What were you thinking?!?!?
What do you think about work? What do you think about your coworkers, your administration, your patients?
If you’re like most people who work in healthcare, these questions may bring up a lot of emotion. After all, our work days can be made up of some pretty tough situations.
One of the most useful strategies to get through difficult situations at work (or at home) is to try and find another way to look at things, another way to think about things.T he only problem is that this often seems impossible, like you are asking yourself to believe an opposite truth from the one you have been experiencing.
What we don’t realize is that our experience is literally the emotional outcome of the story we have constructed about the situation.
What? Don’t scroll to something else, I am going to explain.
It’s kind of like when 2 people go to a football game. One person is super stoked. Their “story” is that this is going to be great, the sun is out, the stadium is packed, the energy is high. It is going to be hours of fun.
A second person, going to the same game, may have a totally different experience. The circumstances are the same, same stadium, same weather, same crowd but their experience is going to be different.
Because their story is that it’s going to be hot and sunny and they will probably get sunburned. The stadium is packed so the lines for something cold to drink are going to be really long and the whole crowd is wound up and obnoxious. And it’s sooooo long that it will be hours of torture.
The circumstances are the same. The story is different. Neither is right. Neither is wrong.
But the experiences are different.
This is obviously a simplistic example but the same is true at work. WE give meaning to what is happening there. It is not intrinsic to the circumstance.
So how do we change our experience? How do we find a story that feels better but not far-fetched and unbelievable? How can the person in the football example feel better without jumping to an unbelievable story that it’s going to be great?
I used to recommend asking yourself “Is there another way to look at this?” or “What else could be true?”
And sometimes this worked but sometimes it just felt like I was invalidating my current , yet miserable, experience.
Ultimately I realized 1 small tweak made all the difference. Instead of asking “IS there another way to look at this” I started asking “What are 3 other things that could be true?”
What are 3 other explanations, perspectives, or stories?
Just by asking yourself for 3 alternatives your subconscious assumes there ARE 3 alternatives to be found. And just like that you go from invalidating your own experience to curiously looking for the other alternatives.
Often it’s not even that hard.
Here’s the thing, when something happens at work, when we feel anxious or threatened, we make rapid judgments (aka rapid stories). Our brains fill in the blanks of the story very quickly and this is where our thoughts have the potential to become distorted (or unhelpful).
It’s totally fine that this happens. It’s a normal human response.
What makes us feel terrible is when we hold onto these rapidly written stories, stories written from anxiety and fear, instead of taking a minute to see if we want a re-write.
The first few times I tried this, it was in response to things that I experienced as upsetting or wrong. I never was able to do it in the moment, I would typically look for the 3 alternatives after hours of ruminating. But it helped.
It helped me stop ruminating. It helped me stop retelling the upsetting story to anyone who would listen. It helped me sleep at night instead of lying awake replaying it in my mind.
Maybe those things sound good to you too.
The more I asked myself to find 3 potentially true alternatives to the stories I was believing and saw my experience change, the more I started applying it to the little annoyances at work. Maybe if my medical assistant was snippy it didn’t have to mean that she was entitled and didn’t respect me(my rapid story). Maybe it could mean she was up all night with her toddler and was hungry because she forgot her lunch. Maybe it could mean that she spent the last 10 minutes trying to reset her computer. Maybe it could mean that I was the 3rd person in 5 minutes to ask her something and she felt unappreciated. I don’t want her to feel unappreciated, especially because I really appreciate my MAs. There were a lot of alternative stories.
The story that I appreciated my MA definitely felt better than the story that she was entitled.
Defaulting to looking for alternative stories became fun.
Even better, it eventually became a habit.
Using the question, “what are 3 other possibilities here?” is not just about feeling better in the moment, it is about changing the process of our default (and maybe erroneous) thoughts that are causing us to have a negative experience or perception of the world.
This is about process change: don’t keep cleaning up the milk, keep it from spilling in the first place.
It may seem unlikely that something so small can help but what do you have to lose by trying it. Better yet, what do you have to gain?
What are 3 alternative explanations to something that you are struggling with at work? Let me know how it goes.
P.S. I know some of your experiences have been going on for so long that they seem unshakable. I can help you re-write your story and change how you feel once and for all. Reach out to schedule a call here.