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Every day, a new 100 percent

Claudio smilingWhen I was asked to write about “life @ 100%,” I was flattered to be identified as someone who may be living life that way. That changed to uncertainty, though, as I started thinking about what is “life @ 100%.” This concept was way more complex than the simplicity of the slogan. Is it reaching full potential mentally and physically? Is it achieving pure happiness? Is it acquiring material things that we feel that we need or want? Is it dedication to family so they can lead a better life? Is it obtaining professional or academic fulfillment and success? Is it a balance of all these and other things? I really never thought about life in this way until I had to sit down to write this blog.

I spoke with Wendy, my wife, and asked her what she thought that “life @ 100%” meant. Even though we have a very similar set of morals, thoughts and values, it was apparent that her ideas were different than my initial thoughts were. It was apparent that, if I asked the 7.7 billion people in the world, I might get the same number of different answers. So, I do not have any ambition to give you a recipe to achieve “life @ 100%.” I can only hope to give inspiration so you can find your own ingredients.

To me, the reflection on “life @ 100%” starts by looking back at a person’s own life. The main question is: If life ended today and I had the ability to grade it or critique it, would I have any regrets or would I wish I would have done something I did not do? To me, the answer is almost always yes to everything and I am constantly trying to do it better today than yesterday. I want to be a better person, father, husband, physician, leader, athlete and musician at every chance I get. I also try to not miss opportunities to do what I feel is important. Of course, choices have to be made at every instant because there is not enough time to do it all. I believe it comes down to knowing yourself and using that knowledge to assign value to situations and opportunities, so those choices can be made with some kind of control.

One might say that trying to reach some sort of “perfect life” and never reaching it would be unsettling, like a marathon runner who will never reach the finish line. I feel, however, that this drives me to take the next step and keep moving forward. It motivates me to think critically about my interactions with the world around me, be it either people or situations, and to improve my empathy, read and educate myself more instead of watching TV, or wake up early to work out even when I am tired and I just want to relax.

This step by step approach helps me break down huge projects into small goals. Take the example of becoming a surgeon. I get asked frequently by young people how long it takes to become a surgeon. If, when I was 17, as I was just before starting medical school, someone told me that it would take seven and a half years to finish medical school and seven years to finish residency training, that I would have to stop surfing and going out because I had a test the following day, that I would have to move to a different country, and all the hurdles and obstacles that I would have to overcome before I actually reached my goal, I may have said forget it! But instead, I only looked as far as going to school each day, taking notes and focusing on the next test. Once that passed, I would switch my focus to the next test, and the next. A plan has to be in place but I believe that if you try to plan too much and try to control the process too much, it leads to an inability to move forward. After all, part of life is made of situations beyond a person’s control, also known as chance or luck.

Another example is weight loss and healthy eating. Most of us have to think about this. When I lost 97 pounds between 2012 and 2014, I simply started by knowing that I had to lose weight. All those years of medical and surgical training, poor sleep, poor diet and no exercise had taken a toll. I knew I wanted to be healthier and that I did not want to have my young family suffer by losing me. Instead of setting a timeframe and a goal weight, I focused on each day. I started the day eating healthy and trying to exercise a little (I was deconditioned despite being very athletic when I was young). Some days I would be successful and some days I would fail.

But every day I weighed myself and used my progress or lack of it to adjust my daily plan. As I started making progress, I started having more good than bad days. I overshot and my goal changed into building my body back trying to gain less fat during the process. When I felt that I reached it, the goal shifted to maintenance. As you can see, the goal is always changing, and I am always trying to do it better.

Claudio at competition

I tell my kids that nothing that is worth doing is easy to do, paraphrasing Theodore Roosevelt. A harder concept for them to understand is that they have the power of making the journey of life more enjoyable even when it is not. Of course, this only applies to situations under your control, which excludes accidents, illness or death of a loved one, as examples.

For those situations you can control, I put them in two categories: avoidable and unavoidable encounters. Obviously, if situations are avoidable, you can choose to just not get involved in those. For the situations that are unavoidable, I do my best to see the positives and make the best out of them. This has to be a conscious and active thought process and it can be hard, but the more you do it the better you get. Part of it is seeing what benefits that not-so-pleasant activity will bring me in the future, as a sort of investment or delayed gratification. The other part is to consciously avoid wishing that time would fly by. In other words, spending the entire time wanting to be somewhere else that I cannot be.

A simple example is studying or being in a class thinking I could be at the beach. It can be an effort to align the mind and the body in the present, but the fact that I can actually make this process conscious is helpful to me.

I also think that wishing for things to go by faster is a waste and try to bring this to consciousness when I catch myself thinking that way. In my view, wishing for things to end quickly is wishing for life to end quickly. If you start your Monday morning wishing it were Friday afternoon and you spend the entire week counting the minutes, you will not be living in the present, and the time wasted is gone forever. Instead, I actively try to recognize those thoughts and shift my focus into living in the moment and, again, get the most out of it.

One example of this active process that I employ is the use of the Electronic Medical Records (EMR). Most providers hate it. It is, however, a perfect example of an unavoidable situation; an example of those chance events of life. The struggle was not different for me, but, instead of wishing we could just go back to the “good old days” of paper charts, I decided that I would do what it was necessary to make this into a useful tool. I’ve put countless hours (and still do) tweaking it, understanding its functionality and creating templates. It was, and still is a challenge; but I made it very efficient and useful for me.

Finally, what would life be without the search for happiness? Of course, everything is connected, but bringing some ideas to consciousness helps.

Idea #1: Try to enjoy the simple things.
If we can only find enjoyment when the temperature is 68 degrees, the seat has the right amount of softness and back support, the sky is blue or the wind is blowing, but not too hard, it can be tough to achieve. I try to find the wonder in situations, even when not immediately apparent.

Idea #2: Try to lose myself in the moment.
I believe that a happy life is a life made of moments you wish would never end. Moments that you wish you could repeat. Moments that you try to live again and again through memories, like the conversation you have with a loved one that you think or say, “We should do this again!” The place you’ve been that you want to go back. The movie you wish would not end. Those situations you get surprised that time passed so fast.

Dr. Claudio professional headshotLiving Life @ 100% to me is knowing yourself and working with what you have. It’s to improve yourself one small step at a time; make plans and have goals but break them down into manageable pieces; make choices by assigning values, do the hard things in life with enjoyment and control what you can; avoid dislocation between body and mind and wishing that life passes me by; expect less and be amazed by simpler things; and make every situation an encounter I wish would never end.

Of course, none of my actions and ideas can be packaged in a “life @ 100%” formula, since today I am always different than yesterday.

It is clearly the pursuit and the journey that needs to be 100 percent.

Dr. Claudio Nunes
SCRMC General Surgeon
St. Croix Falls, WI