Meet Nathan Illman. He is a Clinical Psychologist in Melbourne. He gained his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from King’s College London in 2015. After witnessing the lack of psychological support available to healthcare workers he chose to set up his own practice providing coaching and training to doctors and nurses. His mission is to help people perform at their peak in healthcare and flourish in life.

Nathan’s article is all about values in nursing. This is a cherished topic for him, as values have formed a central role in his own life for a number of years. Being clear about his values has helped him navigate several life changes and challenges; navigating a difficult move to Australia from the UK, giving up alcohol, changing career paths, and most recently parenting a newborn in the absence of close family due to the pandemic. He finds that being clear on his values helps direct and sustain a highly rewarding life that is full of growth.

The benefits of clarifying your nursing values

Everyone has heard of values, but what do these really mean?

A value is a word or phrase that expresses a desired quality of being or acting.

Values often represent something about the type of behaviour or type of person (or organisation) we want to be. For example, we want to be compassionate by acting compassionately. We want to be honest by telling the truth. We want to show courage by speaking up.

Values are like our own internal navigation system that represent the direction we ideally want to be headed in. They act as our unique moral roadmap, which is partly created by ourselves and also influenced by our upbringing and environment. The importance of values shifts depending on the context; your values on climate change might not come into play in the ICU.

By setting a clear direction we can then make incremental moves towards, or away, from that desired direction.

For example, if I value honesty and courage, I can make ground in the pursuit of those values by doing something like having an open and vulnerable conversation with a junior colleague about their performance.

This action, or goal, would help me feel like I’m moving toward something important to me. I would likely feel good about myself for acting in this aligned way.

Unfortunately, we all have a tricky mind and challenging emotions which create barriers to acting consistently with our values.

We might avoid the challenging conversation due to anxiety and our mind telling us “put it off, it’s not important”. We might then be moving away from our values and likely receive a dose of self-criticism in the hours that followed.

Why values?

There are several reasons why clarifying our values is helpful.

  1. They help guide our day-to-day decision making.

When we have a choice to make, if you are clear on your values, you can save time in decision making by following a simple process of asking yourself “what would the value-driven choice be here?”

  1. It helps dealing with mistakes.

It’s much easier to be kind to yourself if you know you acted on your values. Sometimes we make choices that don’t work out; the future you will find it easier to let things go if you at least know you acted in line with your personal values.

  1. Knowing your values makes life more meaningful.

Why do you go into work every day? Why persist in the face of adversity and horror? Why do things that you don’t feel motivated to do? Understanding our values gives us a sense of purpose and helps motivate us to act in the presence of unpleasant internal experiences.

  1. Knowing our values can help avoid unhelpful comparison to others.

The modern world is rife with digital platforms that feed our own sense of not being good enough. When you compare yourself to all the other nurses who seem much more capable than you, how do you feel?

When we set our own direction through values, it’s like a superpower: We can stay in our own lane and judge success by how much we’ve moved towards what’s important for us. You’ll get tempted to step into other people’s lanes but being clear on what yours is helps mitigate that.

How to identify our core values.

Here are a few questions you can journal on to identify what your nursing values are.

  1. When you’ve been feeling stressed, anxious etc at work, what is it deep down that makes you keep going?
  2. Bring to mind a nursing role model of yours. What qualities do they express in their work? What kind of person are they in their interactions with others? What do they stand for? Which of these values and qualities do you want to embody?
  3. What do you want to have stood for at the end of your nursing career?

Bringing values to life

Now you have an idea of some of your core nursing values, the next step is to bring them into conscious awareness each day.

One way to do this is to look at your values and think back over the past two weeks. Write an exhaustive list of all the small actions you did at work that were aligned with those values. Then, generate another list of additional actions you can take in the next few weeks that would bring the value to life.

Finally, make a daily or weekly practice of reviewing your values and journaling on the ways in which you acted in accordance with them. This kind of practice helps to build our own confidence, well-being and enhances self-compassion due to recognition of our own achievements.

Try it out – let your values guide you and see what happens.

Follow Nathan on Facebook or check out his website at Nathan also hosts a podcast called Beneath the Armour in which he delves into the lives of healthcare workers including nurses, doctors and other allied health staff. Listen here.

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