Overview:

We are in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic that has caused too many deaths globally with an increasing number daily.

For most, this pandemic has provided “bonus” home time from cancelled travel, meetings and rounds; how can you optimize this time to find meaning and purpose? During this time of chaos, consternation and crisis we need to recalibrate our lives. Our planet, burnt and violated in recent decades, is at this time healing. We as people need to heal as well. In this interview, Dr. Frank J. Domino will join Dr. Sanjiv Chopra to hear his bright perspective during these times of uncertainty.  

 


   


Transcript

Frank Domino:

Hi, this is Dr. Frank Domino, family physician and professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. And joining me today to discuss recalibrating your life during this time of chaos and consternation is Dr. Sanjiv Chopra. Dr. Chopra is professor of Medicine and former faculty dean for Continuing Medical Education at Harvard Medical School. He currently serves as the Marshal Wolf Master Clinician Educator in the Department of Medicine at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Dr. Chopra is a best-selling author and sought after inspirational speaker throughout the US. His latest book coauthored with Gina Vild is entitled, "The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose And Live A Happier, Healthier Life." Dr. Chopra, thanks for joining me today.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Dr. Domino, I'm delighted to be on the podcast.

Frank Domino:

Now, it really is wonderful, and it's great that we have a chance to chat during this really most unusual time. In many ways, I and many others look to you for direction about how to keep sane during this unusual time. And you've mentioned a little bit to me about recalibrating. Can you talk to me a little bit about what you mean by recalibration? 

Sanjiv Chopra:

Yeah, Frank, you are very kind when you said you and others look up to me to get some guidance. This truly is an unprecedented time of chaos and consternation during this global crisis. I think the first thing I want to acknowledge is the deck of gratitude that we owe, the salutations to the heroes and these, as you know and we all know, are the first responders. They are the doctors, nurses, students, pharmacists, janitors, safety people working in the hospitals but also the people who are making sure our grocery markets are open, the pharmacy is open, and the internet is working. They're really the true heroes.

And for them I say a prayer every morning. When I wake up, I say, "I hope you'll be safe, you'll get some decent amount of rest and nutrition, and be able to sleep, and to your loved ones be able to say, I love you." For the rest of us we have this amazing bonus time. And that's because meetings, events, travel has come to a grinding halt. They've been cancelled, or they've been postponed for six months from now. And so with this extra bonus time, we have an opportunity to reflect and recalibrate. What is it we can do during this bonus time, so that we are productive, and we are not feeling that palpable sorrow and grief that is so powerful. We're not feeling it to the same extent. I don't think we can deny it. I don't think we can shut it down.

Frank Domino:

Well, I certainly agree with you that, and I think I and many of my peers are feeling just an overwhelming array of emotions, many of them stressful and certainly grief-ridden, so I appreciate the fact that you recognize that.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Yeah, I think we have to recognize it. We can't deny it. We can't bury our heads in the sand. And for each one of us, it's different. And for each one of us, somewhat of the solution is different. But I think the first thing to be aware of is to look at what's happening with our planet. So planet Earth is healing. The Earth which was burning and violated is actually healing. So in New Delhi for the first time the residents there in decades can look up and see a blue sky, and they can see stars at night. The canals in Venice have clean water. Yosemite Park has never been so pristine. We do witness the wonderful blossoms, cherry blossoms in April, but I think they're even more beautiful right now in Washington, in New York, and even in Massachusetts.

So we need to take a cue from planet Earth. We need to heal too. And I would respectfully suggest that we do the following things. It's just a short list I've made up, and the first thing is, when you wake up in the morning, don't lounge in bed, spring up, go into the showers, sing in the showers. Stretch, come down, sip that wonderful coffee, just the aroma, feeding through your nostrils, will be very powerful. So that's the first thing. And number two, while you're doing that, you're not doing that in your... Coming down to sip the coffee and start working in your pajamas. Get rid of the pajamas, pretend you're going to work. And you can wear casual clothes, but wear your casual clothes and then start to work. Make your goals.

