Dr. Olivia Oginska, a veterinarian and human psychologist joins the show. She has recently extended her healthcare practices into the field of positive psychology for humans instead of animals. Olivia started Vet Gone Mental, where she is able to share her learnings around positive psychology and help others along the same illuminating path she has been walking.
In our conversation, we get into some of the important areas of her study, talking about how change occurs in organizations, the importance of leadership and communication, and exactly what entering into a flow-state does for a person.
Good morning Ivan, thanks for coming back to Consolidate That! Excited to have our wonderful guest today.
Yeah. Well, I’m very excited to introduce my colleague and hopefully becoming a friend now, Olivia Oginska. She’s coming to us with two very interesting backgrounds. She has a veterinary degree from the University in Poland where she started her veterinary career and then she advanced through quite a few interesting externship through the facilities that I’ve been to through my Smart Flow years. She was in VCA, Canada Alta Vista where they have Smart Flow and then she did externship in SASH, which is in Australia in Sydney and there too, they also have Smart Flow and then she was a surgical intern in Fitzpatrick Referral Hospital, which is a wonderful doctor named Dr. Fitzpatrick who is an Irish Vet who has done a lot of prosthetics for animals.
Let me guess, he has Smart Flow?
No, we were chilling.
I thought everyone that was smart had Smart Flow
He is a fabulous veterinarian but there’s one flat spot in his practice, he doesn’t have Smart Flow.
Then, she wanted to proceed to do a residency in the surgery but she chose to pivot and then she did a – or still doing, the positive psychology masters, which she’s passionate about and she started a company called vetgonemental.com, so check it out guys and we’re happy to have her here.
Olivia, welcome to the show, thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you so much Ivan, thank you Ryan, it’s lovely to be here today with you.
I have a question right away. Positive psychology, as we talk before this, it’s not a very well-known — everybody heard the word and then as soon as we start talking about it, especially in business, a lot of people think that it’s a lot of “ra-ra-ra” kind of feel well, rainbows and unicorns.
Can you tell us about what positive psychology is? If there is a master degrees and PHDs in that, there is definitely a science, can you give us sort of a short version of what it is, how is it used in practice and then we’ll kind of go more specific into the veterinary domain?
Of course, thank you so much for that question because I think it’s really important to clarify what positive psychology actually is. Many people heard about that and like you said, people think that it’s rainbows and butterflies, which it’s not actually. It was created by the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. It’s a branch of positive psychology that is different than psychology in general.
In the traditional psychology, we focus on a problem, we focus on what is wrong with the person and we try to dig out the roots of that problem. In positive psychology, we acknowledge that there is a problem but we seek applicable solutions. Based on personal strengths, based on things that you already have in you, things that are marvelous and maybe you forgot about them, things that can give you power to make a positive change. This is what positive psychology is about, it’s about flourishing and allowing individual to reach their best selves basically.
That’s really interesting. I guess an important question is how did you get into that. I mean, coming from the veterinary space, what was it that pushed you towards that as a new passion?
That’s an interesting question because I came from Poland where the problem of mental health, mental wellbeing is very little known, at least it was at the time when I lived there. I always felt something that pulled me towards people. I was interested in their personal life, they came to me to speak about their personal life even though I didn’t ask.
Veterinary medicine is very much about people. There are social connections between veterinarians, between veterinarians and nurses. In a big clinic and in a big veterinary practice, there’s so many people working towards the same goal. There’s so many connections between them that being interested in humans and in human brains made my life much more interesting, first of all, but also very, very useful.
Because I learned how to work with people from different backgrounds, from different cultures, different religions, it allowed me to feel more comfortable when I needed to work with them and allow me to make a lot of friends with people from different parts of the world. That was always somewhere in me but I was focused on something different, so like Ivan mentioned, I was really focused on surgery. When I finally allowed myself to follow that path that I was really passionate about, psychology, then I realized that this is actually who I am and what I should do with my life.
