Tip 12: Know Your Enemy
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
- Sun Tzu
There can be no political revolution, no social revolution, no economic revolution. The only revolution is that of the spirit; it is individual. And if millions of individuals change, then society will change as a consequence, not vise versa. You cannot change the society first and hope that individuals will change later on.
One of the first tenets of philosophy is "know yourself." The saying was first attributed to Socrates and is one of the Delphic maxims inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Throughout the history of literature it has had a variety of meaning attributed to it. A very famous dentist, Dr. L.D. Pankey included it as the first tenet of his philosophy in his Cross of Dentistry. When I first learned Dr. Pankey's principles I was told to pay particular attention to the "know yourself" arm of the cross. I was dumbfounded. I always believed that philosophy should offer a practical way to live. What good would it be to contemplate knowing myself without being able to learn and apply the principle?
I left the Pankey Institute thoroughly confused about how to apply "know yourself." I am not the only one to feel this way. I have had many conversations through the years with dentists who were similarly confused by "know yourself." It's a no-brainer that self-reflection is the intent, but how does one do that in the real world? A world that is moving so quickly that it's difficult to take the time to think?
Let's face it; life can be a struggle at times. How we behave during times of struggle will determine the quality of our lives. It is during these times that we must use courage and resilience to face our fears. The most important thing to know then is to know our enemy…our fears. Many years ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Omer Reed, a very influential dentist/speaker during the seventies. He was a man before his time. I remember one thing he said…he quoted a famous cartoon of the day, Pogo: "We have met the enemy and it is us." Through my years in dentistry I have found my fears as the number one thing that held me back.
There are many fears to conquer, but for the sake of simplicity I feel there are two major categories: the fear of not having enough and the fear of not being enough. When a dentist is afraid of not being able to pay the bills, pay his staff or pay himself, it is hard to sustain a practice. When a dentist is concerned about the safety and security of his family his daily decisions become compromised. The levels of stress created by these fears never allow the doctor a moment's rest. He is always under pressure to produce more and more dentistry. In my coaching of dentists, I always begin with getting the
financial issues under control. This can be done by creating proper budgeting techniques and controlling expenses.
Then there is the fear of not being enough. This is the self-esteem issue. It is the number one reason why dentists don't improve their skill levels—both technical and behavioral. It is the reason behind dentists having a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is one in which the dentists believes his skills are limited by fixed conditions. This is usually born out of fear. The growth mindset is one in which the dentist believes he is capable of growing and mastering his own destiny. This is where courage and resilience come in.
So many dentists are afraid to learn and apply new skills because of fear. They play it safe in every aspect of dentistry. They don't believe in themselves. In reality, the obstacle is the way and fear is your friend, not your enemy. No one goes through life without encountering fear. The only way to succeed is to encounter the fear and realize it's never as bad as imagined. You will never rise to the apex of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs without getting over fear. Fear keeps people at the base of the Hierarchy…in survival…forever. In order to become self-actualized, to become the very best you, there must be a leap of faith and leave fear behind. I have used the concept of autonomy throughout this book. The opposite of autonomy is dependency. There is no way to create a sustainable practice of dentistry in a dependent state of mind. Fear is at the root of dependency.
In my introduction to the Pankey philosophy I was left to find out how to conquer fear. No one had explained it to me. They just told me to watch out for it. Yet the purpose of philosophy is to live a happy and successful life, not to just sit around Starbucks and discuss it. Philosophy should be practical or else it is worthless. Even the Greeks were quick to point out that philosophy is about living. Thoreau said the best philosophies "solve the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically." It is a pet peeve of mine that so many dentists take great continuing education and yet never get to apply it because they never learn how to fundamentally conquer fear.
There are practical ways to conquer your fears. Someone once said "To name it is to tame it." In other words by labeling our emotions we can understand them better. For me that meant slowing down to become more aware of what emotions I was feeling and then exploring why. The first thing I began to do was journaling. I created the habit of journaling more than twenty years ago and continue to this day. I usually do it in the morning by writing for twenty minutes uninterrupted. I then get to think about the challenges that I wrote down. I take my time to recognize anything that upset me. Once I identify the emotion, I ask myself if I recognize when I felt this way before. I end by trying to write out a life lesson. The most valuable thing about journaling is slowing down my thought process.
Another way I slowed my mind was mindfulness meditation. I began to do this more regularly about a year ago after reading The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt and 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Mindfulness meditation is all the rage these days. Once again it is a technique that is calming and slows down the mind. It is a great way to express any negative emotions that arise.
A few more practical tips that I use are exercise and diet. Taking care of your health puts your mind in a much more relaxed state. Yoga has become my exercise of choice these days. For ninety minutes I practice Bikram Yoga and it is like a moving meditation. Of course, when I identify a specific fear I approach one of my mentors for further discussion.
Of all the tips in this book this one may be the most important because if fear is stopping you, then you are stuck.
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