We’ve all heard of the ripple effect. It’s a real thing in which ripples across the water expand in concentric circles in response to a stone or other object being dropped in the water.
We can see this same type of expansion happen in real life every day.
Think about when you start your day in a great mood. Traffic is light. You find a parking spot on the first pass. Your schedule is actually doable.
As you go about your day, you invite positivity into your world because you are primed for it. The ripple effect works for you: as you see patients, do surgery in the O.R., or run a pile of errands on a rare half-day off.
You see this work in reverse when those bad days surface. Your alarm clock fails and you are instantly behind. The coffee maker is on the fritz so you muddle through the morning on the bad hospital coffee that tastes like yesterday’s dishwater. Patients seem grumpier, more demanding. You can’t catch a break.
How can we take the science of the ripple effect and use it to help physician burnout?
I’ve got news for you.
You are that stone that hits the water and causes the ripple effect.
It’s not your alarm clock that’s calling the shots. It’s not the flow of traffic that packs the punch.
It’s how you react to all those external things around you. Seriously.
You can choose to take it in and react as it comes. When the good stuff comes, then you are primed to be your most cheerful, can-do self. You can start your morning out right and keep it that way.
Or when all hell breaks loose, you can respond in kind to that, too. It’s up to you to avoid the negative vortex and acknowledge that you are indeed the stone.
Acknowledge that whatever is going on that day is ultimately up to you.
Sure, you may end up with five surgeries on your schedule and might not have much control in that scenario. You may have three emergency work-in patients before noon that are going to derail your on-time clinic.
But how you respond, and the ripples that go outward from you, is all up to you.
When I work with physicians and other healthcare professionals who are burned out, I teach them a quick breathing technique to stop that ripple from heading in the wrong direction. It only takes a minute. How?
Pick a word you really want to have happen. For example, CALM. Breathe in through your nose as you think the word “CALM”.
Now, pick a word that you really want to avoid. For example, FEAR. Breathe out through your mouth as you think the word “FEAR”.
Breathe in “CALM” and breathe out “FEAR”. Repeat this three times. Slowly. Deliberately. And feel how you are really in charge of how the ripple effect works for — or against — you.
You can radiate bliss. Or radiate burnout.
Which would you rather choose?