At one time or another, we’ve all found ourselves clawing desperately as we try to pull it together on the metaphorical center stage. And during the Super Bowl halftime show, as we reached for another slice of pizza, America recognized itself in the awkward flailing fins of a dancing shark.
We may never know the true cause of the Left Shark’s arrhythmic moves: Maybe it was distracted by the large googley-eyed beach balls, or perhaps it got stage fright and froze, its mind focused solely on remembering whether or not it locked the car before leaving it in the parking lot. And yet quite possibly it made itself nervous, revisiting the events of consuming a double order of Nachos Bell Grande at the combination Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken 45 minutes earlier.
Regardless of the circumstance, we all felt for the left shark wiggling alongside Katy Perry during that routine because we all have a little bit of that shark in us. And, like all good vignettes featuring animals, there is a lesson to be learned.
- Practice makes perfect. Well, unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. While studies have shown that muscle memory can make even the most complicated moves appear effortless, if you don’t get it right while practicing, your muscles will remember that, too. Taking the time to make the right steps, at the right times, will help you train your muscles so that the moves become second nature.
- Dance like nobody’s watching. Okay, well, with more than 114 million viewers watching Super Bowl XLIX that could prove challenging, however, stage fright or performance anxiety is a very real condition that causes immense spikes in the body’s response to acute stress. To help deal with an onslaught of nerves, it comes down to preparation and that means, at some point, you need to get moving in front of people. By rehearsing, you build up that muscle memory and develop the “mental focus” that Tom Brady loves to mention. This helps your body “auto-pilot” through the routine and frees your mind up from over-thinking and second-guessing the next move.It also is important to take a step back (mentally, not physically, Mr. Shark) and remember to keep things in perspective. All joking aside (this post very much included), we all get nervous, and envisioning the crowd enjoying the show and appreciating the immense pressure and talent required for such circumstances (which we all did), is key to allaying some of those nerves. Doing things you enjoy, such as dancing, is an important part of your well-being.
- You do you. As Henry David Thoreau famously advised: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. March to the beat of your own drummer.” Same goes here, so you go, Shark!
As I write this, I realize these are lessons that can apply to many situations, including healthcare. Physicians have been asked to take on more than ever, and embrace things that they may or may not know or understand, but that have become fundamental components of how they are evaluated by others. As a CMIO, I see this stage fright every time my colleagues are asked to juggle a new version of their EMR and click through new screens just to “do what they do,” which is diagnose and treat patients.
In a world changing rapidly, where physicians are continually being put in new situations with new regulations, they are adapting: the more technologically-reticent are becoming adroit, leveraging tools that work best for them and for their patients. And those who are well-versed in the Art of Medicine are tutoring colleagues and new medical school graduates on bedside mannerisms that may not be intuitive to a generation used to looking at smartphones instead of unfamiliar and scared faces. In both circumstances, practice will drive towards perfection.
At the end of the day, physicians need to trust themselves. They know how to help their patients navigate the complex healthcare choices and treatment decisions, and get the best possible health results for them, and that needs to be valued. They need to march to the proverbial beat that moves them, guided by what they know to be best for their patients. After all, the patient-physician relationship is the most important one in healthcare.