rituals and root-cause analysis

“I don’t feel like myself today.”

Do you ever say this to yourself? That has been my feeling for the past few days. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that feels off, but I just have this feeling that there is something a little off about my mood or mentality or my spirit. My husband knows it best, as I’m constantly updating him know about my mindset (more than he probably wants or feels he signed up for). I’ll shoot him a text – “I feel stuck” – followed by – “I need a growth mindset” – followed by “I’m gonna take a break from [this task, usually studying].” I laugh about this, because I always say I am constantly working on my mindset…but aren’t we all in some way, every day? If we aren’t working on our mindset then we are unconsciously allowing it to affect the way we view challenges, difficult people or situations, or even just the daily grind of everyday life. It is so easy to fall into the trap of negativity, comparison, wishing for more, dissatisfaction, bitterness. It is much more challenging to fall into the pit of joy, gratitude, contentedness, happiness, thanksgiving. The struggle of mentality is something we address throughout the day, everyday whether we are aware or not. The type of mindset I have for the day comes up when I start thinking, “I don’t feel like myself today.” The mindset (growth versus restrictive, positive versus negative, grateful versus despairing) determines my approach to feeling this sense of depersonalization.

There is a method of analyzing medical errors called root-cause analysis. This type of analysis focuses on all of the causes that may have contributed to a major medical error, such as operating on the wrong limb of a patient or giving the wrong medication to a patient that caused harm. In my root-cause analysis of why the “I don’t feel like myself” problem, I thought of a few reasons that may explain why I may be feeling depersonalized or disillusioned: I’m tired of studying all day in a routine for my board exam, I miss my friends and family, I need fresh air and green spaces, I’m not feeding myself the right foods, I’m having hormonal issues, I’m not exercising enough, I’m exercising too much, I want to go to church, I want to read more, write more, spend more time doing meaningful things, I want less social media, I want less desire material things, I want more time for myself, I want less time focusing on myself and more on others, I want to watch more (or less) TV, and the list goes on..and on..and on. Truthfully, there was no single reason or error identified in my root cause analysis. There was no sentinel event or major problem that I identified for why I felt off. It was probably combination of many things, minuscule things over time, that eroded my sense of self, gratitude, centeredness, and joy. My erosions (this time!) were probably due to studying every day and losing sight of the bigger purpose in my career (caring for the patients who will need my expertise), constantly being inundated with material possessions and lives different from mine on social media, and wishing I could see my family more and feeling bitter about being unable to see them anytime I want. The next time I get the feeling, “I don’t feel like myself today,” there will likely be very different reasons that have eroded my sense of connection to myself. The reasons will always change. The struggles of staying true to our meaning, purpose, True North, are inevitable. Life will always try to pull us in different directions, smear our individuality, and attempt to make us lose sight of those very things that make us, us.

Which brings me to what brought me back and grounded me from that uncomfortable feeling of being a stranger in my own body: rituals. Rituals can have a negative connotation, but I think rituals are extremely important to bringing us back to our sense of self. Tonight, instead of doing my usual cycling on my bike, I did a 45 minute yoga class in the comfort of my living room (with Avery talking in the background). As I transitioned to my downward-dog pose, taking big breaths in, I remembered rolling out my mat in my tiny, shared dorm room over 7 years ago in college when things got tough (perhaps the toughest they had ever been). I remember moving through the motions of the class, sometimes with tear-stained eyes, just to feel connected to my body. I remembered myself showing up to a packed yoga class at my favorite studio in Nashville (Shakti) after studying all day for a biology exam, and re-discovering myself and my values in the movement of the class. I remembered myself my first year of medical school, feeling overwhelmed and alone, when someone came up and said, “I like yoga, too” after I mentioned that I enjoyed yoga in my forced Fun-Fact during introductions. That person became my best friend in medical school. Something about remembering those rituals that have carried me through the difficulties of life brought a renewal of spirit. Rituals are those things that ground us to remember who we are when times get tough. Yoga is one of my rituals – even when I love other forms of movement now – nothing renews like yoga and the nostalgia that comes with it. There are other rituals I have, too: watching the Office, calling my mom to talk, going for walks, eating peanut butter pretzels, throwing on a face mask. The rituals we have in life are not always those things we pick; sometimes they come to us unknowingly by bringing a sense of renewed spirit.

So, here are my questions for you: Do you ever have that sensation, “I don’t feel like myself”? If you do, what is your root-cause analysis? What has caused you to drift away from your true self, your True North? Finally, what are your rituals? What have you forgotten to do that always brings your back to your center? How can you make space for those things today?

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