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  • Dr. Eric Rooker

Countdown to Success: Controlling Imposter Syndrome Using Prospect Theory

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

5 Inputs, 4 Quotes, 3 Thoughts, 2 Challenges, and 1 Question (September 15th, 2022)

_“Helping you achieve high-performance medicine.”_

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Happy September,

One of the biggest problems our profession has is a lack of self-belief. We don't think we belong. We think we lack the skills to take on the challenge in front of us. We feel like a fraud. These thoughts are driven by our mind's tendency to overvalue the negative impacts our profession has upon us and undervalue the positive aspects. This causes us to cling to the belief that we lack the skills, knowledge and abilities to take on our day-to-day challenges.

What many veterinarians don’t realize is that psychology created terms for these two trends:

1) Imposter Syndrome - a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success

2) Prospect Theory - describes how individuals assess their loss and gain perspectives in an asymmetric manner

To be able to manage these normal human psychological phenomena means that we can begin to take back control and once again become conscious owners rather than mindless operators in our day-to-day lives.

As a reminder, the journey of professional development is important to me.  Teaching and seeking the advancement of our profession has been a goal of mine since I started veterinary school and OTO gives me a vehicle to continue this mission.  If you wish to join me more interactively as I pursue please hit that reply button or join our Facebook Group to share your journey and growth with our community. 

You never know when your ideas, stories, actions, or reflections will inspire another vet out there!

Alright, let’s get to it!

Here are 5 Inputs to Inspire, 4 Quotes to Contemplate, 3 Thoughts to Ponder, 2 Challenges to Conquer and 1 Reflection Question to help you grow this month.

5 Inputs to Inspire

I. To begin to understand how we overvalue loss or lack vs undervalue gain or possession of skills we must first understand our brain's tendance to discount and overvalue. To do this we first delve into the economic theory called "Prospect Theory." Quickonomics has a great video that explains the basic principles behind Prospect Theory and will show you why and how your brain continues to focus on negatives despite overwhelming examples of positive behavior.

II. Next, we need to understand what Imposter Syndrome is and how it might be triggered. One of my go-to resources, Harvard Business Review, has a great article titled; Stop Telling Women they have Imposter Syndrome. While directed at those managing women in the industry, the article does an excellent job discussing how Imposter Syndrome affects individuals at work, regardless of gender or profession.

III. The first step to taking on Imposter Syndrome using Prospect Theory is to redefine failure in our professional lives. It's all too easy to fall into the belief that we have failed when the measuring stick is unfairly drawn at the start. Once we falter in the face of this unfair measure we much more easily fall into the negative aspects of Prospect Theory which can quickly devolve into a vicious cycle.

IV. An important concept to remember as we redefine failure is the Hedonic Treadmill. This is our tendency to return to baseline happiness no matter how good an achievement might be. I see this many times in young vets, they achieve something remarkable such as starting a new service or conquering a complex procedure, but days or even minutes after they revel in the success, they are right back to doubting themselves or their situation again.

V. So how exactly can we challenge the negative thinking Imposter Syndrome presents to us and Prospect Theory causes us to overvalue? The intervention you're looking for is called Cognitive Reframing. This mindfulness practice asks you to evaluate the thoughts and see them from a different perspective, such as redefining failure, and challenging these thoughts as your "reality."

4 Quotes to Contemplate

I. World famous physicist and Nobel Laureate Marie Curie discusses fear and controlling it:

 Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.  Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less .

II. Author and motivational speaker James Clear discusses how our inputs can affect how we perceive the world:

              Your actions are a consequence of your thoughts.  Your thoughts are a consequence of what you consume.  And in the modern age, what you consume is largely a consequence of how you select and refine your social media feed.  Choose better inputs. Get better outputs.

III. Spiritual leader and author Om Swami on the importance of mindful emotional recognition and reframing:

              When a thought emerges on the canvas of your mind if you don’t drop it, its pursuit will either take the form of a desire or an emotion, positive or negative.

IV. Kobe Bryant on letting opinions and thoughts (yours as well as other peoples) interfere with your abilities or performance:

Boo's don't block dunks.

3 Thoughts to Ponder

I. I've often wondered why so many high-achieving vets, vets who are more accomplished and possess better skills than myself, doubt themselves so completely. We look upon them as top performers, mentors, and leaders but in their most private moments, even they doubt themselves.

II. Recently I experienced a setback within my life, something I considered an abject failure on my part, one big enough to get me to question much of my professional development. Challenged mentally, I took this problem to a mentor. He asked me a simple question; "Why is this a failure?" I couldn’t come up with something concrete other than "It wasn’t what I expected." He countered and said, "But what did you accomplish, what skills did you learn, and how many other people could have done those things?" It was at this moment I realized I was mired in the depths of Negative Prospect Theory and that the balance of the experience was a net positive for my professional development.

III. Many years ago, Google ran an experiment called the Eraser Test. They offered a program to 10,000 people that could "erase" the most negative event in their lives. However, every lesson, connection, experience, and emotion linked to that event would be erased as well. When presented with the choice to participate in the study only 0.1% of the participants elected to go forward. It's interesting how your negative perception changes around an event when you account for everything that becomes linked to it.

2 Challenges to Conquer

I. Take 2 minutes each day and start a list of all the positive things in your life. Add to this list daily for a week. Save this list digitally or physically somewhere that is easily accessible during the day. When you begin to doubt yourself or your accomplishments open or pull out this list to remind you of the positive to negative balance that exists.

II. Your next negative event, thought or experience I want you to ask yourself three questions; "If this problem was occurring to my mentee what advice would I give them? Next, ask "How could this situation aid my professional development?" Finally, ask yourself "What's the worst thing that could happen, and how can I prepare to control it?"

1 Reflection Question

Why do you consider your most recent failure a failure? What were the positive aspects of the situation that you could take away?

Until next month,

Dr. Eric Rooker

Founder of Operators to Owners

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