5 Performance Psychology Tips for Doctors, Nurses & Other Medical Professionals
What can medical professionals learn from Sport, or Performance, Psychology? Just like in medicine, athletes need to be able to perform in high-pressure, time-sensitive, and high stakes environments.
Doctors, nurses, surgeons, & other medical professionals have demanding and high-stress jobs that require a high level of skill and expertise – involving physical, emotional, and mental components.
It’s not uncommon for people working in medicine to experience anxiety, self-doubt, burnout, and other psychological challenges that can negatively impact their work. Performance psychologists have expertise to help you find focus, ease, and calm, no matter what’s happening around you. Here’s five tips from Body and Mind Flow Performance Psychology Consulting:
1. Find Flow in Your Work
Flow is when you’re so absorbed in an engaging, enjoyable task that your focus is completely on it, and you often lose your sense of time – becoming completely present in the moment. Flow is associated with optimal performance, higher satisfaction, emotional regulation, and intrinsic motivation.
Flow requires a task to be challenging, but not outside of your skill level. The task is usually goal oriented, and involves receiving clear and immediate feedback. The activity is viewed as intrinsically worth doing – rewarding for its own sake.
One study found a wide variance in experiences of flow for nurses, being more likely to be in flow during medical care activities than admin and communication work, and more likely to be in flow after taking breaks.
How can medical professionals find flow in their work?
- Clarify what it is you’re working on
- Set clear goals
- Seek feedback
- Be mindful of the intrinsically-focused reasons you decided to pursue a career in medicine.
- Block out some time to focus on a challenging task – probably not that difficult to achieve in the demanding field of medicine!
2. Develop a Personalised Pre-Performance Routines
Why does Christian Ronaldo always step onto the soccer field with his right foot first? Why does Nadal line his water bottles up just so facing the baseline he’s playing from?
Pre-performance routines are routines you can use to get your body and your mind into the right mode to perform at your peak. When you need to get into the zone quickly, and find better focus, develop a routine to let your body know the performance context you want to enter into.
Before work, or before a challenging consultation, surgical procedure, or meeting, have a routine you follow to put yourself in the right frame of mind to perform at your best.
What’s in the routine is less important than that there is a routine. Research suggests that the presence of a pre-performance routine increases performance, no matter how simple or complicated the routine is.
It can be as simple as what you wear, or a mantra you repeat yourself, or it can be multi step and complex. Experiment for yourself how complex of a routine you need in order to slip into the right mode to do your best work.
3. Relax Like a Professional
Medicine is a demanding field, and burnout is common – one study suggests that approximately one in three doctors is experiencing burnout at any given time. This affects not just mental and physical health, but also affects the quality of care professionals are able to provide.
Crucial to managing and preventing burnout, allowing opportunity for relaxation is also crucial to performing at one’s best for doctors, nurses, & medical professionals. Your greatest effort is equal to your greatest rest, so carve some time out for yourself to unwind.
It’s important to rest both the body and the mind, so a mix of both physical and mental relaxation practices is appropriate.
Physical relaxation includes:
- Breathing exercises
- Light exercise
- Resting the body
Mental relaxaion includes:
- Creative expression
- Writing a list of things you’re grateful for
- Spending time with people you care about
Try a mix of relaxation strategies to find what works best for you; experiment to create your personal relaxation routine. Most importantly, notice stress rising as early, so you can take preventative steps to stop stress from progressing into burnout.
4. Try Mindfulness Meditation
There’s an overwhelming body of research supporting mindfulness meditation and its ability to improve well-being. Mindfulness can help you to accept the difficult thoughts and feelings that can negatively impact your performances, and move through these challenges deftly.
Mindfulness meditation gives you space to practice focusing your attention where you want it to be. Regular meditation can improve resilience, emotional regulation, perceptions of stress, improve sleep, and increase feelings of being present. Mindfulness meditation appears to create physical changes in the brain in as little as 8 weeks, including areas responsible for self-regulation and complex information processing.
Sue has a variety of guided meditations available on Insight Timer; give one a try and see how the practice influences you physically and mentally.
Or, you can try practicing on your own. For example, you could set a five minute timer, sit for a few minutes, and focus on your breathing. If you notice your mind has wandered off, that’s ok. The aim is to notice that the mind has become distracted, and swiftly redirect your attention back to the present moment. As you practice, you’ll notice the amount of time between your mind wandering off will increase.
Try meditation for yourself and notice if a regular practice increases your quality of life, and your professional performance.
5. Use Motivational Self-Talk
The way you talk to yourself, either in your head or out loud, can influence how you perceive yourself and the situation you are in. Self-talk is important because it can have a large impact on how we feel, our self-belief, and ultimately, our performance.
Substantial research suggests that motivating self-talk improves athletic performance. For example, during a competition athletes use self-talk to motivate themselves – simple statements like “I’ve got this”, “I can do this”, “I can do more”.
Negative self-talk represents the discouraging things we can say to ourselves. “I can’t do this”, “Nothing works”, or “I’ll never get this” – statements that are often repetitive and demotivating. Be aware of what you’re saying; you don’t have to try not to think something, but notice when negative self-talk is acting up for you. Examine negative thoughts to see if they’re in line with reality, and aim to replace discouraging self-talk with neutral or positive thoughts.
The most important take away for self-talk is to start to notice how you talk to yourself, and what you say. Is it motivating? Is it working for you? Are there patterns you can run little self-experiments on to change? Try to notice your thoughts about yourself, your work, and your relationship to your work. Whatever thoughts you have are ok; you don’t need to change them; it’s a question of awareness.
Physicians and other medical professionals do important, challenging, and high strain work. Despite this, modern evidence-based performance psychology is rarely applied to help medical professionals do their best work. We’ve given you five quick tips you can try for yourself to see if it helps you, or your organisations, perform more optimally. Learn to develop a pre-performance routine, relax deeply, try meditation, notice your self-talk, and find flow.
If you’ve found this article helpful, get in touch today for a consultation with leading performance psychology expert, Dr. Sue Jackson, to discuss your specific needs, and how you can unlock your best performances.
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