and success (however you define it). Now, let’s find your focal point(s)!

Step 1: Define Yourself
Who are you? If you were to categorize your life into the things you work at, interact with, or think about on a daily basis, what would they be. Then, rank them, beginning with the most important. My list looks like this:
1) Family (includes Fiancee and kitties)
2) Friends
3) Mental and physical well-being

  • Mindfulness
  • Exercise
  • Diet

4) School

  • Class
  • Extra-curricular activities
    • Student Surgical Society
    • Volunteering
    • Research

5) Motivate MD community

In my experience, if the previous item is not in order, then the latter suffers. For instance, if my mental and physical well-being are in shambles, then my performance in school deteriorates.

Step 2: Create Short-Term Goals
By short-term, I mean less than a year. If you want to think in terms of a shorter timeline, be my guest. Some of my short term goals revolving around the 1st item above, family, include the following:

  • Talk on the phone/facetime my Fiancee at least every other day
  • Text her during my spare moments
  • Spend as much time as possible in Minneapolis (where she is a medical student herself)
  • Plan affordable dates while there
  • Make time for a honeymoon after we get married this summer
My list ranges from daily occurrences to things on the horizon in the coming year. (Side note, making time for dates, even on a shoestring medical student budget, is vital to a relationship and the mental health of any medical student. It allows you to escape the books and feel like a real person for at least a little while haha.)
Step 3: Create Long-Term Goals
These are the goals that look beyond 1 year, or whatever corresponds to beyond your short-term goal timeline. Some of mine, again for item 1 (family), are listed here:

  • Live with fiancee after 1st year and during 3rd year
  • Match in the same city as fiancee (even if through transitional year)
  • Take 4 affordable trips each year
  • Start having kids at the end of her residency

I am in an accelerated, 3 year program, so I will actually begin my clerkships the summer after my 1st year of course work. My fiancee will be a 4th year med student in Minneapolis, so if I am able to get placed in Eau Claire, WI (roughly an hour and a half drive), this may be a possibility. Keep your fingers crossed for me! Hopefully then we could live together during her intern year, which would be my final year of clerkships. Thereafter, I intend to match in the same city as her, even if it is just a 1-year transitional spot. This is where your priorities come into play. I have family at the top of my list and school down lower at 4. Therefore, I would gladly do a transitional year, even if it meant reapplying for the match, just to be with her. Just as dates are important to a relationship, I feel trips are as well. Your flexibility definitely depends on your specialty choice, but regardless 4 seemed like a reasonable goal. Maybe the kiddo goal is a bit ambitious, but time will tell!

Step 4: Identify Your Focal Points
This is the most important step. Critically look at your goals and figure out what is needed to accomplish them. This is your focal point. It may require more of certain activities, less of certain activities, initiating new behaviors, cutting behaviors out altogether, or some combination of this. For instance, when I looked at my goals, 3 themes emerged: mindfulness, awareness, and strategy. The mindfulness applies most to items 1 and 2, Family and friends. Being mindful encompasses interacting with them often, whether in person or through electronics, and being truly present during those interactions, not having my head buried in thoughts of pharmacology. The awareness also applies to these relationships because it involves recognizing how the relationship is doing thanks to my efforts. For instance, am I taking my fiancee on enough dates or am I texting my sister enough. Last, the strategic element largely incorporates items 3 through 5. There are a myriad of things I want to accomplish and unfortunately not enough time. To combat this, I decided that every night I will map out my schedule for the ensuing date, prioritizing these elements to slowly chip away at the high priority targets.

Step 5: Keep Your Focal Points Close
I did this entire exercise on a white board that I keep in my room (see the picture to the right)! That way, every morning I wake up I will be reminded of my goals and the focal points through which to accomplish them. Not that those in medicine could be characterized as wanderers, but this truly gives me a purpose every single day. I feel as if every day is an invigorating and inspiring mission now.
Now it’s your turn!
Go out and get what is yours!

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