August 26, 2020
It is very easy to get stuck not taking an action or making a decision (same thing, by the way).
99% of the time that we are stuck in decision purgatory is because we are focused on everything that could go wrong. We don’t send the email to our Chair because of the potential reaction. We don’t reach out to a collaborator because we don’t have enough data yet. We don’t “X” because “Y” isn’t ready.
Let me tell you something. Being ready is not a circumstance. Being ready is a decision.
It *feels* like some objective state, defined by a list of checked boxes, because we spend so much time daydreaming about what could go wrong. As academic clinicians, we get trained to comprehensively consider all negative outcomes and plan for them accordingly. This is critical to good patient care. We drill our trainees on their If-Then scenarios for a precarious patient. We do the same for ourselves while hoping the pager doesn’t go off. For years, our minds are honed to consider and plan for the worst.
And sometimes…we forget to shut that circuit down. This negative daydreaming can seep into everything. What is a safe and conscientious approach in patient care becomes a cesspool of delay, masquerading as caution, in your career. I recently read that every three-second distraction that you allow while working knocks you out of high level productivity for 30 minutes. Consider what fantasizing about negative outcomes is doing to your work flow.
When you default to daydreaming about all of the ways that things could go wrong, you create that very outcome in 2 ways.
First, negative daydreaming prevents you from actually making progress. When you operate from scarcity you are slower, because you are usually trying to avoid risk and practice perfectionism. You are not accessing your best ideas and you are moving like molasses. Not good. Second, negative daydreaming keeps you from making decisions that help prepare your work for things actually going well, for your ideas taking off. You play small and you stay stuck.
Where your attention goes is what grows.
What I offer to you today is that when you catch yourself doing this kind of negative daydreaming, make a different choice.
1) Notice it and stop it.
2) Consider what would actually happen if everything went WELL.
3) Answer these questions: What is your next move, and are you prepared for that? What new challenges are created, and are you ready for those?
4) Take action from those answers.
Negative daydreaming ultimately ends in inaction, or worse, sabotage. You create an entire narrative in your head, a full sequence of events that haven’t even happened – and you’re making decisions from that IMAGINED place, instead of your actual potential. In academic medicine, there are way too many people happy to join you in that daydream. We have an entire culture around it. Come back down to Earth, and plan for your own success instead.
The beauty of this approach is that it makes your ideas *better* because you are planning for them to be executed – no room for hand waving. It makes your boundaries more clear, because you don’t have time for distraction. It makes your days more fun because you problem-solve to create possibility instead of maneuvering to avoid risk.
It changes the game.