8 habits for mental strength: Being mentally fit for dental patients develops self-confidence

Dec. 24, 2015
A mentally strong person can shift this negative energy into a more positive self-dialogue. Your dental patient is fearful and nervous of what is going on. She does not like to have you in her personal zone, and the dental chair is the last place she wants to be.

Dorothy Garlough

We all know that the tone, strength, and flexibility of our bodies are directly related to the exercises we do. Creating a fitness routine and following a healthy diet are the best insurance we have to sustain our physical health. Successful professionals focus on more than physical health, however; they make it a habit to strengthen their mental capacities, as well.

An internationally recognized expert on mental strength, Amy Morin, says the best leaders pay attention to what they think and to where they invest their energy. They understand that they cannot change everything, and by focusing their thoughts and skills pointedly, they orchestrate change to make a difference wherever they can. Hygienists and other leaders who practice the following habits gain greater agility, strength, and clarity in their thinking.

Prioritize what is key to success. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed with your clinical schedule, and it can be easy to become distracted throughout the day. Suppose the schedule is packed, so you are tempted to forgo sharpening your instruments prior to seating your patient. Additionally, a team member has asked that you take an emergency patient's X-rays prior to the doctor's exam.

In situations like this, the best leaders will manage their time and energy carefully, devoting their efforts toward what matters most-the patient in the chair. They recognize that their efficiency and the patient's comfort are directly impacted by the sharpness of their instruments, so they see sharpening as a priority. They are happy to help with emergency patients, but they are clear and direct if they feel that the quality of care is at risk of being compromised.

Reframe thoughts from negative to positive. Everyone has a bad day occasionally, and even the most upbeat people have negative thoughts at times. Perhaps a nervous patient keeps pulling away from you as you perform a routine examination. She jumps a foot in the air when you air-dry a tooth, causing you to wonder if she might hit the roof and create a skylight in your operatory. You find yourself thinking that she is a wimp with no tolerance whatsoever. Given your busy schedule, you are becoming annoyed and impatient.

A mentally strong person can shift this negative energy into a more positive self-dialogue. Your patient is fearful and nervous of what is going on. She does not like to have you in her personal zone, and the dental chair is the last place she wants to be. By consciously observing your thoughts, you can reframe your harsh criticism of the patient into productive self-talk. With intention, you can take on the role of a coach or a good friend and determine that you are here to offer care to all of your patients.

Work toward goals. Successful hygienists have clear goals-both professionally and personally-and they recognize that achieving those goals is a process. These goals give meaning and purpose to their work, making it fulfilling for them. They take Thomas Jefferson's mantra about "continuous self-improvement" to heart, and they recognize that the journey toward their goals is a vital part of the process. They can set short-term gains aside in order to achieve their long-term goals. The mentally strong view obstacles and objections as challenges, and they know that these challenges are teaching them valuable skills.

Maybe you wish to add to your hygiene education, but you cannot find the time to devote a year to your education. Consider taking courses online. Recognize that, while this approach may take longer, it better suits your lifestyle, and you can be happy that you are making progress.

Reflect on progress. Proactive hygienists keep an eye on goals to ensure that they are moving closer to their desired results. These forward-thinkers spend time in self-reflection, examining what it is that they do well, but they also honestly assess where they need improvement.

If you have given the same spiel to a patient dozens of times and you know that the patient has tuned out and is no longer hearing you, reflect on your goals in giving the spiel. You might see that you need to approach the issue from a different angle, using different language, in order to achieve the desired effect. The mentally strong hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and maintain high expectations of themselves in order to improve conditions for themselves and others.

Tolerate discomfort for a greater purpose. Some people will avoid stressful situations at all costs. Perhaps you have a pushy patient who is trying to dictate his desires to you. Even though he has progressing periodontal disease, he only wishes to visit the office for annual periodontal therapy, as opposed to following your quarterly recommendation. He is difficult, and he pushes back against everything you say. You may be tempted to shut down and stop trying to educate him.

While you cannot force your patient to follow your professional advice, you can choose to enter into an uncomfortable conversation about why he comes to see you in the first place. A mentally strong person will recognize this as an opportunity to address the situation for the greater purpose of providing care. Even if you hate confrontation, you can use this pain to become a better communicator and stronger influencer.

Practice gratitude. You can't be at your best if you think you are being treated unfairly and deserve better (although it may be true in certain instances). The mentally fit acknowledge that they have everything they need. They express gratitude for what they have, and they know that they can create the tomorrow of their dreams by believing in themselves and remaining flexible. They are methodical and consistent in peppering their lives with actions that are founded in self-confidence and an attitude of gratitude.

Balance emotions. The mentally strong recognize that emotions directly impact how they feel, but they balance their emotions with logic. It is true that you live the way you feel, but by stepping away from your emotions and looking at your circumstances from a different perspective, you'll improve your ability to navigate difficult situations.

For example, imagine that a coworker has been sharp with you over the past few weeks. She is reactive, and your first response is to lash out against what you feel is a personal onslaught. Instead of inflaming the situation further, the mentally strong analyze their emotions and calmly and directly address the issue with the coworker. Learning of the stress in your teammate's life will not only help you understand the issue, but it will also alert her to the fact that her behavior is upsetting you.

Adhere to values. The mentally strong will not compromise their values for herd mentality. They know what their values are, and they adhere to a personal code of ethics. Competition is not their motivation, and beating others is not their focus. They find fulfillment by staying true to their values-including those values that others may not understand. At the end of the day, they do not ask themselves if they won but if they succeeded in staying true to their values.

Perhaps the last patient of the day is late by 30 minutes due to an accident on the highway. She is scheduled for X-rays, a periodontal screening, and periodontal therapy. With no flexibility to reschedule her, you decide to proceed with the procedures. Soon, other staff members who want to go home are pacing in front of your operatory. Do you shortchange your patient on a procedure, or do you suggest that your teammates go home with the promise that you can perform the tasks required to close the office?

When habits of mental fitness are formed, your self-awareness and confidence will grow. You become an authentic person when you say what you mean and mean what you say, increasing your power. As Leonardo da Vinci said, "One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself." RDH

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change in both the dental and corporate worlds. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected].