Recognize What Makes
Practice So Tough
Tip 6: Recognize What Makes Practice So Tough
All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.
- William James
Routines are the organizational analogue of habits.
- Geoffrey Hodgson
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
I recently had a conversation with a dentist I went through a lot of continuing education with over the past thirty years. He complained that although the information was pretty good, he failed to apply most of what he learned. I never felt that way. Everything I learned I tried to apply. I feel this is a very common occurrence. Most dentists spend small fortunes trying to make their practices better, only to find that after a few years, much of what they learned never gets installed. I thought about it for a while and wondered what I was doing that enabled me to apply most of what I learned and made it stick through the years, in spite of staff turnover and changing economic conditions. The answer could be found in the concept of habits.
I find it amazing that dentists talk to their patients every day trying to instill good oral hygiene habits in them. They understand the role of habits and how important it is to transfer behaviors like brushing and flossing into the part of the brain that carries out the behaviors automatically. In other words, if we believe that change is possible for our patients, then we must believe that change is possible for ourselves. Succeeding in practice requires the dentist to continually grow and change, not only his own daily behaviors but those of his staff as well.
William James, the father of modern psychology, was a big believer in free will and the role of habits to create successful lives. He wrote, "Habits are what allow us to do a thing with difficulty the first time, but soon do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, do it semimechanically, or with hardly consciousness at all." My friend had failed to make habits of many of the fundamental lessons we both learned together. I believe this is a key to how I not only built a very rewarding practice, but also conquered many personal issues I had with health and money as well.
Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book, The Power of Habits, which describes the science of habit formation and describes methods to create habits that will allow the dentist to use his mental energies much better commissioning most of these behaviors to the automatic brain. In the book he tells a story made famous by the writer David Foster Wallace:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water."
The water is our habits—the things we do every day without thinking about them.
Peter Drucker tells us that all management is self-management. The successful dentist who begins to work on himself by creating great habits can transfer this to the organizational concept of systems. In a later tip, I will discuss the role of systems and how they can create your practice culture. The more and more good habits you create, the more you will optimize your practice and life.
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