Burned Out? Tell Your Ego to Shut Up.

Mindfulness enters the exam room incognito.

Without her yoga pants, she slips past you unnoticed. Today she is dressed in scrubs, with a stethoscope around her neck. Today she breathes in short breaths like the rest of us, not those long, perfectly calculated breaths that stretch the diaphragm. She saves those for later, after she has infiltrated your workplace.

Today, Mindfulness goes by the name “Quiet Ego.”

For those of you who dismiss Mindfulness as a barefooted hippy who is detached from reality, she may appeal to you in this guise. In 2008, Heidi Wayment and Jack Bauer coined the psychological term “quiet ego” to describe a set of values one might adopt: detached awareness, inclusive identity, perspective-taking, and growth-mindedness. The purpose of quieting your ego is to increase your well-being. In the context of healthcare, Wayment has teamed up with Ann Huffman and Brian Eiler to find out how a quiet ego can remedy compassion fatigue.

Nerd Alert! Here’s the scholarly reference:

Wayment, H.A., Huffman, A.H., Eiler, B.A. (2019). A brief “quiet ego” workplace intervention to reduce compassion fatigue and improve health in hospital healthcare workers. Applied Nursing Research, 49(2019), 80-85.

Let’s start from the beginning: you have an ego.

The ego is a pretty complex concept that psychologists have been grappling with for a long time, but basically, this is the voice in your head that is how you interpret your “self” in relation to the world. Mindfulness would call this voice the “monkey mind.” Yes, we know you have a voice in your head. You’ve been outed. Not only that, this voice can be a royal a$$hole sometimes. This voice can be critical of you and everyone around you. Sometimes it can make you think you’re better than everyone else. Sometimes it can make you think you are worthless.

Quiet Ego wants you to notice when this voice is being a jerk. (*cough cough*…Mindfulness.)

Quiet Ego wants you to gently remind this voice that there is another way to see the world. Think of this as the Dog Whisperer training method for your brain. The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, employs confidence, assertiveness, a two-finger poke to the ribs, and tsk noise to keep the dogs in line. Okay maybe Quiet Ego’s yoga pants are showing beneath the scrubs. I don’t think she would use any pokes to the ribs.

Quiet Ego wants you to start adopting these values:

  • Detached Awareness. Basically, try not to judge yourself or others. Be open-minded. Quiet your initial reaction long enough to see a different possibility. Observe your emotions instead of attaching to them.

  • Inclusive Identity. In case you didn’t notice Mindfulness lurking in the corner, this concept will reveal Quiet Ego’s true nature. This is the “we are all one” concept. We are all connected. The bad feelings you feel toward your boss are also part of you. Your boss is part of a bigger system. You are part of a bigger system, which is a reflection of government policies, international geo-politics, and the entire universe! (Cue evil laughter.) No but really: your thoughts, feelings, and actions affect other people. You are affected by other people.

  • Perspective Taking. This one is easily summed up by encouraging you to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Try to see the every situation from someone else’s perspective. Have compassion. Give someone the benefit of the doubt.

  • Growth Mindedness. You don’t know everything. You will make mistakes. You will wish you said something differently when you walk away. But don’t worry. All you have to do is have a good attitude and give yourself a break. Let yourself be human. Give yourself the grace to learn from your mistakes. You wouldn’t punish a baby for falling down when it tries to walk. You would help him try again and you would probably even add a smile to your encouragement. Try the same thing with yourself.

The researchers found some encouraging results when they applied the Quiet Ego method to a healthcare setting.

In only eight weeks, the participants in Wayment, Huffman, and Eiler's study (clinical and non-clinical employees of a hospital) experienced an improved self-rated health status and decreased levels of compassion fatigue. They also got better at Quiet Ego strategies and “cognitive re-appraisal” with practice. Cognitive re-appraisal is “an emotion regulation strategy that involves an ability to reinterpret the meaning of an emotional stimulus.”

What all this means is that, with a little attitude adjustment (*cough cough*…Mindfulness), you can make your life a little more pleasant. The cool thing is that this strategy doesn’t take any more time than it would take you to ruminate about how frustrated you are. It also doesn’t cost any money. Basically, the two biggest excuses (time and money) are not a factor here. So what are you waiting for?

If you want more information about the Quiet Ego method, here is a link to Wayment and Bauer’s book. It's called "Transcending Self-Interest: Psychological Explorations of the Quiet Ego."

Give the Quiet Ego strategy a try and let me know how it goes.

And don't forget:

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  • Tell Jamie what compassion fatigue issues are nagging at you so she can write about them.

#quietego #quiet #research #psychology #burnout #compassionfatigue #healthcare #mindfulness

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