How saying 'thank you' can transform your life in equine practice
There are days when home is not on the range. When driving your truck from farm to farm, from barn to barn, from house to house does not bring a James Herriot-like glow to your equine veterinarian cheeks.
On days like that, you might get to thinking about the fact that you don’t make as much (especially if you’re a new practitioner) as some high-flying urban or suburban small animal vets. Your exhausted mind might start rolling around the reality of your 60-hour-plus workweek; much of it spent driving between horses. Or maybe you start floating your own teeth with a grinding-like motion because a horse owner or a boss asked you to do something that doesn’t sit well with you, like using drugs to rev up a race horse or calm down a show horse.
It’s on days like that when you most need a regular (at-least daily) ritual of focusing on what you’re grateful for in your life, your job, your family, your friends and the world at large.
That’s right: It’s time to get corny and cliché and smell the roses. Or that cold-morning mixture of warm horse and warming dew that reminds you all is right with the world.
Former practice owner and now life coach and international speaker Steve Noonan, DVM, CPCC, recently shared five tips for gratitude with veterinarians. Scientists have proven negative feelings are stronger than positive ones, Noonan says, so you need to cultivate those good feelings as much as possible. The practice of gratitude can be easy to do every day, but they require a little dedication on those bad days.
1. Start with the rooster—or beat him to it
“Start saying ‘thank you’ the moment you wake up,” Noonan says. “Say thanks for your warm bed, your safe home, your secure job, your loving family and your cozy slippers.” If you’re up before the rooster (emergency call, long drive, etc., etc.), it just means you have a head start to thanking the sunrise—and the coffee’s fresh at the gas station.
2. Remember your manners
“Say ‘thank you’ to your clients and coworkers as often as is appropriate,” Noonan says. “They are the primary reason for your success in veterinary practice.” You may not see eye to eye on everything with every owner of every racehorse, show horse and hobbyhorse, but they spend their hard-earned dollars and help keep you in business.
You need to dig down and find something you appreciate, though, to “connect with heartfelt gratitude,” Noonan says. You can do it. Be creative. For an emergency call? “You did the right thing for your horse to call me in today. Thank you.” For a real critical horse owner? “I appreciate that you’re around so I can check in with you. Thank you.”
3. Keep track of your help
That’s not what you did to help (that’s another important strategy for you folks hard on yourself), but how others helped you. “Express thanks to those who made it possible to enjoy the food on your table,” Noonan says. “And, at day’s end, to everyone who helped you that day.” Y’know, prayer, grace, thankfulness, gratitude: whatever you want to call it.
4. Write it down
The human brain is funny, and things that are written can have more emotional staying power than a few thoughts running through your head on the drive. “An extremely powerful strategy is to begin a gratitude journal,” Noonan says. “Every night, write down three things you’re thankful for.” They can be big: The universe. Human goodness. Equus ferus caballus. They can be small: Didn’t get kicked today. Cranky client thanked me. Warm pajamas.
5. Thank those who helped you come up
Noonan points to positive psychologist pioneer Martin Seligman’s “gratitude letter” as a powerful positivity tool to use. “Write a 300-word letter to someone who’s had a profound effect on your life,” he says. It’s even better if you can visit your mentor and read it aloud. If you’re too afraid you’ll start bawling, I suppose you can mail it. But you’re missing out.
It’s OK to be skeptical about the power of gratitude, but not without trying it first. You might be surprised how your car door slams a little quieter, how much looser your hands are on the steering wheel, and how much happier you find yourself. It won’t automatically fix low pay, long hours or difficult ethical situations. But it can help you see your life and practice in a more positive light and help you appreciate where you are, how you got here and all the amazing people and things that make it possible to wake up every morning to heal horses.