Blog, Mental Health, Positivity, Uncategorized, Veterinary, Well-being, WellVet

Lessons from WellVet Weekend 2019: Progress is born out of self-awareness

One of my favourite sessions I attended in the WellVet ‘Mindful’ stream this year was entitled ‘Progress is born out of self-awareness’, which was presented by Caroline Pearson of Progressive Vet Consulting.

Caroline graduated from Cambridge in 1999 and worked in Small Animal practice for 10 years before moving into recruitment management within the Defence sector. She then undertook a Masters in Business Management and Vet Leadership, before setting up Progressive Vet Consulting and helping individuals and vet practices address self and team leadership. She is one half of Attract Recruit Retain alongside VetLed, building recruitment and retention skills in practice; a swim coach; vet wife; and mum of two very active boys, two cats, two fish, many newts and bats (not by choice) and, possibly soon, a puppy!

How can we progress both with, and because of, our self-awareness? 

We began by exploring definitions of ‘self-awareness’ with important points raised about how it was not the same as ‘self-focus’, and how it requires conscious knowledge of oneself and those around us. It is not an automatic process, and to increase our self-awareness we need to accept that we often have irrational thoughts of behaviours, and let go of our egos. The definition for the session from Caroline was:

“Self-awareness is the ability to monitor the mind so we can lead it better”. 

When it comes to understanding the incredibly complex organ that is the brain, it can help to simplify the concept of our ‘minds’, and for this Caroline presented the ‘Chimp Paradox’ model whereby the mind is split into three sections: the ‘Chimp’ (limbic area), the ‘Human’ (frontal lobe area), and the ‘Computer’ (the parietal area).

The Chimp is a very strong and reactive part of our mind, which can have positive and sometimes life-saving effects, but often will lead to inappropriate responses from us. Reflect on a time where you have reacted explosively to something happening (such as a colleague accidentally dropping a sterile instrument, or a client turning up late); this is your Chimp at work, and chimps are very emotional!

The Human part of our minds is concerned with self-fulfillment, and dealing with the ethical and moral aspects of our being. Whilst it gets the information after the Chimp, it helps us to gather the facts in a situation, so the more we can engage the human, the more we can react in an appropriate manner.

The Computer is both stronger and faster, but is referred to by both the Human and the Chimp, and is where we store a lifetime of information and experiences. Initially empty, it quickly fills as life happens, and can be programmed in positive or negative ways. Thankfully we can choose to re-programme the computer, and whilst this takes effort, consistency, and work, the computer as a reference point is key- what have we instilled here? What are our values and purpose? What beliefs do we have that are helpful and unhelpful? As indicated by Caroline, “there is no greater stabiliser”.

view ape thinking primate
Recognise and feed your Chimp to keep it happy

According to Caroline, whilst we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about our chimps (we all have them, and they can also help with our drive and ambition, etc), we have a duty to learn to recognise when our chimps are acting in unhelpful ways, and to learn to manage them. One helpful way to recognise if your Chimp is out to play is to ask yourself ‘Do I want this feeling?’, and if the answer is ‘No’ then it is your Chimp reacting. I also heard a fellow attendee mention that at her work place everyone had named their Chimp, so that they and others could recognise when it might be out and about. I love this idea, and seeing as my Chimp is linked to my critical inner voice, I have adopted the name ‘Nelly’ for both!

“Our attitude and behaviour effects those around us and, as such, we hold a responsibility to work on our self-awareness. Also, it is the base for making the best decisions for your own health”. – Caroline Pearson, Progressive Vet Consulting

I really appreciated in this session that Caroline provided practical ways to increase our self-awareness. We can:

  1. Recognise the Chimp
  2. Engage the Human
  3. Programme the Computer

Starting by trying to keep our Chimps happy (Nelly will be so pleased), ways to do this include tiring out the Chimp (preferably in our heads, as Caroline noted!)  and then reasoning using our Human, so that it has no energy to be so reactive, and by feeding the Chimp. In this instance ‘feeding’ means distracting it (maybe with yoga or breathing?! – VY), or noticing it and breaking the task to be done down into smaller more achievable steps, rewarding your Chimp for persistence along the way. However, I also like the idea of literally feeding my Chimp, as when I get ‘hangry’ Nelly is out in force and chucking her a banana will usually shut her up pretty sharpish!

We can engage our Humans by practicing kindness and compassion, stepping back and pressing pause so we can gather the facts, and referring back to our computer for the elements of ourselves that matter to us, such as our purpose and values, and what kind of person we want to be.

Finally, to re-programme our computer, Caroline suggests preparing ahead, journaling, and reflection/feedback. If we know we may encounter a situation that is challenging to us, preparing for how we would like to react will make it more likely to happen, keeping us in Human mode instead of letting the Chimp rampage. By reflecting on day-to-day life, it will help us to save and back up in our Computers the things that went well, whilst flagging up the things we could improve on or identifying unhelpful beliefs.

Overall I found the session to be extremely impactful, and the provision of small changes we can make in our daily lives and thought processes makes it far more likely that I will be able to apply these things going forward, and continue working on the never-ending improvement of my self-awareness.


P.S. The ‘Mindful’ stream this year was lead by the lovely Charlotte Lawson (nee Wincup), creator of the ‘Pacing yourself in practice‘ session from last year. If you’d like to know more about what went down at WellVet Weekend in 2018, read about the VetYogi experience here: The VetYogi Review and Experiences of WellVet Weekend 2018



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