Whoa, hoss! Regaining control

Whoa, hoss! Regaining control

Here are some strategies to manage emotional reactions.
Jan 01, 2011

The theme of this month's cover package is a riff on one of the oldest story lines in mythology, literature, and human experience: death and rebirth. In college I took a whole class on this archetype, and it really is everywhere—from Batman to the Bible. As we at Veterinary Economics see it, for the veterinary profession to survive and thrive, some of the old paradigms of practice ownership need to die in order for a new model to take hold in a way that grips the imagination and enthusiasm of the next generation (see "R.I.P. traditional practice owner" for more).

However, our horses aren't going to like this very much. Let me explain. Recently I attended a seminar put on by Fred Pryor titled "Managing Emotions Under Pressure." The speaker used a helpful analogy to describe our conscious and unconscious minds: They are our "rider" (the brain's neocortex, which is in charge of critical thinking and learning) and our "horse" (the limbic system, which is responsible for everything else). We spent most of the day talking about our horses, since the unconscious mind is what generates strong emotional reactions, usually as a result of the fight-or-flight response (neither of which, unfortunately, is an appropriate response in most modern-day situations).

Here's a little more about the horse: Its main goal is survival. The way the horse sees it, whatever it's done so far has kept you alive up to this point. Therefore, "same" equals "safe" and "new/unusual/different"gets coded as "threat." So it naturally resists change and fixates on the worst-case scenario as the most likely potential outcome of a change. The horse is primitive and cannot discern whether something might be good or bad. Its mission is to keep you exactly the same until you die.

However, it's possible to train the horse through practice and repetition. When you're confronted with a potential change and feel that primitive "no!" response welling up within you, the first thing to do is focus on the facts. What are the pros and cons of the situation? What objective data can you gather? Who can you talk to who has a somewhat rational outlook? This fact-gathering process helps put your rider back in control.

The next step, according to our trainer, is to "fake it till you make it." This means stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the change (if after your fact-finding mission you realize it's a good thing), and getting comfortable with the discomfort until—surprise!—one day it feels natural and comfortable.

So I would challenge those of you who are facing something new— whether it's related to practice ownership specifically, the veterinary profession in general, or something more personal—to try out these tactics. They don't come naturally (after all, the horse is in charge of what comes naturally, and the horse is what you're trying to control), especially when you're worked up emotionally, but they're very helpful tools for figuring out what's bugging you. And instead of fighting or fleeing, you can actually find resolution.

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