By Tracy Nguyen
We have all learnt the importance of listening in medicine, as it is one of the core skills required to build rapport and ensure optimal communication between doctors and patients. It is universally known that poor listening can lead to ineffective communication and subsequently unintentional medical errors. Ironically, while we all try our best to listen to our patients in our everyday practice, not all of us make an effort to listen and be kind to ourselves the way we do to our patients, and to other people.
But why do we need to listen to ourselves?
We listen to others to obtain information so that we can understand and empathise; because we can’t assume what they think and how they feel otherwise. By that logic, shouldn’t we have the ability to understand exactly what we want personally and how we feel? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. We are not that good at understanding ourselves. If we pay more attention to our inner voice, there would be times where we realise how highly self-critical we are, especially when we notice a flaw in ourselves. By deeply listening to ourselves, we can recognise how many times a day we can often beat ourselves up over even a small mistake we have made during the day. We’d be able to notice how unforgiving we are to ourselves, the way we would never be to others. By mindfully listening to ourselves, we’d notice how we are actually feeling at the moment, whether that be tired after a long busy day, stressed and anxious about the upcoming exams or just feeling really down and isolated in these really difficult and uncertain times.
Thus, from today onwards, not only should we practice actively listening to our patients and friends, we should also learn to be a good listener to ourselves. Make an effort to look out for that inner voice inside our head and try to replace that harsh voice with a kinder, softer one. The thought of practicing mindfulness and listening to our inner voice everyday may seem difficult but personally, I’ve personally found it a useful tool and habit for whenever I’m stressed, guilty or disappointed at myself.
Deep listening may simply mean carefully paying attention to how we are feeling without making any judgements and putting that feeling into words or writing it down on a piece of paper. Imagine we are actually listening to another person and be mindful of the way we treat ourselves – is this how we would normally treat others? During times of emotional distress, ask ourselves what we actually need in order to be calm and to ease that emotional burden in our mind.
I usually find a short tea break from study or a call to my mom or a close friend helpful at the end of a long tiring day, especially during this COVID period with a higher level of stress and uncertainty. And most importantly, no matter what happens, do not forget to always be patient (even if we all hope to be a doctor 😊 ), understanding and kind, because we need to know how to listen and love ourselves first before we can do that to anyone else.