Frank Domino:

It's so funny you say that because I've heard so many people say that this whole season, this time period, has thrown off my regular schedule. And that suggestion is so poignant. Get up, get in a shower. Pretend you're doing your normal life, maintain your schedule. We know with young children, when we disrupt their schedule, it's very emotionally unsettling. And just as you have suggested I have found that if I don't get up and force myself into my routine, I feel worse. If I don't get dressed and ready for the day, I tend to be less happy. So I love that suggestion.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Yeah, yeah, I think it's very practical. It has a lot of significance, and it changes the whole demeanor with which we're gonna work through the day. So then the next thing is find some time for silence, prayer or meditation. Sometimes I'm asked and it could be 10 minutes and sometimes I'm asked, "What's the difference between prayer and meditation?" It's very simple in prayer, we talk to God in meditation, God talks to us. So you can learn meditation from a trained person, but that is usually a four-day, an hour or two each day in a row sessions, but you can go through the Internet and learn some stuff. And here's something very simple we can do if we're feeling stressed. I was actually taught this years ago by my then seven-year-old younger granddaughter, and she said, "You know in school, our teacher has a Master's in mindfulness and she teaches us five things to do, but this is one of them. You know, when we are anxious, we just close our eyes or look down, sit still, and we take a deep breath, breathe in smelling the flowers breathe out as though you're blowing a candle," and said, "Grandfather, when I do it three or four times, I feel so much more relaxed. All the anxiety goes away."

So it's a very simple breathing technique that we can do. You can learn a mantra-based meditation from a teacher and do that, but do that. And there's an ancient Indian saying, "You should meditate once a day, and if you don't have time to do that you should meditate twice a day." That's when you really need it. So let's do the meditation...

Frank Domino:

And I will tell you that...

Sanjiv Chopra:

The mindfulness, yeah. Go ahead.

Frank Domino:

I will tell you that I'm very fortunate thanks to you that I've learned to meditate, but sometimes I feel like I need a little support or guidance to help keep my focus. So I wanna remind the listeners there's many applications for your cellphone and your computer to use. A guided app that... An app that provides guided meditations that's freely available is called Insight Timer, you can set the amount of time you wanna meditate and the topic you wanna listen to and put your headphones on and let the story carry you away. So, yes, absolutely, I think more than ever, we as a society need to embrace meditation for our own health and those we care for. So it's a great suggestion, Dr. Chopra.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Yeah, wonderful. So, spell that insight or inside. I-N-S-I...

Frank Domino:

Insight. I-N-S-I-G-H-T. Insight Timer. Yeah.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Wonderful. Beautiful. Yeah. Perfect. So the fourth thing, is that write down your goals, what you're gonna do today, they could be six or seven things, and next to it you have to have an action plan. As Will Rogers informed us, "A vision without a plan is a hallucination." That's daydreaming and hoping it will happen. No, it's not going to happen. So let's say you have seven things to do and one of them for me is to call Frank Domino, and set up this meeting and the second one is to wish my friend Pratima a happy birthday. And the third one is something simple like that as well. Set up this meeting. And the fourth one is to express gratitude to a friend who sent you a wonderful book that you started to read. And the fifth one is work 30 minutes on the chapter you're writing for this new book or start working on the talk you're going to present three months from now.

Now, what the tendency for many of us is to do and I've had that tendency in years bygone is to have that list of five things and then very easily tick off one, two, three, four. The ones that are easy. And then somehow you never get to that hard task and then it's left for another day. So there's a wonderful saying, "Do the hard things first and the easy things take care of themselves." So don't tackle the four easy ones. Say to yourself, "You know what, I'm gonna feel so good when I tackle this hard one. And okay, I'm gonna spend 30 minutes on it." And before you know it, you've spent 52 minutes and you've made a wonderful dent. And then the other things will take care of themselves.

I believe the author is Brian Tracy and he wrote a book and it's called Eat That Frog First, which is a way of saying it's a metaphor, "Do the nasty unpleasant thing first and the easy things will take care of themselves." When we make our goals let's not sell ourselves short. Let's have those goals very bold and audacious. Perot once said, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now go put the foundations underneath." Michelangelo once said, "The greater tragedy for most of us is not that we aim too high and fall short, it's that we aim too low and reach the mark." And Henry Ford once said, "Whether you believe you can do a thing or believe you cannot, you're right." So let your goals be very bold and audacious. The next item is learn something new.

Frank Domino:

I think...

Sanjiv Chopra:

Go ahead.

