Groundhog Day was released in 1993 staring the hilarious Bill Murray. It was about a cynical TV weatherman who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again when he goes on location to the small town of Punxsutawney to film a report about their annual Groundhog Day. His predicament drives him to distraction, until he sees a way of turning the situation to his advantage. Unlike most dentists, he finally wakes up and takes control of his future and changes what he’s doing. Often, when I see a dentist struggle with his or her practice, I also find they have the same problem at home and in their marriage. Challenges are deep seated and follow you everywhere you go. It’s difficult to escape the reality of who you are. Not so long ago, I heard a Pastor use this analogy. I want to take the liberty of paraphrasing it for you here. We could call this “Dental Groundhog Day” or even an “Autobiography of Life. I want to call it Life in Five Short Chapters: A Coaches View of the Doctors We Mentor.
- I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost, I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. I can’t believe I’m in this place. It takes me forever to find my way out.
- I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I didn’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
- I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It is a habit. My eyes are open. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
- I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
- I walk down another street.
Today is the day to walk down a different street. I did it at forty, and you can do it at whatever age or situation you find yourself. It is never too late. You are reading this because you are searching. I am asking you for a commitment of change and engagement in the process. Always consider that everything you do is precisely designed to give you the results you are getting. If you are falling short, feel stressed, or just don’t know what to change, your habits and limiting beliefs are holding you captive. In fact, every practice is working at capacity. You are at the level that your leadership and choices allow you to achieve. If you want more, you will need to do more, make changes, and become accountable for your results regardless of your circumstances. Lose your excuses and find your results.
Why do doctors lament their situation, give lip service to change, but fail to act? There is not one practice out there that cannot change their course. Not enough patients, too high an overhead, can’t find any team members, not enough production, etc. Make a change. The one constant in a small consumer-based business (dentistry) is change. If the customer votes with their feet and you are not growing, something is wrong. Make a change. What if I make the wrong change? It is still better than waiting for the other shoe to fall. Make another change. The human default setting is to move toward success. Fail, get up, and make a change. Fall short the next time, make another change. Each change brings you closer to the solution. Each change adds experience the hard way, but you learn. Each lesson gets you closer to the outcome you want. It is the job of a mentor to help you move more quickly to the solution, to facilitate change, and minimize mistakes. The problem is that many of you won’t change. Those timid souls feel like the pain of the unknown is greater than the disappointment and mediocrity they find themselves in. It is as if you are self-sabotaging your own efforts by finding yourself paralyzed by analysis of a problem that most mentors or coaches run up against every day. You’re the doctor in the scenario above. You keep walking down the same street, and falling in the same hole, but never consider taking a different path. MAKE A CHANGE. It has become a habit, and a habit is just a grave with the ends kicked out. It is not the economy, the demographics, poor marketing or anything else but YOU.
The year began with new goals that quickly fell to the sideline. It happened again. In spite of your best intentions, you forgot, or postponed, or you put it on the back burner till later. But you are busy. You’re just spending all your time planning that great vacation, or new house, or a new hobby. In fact, we statistically spend more time planning a family vacation than we spend on setting and executing goals for our practices. We have prioritized the minor things to the top of our “to do lists” in order to postpone the uncomfortable task of the difficult subject of planning for the future. Time spent on your practice translates into choices for the future. Saving money and expanding your profitability opens avenues that most doctors will never be able to enjoy. It’s as if we believe that there is no hurry, we can always do it tomorrow. Guess what, tomorrow is today, and has been for every day you delay prioritizing your choices in life. No one graduated from dental school hoping and aspiring to be a mediocre dentist with a going nowhere practice with high stress, low productivity, high staff turnover, and few new patients. The super successful begin with the end in mind. They live today but stay future focused. In Robert Hasting’s “The Station”, he makes this comment that is so concise as to define a lot of our circumstances: “It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.”
