061. How to Prioritize Yourself for a More Fulfilling Life with Dr. Marina Aghababyan

Say goodbye to the old and embrace a better way of living with today’s insightful discussion about prioritizing yourself first. We’re joined by Dr. Marina Aghababyan, a full-time family physician and founder of Physician Moms Thrive, a transformative coaching program designed to empower you with the tools to combat stress, burnout, and fatigue.

In this episode, Dr. Aghababyan will challenge the traditional narrative and guide us on a journey of self-discovery. Learn how prioritizing your well-being can be the key to becoming a better parent, doctor, and overall human being.

Key Points From This Episode:

  1. Why should moms take some action, commitment, and effort into finding a coach?
  2. What was her life like before establishing a coaching business?
  3. The financial aspect of coaching.
  4. Making small changes can make a big difference.
  5. How to get over the “mom guilt” of prioritizing yourself first.
  6. Self-care is like crafting a life when you have that time to yourself and discover what that means to you.
  7. Decide to take some time for yourself (and your spouse) whenever you have extra time.
  8. What is the biggest issue, and what are the top three tips she advises in terms of priority?


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61 - How to Prioritize Yourself for a More Fulfilling Life with Dr. Marina Aghababyan
Swinging Christmas

00:05 Dr. Ann Tsung Are you struggling to advance your career and sacrificing time with your loved ones because of endless to-dos, low energy, and just not enough time in the day? If so, then this podcast is for you. I am your host Dr. Ann Tsung, an ER critical care and space doctor, a peak performance coach, a real estate investor, and a mother of a toddler. I’m here to guide you on mastering your mind and give you the essential skills to achieve peak performance. Welcome to Productivity MD, where you can learn to master your time and achieve the five freedoms in life.

00:52 Hello. Welcome to Productivity MD Podcast. I am your host Dr. Ann Tsung. Today I have Dr. Marina Agabhabyan. She’s a full-time family medicine-trained physician. And also, she’s a mom. She’s the founder of Physician Moms Thrive. She does live coaching for physician moms. I’m a physician mom myself. And this could really apply to a lot of professionals who are moms, I think. So that’s why I wanted to bring her on — to see what kind of tactics or actions that can really make our lives easier as we’re trying to juggle full-time job and the household and the kids, et cetera. So Dr. A, thank you so much for coming on the show. Could you tell us a little bit about what you do exactly in terms of your family medicine practice, and why did you begin this new venture of starting Physician Moms Thrive?

01:48 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Sure. So I am family medicine-trained, but I have been working as a hospitalist for the past six years. How I got into this is, a few years ago, I was really burned out. Working as a hospitalist, and it was pandemic, we were just asked to see more and more patients all the time. The reimbursement was going down. We were getting decrease in the salary. They were taking away our benefits. I was just really unhappy with my job. I was thinking about leaving my job on almost everyday basis, and even thinking about leaving medicine a lot of times. Because it just felt like it’s not sustainable, and things are just getting worse and worse. But even more than that, I feel like there were things at home that I was struggling with. I just felt like they were — which I believe so many moms struggle with. I just felt like there were not enough hours in the day. I have this list going through my mind at all times of things I needed to do, so I didn’t feel like I was fully present. I was just always on the go. I felt like I was a bad mom. I didn’t spend enough time with my kids. I didn’t have enough patience for them. I felt like a bad wife. I didn’t spend enough time with my husband. I was angry at him all the time for not helping me enough. And the list just goes on and on. So just so many things.

03:07 It wasn’t until I discovered coaching that things really started to change. A little disclaimer with coaching, things just don’t happen overnight. It’s not like an effortless thing. But I think it’s those small changes that happen with time. First of all, I realized how much of our reality is shaped by our mindset. With the thoughts that we’re having and how we think about things, it really changes everything. Then I kind of started changing some things slowly, little by little. It’s just like those little things add up over time. And one day, you just realize that you’re at a completely different place. You see how much things have changed. Once I noticed how much it has changed my life, I really wanted to learn more about it. And I wanted to help other physician moms also find that work-life balance, just kind of realign with your goals and your priorities.

