Everyone has to work to stay positive. It’s human nature to focus on what went wrong. As a new nurse faced with situations that are terrifying and challenging, you have to work doubly hard at it.
All new nurses have been there: at a point of giving up because they’ve repeatedly told themselves they know nothing and will never get it all right. But you will. It just takes some time. Most seasoned nurses say you start to feel comfortable after one year and that it takes a full two years before you start feeling a sense of competency.
That’s a long time to feel like a bungling, blundering mess, though. So, stop your negative self-talk. By intentionally staying positive, you will see the progress you’re making and enjoy the magic of the new nurse days. Here’s how:
Give Yourself a Break: First, you know more than you realize. Remember that. Yes, you’ve got a lot to learn, but don’t be so hard on yourself. School was Phase 1 of your education, and your first job is Phase 2. It’s important to have realistic expectations of what you know and what you still need to learn—and will learn on the job. So, give yourself a break.
Record Your Progress: When you’re struggling every day—feeling like you’re not making any progress-- it’s important to focus on what you learned at the end of each day. This will help remind you that every single day you are more experienced than you were the previous day. If you can, it’s good to keep a journal, in which you reflect on your progress.
As you write about your experiences, it forces you to reflect on what you’re doing well, what you’ve learned, and the challenges that you’ve faced. It helps you see where you are now and where you still want to go.
Often we forget how far we’ve already come. When you review your journal three months later, you see that some of the fears you once had are minimal now. But you wouldn’t necessarily realize that unless you were writing it down. Don’t worry about perfection – even just a couple paragraphs that describe your feelings and what you learned that day will suffice.
Remember Your Magical Nursing Moments: I recommend keeping a “positive notebook”—which is different than your progress journal. In this notebook, include your “magical nursing moments”: positive things people said to you; inspirational quotes; experiences that you had when you really felt like you made a difference; or, stories about when you made a breakthrough with your learning or self confidence.
When these “magical nursing moments” occur, it’s important to record them. Otherwise the tendency is for the positive stuff to fade away and the negative stuff to take over. Keep it in one place so that each day you can look at it and focus on those positive things.
Help Student Nurses: Go out of your way to help students when they come on the unit; that will immediately give you a basis for comparison. Working with a student gives you a sense of perspective. You realize that you have progressed beyond the student phase. Sometimes people say, “I’m going to treat the student nurses the way I was treated.” And of course, if they haven’t been treated well, they might decide to pass that on. But you can break that cycle and change your working environment from one that is hostile to helpful.
Surround Yourself with Positive People: It’s a given that you’ll have to work with people whose personalities you don’t like. But if there’s a negative and nasty person in your unit, work to stay away from him or her. Seek out people who are confident, friendly, and love their work. Those are the people to hang around with and talk to.
When you are forced to work with somebody you don’t especially like--a preceptor maybe-- stay focused on your task and learn as much as you possibly can. And counteract that relationship by seeking positive relationships.
Once you move beyond the negativity and recognize your strengths, there’s a world of opportunity to make a lasting difference . . . in a positive way.