SOS Classics are reprints of Shot’s of Satisfaction that Dr. Frank Gabrin shared as he wrote his works Back from Burnout, Care 101 and Booster Shots. Each shot contains a glimpse of Dr. Frank’s personal journey back from burnout.
Originally published July 16th, 2012
REFLECT – EVALUATE your results. Recognize what you bring to the encounter. Is your giving care effective? If not, go to step six and begin again.
Flip the Switch
The other night I walked into the department, up to the main desk, and said hello. I was greeted by the nurse practitioner on duty with “I don’t know why those charts are sitting there, they are trivial complaints, and should have been seen in fast track a long time ago, but that doctor and mid level are apparently in the middle of a work stoppage. Neither of them has seen a patient for hours. I am so mad, I have so many patients I am juggling, I can’t even see straight. They just keep putting more charts up there like as if we are the only providers who can actually see and care for patients in this department.”
The doctor on duty then looked up and shrugged her shoulders, in agreement, as if to say, ‘yeah, it’s busy, it’s bad, no one seems to be very helpful tonight, I don’t know what to tell you.’ Clearly, neither of these providers of health care were very happy. The two of them were broadcasting all sorts of emotional information into their environment, and my MNS (mirror neuron system) was fully engaged ready to mimic their agitation, frustration, feelings of being taken advantage of, including their sense of being overwhelmed, right back to them, but, I stopped myself.
Escape from Mudville
You see, just last week I stood at that very same counter, trapped inside those same awful feelings of unhappiness and frustration that these two were experiencing right now, and I was unable to do anything to snap myself out of it. I’d even got angry with myself for being stuck and I’d realized while I was gone that I would have to do something to change things for myself and others. Full of empathy for these two who were suffering from the same dis-ease I had the last time I stood in that same place, I decided to actually do something: I shut down my own automatic MNS (mirror neuron system) physiology.
My “MNS” is what gives me the power to feel their pain and empathize with what they were thinking. I have lived through those same horrible thoughts and feelings while at work too many times myself, so I made a conscious effort to smile at the two of them and say, “I’m fresh. It’s good. I’ll get these patient’s seen on on their way, we are gonna be OK! It’s going to be great tonight!” I grabbed the two charts sitting there and headed towards my desk as I wondered, today here in Mudville, where there is no joy, where exactly could I find the entrance to the world of happiness and satisfaction?
As I rounded the corner I was greeted by a very pretty lady with a giant smile on her face and the best cup of coffee ever in her hand, prepared just for me, just the way I like it. As I took the first taste of her amazing brew, I realized that she was broadcasting a whole different sort of emotional information into our environment. My MNS made me fully aware of the way she and her energies made me feel. I not only allowed my MNS to put a smile on my face, I decided to augment those good feelings and made my smile even bigger because I realized that I had just encountered the way out of Mudville that could lead us all into the world of happiness and satisfaction.
Switching off auto-pilot
There will always be events and people in our environment that are downers, and likewise there will be people and things all around us that are wholesome, good and uplifting, and people who care about us and want the best for us. All of these things (and people), good or bad, positive or negative, lie outside of us, out of our control. Things like the weather, the stock market, traffic, lazy people, inconsiderate people, rude people, even happy and helpful people, none of this are in our control. With all that we encounter, many days we do not even have the energy to take control over our own mood.
Our mood is dependent on our physiology, which is automatic and plugs us into the energies in our immediate environment and so that we automatically begin to “feel” the vibe in the room, the intangible energies we find ourselves swimming in. We then begin to feel and then broadcast those same energies ourselves, adding more of those same energies back into our immediate environment. Our mood is generated by our brain’s continuous automatic processing (through the MNS) of the feelings we see in the people who cross our paths. Our amygdala reads the emotion on someones face, or hear the emotion in someone’s voice in less than one second and primes us to feel the same exact emotions, good or bad, happy or sad, even joyful or mad.
When left on automatic, our physiology allows the MNS to continuously make us the effect of our environment. Living our lives this way makes us feel like victims of circumstances or the effect of another’s foul mood and unwanted behavior. But none of us has to live this way, running around on auto-pilot. As humans, we have the ability to flip the switch off of auto-pilot and to take control by activating our free will and making a conscious choice to steer our own course. Our free will is our tool for controlling our mood amidst all of the things or people in our environment that are out of our control.
If we really want to control our own mood, if we want to feel good, feel happy, or feel energized, we need to make a conscious decision to choose what we focus on and which sorts of energies we connect to or pay attention to. Remember, even when the overall environment is negative, there is always something good, like the perfect cup of coffee that greeted me with a smile around the corner. In order to connect to these energies that will nourish us, support us, empower us, energize or enliven us, it is up to us to actively look to see and hear them. As we do, our automatic MNS will then amplify and augment these found benevolent energies within us and add more of them into our surroundings, making us and those around us feel better.
Our environment will be the same, but as we change, as we start looking for and connecting to the good we find around us more and more often, everything for us will become sweeter and more satisfying. It is not easy to live our lives as the cause of a new and better reality for ourselves and others, because living our lives this way is not natural or automatic. But if we want to feel good in whichever environment we are in, we need to do the extremely difficult work required to interrupt our automatic mammalian physiology as it is controlled by our limbic system and the MNS, and then make the effort to seek out and hone in on the good that exists in every encounter. Once our attention is fully focused on the good, we can now allow our limbic system go through the physiologic process of generating even more goodness within us and broadcasting that benevolence, happiness and joy to all those who then cross our paths.
I see this life as if it were a lab where we can experiment with different sorts of creative processes until we find the one that works for us, the process that fulfills our desires and results in happiness.
This week, try this creative life experiment:
- Just for today, no matter what you see, what you hear, what you feel is happening to you; stop, flip the switch off of auto-pilot and look to see it or hear it differently.
- Look to find and connect to only the good in every encounter.
- Take on the challenge to see the good, connect to that good and be that good!
- Then you can allow your mammalian physiology to automatically or naturally enhance and broadcast that goodness that you are to those around you.
This is guaranteed to make you, me and them, all feel incredibly good!
When you feel your best, others want the best for you and when you are sipping the best cup of coffee ever, it is really hard not to give, share and enjoy the best day ever!
Frank D. Gabrin, D.O
Back from Burnout: Seven Steps to Healing from Compassion
Fatigue and Rediscovering (Y)our Heart of Care
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