That’s awesome. It’s so great because we see so much in our profession that people get stuck on, “Okay, I’m a veterinarian, I have to be a veterinarian now because I invested all this time, education, money, and then now I’m trapped.” That’s a very common thing that a lot of veterinarians see and that’s a very common trigger for burnout and we discussed that a lot in many forums that we participate. But you mentioned that veterinary medicine is a lot about people. I thought it was only about animals and that’s why most people go into veterinary medicine because it’s just dealing with kittens and puppies.
How do you see the relation of the positive psychology to veterinary industry, why is it needed today and is it something to do with the mistake that we make that it’s only to do with animals?
It’s just what most people think, “I’m going to be a vet because I don’t like people.” Yes, this is the mistake because part of our job or maybe half of our job is actually dealing with people. Very often with very special people, well, because the various types of people have pets. Let’s be clear, we need to be able to manage people and not only our colleagues and clients, we need to manage ourselves because it means working under a huge pressure. You need to learn how to manage yourself, how to manage your relationships with other people and of course, how to treat your patients as well.
Many people forget that we are extremely social creatures and we are the only species that has the ability to blush. I don’t’ know if you guys heard about that but we are the only species. That is to convey the information to communicate with others. Our writings were shaped thousands and thousands of years ago, when we’d used to live in tribes and in those tribes, every single person matter and this is how our brains were shaped, this is how we were used to.
Over time, with modern technology, with our access to people around the world, our tribes grew to immense sizes and now our brains cannot handle that. You guys deal with consolidation, you gather big groups of people, big businesses together and our brains just cannot understand how to deliver that new situation. What positive psychology can do, can help people to adjust to new conditions. To create healthy relationships, to build a bond in between people to allow them to work efficiently and joyfully together.
Olivia, if you were to do a Venn diagram of positive psychology and self-care, how overlapped are those two circles? Is self-care a subset of that or taking care of the individual or how would you look at those two things?
That’s a very interesting question because many people kind of link, create a link between positive psychology and self-care but positive psychology is so much more than just self-care. I would look at the human from two sides. One is self-care and one is everything that is around you. Let’s say two zones, the inside zone and the outside zone. The inside zone is the self-care and that is obviously super important and positive psychology can support that very much.
Because if you are hurt inside, if you are not healthy inside then you cannot build healthy relationships with people, you cannot work with them, you cannot cooperate, you cannot take care of others if you are hurt, if you are not healthy. But, when you are immersed in a toxic environment, if you are surrounded by people who don’t allow you to grow and show them your best self then you will never be your best self, you will never be your authentic self and that is all about psychological safety and this is also what positive psychology is immersed in, in creating a healthy environment for healthy humans.
Is it something that people should be discussing more outwardly? I guess you’re saying, the self-care is what you’re doing internally for yourself but maybe actualizing it and making it something that people are discussing with their colleagues and is that a good way to change that environment and change where you are and how people see it? Sort of like goal setting where you tell someone your goal, whether it’s personal or professional as a way to make it a lot more realistic or something that you’re working towards?
100%. Sharing awareness is the first step. If you don’t know that there is something wrong with you, you will never change that but if you don’t know that you are immersed in a toxic environment that will never change. Some people do not know sometimes that they create a toxic environment. Awareness is the first step to change everything. I always say to my co-chiefs that you came to me and that is 50% of your success. I’m really proud of you for even doing that.
If we’ll transpose that to the veterinary, we know that veterinarians are terrible about taking care of themselves, they always think about others and then at the end, I think that that’s why they stop thinking about self and that’s where I think the industry is struggling. What parts of internal and self, veterinarians should pay more attention or seek for the solutions in positive psychology?
That is a subject that was quite widely explored at the moment, all the self-care resources, applications, mindfulness, resilience, finding your strength. Those things are focusing on the individual. How to relax, how to be stronger, how to be better to yourself and that is very important. All this equals to psychology, supports people who search ways to get into flow state, which is really important. But that is not enough from my perspective.
