Aug. 1, 2005
There are certain years that compel us to spend more time on introspection. The other night, a good friend of mine told me of the changes he is going to make in his life.

There are certain years that compel us to spend more time on introspection. The other night, a good friend of mine told me of the changes he is going to make in his life.

Over the last few years, he has spent quite a bit of time traveling and lecturing on dentistry, and he has decided that he is taking too much time away from his family. While he cited many reasons for his recent bout of introspection, prominent on the list was another birthday with a zero on the end of it. Happy birthday, Jay!

Where am I going? What am I doing? Am I on the right path? These are universal questions that are asked far more often than they are answered. When the big 50 is staring you in the face, these questions tend to get answered.

When you are a newly minted dentist with big debts to pay and a seemingly endless career ahead of you, these questions often take a back seat to the imperative of earning a living. I believe failing to ask these questions - and failing to act on the answers - is a major factor in “burnout” in our profession. I have read many different perspectives on goal-setting, and I have come up with a very simple process which works for me. It has changed my life, and I believe it can change yours.

The goal-setting process

Step 1: Brainstorm all of the goals you can think of, and write them down. Absolutely do not edit your list at this time! Write down every idea as it comes. Set a 10 to 15 minute time limit for this process.

Step 2:Categorize your list on the basis of time and category. Times are one, three, five, 10, and 20 years. The categories I use are “financial,” “professional,” “health,” “family,” “spiritual,” and “experiential.”

Step 3: Take a mulligan. If you have a category or a time frame that is under-represented, do some more brainstorming.

Step 4: Edit your list. Select three to five goals in each time period and designate them as your primary goals. I believe your overall happiness will be best served if you have some balance in your categories.

Goal-setting ground rules

Step 0: Believe in yourself and dream big. For as much as you care for your patients and as hard as you work, you deserve to be well-rewarded.

Many of us sabotage our own success because we do not believe we deserve the success we have created. This is Step 0 because if we don’t believe we deserve it, we will never achieve our goals.

Step 1: Update your goals at least yearly. What is important to you changes over time. Make an appointment with yourself to spend some time on introspection before major life events reveal you have failed to plan.

Step 2: Share your goals with those who will support you. I never came close to submitting anything I wrote for publication until I told my mentor I wanted to be a writer. Accountability empowers you to achieve great things.

Step 3: Look at your goals daily and carry them with you. I can guarantee that you have many less important pieces of paper in your wallet. I keep a set of goals posted inside the door of my armoire. Every morning, I see them and know that the new day is another chance to make progress on my goals. This can really “jump-start” your day.

Step 4: Celebrate every victory. Every time you achieve a goal, you must give yourself a reward. Take your spouse on a romantic weekend or throw a party where you can toast the achievement of one of your life’s goals. You also could buy yourself a small gift. If the goal you achieved is big enough, the gift might be a new Porsche! When you follow this plan, your life will be punctuated by a series of rewards acknowledging your success.

When I was in dental school, my goal was to get out. Once I got out of dental school, my goal was to get paid for being a dentist. These goals are not good enough to support you during a lifetime of dental practice. I thought I would worry about it later, but “later” didn’t come until I had let over a decade slide by. I believe that goal-setting is the foundation for your happiness as a dentist. I wasted many years of my life by failing to focus on my goals. Do not make the same mistake I did. Begin the goal-setting process today!

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130, or e-mail to [email protected].

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