Three Questions to Ask Yourself

I have been lucky to study with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a gifted writer, pediatrician and one of the most heartfelt people in medicine I have ever known.

She recently gave me a nightly homework assignment that I wanted to share with you:

She says, “Finding greater meaning and satisfaction in your work is often not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways.”

Dr. Remen suggests taking 15 minutes at the end of the day to write down the answers to the following three questions:

  1. What surprised me today?
  2. What touched my heart today?
  3. What inspired me today?

Dr. Remen suggests writing these thoughts in a journal. Reviewing your answers from time to time can be enlightening.

She told me about a time when she gave this assignment to a neurosurgeon who had lost his zest for practicing medicine. He dutifully did the homework for two weeks.

When he returned with his homework assignment, she noted he wrote the same answers day after day:

  1. Nothing.
  2. Nothing.
  3. Nothing.

Instead of giving up on the neurosurgeon, she encouraged him to continue his daily practice. She asked him to look for anything–anything at all–that might strum his heartstrings. It could be a beautiful sunset; the first snowfall in the early morning; or a lovely violin solo at the symphony. Anything.

Slowly, over the next few weeks, the neurosurgeon began to jot down a few entries. As he picked up momentum, he began to look for things throughout the day to write in his journal.

Soon, his journal and his spirit were full.

Why did three simple questions change him? Answering them every day forced him to focus on all the good that was already present in his life.

And by focusing on the good, he paid a little less attention to negativity.

I must admit, I am not disciplined enough to sit each evening with journal in hand. But, every night, as I am drifting off to sleep, I ask myself the three questions.

Sometimes, as I ask what surprised me that day, I will recall something that was not a very pleasant surprise, such as the dishwasher overflowing. Then, I’ll quickly redirect it, and ask myself the question again until I find the answer of something that surprised me in a good way.

I go through the three-question list and answer each one silently, as if in prayer.

I encourage you to acknowledge and be grateful for the everyday wonder in your own life. The simple practice of paying attention to wonder, beauty and joy around you can make a big difference in how you see the world.

CATEGORIES: Blog on December 23, 2013 by Starla Fitch, M.D.

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5 thoughts on “Three Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Helene Malabed

    Hello Starla,
    Thank you for your story and your blog. I myself am a Solo Family Practitioner who started to hate medicine and the way it’s being conducted and how it’s no longer an art and about the human being in front of us but a rigid checklist. I still love it but am finding ways to serve my patients and clients in a different manner that works and matters to both of us.
    Finding your blog I feel will help and give me the support into the uncharted territory ie. as pioneers, that I know most practitioners will soon be heading.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D Post author


      So wonderful to hear of you making your own way to find the medicine that you can continue to love! And I am glad to have you join the conversation.

      Sharing what works (and doesn’t!) can help each of us pioneer our way.


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