What else should we do and I love that you referred to flow? You know, bio hacking and getting into a flow state that somehow I’ve been passionate about for the last two, three months and then actively doing that. Can you tell us more about that and also, what else the veterinarians could do?
Let’s talk about flow, which is the individual level of self-growth. You get into state of flow when you’re doing something that grabs your attention entirely. You lose yourself, you do something that you love, you don’t feel the time passing, you are so immersed in that activity that everything else disappears and you feel the instant gratification. Every step brings something pleasant to you and you can see the results of your work, so it is basically like stitching up the skin. It’s quite a repetitive thing that you do, so you stitch up the skin stitch by stitch and the time just flows, music in your theater just flows around you and maybe there is a little chat with the anaesthetist. but otherwise, you just do your thing and you’re good at that because you are trained. You practiced, you still need to be focused to do that well and it gives you pleasure if you like surgery especially, that gives you loads of flow.
That is that state that we talk about and that is very individual and this is something that everyone can seek, that everyone can do. You also mention a goal setting. That is extremely important, I know that you are passionate about that subject. To find goals for yourself, but you also ask what else can be done and I think that the problem of poor mental health should be approached from the organization level, from the team level, plus the individual level.
I do not believe, myself, in individual resilience, just solely individual resilience. Like I said, again even a most resilient person can crumble in a wrong environment. If everyone is aware of that problem, if everyone thinks that there is something they can do, if we join forces at the different levels, this is when we can achieve something meaningful and a proper change. At the moment, there are so much that people do individually, but organization can do much, much more and this is what positive psychology can offer as well help in that process.
I don’t know if you’re a psychic or a psychologist vet because you read my mind. I was going to ask you how we could look at using some of this, your learnings and your knowledge into applying that at the organizational level and how that can be something that can be helpful top down or at the regional levels to help with the clinics.
From positive psychology perspective and from my experience and speaking with my colleagues, I can see that leaders are the first, most important, the key factor that can actually introduce the change. I’m really supportive of great leaders and those leaders have so many tools coming from positive psychology that they can use and there is a whole list but I think that there are few that are the most worth mentioning in here with you guys because it is something that maybe someone hears today in this podcast and thinks, “Actually, you know what? I would like to try that, introduce that in my practice and see what happens.” and believe me, something amazing can happen.
Let’s do the list, the five things you can do tomorrow to change your practice into positive psychology.
That sounds very easy but I think every subject includes five other tools, so let’s maybe chat about the subjects, the topics that we can approach with the positive psychology perspective and then if someone is interested, I’m happy to tell a little bit about those tools that can be used in each topic.
The first one is that psychological safety and psychological capital. Psychological capital is basically your set of resources that you can use to be successful. There are two researchers who created an abbreviation that sounds like hope. The first one is basically hope itself, we need to be hopeful to basically believe in the future, to be motivated, to believe in ourselves that this is really, really important. The other one is optimism, Martin Seligman taught his students that there is something like learned optimism. We can actually learn how to be more optimistic about the future, about our actions.
Another one is efficacy. Efficacy means that you believe, that you are capable of finishing a task of completing something that you wanted to complete, so it gives you confidence in yourself that is really, really important and the last one is resilience, so that individual resilience that I mentioned, an ability to bounce back from the adversity but that is something that the organization can help individuals to create a group resilience tools and workshops that help the whole group to become more resilient. That is the first thing, that psychological safety and psychological capital.
What are those tools? Just the practical things that is it hiring a coach for the organization? Is it providing training? What is the practical thing that some consolidators can say, “Okay, veterinarian —” because there is a huge correlation, which I think right now is finally there because if business people, you know if you take business people in the vacuum and not think about just you know, any particular business, the goal of the organization is to bring the value to shareholders. Point blank, it’s to make money.
Now, if and I think that because right now we’re in that stage where there’s not enough veterinarians to service the pets that we have. There is more pets than vets, that’s an issue, so I feel that we’re at that stage where the organizations that have more tools for the psychological safety, more tools for resilience training and more tools for just helping with change will less distress and will apply that, those are the organizations that will attract more veterinarians to work for them and they will be solving business problem. I think that this is where the connection of the business to positive psychology and what are some of those tactical things that they can do?
