As a top neurosurgeon at Duke Health with a specialty in deep-brain-stimulation surgery, Nandan Lad, M.D., Ph.D., 40, is used to doing six-hour operations during which you can’t miss by a millimeter. He also can’t freeze on emergency calls. If there’s a trauma patient with bleeding inside their skull, he sometimes has less than 15 minutes to prep. “You have to have a calm mind and think clearly and move quickly,” he says.
For Dr. Lad, that means putting aside worldly distractions. He might have a sore shoulder, or some unsettled conversation nagging him, but the second he enters the OR, he zones in.
“When you’re operating on someone’s brain, that is your complete focus,” he says. “Everything else can wait.”
How does Dr. Lad find his focus so quickly? By spending his nonsurgical hours living in a way that primes his mind and body (which is why he calls neurosurgery a “way of life,” not a profession).
Steal these parts of his routine to be ready for any high-stress moment.
Hydrate, don’t caffeinate
Dr. Lad avoids caffeine on surgery days because he says it can lead to hand tremors. His move: a glass of water in the morning, another as soon as he’s at work, and one between surgeries when he can afford bathroom breaks.
Work on your focus
You aren’t born calm; you work on it. Dr. Lad piles up his focus reps at home by doing daily meditations with the Calm app. Sound boring? Recruit a friend. His wife, Nora, joins in his ten-minute sessions. “I believe strongly in the mind-body connection,” he says. He’s a fan of deep breathing, too: Try a three-second inhale and four-second exhale next time you’re trying to really focus on a project.
Stretch and unwind
Dr. Lad is in surgery for hours, arm muscles tense, torso frequently hunched over his patients at awkward angles. To uncoil, he does yoga once a week. After every surgery, he’ll spend a few seconds in the warrior II pose. Try it: While standing, lunge forward with your right leg, arms extended to your sides. Rotate your torso to the left, then reach your right arm high. Hold for 3 seconds, then reverse the movements and repeat on the other side.
This story originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Men’s Health.
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