Your Memory Isn’t Instant Replay

I really enjoy watching live sports and, in recent years, I’ve been quite fascinated by the expansion of instant replay.  It was so clear for so long that our ability to observe the plays in real time was limited.  It was limited by our human powers of observation and often by our preconceived notions of what we already believed to be true or by the outcome we as fans of a given team would prefer.  You don’t need to go any further than a sports bar full of opposing fans repeatedly watching the same footage to know that, even in slow motion, our opinions of what happened can be quite different.

So how does this apply to our happiness at work and in life? 

I’ll give you an example.

I was working the night shift a while back and I had a stable patient with a GI bleed.  He needed to be admitted.  I called the admitting hospitalist and he accepted the patient, but he asked me to call the on-call gastroenterologist to “give him a heads up” that the patient was being admitted in case his condition worsened overnight.  Now I should preface this by telling you that I HATE calling consultants in the middle of the night to tell them something that I feel could wait until morning.  I never liked being on-call and being awakened for something that, in my opinion, wasn’t necessary to communicate at that moment.  I also, however, value my partnership with the admitting hospitalists and I like to help them out whenever I can.

So I paged.  Then I paged again…and again… and again.  Fast forward 2 hours…

In the meantime, the hospitalist had become a little less comfortable admitting the patient.  Given that I hadn’t heard from the gastroenterologist, he had the intensivist come down to see if she felt that the patient should go to the ICU.  She came down to the ED (she’s AMAZINGLY HELPFUL like that), and she agreed that the patient could go to the floor.  The floor bed was ready so the patient was moved upstairs.  I had moved on to other things, but I continued to try to get ahold of the gastroenterologist to follow through on my promise to make him aware of the patient.

Not long after the patient had gone up to the floor, the gastroenterologist called back.  I told him about the patient and he immediately started yelling at me.  He was irate that the patient hadn’t gone to the ICU and that he hadn’t been contacted earlier.  He told me I hadn’t provided the patient with appropriate care.  I was pissed.  I told him I’d been trying to call him for hours.  He called me a liar.  He then slammed down the phone.  My entire body was shaking.  I was in shock.  You’ll be relieved to know that the patient did fine overnight, but I couldn’t let that phone call go.

I kept thinking about it and replaying it over and over in my head.  Every time I did, I would feel a variety of emotions.  I felt angry.  I felt self-righteous.  I felt guilt.  I felt self-doubt.  Now, as you might imagine, these are not my favorite feelings.  I finally took a moment to realize what I was doing and I decided to stop.  I reminded myself that the only things that repeatedly reliving the unpleasant experience was doing for me was constantly recreating those unpleasant feelings days later.  As much as I wanted it to be true, that gastroenterologist wasn’t going to learn anything from my perseverating on what happened.

Sometimes when I realize I’m doing this, I can just stop.  I can remind myself that all I’m doing is retelling a story about what happened and I can let it go.  I admit, though, that I had a hard time with this one.  When that happens, I remember the great tool coaching taught me to reset my thinking.  I tell myself the story again, but I tell it from the other person’s perspective.

When I sat down and did that, I realized that, when the gastroenterologist woke up, he was likely embarrassed when he realized that he had so many unanswered pages. I also realized that he was probably feeling some fear.  Here I was telling him about a patient who could potentially decompensate who we had admitted to a location where, if indicated, it wouldn’t be able to easily do an endoscopy.  I don’t typically call about these patients so he may have been especially worried about this plan.  I don’t know about you, but I’m rarely showing up as my best self from a place of fear and embarrassment especially when you wake me up to those emotions at 3:00 am.

That was all it took.  I was able to stop the replay and I also changed my story of what happened.  It felt so much better.  If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, I’d love to work with you.  Be sure to sign up for my free training How To Feel Better On Your Next Shift and keep an eye on your email for upcoming coaching opportunities.