If It Is to Be, It's Up to Me

Healthcare is an incredibly rewarding field. Unfortunately, many of us lose sight of the inspiration that first drew us to our work. Here are some methods from the author's book, Inspired Nurse, that will help you look at your job in a whole new (positive!) way

Anyone who's been in healthcare for more than five minutes can tell you that it is an incredible field. Our highs are the highest, and our lows are the lowest. During any given day, we might plunge from the peak of saving a life to the valley of seeing one end before its time. Yes, ours is a journey of extreme ups and downs, and it's all too easy to let the latter overwhelm the former. But we have a responsibility to stay inspired. And that means accepting that inspiration isn't a given, nor is it an accident--it's a choice we must actively make each day.

Despite the inherent rewards of working in healthcare, it is easy to become worn down by our work over time. I'll admit--it's easy to get off track and focus on the negatives when you are surrounded by illness, loss, and suffering. Yet, this isn't fair to your patients and most definitely not to you.

Just like excellent physical health, professional success, or spiritual enrichment, staying inspired by your work doesn't happen by accident. Inspiration is a conscious decision. It takes work, it takes time, and it takes a willingness to put aside skepticism.

This last piece of advice is especially hard for us healthcare folks. Our lives are full of gallows humor, and sometimes it seems as though being thick-skinned is necessary in order to keep our sanity. There's no doubt about it--healthcare is an intense field, and coping mechanisms are important. However, the intensity that we experience is positive as well as negative.

On a daily basis, those of us in healthcare get to help people heal and make a real difference in the lives of patients and their families. What a privilege! Why not learn to tune out the negative distractions? After all, your thoughts have a tremendous impact on the quality of your life. Focus on the positive aspects of your job rather than letting the stressful ones wear you down. Ultimately, it's your workday--so shape it in a way that will leave you inspired and thriving.

If you're looking to bounce back, remember: A ball can't bounce unless you first let go of it. So right now, let go of doubt, let go of fear, and let go of skepticism…and see how high you can go!

When was the last time you felt inspired at work? Looked forward to the next shift? Felt like you were "on"? If it's been a while, then read on.

1. Be aware of negativity, but don't obsess over it. Face it: Bad days happen. Rude people cross your path. Nod at these facts, and move on. There is a fine line between being aware of something and being completely absorbed in it. It's healthy to know the pitfalls of your work life. However, it is unhealthy to focus solely on them. Why become an expert in what can go wrong? Who ever got really healthy from being really good at being sick? The really good news is, no matter what happens at work, you can set yourself up to have a good day simply by focusing on the positive.

Be aware of what you are spending your time focusing on. Notice what your peers are focusing on. Ask yourself this: If I started talking to my coworkers about how great the day was or what went well, would they laugh at me? How would I react if someone started raving about how great his or her shift went? These questions will help you become aware of the level of negativity at work and your role in it. Your path to inspiration becomes clearer when you first look at the geography surrounding it.

2. Own your life; don't rent it. Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I interpret this to mean that if you want to see more love in your world, be more loving; if you want to see more kindness, be more kind. In other words, treat your life like you own it, not like you're renting it.

Do you ever rent a car and then immediately take it to a mechanic to pay for a tune-up, tire rotation, and then a good wash and wax? Of course not. It's not your car. Why would you pay to have it maintained? Think about it: Is this how you treat your work life? Do you let situations and other people's negativity dictate how you feel? If you do, then you're renting. If you want to have a more inspirational work life, decide to be more focused on inspiration, or, if you will, "become" inspiration.

Inspiration is literally everywhere in our healthcare journey. The lonely elderly man sitting alone in the waiting room worrying about the outcome of his wife's surgery would love for you to sit next to him for two minutes and offer your support. The new coworker who has that lost look on his face would love for you to say, "What do you need?" These opportunities exist around each corner in healthcare. We are blessed with the chance to impact people's lives. We forget how abundant these chances are because they are almost too obvious. Look for inspiration today. Look for ways to be inspiring and to give. Own your life.

3. Stop hanging out with psychic vampires. Psychic vampires are the people who drain your life force and break you down with their negativity. You know exactly whom they are: the folks at work who NEVER have a good day, the ones who always tell you that things are too busy or too slow. They're the ones who complain that the boss brought in donut holes, but not whole donuts, and the ones who always refer to their department as the "step-child" of the organization, even though they've drifted through almost every department in the place! They're the ones who always seem to notice what's wrong, but roll their eyes if anyone dares to mention what's right. Aren't they fun to work with?

Make no bones about it: These psychic vampires are draining your inspiration. Commit to minimizing contact with them, or at the very least, tune them out to the best of your ability. Remember the old myths about vampires: A vampire can't enter your home unless you invite him in. That's the secret! Stop inviting vampires into your "house"! Seek out peers who laugh easily (not at someone else's expense), who always seem to make the best of things, and who are the first to step up when someone needs help. It is amazing how these people can share their light with you.

I know this sounds simple, but we are deeply influenced by those with whom we surround ourselves. Have you ever noticed that after spending time with positive, happy people you usually feel pretty good? With whom are you spending time? To whom are you listening? Try a change in scenery. Hang out with those who don’t turn to ashes in the bright sunlight. In no time, you will realize that you don't miss the fangs of those psychic vampires.