04:07 Dr. Ann Tsung Got it. Yeah, it’s like a never-ending work in progress even with coaching. I completely agree. When I started coaching, getting coached too, looking back four or five years, the trajectory was just incremental. But at the same time, today, this morning, I was just like, “I’m 37 weeks pregnant. There’s no food. Why is it that my husband not have my food prepared for me?” So it’s work in progress. But that’s awesome. I’m so happy that you realized the benefit of coaching, so you started this coaching practice yourself. Why should people care about coaching, or why should moms even — because, okay, I hear a lot. “I don’t have enough time to get coached or to find a coach. I don’t have the money to find a coach.” Why should they actually take some action and commitment and some effort into this realm? It’s not even about coaching. It’s about finding help in general, right, or doing something different than what you’re doing now. Why should moms care about those?

05:11 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Because it can really change your life truly. We all kind of start at that point, right? We feel like we don’t have enough time. For me, personally, if you think about it, I’m still at the exact same job. I work full time just like I did before. Nothing has changed at home, and I still have 24 hours in the day just like everybody else. But the things are just so very different. I’m really happy and content with where I am. So it is really just that mindset shift. Then it is the things that how you rebuild your life to realign with what you want. Taking time for yourself, some self-care. So many things.

05:56 Dr. Ann Tsung So maybe we can dig into a little bit of what was your life before and ever since you implemented some — we’ll talk about the actions and how you did it. But what was your life before like, and then what is your life like now in terms of what differences did it actually make? For our audience, for our moms, I want them to imagine what is actually possible and in what timeframe.

06:19 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Okay. And remind me some of those things I forget when I started talking. I think some of the most important things, especially for physician moms — I mean, it’s many things really that you change with the time. But one of the most important things is self care, I would say. I think, so many times, we’re used to taking care of everybody else: our kids obviously, our home, our husbands, our patients. We really forget about ourselves, and we lose ourselves in that. We truly don’t have time. If you think about it, it does feel like you really don’t have time. There’s just so many things. But once you make it a priority to take care of yourself, things start shifting.

07:01 For me, I think one of the first things that I changed that made my life so much better was just exercising. When I had my second child, my daughter, I obviously gained some weights. I didn’t lose it. I was really, with a job and everything, was so exhausted, so overwhelmed. I truly didn’t have time to work out. My husband would ask me, because he works out every day. He would ask me, like, why don’t you work out? I was like, I don’t have time. And I truly didn’t have time. And even if I had a little bit of time, I wanted to just sit down, take a breather and not do anything. Because I felt that that’s what I needed. But once I made it a priority, I’m going to start exercising a few times a week, and started exercising, then I actually had more energy to do the things that I needed to do. So that’s just one of the small examples of a small thing you can do for yourself that makes everything better. We really, truly need to take care of ourselves so that we could take care of others.

08:03 You mentioned the financial aspects of coaching. I think there are so many, in these days, free resources as well that you can utilize. One of the first things I did was, I just listened to the podcast by Brooke Castillo, the Founder of The Life Coach School, which is where I trained. That’s when I kind of fell in love with coaching. But there’s so many other podcasts, books, so many things that are affordable and that people can start with.

08:32 Dr. Ann Tsung Yeah, so it’s essentially free mentors, free coaching, or books like on Audible. How has your life changed from before and now?

08:42 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan I think it has changed drastically. Because in comparison with before where I felt like I had no time at all, at one point, I felt like I want to do something else on top of everything else that I have. I still have all the things I had before that I had to do. But now I crafted the time for coaching where I have my clients that I coach. So I feel like I have so much more time, and I have so much more energy. I’m so much happier than I was before. So I think those are the main changes. Well, again, circumstances have not really changed, right? Everything else in my life is the same.

09:22 Dr. Ann Tsung What about the relationship with your spouse and your kids?

09:26 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan That has also definitely changed with some small changes that you do. I certainly don’t beat myself up and feel guilty like I did before about some small things and that feeling of not being good enough for a mom or wife. I am definitely more present, have more energy. I kind of implemented some new things to spend more time with them or spend more quality time with them. For example, a few years ago, I came up with this. It’s kind of a family meeting game night thing that we do. So we all sit at the table and first talk about what we’re grateful for to each member of the family. Then we talk about what happened in the previous week, what went well, what didn’t go well, and then what are our plans for next week. Then we play several games. Usually, I make some kind of dessert. So just crafting that quality time which gives the kids the attention that they crave. So yeah.

