Lots of leadership books and experts detail steps you can take to become a better leader. Trouble is, many times they omit
the single most important trait of exceptional leaders – a positive attitude. Fact is, your attitude and emotions determine
how effectively you lead others. How we deal with bad attitudes around us and how we confront our own sour feelings directly
influence our abilities to inspire and lead our teams. Fortunately, there are tips and techniques to help keep us centered
and focused on being the best leader possible.
No Bad Days?
Bad days lead to burnout. Many veterinarians lead an existence of "getting through the day" and never reaching their maximum
potential. How do we optimize our abilities while maintaining enthusiasm for our profession? The short answer is by preparing
ourselves intellectually, being as physically fit and healthy as possible and including diversity in our lives. Research conducted
during the past twenty years has shown that our physical state has tremendous impact on our ability to think, process and
retain information and regulate our moods. In other words, how healthy and fit you are tremendously affects how well you perform
mentally and emotionally while still enjoying it. To enjoy more "good days" takes work. By staying physically fit and healthy,
you can maximize your potential as a veterinarian and avoid "bad" days. The more productive you are, the better you'll be
and ultimately the more successful you'll be – and avoid burning out.
Step 1 – Avoiding Bad Days and Burn-out: Exercise and your Mood
In 1999, Duke University conducted the SMILE Study (Standard Medical Intervention and Long-term Exercise) to determine the
effect exercise had on patients suffering from depression. They compared subjects treated with the popular psychoactive agent
Zoloft (sertraline). The researchers found that exercise was as effective as medication in treating depression. Moreover,
when the test subjects were evaluated six months after the study's conclusion, they found that 52 percent of the patients
receiving Zoloft were still suffering from depression compared to only 30 percent of the exercise group. Perhaps even more
interesting, the more exercise a patient did the less likely they were to be depressed. The Duke study found that every fifty
minutes of weekly exercise correlated to a 50 percent drop in the odds of being depressed. The more patients exercised, the
better they felt and the more stable they became.
Aerobic exercise increases the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These compounds play a vital role
in the regulation of our moods and feelings. Exercise is our body's natural means of keeping the brain chemistry stable and
enhancing our chances of survival. Our estimated energy expenditure is less than 38 percent of our Stone Age ancestors. To
make matters worse, we take in far more calories than our caveman relatives ever dreamed. Even if you follow the government
recommendations of thirty minutes of aerobic intensity exercise each day, you'd still only burn about half of what our genes
are encoded for. Overweight and obese individuals now vastly outnumber normal and thin people in the United States and Canada,
and the number of patients diagnosed with mental and physical disorders linked to excess weight continues to escalate. We
were designed to move and when we don't, bad things happen, both physically and mentally.
Cold Coals: Life in the Shadows
A bigger concern for many people is what psychologists term the "shadow syndrome" of sub-clinical depression. These individuals
experience common mood swings, are quick to anger, have trouble remaining focused and experience sadness and negative thoughts
more frequently. While not technically depressed, these people are functioning sub-optimally. These individuals benefit tremendously
from exercise. A recent doctor I worked with commented that "she had forgotten how much fun veterinary medicine was" after
four weeks on a five times a week exercise program. She was sleeping better, feeling more energized and found that "life was
going her way." While exercise is certainly no panacea, many people have lost sight of how good their life truly is due to
the veil of sub-clinical depression brought on by abnormal brain physiology that a sedentary lifestyle creates. When the neurotransmitters
released with aerobic exercise flood the brain and reset the normal neurochemistry, people feel better and experience optimism
and happiness, something everyone could use more of in their life.