Pulitzer Prize winning American novelist Ellen Glasgow wrote, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” This makes me wonder, if dentists find themselves in so many daily ruts, why do they keep digging? What’s the cause behind the compulsory attitude and behaviors commonly repeated by dentists that kills their practices, makes them unhappy, and prevents them from living their best life? The answer is easy, albeit a complex issue: Stress.
There are thoughts and behaviors dental professionals have that perpetuate their stress cycle. Identifying these habits and putting a direct stop to them can prevent you from having a long and stressful career. Here are the top 6 things you’re currently doing you need to stop before you dig your own grave.
Going it alone
Going it alone is a sure fire way of signing your ‘stress warrant.’ Avoiding collaboration with colleagues, team members, coaches, consultants, CPAs and other professional partners keeps you thinking small, so it keeps your practice small and stress high. Dentists by nature are independent, which is what has gotten them through 20+ years of education, exam after exam and boards after boards. In reality, the business of dentistry is way too big to think you can do it all on your own and do it stress-free.
Establish a Trusted Advisor Committee. This includes a variety of professional partners that you rely on to fill in the gaps of skills you don’t possess, haven’t honed yet, or don’t want to build. You make money having tools in your hand and fixing teeth. You’re the only one that can do that. Let your Trust Advisor Committee take care of the rest.
Keeping your trap shut
No one wants to feel grief, shame, anger or fear- the deeper emotions that regularly accompany stress. In dentistry these emotions are going to be present and it’s impossible to stuff them down indefinitely. The more one avoids them, the more likely it becomes that the dam will break and a dentist will experience them as a crisis, rather than as individually difficult, but manageable.
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Playing the blame game
Self-deception is when you deny or rationalize away opposing evidence that doesn’t fit within the construct of who you think you are. Self-deception is all about the lies we tell ourselves that make us feel better about how we act, what we’ve done, our talents and achievements. For example, when a patient comes in with a cracked crown you just completed you say, “They are a terrible grinder,” or, “They have a strong bite,” or even, “They wanted the cheaper crown. It’s the material. “They got what they paid for.” You become immune to how often you buy into your own self-deception. When you do rationalize away situations, you fail to take the opportunity to interrogate your own reality. It’s only when we logically analyze situations and search for facts that we can determine if it truly is an external issue or is the problem simply our own.
Ask yourself one of the most important questions you can possibly ask, “What is my role in this?” This one question requires you to have self-reflection, examine opportunities for personal and professional growth, as well as provide moments of acceptance. It’s a powerful question to be used daily.
Taking a passive approach to problem solving
A passive problem solver assumes their situation is irrevocable, others are better than they are and their power or influence to make change is limited. This “I can’t” attitude limits a dentist’s out-of-the-box thinking to find creative solutions. To break out of the cycle of passivity, a passive problem solver needs to learn to ask themselves new questions. Our behaviors change by the questions we ask ourselves. Creating structure and motivation to complete tasks is also key. This might include things like contracts, deadlines, lists and schedules.
Be curious. It’s a simple concept with comprehensive results. When you have a problem that’s difficult to find a solution to it’s often because the problem is either too vague, too big, or too convoluted to tackle. Break it down into smaller chunks until you get to the root problem. Solve the root problem first and most of the other issues fall away. To do this use an activity I call the ‘7 Whys’ approach. Write your problem on a piece of paper- yes, really. Then proceed to ask & answer yourself why questions until you get at least 7 why questions deep. Typically by the time you get to the seventh question you’ve got the real problem in a bite-sized form that is manageable enough for you to tackle.
Believing that action must mirror how you feel.
Separating current emotions from current behaviors is essential to warding off stress symptoms. It’s normal to want to stay in bed, skip the gym, postpone production or deal with irritating details of the normal business day when your experiencing even the smallest amount of stress. Giving in to these feelings should be a treat, not a pattern of behavior. As you continue to ignore stress triggers and fail to use effective coping methods, the impact of your stress symptoms continues to weigh heavier and heavier.
Force yourself to do the opposite. For example, if you feel all you want to do is lay on the couch when you get home, do the opposite and choose an activity that requires you to move. It can be yoga, Wii Sports with the family, walking the dog, cleaning the house, or playing in the pool. Same with if you feel you want to avoid people and be less social, do the opposite and connect with someone. Meet at a quiet coffee shop, talk on the phone, Skype with a friend in your jammies, take an online webinar.
Striving to achieve perfection.
Dentistry and perfectionism seem to go hand-in-hand. Since dentists have been trained to do perfect work, they transfer that mentality into thinking they must be perfect people. Adopting the notion that done is better than perfect allows for mistakes, failures and growth. It allows for someone to be human.
Know that done is better than perfect. What often holds dental professionals back from taking the next step is fear of not taking the right first step, they will trip along the way, or they will misstep all together. Until you have forward momentum, you don’t know what each step fully consists of. Taking steps is an adventure with many levels of success. Knowing that getting each step done, learning along the way, figuring out what is ‘figureoutable’, and having confidence that you have the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off encourages you to get it done rather than being perfect.