As dental professionals, the reason we are where we are in life is because we are highly driven individuals. Consequently, we tend to be overachievers relative to others, and we are often willing to allow our lives to get significantly out of balance in order to get everything accomplished.
Following our dreams and creating our desired future personally and professionally takes a lot of work -physically and emotionally. And it can easily consume too many hours in a day -and in a week- to birth our vision and nurture it into reality.
But sometimes this aggressive, and egocentric approach is as equally problematic as it is productive. Or worse -destructive.
I have found it helpful over the years to pay attention to not only the professional lives of those I admire in dentistry, but their personal lives as well. Are they married? How many times? Why? How are their children doing? Why? Do they have a spiritual side? Is dentistry the central focus of life? And what prices have they paid in other areas to make it all possible? Am I willing to make the same sacrifices? Hence, am I built emotionally, physically, technically, and psychologically, in a way that it’s even possible for me to do what they do? And would I be more or less happy with my life if I was living a life relatively similar to theirs?
This represents a awful lot of things to think about. And sometimes we don’t take the time to consider these questions until a crisis hits us, and our perspective of the world and life is blown up in a nanosecond.
A family or personal illness can do this. Robert M. Pick ‘s life trajectory is a good example. A life-threatening confrontation with cancer caused him to rethink how he was practicing and relating to others. Many other leaders in dentistry have similarly been confronted with divorces, family or financial tragedies which have caused them to make major reassessments and direction changes.
At moments such as these, it can make one wonder if these tragic events are God’s way of getting our attention, and reminding us of how small, and vulnerable we truly are relative to the entire world and everything else happening around us.
Being forced to completely stop our patterns of thinking and behaving gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities and values. And sometimes, this reassessment can lead to some dramatic changes. We may have always thought that we were taking adequate care of ourselves and those around us, but when we look back on it, we suddenly realize that what we were doing was only giving lip service to it all; it was all more of an illusion than a reality.
Owning, leading, and managing a dental practice often makes it challenging for us to find the time to practice self-care, but the truth remains: We all need to take care of ourselves—emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.
This of course, was the central mantra of L.D. Pankey, along with many others including the Dali Lama who lamented:
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Hopefully we can get ourselves to a place where we can accept life’s tragedies as life opportunities as well; opportunities which teach us to really take better care of ourselves.
If the wise words of the Dali Lama hit a little too close to home, I highly recommend that you consider taking the following steps.
1. Own It.
There’s only one person on this entire planet who has the complete responsibility for taking care of your wellness, and that person is you. We all need to do this. We can’t rationalize this away. We can’t delegate it. We can’t delay it. WE have to do it for ourselves. Period.
And by this, I don’t mean just taking a break when we are exhausted, rundown, or overwhelmed, or when we hit rock bottom.
2. Commit to focusing on your person health
In order to maintain optimal health on every level, we have to accept that it will require a significant degree of commitment and self-discipline -the same kind of commitment and self-disciple we employ every day at the office. It’s often the case that the only time we value our health, is when we have lost a noticeable measure of it. We are so easily preoccupied with everything else going on around us that we take our health for granted, and assume our bodies, minds, and spirits are maintenance-free. And that of course, is the wrong answer to a life-critical question.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness forms the foundation of self-care, because we’re only able to identify our needs when we are fully aware of what our bodies are trying to tell us. This is because what our mind is telling us and what our body is screaming at us, can often be two dramatically different things. Thus, mindfulness is the process of enhancing congruence between the mind and the body. Mindfulness nourishes our spirit by rooting us in the present moment. And by doing so, we become much more engaged with our surroundings.
The most popular way to practice mindfulness is through meditation and/or prayer. Disciplined meditation or prayer will yield out a sense of calm, peace, and balance, and it will support your emotional well-being and overall health.
4. Take breaks for deep breathing.
Take mini “breathing breaks” throughout your day. We can use breathing as a way to connect the mind, body, and spirit. Taking a few deep breaths over the course of the day by deeply inhaling and exhaling will bring about a sense of calm as well as energy. When you breathe in, fill yourself with thoughts of gratitude about your life. No matter how bad your situation is at that moment, there are millions upon million of people who have it much worse. When you breathe out, try to let go of all the unnecessary demands that you routinely place upon yourself.
Take a few times throughout your day to close your eyes and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. This is a simple practice you can do anywhere, at any time, yet it can profoundly affect your state of mind, creating peace, calm, and clarity.
5. Nourish your spirit.
We often think of self-care as diet and exercise, but it’s equally important to nurture our spirit. Whatever your spiritual perspective might be, dedicate time to nurture and develop it. This is as important as a perfected dental procedure. This might involve a leisurely walk at sunrise or sunset, a swim in the ocean, or even just stepping outside into the fresh air and stopping to acknowledge the magical, magnificent nature of life.
6. Busy isn’t always better.
As dentists we seem to wear busyness like a badge of honor. However, often our busyness is just a way of creating an illusion of success. But how successful can we truly be when we’re constantly stressed, exhausted, physically and mentally depleted, and missing out on key opportunities for joy in our daily life?
We may have responsibilities and obligations, at the office that we simply can not walk away from, but we all have the power to reprioritize and reorganize. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.
Keep-it-simple-stupid. You are smarter than you think, yet have more blind spots than you will ever know. It is often only when we slow down that we become more aware of all of the chaos around us that we are blocking out, rationalizing, or ignoring. By making simplification a priority, we can begin to cut through all of the unnecessary clutter and the chaos it naturally creates.
8. Recognize and eliminate energy drains.
What drains your energy? Are there team members, patients, or other relationships which bring a lot more chaos and confusion into your life than value? We need to be able to get to a place where we are willing to acknowledge that can’t save everyone, we can’t lead everyone, and we can’t develop everyone into becoming someone else. We need to realize that we have only three coins in our pocket: Time, Energy, and Money, and how we choose to spend them, as well as who we choose to spend them with, is the key to our growth, success, and happiness. Hence we need to spend our coins wisely. What habits, activities, or relationships simply aren’t healthy enough for you to keep maintaining then? And therefore, what can you eliminate right now which will yield a huge sense of relief in your life?
You deserve self-respect and high self-regard. Hence, taking better care of yourself – every day – is an essential part of this realization. Self-care is what fuels our ability to help others as well as achieve our life goals and vision. And that is why the old adage, “You can’t give from empty pockets,” represents the truth.