This may just be me, but it seems like the seasons, or the time of the year dictate our moods and in some ways our motivation. It always seems like the end of December or first of January brings thoughts of renewal. A desire for a fresh start pops to the top our mind. Don’t you always think about losing weight at the first of the year and then by March you figure out some way to let your goal slide or you demean its relevance to the point of unimportance. Your desire to lose weight turns into thinking that because you sweat less than any other fat person you know, that’s good enough. I think we can all think of things related to a birthday, vacation, particular month, or holiday that pushes our goals to the surface or pushes them to the back of the line while replacing them with some less important but more pressing topic that usually won’t mean very much in the cycle of life.
So here we are again. The first quarter of the year is almost gone and once again you’re no closer to your goal of improvement than you were last year. Overhead has gone up, staff are turning over, patients are not calling, productivity has waned, and you never did go to that course that would allow you to add implants, ortho, sedation, whatever. All the grand plans we had at the first of the year for our practice have melted into the constant nag of responsibilities that life throws at us. Once again, we have modified our priority list to eliminate the squeaky wheel. Well, even the great practices and super successful doctors deal with the same problems. We all just have 24 hours in a day. We all deal with the same obligations and problems with the same set of talents and experience any other dentist has. So, what’s the difference in the super achievers and the average doctor? It is systems.
The cycle for all of us begins with an Expectant Positivity where we are excited about implementing change and looking forward to a better result. For a moment we see ourselves the way we want to be. The way we thought we always would end up. That can quickly turn into a Reality of Struggle, where we forget that nothing important comes easily. We all struggle to change our momentum and our direction in order to improve our results. Success is not a matter of talent. Success is a matter of will and persistence. Time is the only variable. Sure, people with natural ability may arrive first, but they lost something by not having to struggle. It’s kind of like taking a trip by plane but arriving without any bags. You drove, and it took longer, but you arrived safe and sound with everything you needed for the trip. Arriving first is just a matter of time. That’s not the important part. The folks that were always the football star or the straight “A” student, where everything came so easily, missed out on the most important part of life. Focus, struggle, desire, and persistence is a legacy that only those who have experienced it learn to truly value what they have. That struggle created a joy and a sense of value and ownership of the process that can never be taken away. So, struggling can be good. This struggle can last months or even years until the “average doctor” enters a familiar area of decisions. This is where the average doctor begins the slow death spiral into Negativity and Acceptance of Failure. Right here, just a short distance from success, we find the Mediocre Majority. This is the road most traveled. Once you enter this area, you live with limiting beliefs that, while not true, become truth to you. For as long as you hold these limiting beliefs, you will struggle, fall short, and resign yourself by shifting the blame for your lack of success to the wrong location, too much competition, a public that doesn’t appreciate your talents, terrible staff, and the wrong economy. This is blame shifted to anything but yourself and your lack of persistence. This Shift of Blame allows you to resign your life to mediocrity. The Shift of Blame is the number one reason for good people to never realize their potential.
Keep in mind that none of these mile markers are destinations. This would include super success. Goal attainment is not a destination either. All of these are transient way points that we all encounter. It is part of a journey. The problem with each of these is that at some point during the year, we get the last of the cycle before it all starts again. This is Desperation Pain. We are back at square one. The pain of realizing that you can’t pay your bills, you will never be able to retire, that you once again failed to launch: Your goals never took off. This is the late November or December of your year or possibly even your life. Reality creates a pain that makes you seek change. This is about the time that you call a coach or make resolutions and formulate goals. You bail yourself out one last time with a credit card and a commitment to do better next year.
As you can see and most of you have experienced, this does not work. So, what do we do? Let’s take a lesson from professional football athletes. They have a diet, trainer, workout schedule, full contact practice, coaching, strategies, and then the actual game. They know everything is important, and while their season may only last 3-4 months, they know the cumulative effect of inactivity on the quality of their performance. Athletes train year-round. They cross train to avoid injuries, they study films and strategies of their opponents, and work with coaches to improve their mental state of readiness. They have a play book that is constantly changing each year in order to ensure success on the field. Nothing is static and nothing is won by inactivity. It takes a person who is in great shape mentally and physically to win each year.
There is still time. There are still changes you can make. This is the time to lose those excuses and find your results. Go back and take a long look at your practice. Restudy your systems, team, and numbers. Then take a quick step in faith to try again. Don’t think that there is always time to do this. Decide that right now is the time to embrace change and recapture your future.
Michael Abernathy, DDS