I have had this nagging feeling for awhile now. As more and more negative is written about the veterinary profession, everything I know about how people tick was sending up red flags. First of all, I am NOT talking about true mental illness – it is legitimate and requires professional care. What I AM talking about is our brain and its tendency to manifest what it is fed.
I recently stumbled upon a TED talk that confirmed my suspicions. Allison Ledgerwood, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis ran a series of experiments. She “primed” the subject with either a positive or negative word. For example, A: we describe Pat as – intelligent, funny, reliable, arrogant and autocratic OR Example B – Pat is autocratic, arrogant, reliable, funny and intelligent. In example A we develop a positive impression – in B – a negative one. All because our brain was primed with a positive or negative word at the beginning of the list even though the words are exactly the same.
In their Nobel prize winning work Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman discovered our brain thinks in two ways – Fast – System 1 and Slow – System 2. Fast thinking is how we typically decide our actions. It relies on past experiences, preconceived notions, stereotypes and cultural norms to “think”. System 1 brain takes over when speed is imperative for survival -for instance – as you are about to be hit by a distracted driver your fast thinking brain maneuvers you out of danger – BEFORE you even have time to think – “Oh NO! I am going to be hit!” System 2 – our slow thinking – requires effort. When we figure out a math equation, or have to research a complex, diagnosis, that is our logical Slow Brain.
Why is this important to know? Because our brain is an energy hog. It uses 80% of our energy from the age of 0 – 2 years and 20% the years after that. That makes it LAZY. System 1 Fast Thinking, which is filled with experiences and assumptions, kicks in to create instant judgments – even when Slow Thinking – System 2 would discover the flaws in our decision if it was utilized.
You are wondering my point.
We must use great caution to feed our brain the right stuff and to realize when it is being poorly “primed”.
When we are constantly told the veterinary profession is hard, thankless, debt ridden and struggling with burn out and compassion fatigue, those things are what our brain will find. Why? Because we told it those things were important – find more of that! But even worse, Allison Ledgerwood found in her research, once primed to the negative then our brain tended to remain negative – even after something positive was introduced! Our tendency towards negative bias and lazy thinking can quickly lead us down a rabbit hole of false “facts”.
And that is where we are – Instead of looking at statistical facts to decide, we hold as truth the latest thing we heard or read.
Because of this it is imperative that we stop feeding ourselves mental garbage and instead engage System 2 thinking to discover FACTS.
Maturity gives many of us enough Fast Thinking failures to learn not to jump to conclusions, to realize stereotypes are ridiculous and certainly make decisions more factually. But youth comes with lots of energy and little long-term perspective. So young people use that Fast System 1 thinking and become distressed – believing that the situation is hopeless.
NOT TRUE. There are many practices that are thriving, many veterinarians that are financially successful, many staff members that enjoy their work, hundreds of thousands of healthy patients, and many, many clients who love and appreciate the work we do.
Don’t trust buzzwords and today’s negative headline. Look around, use your Slow Brain and see the truth. We work in an amazing profession. Seek the positive – train your brain. Celebrate the wins!