Frank Domino:

No, no, I think I find again, building in that structure is something I'm good at, but what I'm not good at, is eating that frog first, so I appreciate that approach to getting myself on target.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Yeah, it needs... You know, like anything, we are creatures of habit and you start to do it and you do it one day and you do it the next day, and you do it for a week, and you do it for two weeks, after that you're not even looking at the easy task, you're looking at the hard one and saying, "Okay, I'm gonna tackle this. This is gonna be fun." You just changed your attitude. Capacity is a state of mind. So we do that. Learn something new. We are most happy when we are learning. In our profession of medicine it is absolutely astounding. I heard this 30 years ago from a visiting professor, a world renowned liver pathologist and he said, "Every night when I put my head to the pillow I ask myself the question, what was one new thing I learned in liver pathology today?" And he said, "I've been in this profession for 48 years, every night I can answer that question. There's something new I learned, either new or a nuance." And in medicine, and we are so fortunate to be learning, we're learning from conferences, we're learning from journals, we're learning from our patients, we're learning from our students.

It's an amazing profession. So learn something new and it doesn't have to be medicine during these trying times. It could be learn how to play bridge, it could be learn a new language. I'm actually learning Spanish and I'm going to a site called Duolingo, I also have some Spanish-speaking friends, and now when they reach out to me by email or text, they send me something in Spanish, and I have to go look up Google translation, but I'm learning Spanish. My wife, Amitha is planning to re-kindle her love for Italian. She was learning it a few years ago with some friends. So learn something new. Write. And here's what I suggest, I think everyone listening has something they're passionate about a story, they would like to tell and so be courageous. Start writing a book. Start developing a TED Talk. Even if you don't wind up giving a good... Developing a TED Talk and giving it, you will relearn the principles of good public speaking. There's always a bonus.

Frank Domino:

So you're saying we should...

Sanjiv Chopra:

Journal. And even if you're not writing a book or a TED Talk, develop a journal and put some random thoughts there, things you've experienced, things you're grateful for.

Frank Domino:

Do you really think we all have within ourselves, a book or a TED Talk or are we...

Sanjiv Chopra:

Yeah, I really do.
  
Frank Domino:

Should we really aspire that high? 

Sanjiv Chopra:

I think you know, go for the moon and the stars, yeah.

Frank Domino:

I really think that's awesome.

Sanjiv Chopra:

You know when I'm a visiting professor I had this experience about a year and a half ago, University of Washington, Seattle and I spent five days teaching, giving lots of rounds, conference, CPC, MNM, ground rounds and then I met about 20 faculty in the GI and hepatology division, I met the chair of medicine and specially to the junior faculty I said, "Have you written a book?" And the answer usually was no. And then, "You know what? You have a book in you. Are you passionate about something?" I just planted the seed, I come back and in a year and a half two of the faculty have written a book.

Frank Domino:

Wow, that's great.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Now, it doesn't mean everyone will do it right away, but two of the 20 people I spoke to, just planted the seed and one of them, he trained at Oxford he's originally from Cyprus, he works at the VA and it's all about stories about his VA patients. He sent me the manuscript, I couldn't put it down, it was so engaging and absorbing. So don't sell ourselves short, you know what? Just do it.

The next item is to reach out with friends, right? And we can't meet our friends, physically. I think when the weather improves, maybe you can meet another couple and sit in their backyard 20 feet away, and you take your own food and your coffee and your drinks, and you can have a little party. But right now, we can meet by Zoom. I am having a virtually daily Zoom party with friends. A good cadre of friends. Your friends, as Robert Louis Stevenson informed us, "A friend is a gift you give to yourself." Khalil Gibran said, "Friendship is a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity." Best selling author James Rohn said, "You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with." So choose your friends carefully. There's an amazing study, I think Frank you and I have talked about this, it's called the Harvard crime study.

The longest standing study on happiness, it's gone on for almost 80 years. And they recruited about 650 21-year-olds, 250 went to Harvard, the others were from poor parts of Boston, Dorchester, Rocksbury. They followed them for all these years as of last year, something like 19 were still alive at age 90. So detailed questionnaires and physical examinations, EKGs, C-reactive protein, functional MRI. Then they went to their homes, they interviewed their spouses. There is a cohort of their children being followed. It's an amazing study, and what happened to this group? So some became doctors, nurses, lawyers, CEOs. Some became skid row alcoholic derelicts, a few died of suicide. One became our President, John F. Kennedy was in that cohort.