10:31 Dr. Ann Tsung And how old are your kids now?

10:33 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan My son is nine, and my daughter is four.

10:36 Dr. Ann Tsung And so you do it like every Sunday or something with everybody?

10:41 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan So it’s actually pretty flexible with us because of my schedule. I work seven on, seven off. Usually, I do some extra shifts, so it’s never just seven on. We mostly do it every second week when I have more time. It’s not a certain day in the week just because of my schedule. But I would certainly recommend for people that do something like that to make it consistent, so the kids know exactly what day it is in the week.

11:04 Dr. Ann Tsung And how did you get your four-year-old to get involved? Do you find that your four-year-old is involved and understands and everything?

11:11 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Yes. I mean, it’s so funny, the things that she comes up with. Because initially, before, she wouldn’t know when we were talking about this what we’re grateful to each other. But now she’s so good at it. And she says, she comes up with really good things.

11:27 Dr. Ann Tsung Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, gratitude is really the cure to all negative states, I think. Not all negative mental states. So if you feel like you’re in a negative spiral, victimizing yourself, blaming other people, feeling like just thinking about me, me, me, I would say, first really thing to do is top three things that you’re grateful for right now around you. So you have mentioned that, and maybe we could dig into a little bit of the how. You have mentioned that, okay, before, the mindset was you didn’t have time. Like, truly no time to exercise. You said, okay, you made it a priority. So what did you actually do? Your mindset was: I didn’t have time. I truly didn’t have time. But no, I will make it a priority. So what did you actually do to make it a priority?

12:16 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan I mean, it’s just about that decision. Deciding in your mind that now I’m going to make myself a priority. This is important to me. I need to take care of myself to be able to take care of others. Then once you decide, I think another important thing is just doing small changes. I think a lot of times, we decide to take too many things at once. Just like the New Year’s resolutions, right? If you decide at one point you’re going to start eating healthier, exercise every day, spend more time with your kids, learn a new language, or whatever it is, so many things at once, you’re just bound to fail. So I think it’s about those small changes. You decide, okay, this is what’s important to me. This is what I’m going to do. And even with exercising. The way I did it, I didn’t decide like I’m going to work out every day for an hour, six days a week, right? Because that would just not be sustainable, and I knew I couldn’t find that much time probably. I decided, okay, I’m going to really just decide to do 30 minutes, three to five times a week. I think that is totally doable. Then I just started doing it. Then once you just get into that routine, it just becomes a new habit, right? I think research shows that it takes about three weeks for something to become a habit. So you do that one small change. Then once it’s a habit, you add something else, and you add something else. And those things really add up over time.

13:35 Dr. Ann Tsung Yeah, I agree. A lot of times, you can have a stack close to another habit that you have. You look at the time you actually have available, and then you you chunk it down. So if you really only have 15 minutes, then go pull up like — I love Heart Alchemy Yoga. They have power yoga. It can be 15 minutes, and you can finish really fast and then be done. Then you prime your brain with dopamine or epi, et cetera, or whatever. Then you get more energy to learn to actually work, et cetera. So for the audience listening to this, you do not have to make a giant goal. Just tomorrow, it can be five minutes. It could be 10 minutes, whatever. Okay? Then you talked about getting over the guilt. How did you actually do that?

14:22 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan I think there is like few things. First of all, kind of just normalizing and realizing that this is such a common thing. Right? I think most moms struggle with that guilt, right? It’s only probably the bad moms that don’t ask themselves if they’re bad moms, right? So just normalizing it and then just kind of having self-compassion. I think that’s another really, really important thing. And giving yourself some grace. Just realizing I’m just a human. I’m doing my best. Sometimes we’re just trying to survive. Sometimes we’re just in really bad, not bad, but hard periods of life when the kids are maybe small, or whatever it is. Sometimes we’re just going through a lot. And just giving yourself that self-compassion and just not beating yourself about small things, whatever it is.

