Career advice

Habits, and why breaking them can be good for you and your nursing practice

New perspectives can be just the prompt you need to question engrained behaviour

New perspectives can be just the prompt you need to question engrained behaviour

Picture: iStock

Last month some of my friends and I took part in the Go Sober for October campaign, a fund-raising initiative from charity Macmillan Cancer Support.

Determined to feel good before Christmas, this ‘detox’ from alcohol seemed the perfect way to start. So instead of meeting at our local on Friday nights, we gathered at each other’s houses and took turns to cook healthy(ish) meals.

Breaking the habit

The lack of alcohol was a large focus of our conversations to begin with, but as the weeks went by we found ourselves hardly noticing it. As well as the relaxing element of our weekly tipple, we all agreed that drinking a few glasses of red wine on a Friday night had become a habit.

'While routines and rituals have their place, at work it is a good idea occasionally to stop and question what you are doing'

We tend to think of ‘habits’ only in relation to unhealthy behaviours, such as drinking, smoking or eating too much, but some nursing practices can also become habit-based, as opposed to being evidence-based.

So much of our time is spent on automatic pilot – waking up, getting ready and travelling to work.

While routines and rituals have their place – you wouldn’t want a big dilemma about what to have for breakfast each day – at work it is a good idea occasionally to stop and question what you are doing.

The power of 'Why?'

But reflecting mid-shift isn’t always top priority, or even possible given the staffing problems and lack of resources nurses currently face, and often it is not until a new nurse or student joins the team and asks you ‘why?’ that you even consider there might be a different way of doing something.

'Nursing and medicine evolve through evidence-based practice but it takes an inquiring mind to bring about change'

Instead of getting frustrated by incessant questions (‘I don’t have time for this…’) try to see them as an opportunity to view things through fresh eyes. Only when you are open to looking at your practice and behaviours will you notice areas where you could make positive changes. 

Areas for reflection

  • Paperwork You might be filling everything in correctly, but could you work in a smarter, more efficient way? If you are using electronic forms, for example, can you copy and paste relevant information to avoid repeatedly typing the same details? Have you asked other nurses how they approach this seemingly endless task? There may be small changes you can make that could help
  • Time management Do you start every shift with the best intentions of being organised but end up in a muddle before you're half-way through? You can’t prevent unplanned admissions or stop patients from becoming unwell, but finding ways to manage your time better will help reduce your stress levels and mean you aren’t so rushed with patients
  • Procrastination If you always perform clinical tasks in a set order, even putting some off or delegating them to junior staff, ask yourself if this in the best interests of your patients. It’s better to be honest than trying to ‘fake it’, and if some of your skills have become rusty you can always go on a refresher course or renew your competencies
  • Social interactions Healthcare teams are made up of diverse groups of nurses and it’s natural to form closer relationships with some colleagues, but try not to form cliques or ignore anyone. Simple things like who you go on break with or sit beside in the canteen can affect others if they feel they are being left out


When routines no longer make sense

Hopefully you are following protocols and guidelines, but there is more to your practice than simply what you do. Taking the time to look at ways you do things can help you spot habits or routines that are no longer working for you or your patients, leading to positive changes.

Nursing and medicine evolve through evidence-based practice but it takes an inquiring mind to bring about change. Where possible amid the daily graft, keep your eyes open for where you, and others, could alter your practice for the benefit of those around you.

But don’t forget that all habits take time to create and time to break. One of the clever aspects of month-long campaigns such as ‘Go sober’ is that it takes this amount of time to create new behaviours, so be patient as you strive for new ways of working.

Mandy Day-Calder is a former nurse and now a life/health coach 

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