Caryl Goodyear-Bruch RN, PhD, CCRN
Garbage In? Positive Out!
Have you ever walked into your unit at the start of a shift and been greeted with, “Oh my! Just turn around right now and go home. On second thought, don’t do that. I need to escape and you’re my only hope. Just make sure you brought your roller skates.”
What a way to start! Not even a pleasant hello. Only utter desperation in need of relief. Acute and critical care nurses deal with serious, life-threatening situations so we know this isn’t frivolous desperation. But the comments are also likely to set you up to embark on your shift in a less than positive mood. Yet confident nurses don’t seem to be affected by this kind of negativity. Have you noticed how they seem to weather the onslaught of bad news just fine? How do they do it?
In his book “Attitude Is Everything,” Keith Harrell explains that confident people understand one basic rule: They control their attitudes instead of attitudes controlling them. Confidence is impossible without a positive attitude and confident nurses, on the whole, seem to be positive people. Every day we’re bombarded with negativity—attitudes, words, sometimes just plain negative people. Many of us struggle because once we take in the negativity it’s likely to turn us negative. Confident nurses take in the same garbage. But they have learned, as Keith says, “that the garbage that goes in does not stay in.”
Take a PAI
Faced with incoming garbage like that negative greeting at the start of a shift, Keith suggests taking a Personal Attitude Interrupt. A PAI is an intentional physical change on our part to stop the negativity from staying in our mind. It’s a private signal from me to me that I need to protect myself from incoming negativity.
What would a PAI look like? Keith puts his hand up to his ear as if to say, “Talk to the hand.” Or you could just glance down for a moment, count to 10 and frame how you’ll counter the “garbage in” with a “positive out.” At times, my PAI involves removing myself from a situation where the negativity is overwhelming. I walk a few steps away so I can privately extend my arms into a semicircle in front of me. I literally envision my arms creating a positive energy shield that will not allow negativity to encase me.
Whatever you choose for your PAI, remember: Garbage in, positive out. As nurses, we’re in control. We can choose to control our attitude and create confidence for ourselves no matter how unsettling the situation.
What would you use for a PAI? Experiment with several until you find one that works for you. You can do this at work or at home. Garbage is garbage no matter where you find it. Take careful notice about what happens to you. Did you feel less tense? More in control? Proud of yourself for not buying in? The first result of taking a PAI is preventing the negativity from overtaking you. A second gain may be that it positively influences the other person.
Then I need to hear what you did and how it turned out.
Celebrate your success by sharing your PAI experiment with the rest of us. I want to tell your story so others may learn what works. Please write to me at email@example.com.
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