And the major conclusion of that study is that loneliness is toxic. That your satisfaction with relationships with friends at age 50 is a better predictor of health, happiness, and longevity, three decades later at age 80. So we as doctors, we're very busy when we're seeing patients, in primary care you guys get 15 minutes for a visit, but at the end of the visit, just ask them what you do to celebrate with friends? Plant the seed and point them to a wonderful TED talk by Dr. Robert Waldinger who's a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and he talks about this study. So, it's free, you can go listen to that TED Talk.

Here are five things that are said and then we have to figure out who says these. I think most people will get the correct answer. So these are the following five things. I should have spent more time with my friends. I should have been the bigger person and said, "I'm sorry." I should have traveled more. I should have had the courage to pursue my dreams and aspirations. I should have said, "I love you," more often. So who are these people? These are people in hospice, looking at imminent death. When asked, "What are the greatest regrets in your life?" These are the five things that come out. Nobody says, "I should have worked harder. I should have made more money. I should have lived in a bigger mansion. I should have belonged to four country clubs. I should have bought a new Ferrari or a Tesla every year." So the point is, let us, not any of us, have these regrets on our deathbed. Now of all these five things, the one we can't do at the moment is travel more. But the times will come around, and we'll be able to do that.

Right now you can watch a big television, and watch Rick Steves, and travel with him vicariously to the most amazing spots on this planet. In terms of "spend more time with friends," you can do it right now with Zoom parties. So let's do all these things. The next item that I think we need to do during these very trying times, is to be extra kind. Whether it's a smile you give to somebody or walking into your own neighborhood, keeping a good solid distance, wearing a mask, but smile nonplussed. You can reach out to them and say, "Is there anything I can do to help you?" When the mailman comes and puts the mail in your mailbox, give him or her a very nice smile. Let's be extra kind. His Holiness Dalai Lama once said, "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." What a simple and wonderful saying. He also said...

Frank Domino:

I agree.

Sanjiv Chopra:

"If you want others to be happy practice compassion. If you want to be happy practice compassion." In the Talmud, it says that kindness is the highest form, compassion is the highest form of wisdom. So compassion is a verb, starting now we need to do it, make it a habit, encourage our kids, grandkids to also do the same. So those are some of the things that I've been reflecting upon and sharing. There's a wonderful quote by Rumi who said, "The wound is where the Light enters you." Let us heal. Let us be resilient, let us be more grounded and anchored. Let us find a way to rekindle a spiritual awakening. We need to fire up our imaginations. Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." And the last thing I'll say is, live with gratitude. Even during these amazing trying times, we can think about many things we're grateful for today. I'm defining gratitude as an experience of something positive gained, coupled with the realization that somebody else was responsible for that gain.

I'm anomalously grateful to the leadership at Pri-Med for giving you and me this opportunity to share some reflections. I'm looking out as I'm speaking, and I see the beautiful sun out there, the clouds, blue sky, the trees. I'm grateful for that. Gaertner once said, he said, "To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is pleasant and noble. But to live gratitude is to touch Heaven." So let us rekindle joy in our life. That brings me to the last thing I'm gonna say, which is a quote by Mark Twain. I think many of us during this furlough, during this imposed exile, lockdown, we'll discover our purpose in life. What is the meaning? Why am I here? And Mark Twain once beautifully said, "The two most important days in your life are the day you're born and the day you'll find out why." So thank you for letting me share some reflections during these trying times.

Frank Domino:

Dr. Chopra, thanks so much. I find your thoughts inspirational, and truly, like the planet, I think now is a great time for us to take this opportunity and try to take better care of ourselves, and maybe do some healing. So your thoughts about recalibration are right on target. I also wanna thank our listeners for joining us today. On the landing page, we'll have links to the TED Talk Dr. Chopra mentioned as well as the apps that were discussed during the course of today. Sanjiv, please be well and take care.

Sanjiv Chopra:

Yeah, everyone, take care. All the best. Keep smiling.

 

 


Resources

  1. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/covid-19-a-time-to-recaliberate-and-find-clarity-in-a-time-of-chaos-confusion-and-consternation/ 

Apps: 

  1. Insight Timer to listen to guided meditations; from 2 to 60 minutes
  2. Duolingo to learn a new language

Video:

  1. Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI 
  2. Sanjiv Chopra: Dharma, Happiness and Living with Purposehttps://www.ted.com/talks/sanjiv_chopra_dharma_happiness_and_living_with_purpose 
  3. Sanjiv Chopra: The 2 Most important days of your lifehttps://vimeo.com/2602684