Is there an archetypal doctor mindset?

Your mindset has an impact on your experience and your results, because it affects what you notice.

In a continuous feedback loop, what you notice can get narrower and narrower, if you live in the red zone of fight-flight, sympathetic dominance as many doctors do. 

In this mindset, a stressed state, your body produces cortisol, adrenaline and other ready to fight or flee chemistry, testosterone for instance. When your mindset is one of threat, pressure, struggle your thinking tends to be more rigid, narrow and habitual. You are building neurological highways without even realising what you are doing, habituating your behaviour and your brain’s pathways. Then you end up wondering why you keep getting more of the same. If you even notice.

In this state of mind, this mindset, you are much more likely to think defensively, to share less and to be self-referencing. Thinking a lot in the “I”, in order to feel safe, a primary psychological need. 

When your mindset is one of agency and connection it includes positive beliefs about how you can impact the world, your world. For yourself and for others. You notice so much more, you have a wider lens, meaning that you are more creative and curious. More things seem possible and sometimes without even realising your role in it, new things are possible! 

With a mindset of, I can influence things or find a way forward, you think more in we than I. This mindset recognises the importance of connection with other people, your brain is more exposed to oxytocin, the bonding chemical, and you probably experience more empathy. Together they help you build relationships. 

In relationship we feel seen and heard, cared about and are more likely to trust. New things do become possible in trusting relationships, they create a safety net in uncertain times. You now have more resources and more things are possible. The mindset, the neurological pathways you are building are for curiosity, creativity, learning. You become more comfortable with ambiguity. The uncertainty of the learning edge can even create hope rather than dread. That’s worth noticing for sure! And is a precondition for growth and learning.

Sometimes in this mindset of growth, as distinct from the protect and defend mindset, you also have a surge of testosterone for example. This time it’s to make things happen in the world, this energy is uplifting and impactful and can produce an upward, forward spiral of change that surprises even the person driving it. You might notice a feeling of power or gratitude, or satisfaction that you want more of. This creates an entirely different feedback loop that we want more of.

How would you answer this question? 

What is the ‘archetypal’ doctor mindset? 

To get into medical school, pass all the hurdles and then start work in a hospital as a doctor, the person needs to be focused, committed, determined, intellectually intelligent (perhaps in science at least). There is a lot of competition around, and a culture of striving. There is also group work and a strong social cohesion for many student doctors that helps them keep going on this long journey of delayed gratification. 

Both the narrow, defended, self-referencing mindset and the more open, curious, connected mindset could get you across the line. I can think of working doctors with both of these mindsets. What happens in mid career to doctors’ mindsets then? 

Like every group of people there is huge variety. What strikes me in my coaching practice is how often doctors undervalue their skills and the value they bring to their hospitals. They do not necessarily feel empowered, like they have agency in the system – even their own team. There is a lot to hold in mind: your place in the team, concern for your colleagues, the needs of the patients, your own family an outside of medicine life. 

Doctors in the main consider themselves problem solvers with good reason. They also like to use the evidence base, the research, in making their decisions. Sometimes there is clear direction and sometimes there is no research, or the science is changing rapidly. What mindset the doctor holds, will make a difference to what they choose to do.

Contrast these two mindset descriptions for yourself, what do you NOTICE? 

Mindset A. I have agency, I remain curious and can find the people and the resources I need to move this forward. We can collectively make a difference, what else do we need to notice, what are we missing, what am I missing, who else can help, what is in the environment that is helping or hindering us, what steps can we take, what is within my control and outside it, … 

Mindset B. I have been told we can’t do it, that’s what always happens, it reminds me of….. it doesn’t seem important to anyone else, no one else is speaking at the meetings about this, I don’t think I can talk about it, it’s too risky, everyone’s under the pump. I think I will just reduce my load and keep my head down, there’s nothing really I can do, I’ve tried.

Doctors your mindset matters. Build a mindset that is about connection, “we”, and agency. You are an incredible resource for the community. You are more able than you think to bring about change, not from a defensive, arrogant, bullying position of power. From a place of education, encouragement, collective curiosity. Use a mindset that includes your heartfelt compassion and lead yourself and your colleagues forward, noticing with a wider lens. Courage comes from other people, connection can help you find your voices and activate your influence.

Employers of doctors, your mindset matters, for exactly the same reasons. If your leadership has doctors working in a Mindset B way, you cannot achieve your organisational goals. Mindset B is everywhere in healthcare. Sometimes my own mindset is narrow and jaded because of how often I hear stories like the one above from doctors. 

Tune in and notice your mindset. What is it that you believe about your medical people? Can you bring a mindset of open curiosity, seek connection and understanding, build effective relationships with them, think more in us and we? They have so much to offer if they feel seen and heard, you can help them learn by leading compassionately, with curiosity and heart.

Healthcare is in distress on every level. Our workforce shortages are not going away. Our young doctors love portfolio careers, they will not be shackled to a narrow, rigid long term, hierarchical structure in the way previous generations have been. We need each other. 

Mindset that is empowered, seeks trusting connection with other people, is curious and believes in continual evolution, promotes a different kind of internal chemistry and gets results. Notice your own internal environment, seek help if you need it. Bring your potential to the table and join an upward spiral of generation and creation, it’s much more fun, much more fulfilling than any other mindset you might have been cultivating. 

What if doctors and their employers shared an archetypal mindset of compassion, curiosity and creativity? What do you think could happen? 

Categorised in: News

This post was written by Sharee Johnson