Optimizing Your Daily Practice for Lifelong Learning

Monday, Dec. 02, 2019

Incorporating small habits into your day has the ability to compound and lead to remarkable results, Aarti Sekhar, MD, told fellow radiologists Sunday afternoon.



"We may not see the effects at first, but consistently practiced over time, micro-habits can become lifelong habits," said Dr. Sekhar, associate professor of radiology at Emory University School of Medicine.

Inspired by the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, Dr. Sekhar has incorporated six habits into her daily routine to reach specific goals in order become the person she wants to be.

"I don't like to talk about goals. True behavior change is identity change," she said. "Instead of saying 'I want to run a marathon,' it's 'I want to be a runner.'"

Dr. Sekhar has purposefully designed her environment to facilitate the exercise habit: she keeps her bicycle parked right by the front door. She has also eliminated visual cues for bad habits she wants to avoid — there's no TV or junk food in her house. Habit tracking, in which you record your specific behaviors throughout the day, and accountability are other habits that keep her moving forward.

"My daily running buddy keeps me accountable for my 6 a.m. run," she said. "Putting commitments on the calendar and announcing my plans are other ways I keep myself accountable."

At work, Dr. Sekhar has incorporated four micro-habits into her work routine that foster lifelong learning. To make learning an active, real-life experience, she maintains her own personal database of cases with pathology follow-up. Her searchable case log serves as both a form of self-teaching and a useful teaching tool.

"I give my residents mini-case conferences throughout the day where I present six cases pulled from my database," she said. "They love it."

She said these mini-case conferences are easier to prepare — and a better way for residents to learn.

Another micro-habit she's embraced is creating highly visual PowerPoint (PPT) presentations using a method she learned from her mentor Claude Sirlin, MD, professor of radiology at UC San Diego. The format puts the teaching point at the top of the slide with supporting information represented visually.

"Anything that can be visual should be," she said, demonstrating how the PPT drawing tool could be used to create a diagram of the stomach.

Participating in tumor boards and multidisciplinary conferences, reading for a specialty clinic and virtual embedding are other ways Dr. Sekhar enhances her learning. To minimize distractions when reading or concentrating on other work tasks, she turns off her phone and email notifications.

"I don't believe in multi-tasking," she said.

Lastly, she incorporates wellness into her day — and encourages her residents to do the same by taking them on walking breaks and field trips.

"We are our habits," she said. "Develop habits that work hard for you."