I’m really happy that you dived a little bit deeper into that psychological safety because that is something that even in 2020, there was a study performed by O’Donovan, if I am not wrong, that showed that in healthcare, when you increase psychological safety, people are not afraid to speak up. People are more keen to take in self-development, people are happy to learn more, people want to grow in their profession and personally and those people treat their patients in a more safe way. And in the end, the whole environment becomes safer and that is obviously the [inaudible] for the company.
There are studies that show that psychological safety, it’s really beneficial for the whole company, in their healthcare, nothing like that was shown in veterinary medicine so far but this is where we can act, this is where we can perform our studies. Definitely in terms of financial benefits, there are many of them and the practical tools is, it is training. It is helping people to realize that we are all human, that we all have our weaknesses, that it’s okay to show those weaknesses and to share them because the worst thing that can occur in the organization is silence.
When someone makes a mistake, we don’t want to tell anyone else about that mistake. We are worried, we are scared that we’ll be judge, that we’ll be criticized and what that does is first of all, we don’t learn from those mistakes, so they’re being repeated, perpetuate overtime and then the second thing is that the people are scared to try new things. You have a surgeon who is really, really scared to try a new procedure, because they will be criticized. They won’t have support from the company. Feeling safe allows you to be your best self and one of the tools that people can apply is to learn how to introduce that safe environment into their workplace and allow their employees to benefit from that.
That’s wonderful. Well, I know obviously there’s a lot that we can keep learning from you and hopefully we can in the future as well but two of the questions we always like to ask people are first, is there a book that you would like to recommend or something that people can read to learn more about the topic and then the next one would be is there a guest that you think that should also join us on the podcast? I’ll let you go first with the book recommendation.
With the book, anything about psychological safety but also appreciative inquiry that is something that I am deeply passionate about. It is my type of coaching. The Appreciative Coach, it’s the very best subject but this is one of the things that could be definitely introduced to our organizations and I’m a huge advocate of that. Basically seeking change through a specific process that appreciative inquired describes and it brings amazing results.
Any literature on appreciative inquiry, any literature on grit, so the personal grit but also grip grit. There is so many books that I can’t give you just one title. I’m really sorry about that but I have the full bookshelf with them, so that’s – what else? Compassion that is another subject I’m really deeply passionate about because people think that compassion is something different. They mix empathy and compassion and there is a big difference.
Empathy is sucking your energy, it’s consuming you from the inside out whereas compassion gives people action. It gives them a chance to actually act on that empathy that they experience, so it is very, very empowering and there are things that we can change in our practices to incorporate more compassion instead of empathy. So that is another thing. If you find a book with the title ‘Compassion in a Workplace’, grab it. Read it, absolutely.
Awesome, we always are looking for wonderful new guest, who do you think we should have on the show to learn more from?
I would advise you to get in touch with all of my supervisors from my course on the positive psychology but there is a person who actually I spoke with recently and he’s a vet but he’s also – he works for the big pharmaceutical company and his name is Phillip and he is extremely inspiring because he go to very high level through being amazingly kind and good person and he teaches me to never ask for something in return when you’re kind to people, when you help them, when you’re compassionate, just don’t expect anything, and then good things just happen. He experienced that himself and he’s kind of my mentor, I would say. And he teaches me that and I think it’s priceless.
That’s great. We’ll have to make sure that Phillip listens and Phillip we would love to have you on the show as well.
We’ll need the last name too. There’s a lot of Phillips out there.
Well, no. We’ll just track down Phillip. We’ll find him. But I did want to put a plug in there for your website, vetgonemental.com. I know that was poking around on there and there’s some really cool resources as well. We’ve got a ton that we can continue to learn from you Olivia but we want to make sure we keep everyone’s time tight and we really, really appreciate everything, so thank you so much for being on the show with us this week.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you so much. Thank you guys, it was a pleasure.