Today (our one but last day of these emails!) I want to share the game changing strategy that I used practising as a midwife and I use in business all the time.
I call it ‘reasoning with the chimp’.
The human brain doesn’t like uncertainty. We would rather not spend time assessing a complex swirl of facts and emotions. We would rather just settle on a story, any story that makes sense. The primal parts of our brain, which are the areas which drive emotions and gets first stab at reacting to any situation, are the bits I call the ‘chimp’*. As gorgeous as chimps are, don't let them run the ward.
When I was working in New Zealand, I was looking after a few women on a small but busy labour ward. I was on night shift with a midwife who had qualified the same year as me. I’d gone cycling in the morning and then not been able to sleep during the day, so was feeling very tired. The same old night shift situation that many of us go through, I’m sure.
The midwife and I differed in an opinion about whether or not a woman should remain on labour ward. I thought that sending her to postnatal ward was unkind in the middle of the night and she was borderline for being unwell enough to stay with a better level of staffing, as she’d had a small post-partum haemorrhage. The other midwife thought that we should try and get everyone to postnatal ward in case anyone else came in.
I could go through the ups and downs of triage and clinical decision making but basically we decided to leave her where she was until the morning staff came on, although my colleague wasn’t that happy about it.
For the rest of the shift, I had a story playing out in my head. You shouldn’t have gone cycling, it’s a really stupid thing to do before a night shift, I bet you’ve made the wrong decision because you’re tired. You’re not committed to midwifery, you’re letting yourself and the women down. This thought was renting space in my head and using a lot of my processing power.
Back then, I fretted about the decision for the rest of the shift.
These days, I would move immediately into my ‘contain the chimp’ strategy as I know my emotions often tell me untruths.
I have three questions I ask.
What’s true about this hypothesis?
What’s not true about this hypothesis?
What more do I need to find out?
The truth was I needed cycling in my life to stay sane and healthy, even though this sometimes had a short term impact on how I felt on shift. I was also working nights, a challenge which almost everyone finds hard. I was sleep deprived but this just comes with being a midwife. I had made the best decision I could with the resources I had and it wasn’t an unreasonable one, even if others might have disagreed. It was also likely that decisions like this would keep popping up for the rest of my career/life so I should put strategies in place to help me cope.
The things that weren’t true were: it was a stupid thing to do, to go cycling. It wasn’t an outright ‘wrong’ decision, there were too many shades of grey for that. Sometimes having gone cycling makes me feel more energetic on a night shift. And even if I had made a bad choice it’s imperative I loved myself through that so I had strength enough to learn and address the situation next time. (Yes we’re getting into embarrassing self love territory here but we all need self-care as we’re just freaked out monkeys most of the time).
In terms of what else I needed to know about the situation, I’d need to see how the decision played out, perhaps ask some midwives I trusted what they would have done, and kept committed to learning.
This 3 questions strategy is great because it forces you to slow down and not jump to conclusions. You learn and reflect a lot more and begin to trust yourself.
You also begin to see how hilarious some of the stories you make up can be. I’m not a good midwife because I go cycling?! I’m letting down the profession because I like my bike?! Does that sound remotely sensible? And yet in the moment it felt like the truth to me.
Sending yourself off into practice with no kind of plan for navigating complex workplace cultures and your own emotions is like making a rope bridge over a mountain pass and deciding you don’t need hand holds. Terrifying, unnecessary and people really do get hurt.
These are skills that are learnable. In midwifery we often think self care is a waste of time and we could just be ‘getting on’. But the best midwives I know have boundaries and are clear about how they look after their emotions.
Do let me know if this technique works for you,
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. Info on the conference can be found here: The Kindness Conference.
Know someone who'll like this strategy? Forward it to them, it makes a huge difference for me 🙂
*See the brilliant book 'The Chimp Paradox' on Amazon
As always, all identifying features have been changed.