15:16 Before, I used to, for example, in my daughter’s daycare, they have all the time — which I’m sure most of the daycares have — some kind of stuff. Right? It’s a pajama day. It’s a superhero day. Whatever. It’s all the time something. Then I would bring her to school, and all the kids would be in a pajama. My first thought would be like, oh, my God. I’m such a bad mom. I cannot remember all these things, right? But now I don’t do that to myself anymore. Again, it’s a process, right? It doesn’t happen overnight. But just, first of all, realizing when you do that, when that thought comes to your mind, and then just trying to give yourself some self-compassion. And then even realizing some things just don’t matter. Right? The things that matter to me is when they have some kind of events that parents are supposed to come to, I make that a priority that one of us has to come. I think it’s sad coming from kids if you don’t come. But pajama day? Who cares? That’s such a small thing. Right? We make it such a big thing in our mind, and we make it mean something about ourselves. It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad mom if I didn’t know that it’s pajama day, right?

16:25 Dr. Ann Tsung Yeah, I can definitely resonate with that. The kids, they’re not going to care. I don’t think they’re going to care. But it happened to me this morning. Because it was photo day today. But I was away for a conference, and I was part of a virtual leverage and growth summit. I was like, I didn’t order a nice outfit for him to go to photo day today while I was there. In 100 years, this is not going to matter in 100 years. It’s fine.

16:54 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Exactly. I think it happens to all of us. A lot of times, we look at other people and we think, oh, my god. How come they have it all together, and I’m the only one that’s failing? But that’s not true. We’re all struggling with the same things.

17:07 Dr. Ann Tsung Yeah, and I think it really, truly applies to couples as well. Because especially with young kids, you really need both sides to do 150% for things to get done. And that’s just not possible. Everybody is really performing in 100%. You prioritize and do your best. I wonder, were there any changes that you implemented regarding you and your husband to make sure that he is also a non-negotiable?

17:38 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Yeah, usually, date nights or something like that. For us, we don’t really do date nights. Because honestly, we don’t have anybody also here that can — we don’t have family around. My family is in Croatia, and his family is in France. Sometimes it’s just so very expensive, like paying nanny, going to the restaurants. So we don’t do it like that. But he kind of has more than plenty of days off. Then with my schedule, seven on, seven off, we just decide. Usually, it’s like a Friday or something like that to take some time for ourselves. So whether that’s like go biking, go to a restaurant while the kids are in school and stuff like that, or just even like doing — we love doing house projects together. We don’t pay somebody. We’re never happy with how they do it. We do it ourselves, and we just really enjoy it and spend that time together. And it’s just really fun for us.

18:33 Dr. Ann Tsung That’s a great idea. Just do it during the day if you have time during the day, or carve out something for an hour and a half for lunch dates. Use the school as your nanny. It’s the daycare. You utilize that time. You’re right. Because sometimes, yeah, we have to weekend date nights. Everything is like double. Everything just add 100. Then what would you say fundamentally from you seeing what your client’s biggest issue that you see, and really the top three action steps that they can take fundamentally in terms of priority 1, 2, 3?

19:12 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan One of the things I will say — this is what I do with my clients on the first session — is if you decide that you want to change some things, really sitting down and doing kind of like inventory of your life. Right? So write down these different areas of your life. What things are working? What’s challenging? What’s not working? What do you want to change? Then setting up a goal that you want to achieve and then seeing what are the small steps that are going to take you to that goal. So that would be one, the first thing, that inventory of your life.

19:48 Second thing I would say that is so important, especially, again, for physician moms, is that self-care. Really finding whatever that is. Self-care is not just like a bubble bath with candles or a massage that we do so rarely. It’s like crafting a life when you do have that time for yourself to recharge, to recuperate, to energize. Whatever that is, some small things, whether that’s asking your husband to do the bedtime instead of you a few times a week so that you can go to bed early, get enough sleep or read a book. Whether that’s going for a 15-minute walk every day by yourself. You can listen to your favorite podcast or listen to an audiobook or whatever. Whether that’s like that, exercising or whatever it is. Just finding out what that means to you, what you feel you need, and then really being serious about it and doing it. Because you really do need it. I mean, we cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself so that you could take care of others.

