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Learning Mode vs Protection Mode in Nursing

NurseJournal Staff
Updated October 3, 2023
    I’m a Registered Nurse and Wellness Coach. Several years ago as part of my training as a wellness coach, I learned about Learning Mode vs. Protection Mode. I have to be honest. This was the first time I had ever ... Read More

    I’m a Registered Nurse and Wellness Coach. Several years ago as part of my training as a wellness coach, I learned about Learning Mode vs. Protection Mode. I have to be honest. This was the first time I had ever heard these terms used like this.

    Learning Mode

    Basically, this concept is having you take a look at how you react to situations. Learning mode during an event or crisis allows us to view the event with curiosity, non-judgement, and allow a more positive supportive position.

    Protection Mode

    Protection mode comes from a mental framework of judgment and defensiveness. We are more inclined to justify our need to be right or protect our ego, feelings, and sense of control. Our bodies may be tense and our emotions are stressed.

    There are times when we do need to engage the fight or flight mode. If we are in harm’s way, there is little time to evaluate the situation. We just need to react. However, most situations we encounter can become a learning opportunity for us, instead of a reactionary crisis.

    Opportunity for Reflection

    For example, a few weeks ago, I worked a 12 hour shift, and I was busy. After the shift was over, I realized I was having some symptoms of a potential Urinary Tract problem. Low urine, and I felt a burning sensation when trying to urinate. I realized I had not had an adequate water intake during the shift, and had only taken one bathroom break.

    Immediately, my protection mode wanted to blame hospital policy for not allowing beverages at the nurse’s station. I wanted to blame the system for not thinking about the needs of staff, and how they are depriving staff of basic needs.


    I began looking up OSHA policies, and what was really said in their policies, and realized OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines didn’t specifically spell out a need to abstain from beverages in covered containers at the nursing stations.

    What OSHA DOES say, is that you may not have food or beverages in an area where the food/beverages may come in contact with blood or hazardous waste. I began to rant a little.

    Totally, my actions and stress over this issue was coming from protecting/reaction mode. As I stepped back and looked at the situation from learning mode, I had to take responsibility for my own actions. I didn’t initiate times to drink water like I should have (even if I had to go into the break room to do it), and I didn’t take bathroom breaks like I should have.

    The second thing which came out of my learning opportunity, was to really read and evaluate policies. I had to ask myself if there was an opportunity for a change to be made to allow easier access for covered beverages at the nursing stating like water. I realized that yes, there is an opportunity to explore. I created a simple survey at Survey Monkey related to water at the nursing station. I’m currently gathering data, and would love for you to take the survey here:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TNDWHPX

    Next, I will analyze data when I receive at least 100 responses. I will then gather data and policies from my own institution and OSHA. This is how you approach your institution to see is there is room for change. This project may have started from protection mode, but out of learning mode, there are positive things happening.

    This is Nursing Process. Remember Nursing Process?

    Next time you are in a crisis on your unit, or you are dealing with a difficult patient, take a step back and see what you can learn from this situation.

    • Evaluate Your Attitude: Protection or Learning
    • What steps can you take or what questions can you ask to go from protection mode to learning mode?
    • Notice your body in these modes. Do you feel tense? Does your body feel calm?
    • Explore with curiosity: Options, opportunity for change, opportunity for you to make a difference.

    Once you become mindful to your reactions, and you begin to view life from learning mode, instead of protection mode; you will be pleasantly surprised how you are able to gain more control over negativity, judgement, and stressful situations. You will be pleased with the change you begin to experience!

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