Thinking Pitstops Presentation WONCA 2022
Thinking Pitstops started life as a voluntary project to support the NHS frontline during the COVID-19 crisis. Inspired by wanting to give back to the healthcare workers who were offering (literally) their lives for us, Thinking Pitstops bring together science about what makes peak performance possible in elite sport, and what enables the human mind to be free to do its most effective and creative thinking. We all know that when we are working every second under pressure, making sometimes impossible decisions, and struggling with the mismatch between capacity and demand, we start losing our ability to see a way forwards, or to refresh and recharge. Burnout is an occupational hazard and a significant risk. Just as a Pitstop in a Formula One race refuels the car and replaces the tyres in seconds, a Thinking Pitstop can re-focus and re-energise you within ten minutes.
Designed by an international coach within the first six weeks of the pandemic, over 700 medical appraisers and other healthcare team members were trained to act as ‘Pitcrew’ and support people who needed the time and opportunity to think clearly. Since then, we have supported a pilot project with the senior leaders in Public Health England, and a cross sector pilot bringing together primary care, secondary care and the voluntary sector in Somerset, among others. The aim is always to create sustainable teams of Pitcrew who can support each other, as well as their ‘Drivers’.
We all know that on our own, our thoughts tend to go round in circles, especially when we are tired, or avoiding something we are stressed about. All Thinking Pitstops are based on what the individual wants to think about. There is no direction or coaching, just the freedom to think about what matters most in the moment. Sometimes it is a hot topic that has just arisen; at others it is a longstanding thought that needs time to be explored.
There is no right or wrong way to think. Some people think in silence – which is quicker. Others articulate their thoughts and find that hearing them said out loud helps to slow them down and anchor them in reality. Some people make notes.
The point is to recognise that human thoughts are not linear – they come in waves. In allowing time for the pauses between one wave and the next, the brain will self-ignite and make important connections that were not previously obvious. I have found that a timely Thinking Pitstop has enabled me to make more progress in ten minutes of thinking about something I have been wrestling with than three months of mulling it over on my own. The power of active listening once I am physically in the right place to think has been astonishing.
Thinking Pitstops look deceptively simple, but there is a body of scholarship behind every element. We even have a ‘Hold Protocol’ which comes into place if there is reason to suspect that the individual has had a blow out, or has a completely flat tyre, and needs more than a simple pitstop to access the support they need to get back out into the fast lane.