Self-awareness and performance

Monday, December 29, 2014 | 0 Comments

Key Points:

  • Adapting to the performance conditions in Medicine
  • Cultivating awareness

When presenting to a group of physicians I often ask them to consider the following question:

Can you identify what gets in the way of performing at your best?

One might think that the answers to which would be fairly obvious for each person, and they often are upon reflection. However, given the daily demands that physicians must contend with and the toll they can take, it can be very easy to lose sight of what the specific stressors, triggers and our perceptions of which, are. Gaining awareness and insight on what the conditions are that seem to impair performance is the first step towards figuring out how to address them.   

Can we change the conditions? If not, can we change ourselves?

I am reminded of a passage from the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, where he states “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Clearly the conditions under which people must perform in medicine come with its share of challenges. Immense performance pressures, time demands, responsibilities and expectations are part of the territory and not likely to change. Therefore, it becomes important from a performance and self-preservation standpoint to learn how to prepare for and respond more effectively to these realities. We might not be able to change the conditions that can impede performance but one certainly can develop better tools and processes to adapt better to the conditions as they are.  

Awareness of what helps and hinders our ability to perform is the first step. As a means of cultivating greater awareness around those things within the environment, and within our self that we know can take away focus, energy, confidence, and perspective, consider the following ideas.

  • Pay attention to your reactions to situations that come up.  and those that you already know
  • Make observations as to what triggered them (what, where, how, why and who)
  • Identify the emotion that you experience in the moment. Make note of how it effects your focus and energy
  • Be mindful of your self-dialogue before, during and after a situation of practice
  • Be honest and non-judgmental in your assessment
  • Differentiate between the stimulus and your reaction (e.g. a certain policy or procedure does not cause stress, it is our interpretation of which that does)
  • Ensure that you identify the conditions (internal and external) that precede feeling how you do want to feel versus how you don’t

Once we have a better feel for what the underlying conditions are that contribute towards or detract from how we want to feel, we can learn how to adapt to them more effectively.  Start with gaining more awareness as it will help inform next steps. 


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