20:52 Another thing would be probably focusing on quality of time that you spend with your loved ones instead of quantity. Because you can truly be all day with your kids or your husband at home but have no quality time. Think about a weekend day when you’re just trying to catch up with everything: laundry, cooking, cleaning, and all the things. And every time the kids come to you, you’re like, “Okay. I don’t have time now. We’ll do it later. We’ll do it later.” Right? So at the end of the day, sometimes you notice that you really didn’t spend any quality time with them at all, even though you were physically there all day. So really just crafting that time. And when you do it that way, it’s kind of on your own terms. But kids really get that attention.

21:38 Another thing I do a lot of times with my kids on Friday afternoons, I pick them up from school. And we go either to a park and then for an ice cream or to a library and then something else, something like that. But you give them that time where you’re really just — this is for them. Or like one-on-one days. When my son doesn’t have school a lot of times, then we call it like Gareth and mommy day. It’s usually not even a whole day. It’s few hours. I let him choose whatever he wants to do. Then we do the same, I do it with my daughter. A lot of times they go camping, my son and my husband. On weekends, then that’s our day. We do whatever she wants, and then her bucket is full, right? Then she is really good so that I can do all the other things I need to do.

22:23 Dr. Ann Tsung Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s really about presence and attention. So if you can have full presence, full attention, not scrolling on your social media — because I’ve also heard moms. They just want to relax. Their me time is social media. But they feel guilty about doing that because of their kids. So really commit to make a decision to spend even just an hour, two hours, with your kids. Full presence, attention. And also, with your husband too, when you’re saying goodbye to your husband or coming home, instead of like hello or just like a quick peck, actually spend time giving a hug, a kiss, a full-on presence and attention to your significant other. That really truly helps compared to just, Hello, how’s your day? That’s it. So that’s awesome.

23:15 So in summary, take a life inventory of the things you have to do. Stop feeling guilty and prioritize self-care. Then number three is full presence and attention when you are spending time with each other, with your kids and husband. So it’s quality. Not quantity. Does that sound about correct?

23:34 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Yes, perfect.

23:35 Dr. Ann Tsung Okay. Awesome. Then can you tell us a little bit about, if people want to work with you, discover a little bit of how to accelerate their timeline and get to that end goal, end vision a little faster, can you tell us a little bit about your coaching and the course that you’re working on and your contact?

23:53 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Yeah, sure. So it’s called Physician Moms Thrive. It’s for busy physician moms. Currently, I offer a six-week course, which is really a hybrid between an online course and one-on-one coaching. So once you sign up, you get access to the course which gives you those tools and actionable steps that you’ll do to make your life better, and also let you schedule those one-on-one coaching. Ideal is that you do once a week coaching session with me, and then we work on whatever your goals are. But keeping in mind how busy physician moms are, and I know it’s not always possible, so it’s really very flexible. I mean, if you want to schedule all six sessions in one week, that’s perfectly fine. It really doesn’t matter for me whatever works for the client. Usually, what I’ve noticed that clients really do after those six weeks live with: change in mindset, clear priorities, clear goals, feeling less guilty, less inadequate, and more self-compassion.

25:02 Dr. Ann Tsung Awesome. So go to physicianmomsthrive.com. Is that right? That’s the website? Okay. Then the course, that’s the one that you’re currently working on, or it’s already done? I know you said that you’re working on a new course right now.

25:17 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Yes, it’s almost done.

25:18 Dr. Ann Tsung Okay. Awesome. So, thank you again so much for your time and the actions today, the pearls. I would say, reach out to Dr. A. One important thing is also to not be afraid to ask for help and not be afraid to pay for help or not be afraid to pay for your time back, so you can do the three things that we had talked about. Again, I really appreciate your time. And for everybody who is listening, the links will be posted on productivitymd.com in the show notes. And just remember that everything we need is within us now. Thank you.

25:36 Dr. Marina Agabhabyan Thank you for having me, Ann.

25:38 Disclaimer: this content is for general information purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine. No doctor or patient relationship is formed. The use of this information linked to this content is at the user’s own risk. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical conditions they may have and should seek the assistance of their healthcare professionals for any such conditions. The views are personal views only and do not represent any university or government institution.