Do you ever feel overwhelmed with life? So many things simply need doing and you have not enough time to do them.

You might feel like a victim of one more demands on your time and energy.

Try this simple gratitude exercise from the Naikan book mentioned last week. Medical students in UTMB’s Physician Healer track were assigned to create a list of routine daily activities and apply the following to them:

1. I have to …

2. I choose to …

3. I get to …

Such a process helped remove a sense of helplessness, victimhood, or the burdensomeness of daily activities. Once we realize we choose or even get to do the things we do, our whole attitude shifts.

Here are some examples of this process from a student journal:

I have to study

I choose to study. I have the motivation to do well and therefore I really do choose to devote a lot of time to learning and making sure I do my best in school.

I get to study. Medical school is a privilege and not many people get to become a doctor. I am thankful to be here even though it is difficult and requires lots of studying and effort.

I have to go to the gym.

I choose to go to the gym. Going to the gym is a choice and I do enjoy going most of the time. However, I also feel that I have to go to the gym in order to maintain a fit physicality. Some days I feel like I have to force myself to go. There is definitely internal resistance on days when I am tired or just not feeling up to it.

I get to go to the gym. I am thankful that I have access to the gym.

I have to cook lunch/dinner

I choose to cook lunch/dinner. I do have resistance about cooking but it is something I choose to do. I want to be healthy so I choose to cook at home instead of eating out. This is an internal choice for which I am responsible. No one forces me to cook.

I get to cook lunch/dinner. I am thankful I can afford healthy food options and have a place to prepare food.

Some patients have mobility problems from stroke, arthritis, and other conditions. While I take for granted my ability to walk, climb stairs, and generally get around the planet on foot without thinking about it, they do not experience this luxury. Recently in Chicago I got on the elevator with a man in a wheelchair who was in a triathlon. His truck included a special lift so he could drive and load his chair. Suddenly I felt humbled. How easy it is for me to walk! Meanwhile, he is the one doing a triathlon.

How about you? Have to … choose to … or get to …

Change the word, change your mind, change your attitude, and the world changes.

You decide.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.