Our relationship with ourselves

The most important conversations that you will ever have are the ones that you have with yourself ... and you have them all day long, 365 days a year. Some of them are on purpose, most of them are not.

Edwin A. McDonald, DDS

The most important conversations that you will ever have are the ones that you have with yourself ... and you have them all day long, 365 days a year. Some of them are on purpose, most of them are not. All of them are steeped in memories that have become your definition of yourself. The resulting beliefs serve as the filter through which you experience the world around you. Memories form the framework for the most influential relationship you have — the one you have with yourself.

As dentists, we rely on absolute reference points in planning the restoration of a dentition to health and stability from a condition of disease and destruction. Those reference points serve as unchanging points of light, as stars are to a navigator. Similarly, memories of yourself serve as reference points from which your life unfolds. If your past experiences have been based in abundance, then you will operate from a position of strength. Conversely, if your past experiences have been based in scarcity and fear, you will experience your life from positions of weakness and hesitation. If you want your life to unfold in a new and expanded way, you must program new memories and beliefs into the self-referencing, navigational computer that is your mind.

A well-known story about circus elephants powerfully illustrates this point. At a very young age, circus elephants are chained to a small stake to confine them. After repeated efforts, they eventually learn that they are powerless to break free. As fully grown and very strong animals, their trainers use the same size chain and stake to restrain them. How is this possible? It's simple. They don't know who they are and thus they don't know how much power they possess. Neither do most of us. When you know who you are, the chains of self-limiting beliefs can't bind you. What chains are limiting you?

The absolutely essential element in living and practicing at your maximum potential is a profound view of yourself as being the kind of person that sees, thinks, and acts in a highly competent, significant, and confident way, even if you don't yet possess all of the knowledge, skills, and experience required. Your task is to intentionally create experiences that build three essential motivating feelings: competence, significance, and inclusion. This will change what is possible for you.

How do you begin changing reference points by intent? First, you observe the experiences that build feelings of competence, significance, and inclusion in yourself. Then you partake in more of them. Second, you eliminate things which have the opposite effect. For example, when I do an equilibration for a patient, I feel very competent because it is highly beneficial to the patient, it is difficult to do well, and it requires real focus. I spent a lot of time and effort intentionally developing the knowledge and skills for this procedure so I could competently do it for all my patients. You can identify the kinds of things that will provide joy for you.

You can seek out the finest clinicians in your arena and copy what they do. As art imitates life, we become what we do. The more that we live out excellence in even the most basic things of clinical practice, the more we become excellent, and the more we view ourselves as excellent. On many occasions, I have told my team there is no reason we can't consistently produce the finest articulated casts in the world. It's amazing how much competence and confidence can be built doing one small thing exceptionally well. We are free to do our best when we communicate positively with ourselves and expect much of ourselves.

Many people have given generously of their time and knowledge on my journey toward mastery. It will take many more for me to get there.

Dr. Edwin A. McDonald graduated from the University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston in 1980. He has been in private practice in Texas since 1983. Dr. McDonald serves on the Board of Directors and is a Visiting Faculty member of The Pankey Institute. He is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry. He is a member of the American Dental Association, Texas Dental Association, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the Texas Academy of Dental Practice Administration, where he served as president. He lectures and presents to study groups throughout the United States. He can be reached at mcdonalddds@hotmail.com.

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