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4. What's Your Heart Attack?

'People fall over the truth now and then, but most pick themselves up and carry on as if nothing has happened.' Winston Churchill. It is well known in public health circles that there is one thing that is sure to get someone to stop smoking, take regular exercise and eat healthily: a nice big heart attack. There is nothing that concentrates the mind so much as imminent death. But what a shame that you have to wait until your arteries are all clogged up before you start looking after yourself. I had a client a couple of years back who had had a similar shock to the system. A senior doctor, he was bright, enthusiastic, very personable and had lots of ideas for developing his research, his teaching, and his clinical practice. The only problem was that he was seriously disorganised. His clinics never started on time. He agreed to do things but was unable to complete them. He took on teaching commitments and forgot to turn up. He spent so many hours at work that his family had all but forgotten what he looked like, and yet he never felt on top of things. He had a hundred projects at various stages of incompletion. I asked him how long this had been going on, and he admitted that he'd been like this pretty well all his life. 'So,' I asked him, 'what has made you seek help now?' He told me he'd been passed over for a management role that he'd wanted and assumed he'd get. The reason his colleagues gave him was that they didn't think he'd be able to do it as he clearly wasn't coping with what he already had on his plate. As he told me this, tears welled up in his eyes. This was his 'heart attack'. Because he was so able, he'd managed to get through up to this point with no major problems. Because he was so nice, no-one had had the heart to tell him. The result was that he had never had to face up to the reality of his lamentable self-management. Once he started to get himself together and people noticed the changes, he started to get more feedback. The nurses who staffed his clinics, the assistants who supported his operating lists, all of them had been fed up for ages of never starting on time, of explaining the delays to irate patients, of always having to stay after hours to finish the lists. He not only had had a big heart attack, but he had several little aftershocks in the days and weeks that followed. To coach someone who has just had a heart attack is an absolute joy. They focus like they've never focussed before. They do every task you set with religious zeal. They ask for more things to do. They are in the most unpleasant of places and they want to get out of it as quickly as humanly possible. This man turned his life around in a few short weeks. Within a fortnight he was arriving at every clinic on time. He ruthlessly pruned his commitments so that he could do the ones he retained properly and on time. He had a long talk with his secretary, who resigned in protest at the sudden requirement to do some work. He set aside Saturdays exclusively for spending with his three children. He organised a weekly babysitter so that he and his wife could go out for the evening on a regular basis. He finished writing up his PhD. He reviewed his finances. He set up a new accounting system for his private work. And everybody in his life was delighted, especially him. Try this: 1. What area(s) of your life do you currently neglect? Your health? Your relationship or marriage? Maintaining your house? Your finances? Your career? Your colleagues? Your social life? Your family? Your leisure? Your punctuality, desk, filing, planning for the future? Your dreams, needs, sex life? What are you in denial about, and what do you say to yourself about this area of your life? 2. What would be the equivalent of a heart attack in that area of your life? What would have to happen for you take for you to take notice of it and do something? 3. What stops you from taking action now? If you did take action now, what would be your very first step? 4. Would you like to take it?