We nurses know lots of things. Our heads are filled with innumerable ideas, thoughts, concepts, theories, observations, and facts. We know so much about pathophysiology, anatomy, chemistry, pharmacology, communication, informatics, psychology, sociology, and countless other topics that we’re almost bursting at the proverbial seams.break-the-inertia-of-your-knowing

But have you ever wondered if we sometimes know so much that our knowing can get in the way? What if our certainty and knowledge keep us from seeing something in an entirely new light or thinking outside of a box that we’ve more or less locked ourselves into based on our area(s) of expertise?

What would happen if we could break the mental calcification that our knowing can lead to and open our minds to new ways of thinking about a problem or challenge? Is this one of the places where inspiration and creativity are born?

The Inertia of Our Knowing

In some obscure corner of the internet, I recently heard someone say that we can “break the inertia of our knowing” by opening our minds to novel ways of looking at things. We can say plenty of positive things about the concept and experience of certainty. Still, we can also say that it can sometimes lock us into a frame of reference that prevents us from wearing a different lens at a moment when it could be helpful — or even revolutionary.

Did Einstein come up with his Theory of Relativity by only thinking thoughts he’d had before? Were Nightingale’s theories and concepts the products of a closed mind? Did Leonardo DaVinci devise sketches for flying devices and other fantastical machines by accepting commonly held beliefs about what was possible for 16th-century humans?

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These groundbreaking innovators from different historical periods allowed themselves to break the inertia of their knowledge by opening their minds to what others in their time might have considered impossible or even crazy.

If your nursing career, your way of practicing, or any other aspect of who you are and what you do is stuck in the mud of stale thinking and close-mindedness, maybe it’s an excellent time to see how you might lift yourself into a new state of mind that transcends the boundaries of what you think you understand about the world around you.

“Maybe” and “Yes, And” 

Every parent knows that the dreaded word “no” is dangerous when it comes from a two-year-old’s mouth, but it’s equally dangerous when it comes from a 22-year-old medical intern or a 52-year-old charge nurse.

The word no is like the castle gates crashing down to keep anything new from entering the kingdom. No, it isn’t about creativity or critical thinking — it’s about staying stuck in the inertia of your knowing.

When a problem or challenge is apparent, and someone offers a potential solution, saying “no” turns off the faucet of creativity. However, if you instead say “maybe,” the possibilities are now open for discussion. And if you want to take it even further, saying “Yes, and…” as described by medical improv expert Beth Boynton, RN, MSN, opens the door even more.

For example:

Nurse A: “This family and patient are so difficult — there’s just no way of getting through to them.”

Nurse B: “Yes, and there might be a way to get their clergy involved to help them feel safer and less ganged up on by the team.”

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Nurse C: “Maybe if we bring the deacon or pastor in for the next meeting, they’ll feel like they have allies in the room.”

Nurse B: “Yes, and if they feel safer, they’ll be more likely to hear what we say and be open to our proposed solutions.”

If Nurse B or C had said “no, but” instead of “yes” or “maybe,” the conversation may not have been productive. However, more possibilities emerge when building upon one another with positivity and openness. This breaks the inertia of knowing and opens the door to creative solutions.

Sailing to New Horizons 

The inertia of our knowing creates closed doors, whether in our careers, clinical practice, or even our personal lives. If Leonardo DaVinci had said to himself, “These are the things that I know, and nothing beyond that is possible,” so much of what he could have accomplished would have remained unrealized and unimagined.

If Florence Nightingale hadn’t allowed herself the luxury of thinking in new ways about hygiene, sanitation, and the emerging science of biostatistics, her breakthroughs would never have flourished in her mind and created new methods and strategies for improving the health of injured soldiers in the Crimea, not to mention patients around the world for hundreds of years to come.

If the inertia of your knowing is holding you back and keeping you from growing, then it’s up to you to short-circuit that inertia and think differently. Whether it’s your health and wellness, career growth, marriage, parenting, or any other aspect of your life, your certainty of how things “should” could stand in the way of a personal revolution.

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So, the next time you feel stuck or somehow held back in life, ask yourself if the inertia of your knowing is the anchor that must be pulled up from the murky depths to allow your ship to sail to new horizons.

With unforeseen vistas and possibilities opening up in your mind’s eye, there’s no telling where you’ll go. This might seem like a scary proposition, but staying stuck in the inertia of your knowing might be even more terrifying.

Try this approach next time something new is called for, and see how breaking the inertia of your knowing can be the best decision you’ve ever made.

Keith Carlson
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