There are a lot of personal attributes that physician leaders need to foster in themselves and encourage in others:
But there is one that I think is often neglected: Vitality
Vitality is defined as “the power to endure or survive; mental or physical vigor; energy.” But vitality is not as easily maintained as some other leadership attributes.
After all, integrity, accountability and other such characteristics are mental states or personality traits. Not that they cannot be nurtured and enhanced.
But vitality is another thing. Sure, it is partially a state of mind. But true vitality depends on physical energy, fitness and health. It is nearly impossible to demonstrate vitality if you have no spring in your step, no volume to your speaking, and no sparkle in your eye.
It is definitely a trait we should seek to promote. How much more effective will you be if your passion is expressed with energy and enthusiasm? Some of the best leaders, physician or otherwise, are those with intensity, stamina and charisma. All of which depend on vitality.
For physicians, the lack of vitality may become a result of self-neglect, living with frequent interruptions of sleep, little time to exercise, etc. But it is a dilemma because we ought to be an example for our patients and others that we lead.
The Bad News About Maintaining Vitality
Unfortunately, you can only will so much vitality into your being. In order to improve your vitality, you will have to take some steps that, perhaps, you have neglected or postponed.
“I'll stop eating fast food when things slow down,” you tell yourself. “I'll start biking next summer when the weather is warmer.”
As we get closer to retirement and schedules finally start to slow down, it does not become any easier. Decades of patterns of sedentary behavior and high fat, high carb diets are difficult to reverse.
- First, unless you are already on home oxygen for emphysema or bed-ridden, dispel for yourself the idea that it is too late to make a change. It is only those self-limiting beliefs that will keep you from moving into a new direction. There are thousands of examples of dramatic improvements in fitness and vitality. Don't procrastinate.
- Start slowly. Try to stick to one or two small changes at a time. It may take weeks or months to develop new habits, but once one seems to be sticking, add the next.
- Diet may be the most important to start with. Make small changes. Drink more water. Shift away from fast foods. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts. You know the reasons why.
- Get at lest seven hours of sleep. If you miss a few hours one night, make it up over the next few days. Stay on a stable sleep pattern. Circadian rhythms work best when they are consistent. If your BMI is over 30 and/or you snore, get a sleep study. There is no sense “sleeping” eight hours each night if the sleep quality is poor and ineffective.
- If you have not been exercising, start slowly. Consider a stress test first if you have risk factors or suspicious symptoms. But be consistent, at least 4 times per week. Find something you enjoy doing. Gradually increase time and intensity. Include both aerobic and strength training. Get a trainer if it will help. And change-up your routine.
- Be as compulsive about exercising and following a good diet as you have about anything else in your life (education, spouse, children, or work). It needs to become a major priority. Schedule your time to exercise and do not allow that time to be compromised. Make it a regular habit that you will miss when unable to do it.
You want to be an effective leader. To do that, you need energy and endurance. That requires mental and physical sharpness and stamina. Make these changes now.
Then go out and buy some new clothes after your waist shrinks.
Sorry for being so preachy, but it had to be said.