4. Take five. I have designed a five-day journey to increase your feeling of inspiration at work. It's simple: Take five dollars, five thank-you notes, five stamps, envelopes and sheets of paper, five minutes, and five prayers/positive thoughts. Over the next five work days, you will use each of these. The order of your "fives" is not important, but the actions themselves are.

Day 1: Give away your five dollars to someone who needs it. This person could be at work, on your way to work, or on your way home. You might buy breakfast for a patient's family or for a coworker who has fallen on tough times. You could buy some cookies from the Girl Scout in front of the coffee shop where you stop before your shift starts. You may pay for someone’s parking or train ticket…just give away your five dollars to someone who needs it. Don't worry. You’ll find them.

Day 2: Bring your five thank-you notes to work and find five coworkers to thank. Write them each a thank-you note and give it to them.

Day 3: Use your five stamps, papers, and envelopes to send letters of gratitude or just to say "hi" to five people for whom you are grateful or whom you miss. This can be done before, after, or at work (if you have a break). Try to think of people who have made a difference for you in your healthcare journey, such as a professor, mentor, or significant other who has supported you in becoming who you are or in doing what you do.

Day 4: Spend five minutes doing a simple act of kindness. Maybe you're caught up but your peer isn't. Give this coworker five minutes of your time and help him out. Spend five minutes with a new peer and tell her what a good job you think she is doing. This kindness can even be extended to yourself! Go outside for five minutes and feel the sun on your face instead of going to the candy machine for an unhealthy sugar fix. The idea here is to spend five minutes on something that creates good at work. Think about how you feel afterward.

Day 5: Depending upon your preferences, pray or think positive thoughts for five people or situations and sincerely wish them well. They could be patients or peers. Be positive in your prayers. Focus on surrounding these people or situations with blessings and peace. In lieu of prayers, you could also think five positive thoughts. Notice five positive things about a person or situation and be deliberate about sharing them with others.

These are examples of how you can take five to feel more inspired. Be purposeful about each task on each day. Perhaps you could recruit five others to do it with you. Imagine what your work life would be like if even 10 percent of your peers "took five"!

Your work environment is what it is. But that doesn't mean it should define how you approach your job. In fact, if you make an effort to change your outlook and behaviors, you'll probably begin to see a ripple effect among your peers.

It's important that those of us in healthcare make a concerted effort to hold onto our inspiration and our passion for what we do. The advice and exercises I have shared are tools to help you do just that. The lower your skepticism and the higher your enthusiasm, the more effective they will be for you. You can rest assured that with some time, a willingness to think out of the box, and some patience with yourself, you can bounce back and be the change you wish to see in healthcare.

The "Great Day" Mind Game

Three Ways to Derail a Bad Day Before It Starts (and Stay Inspired 'Till the End of Your Shift!)

1. Visualize it. Before going to work, run through the best possible day in your mind. Take 10 minutes during your commute or in the parking lot and quietly imagine what the best work day would look like, sound like, and feel like. Picture it and feel it. Often, if you set your expectations on something good, that's what you'll get.

2. Tell yourself how it's going to be. Make sure you affirm for yourself how great the day is going to be. That's right--talk to yourself. Say things like, "This is going to be a great day. I feel good. I am peaceful. I've got it going on. This day will rock!" or "Everything I do today is blessed. I make a difference. I have great purpose. I feel good." Many of us already use self-talk (but not in an empowering way!) when we say things like, "Oh no, he's here today. Well, this day is going to stink," or, "I am so over this stuff today. When will this torture end?" Sound familiar? That's self-talk, but it brings about the opposite of what you want to achieve. Try to use empowering words, because words are very powerful.

3. Don't be afraid to wonder, What if? At the beginning of your day, do what I call the "what if, why not" exercise. Each "what if" question is one that deals with bringing something you wish to see or experience into your work day. For example, What if I felt passionate today about what I do? Then ask yourself, very simply, Why not? Or ask, What if I saw the good in everything that happened today, no matter what it was? Then ask yourself, Why not?

It is amazing how these simple exercises can change how you feel! Remember, though, these are only exercises, or as I like to call them in my book, "Spiritual Stretches." They can work for you only if you work with them.

A national speaker and coach for Studer Group, but the title of which he is proudest is "nurse." An RN since 1993, he chose the profession after seeing the tremendous impact nurses had on his father after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. "I saw the great and small things nurses accomplished in their day and realized that there was no higher calling, for me, than to become a nurse," he says.

Rich has worked in adolescent oncology, pediatric ICU, and trauma ICU departments as well as serving as a pedi flight and transport nurse. A Licensed Healthcare Risk Manager, he has served as ED nursing manager and director of risk management and patient safety.

In 2008, he won the Studer Group Pillar Award, which is given for achievement of outstanding outcomes.

Rich and his wife, a nursing professor and former ED and trauma nurse, live in Boynton Beach, Florida. His son, Rhett, is the greatest joy in his life. Today, Rich works to improve patient outcomes and encourage the spirits of nurses and all healthcare professionals who have answered the calling to serve others with their hands and hearts.

Inspired Nurse (Fire Starter Publishing, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9749986-7-1, $24.95), is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher at www.firestraterpublishing.com. Copies can also be purchased online through the Studer Group website at www.studergroup.com.

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