One of the ways we measure our progress is to look for feedback from others. This starts out when we are little.
I recently heard about a study of babies who were learning to crawl. Researchers created a raised surface that included a hole or drop off section. They covered the cutout section with Plexiglas to see whether the babies would perceive the danger of falling and stop crawling, or if they would crawl over the drop-off section, in spite of the illusion of danger.
The babies were encouraged to crawl across the Plexiglas to their mothers, who were placed on the other side of the drop-off. Some of mothers were told to smile and act reassuringly to their children, while the other mothers were told to look frightened.
Both sets of mothers were told not to say anything out loud.
It turns out, babies have two innate fears: loud noises and falling. So, guess what the babies did when they reached the Plexiglas section?
They looked to their mothers for feedback. The babies whose mothers were smiling overcame their innate fear and crawled across the Plexiglas. The babies whose mothers acted afraid did not crawl across the Plexiglas.
This says a lot about how we rely on the reactions of others to make decisions.
As doctors, much of our behavior is governed by reactions or feedback of others.
Insurance companies tell us what procedures they will cover in the operating room.
Pharmacies tell us how often a prescription can be refilled or when a generic is available.
Rising costs of overhead expenses tell us how many patients we need to see in each hour of each working day to be able to pay our staff salaries and cover our expenses.
But, have you ever stopped to think about the other things that influence your life and the way you practice medicine?
What about those days when a patient who is upset about their diagnosis or their waiting time or the traffic they encountered on the way to your office blows a fuse?
How many times have you wanted to blow a fuse right back?
We have all been there. Honest.
Humans are wired to mirror other peoples’ reactions. And studies show that feelings like these are contagious.
For example, the frustrated patient upsets the Front Desk staff. Then, the technician gets annoyed. And like a virus looking for a host, the negativity latches on and you are affected, too.
Then you mirror that frustration to the next patient you see. Or to your partner. Or your spouse.
The next time you feel yourself being sucked into a negativity loop, stop and think about what you really want to mirror.
Who do you want to be in this situation? Do you want to be the grumpy curmudgeon who can’t find a kind word to say? Or do you want to be a kind agent of spreading goodness, who lifts the spirits of others?
Here’s a trick I use to shift my attitude and find a new mirror. I think about the top three people in my world who think I hung the moon. I put my focus on these three people rather than the grumbling patient in front of me.
You can do this, too. Simply pause and think about three people who always make you smile.
Allow those three people to be your mirror.
They see you always as your very best self.
They see you as what you know you can be.
Take that mirror with you. Keep it handy. It’s priceless.