In this article, you will learn to recognize when stress and overwhelm have driven you into Survival Mode and to apply the Treasure Hunt Technique to turn that around overnight.
There is a tipping point when doctors are under stress . . . it happens silently, slowly and when you pass through this threshold your downward spiral will frequently accelerate.
I am talking about when you drop into Survival Mode. When you unconsciously begin to focus your energy 100% on simply getting through the day and dragging your exhausted butt home.
How do you know you are in Survival Mode?
It is when you start to see the majority of your job duties as a hassle. You begin to feel like the patients, your nurse, the lab reports, the phone calls . . . they are all out to get you. You feel you have no control over what happens in your day . . . you are swinging in the breeze of everyone else’s needs and urgency.
Your entire focus is to get through your patients and out of there as quickly as possible. You are focused on surviving your practice day, dreaming of the moment when you can put your key in the ignition, your foot on the gas, and get out of there.
In Survival Mode you are blind to the positive things in your day because even a positive patient encounter gets between you and getting home on time.
This is also a time when Compassion Fatigue kicks in and you may find yourself being increasingly sarcastic and cynical—especially under your breath or in your inner dialogue. I have even seen doctors in Survival Mode post Internet chat comments about how they would like to use a nail gun on patients or light them on fire—it’s true.
What has happened in psychological terms is you have lost your inner “locus of control.” You have assumed the role of the victim . . . helplessly at the mercy of forces that you cannot control. This change is usually gradual and takes place when your energetic bank accounts drop into a negative balance. You simply don’t have the energy to be proactive and “fight the good fight” anymore.
How can you turn Survival Mode around?
Here is a simple, powerful process to take back your locus of control and put yourself back in charge of your daily experience. This is one of the core tools I teach every one of my one-on-one coaching clients because it keeps your awareness on why you became a doctor in the first place . . . in just a couple of minutes a day. It can radically alter your experience of your practice overnight and works every time you use it.
The Treasure Hunt
The Treasure Hunt allows you to move away from the unconscious intention to simply survive the day . . . to a conscious intention to have at least one meaningful encounter at work every time you are in the office or hospital. But it is much more powerful than that last sentence can convey.
Before I show you the process, just imagine for a moment . . . in your next day in the office or the hospital, you are consciously looking for a satisfying, enjoyable, fun encounter with a patient or staff member . . . just one. You are open to having a meaningful encounter and on the lookout for its appearance.
When one of my coaching clients decided to switch from Survival Mode to this conscious intention to look for a spark in his day . . . he said that would be like turning the day into "a Treasure Hunt."
This change in stance from unconscious victim, hassled on all sides, to actively seeking out meaning and connection makes a night and day difference in your attitude. You get your locus of control back. The control over your awareness (on the lookout for good things) and your emotions—curious and engaged rather than defensive and hassled.
Two steps to the Treasure Hunt
1. Define your treasure
Take a piece of paper or open a new document and write down the last meaningful patient encounter you remember. That interaction where afterwards you said, “Oh yeah, THAT right there is why I became a doctor,” with a smile on your face.
When you are done writing it down . . . use as much detail as you can remember . . . read it back to yourself and focus on how it felt. Where did you notice that feeling of satisfaction in your body? Invite that feeling to become even more clear in your awareness so you recognize it easily.
This is your Treasure. This feeling is what you are looking for in your days when you take step 2.
2. Start the hunt
Before you go in for your next shift, open your journal and write down your intention to be on the lookout for this kind of a meaningful encounter and this feeling of satisfaction today. Writing it down takes it from a desire in your head into physical reality. The pen strokes on the paper reinforce your intention. They bring you back into control of your experience and take you out of the unconscious grip of Survival Mode.
Your intention might be as simple as this:
“I am open to and on the lookout for a satisfying interaction with a patient or staff member today.”
All it takes is one sentence before you go to work. Write it down. Say it out loud. Feel what it will feel like when you find that treasure. Close your journal and head in to work.
Notice what a difference this makes in your experience of the day.
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