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Living and working with intention

June 1, 2003
To do something with intention is to bring purpose and awareness to the process. It is a way of living that unites authenticity with action.

by Lori Northcutt, RDH

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Dentistry is an intense and demanding profession which can leave many of us stressed out and wondering, "Is that all there is?" Rivers of information flood our senses and technology changes faster than we can manage. Clinical courses expound on the latest and best dental materials and techniques. Practice management programs promise, "less stress, more profitability." Time, energy, and money invested in addressing these issues is always well spent, yet after 22 years in dentistry, both as a dental hygiene clinician in a variety of settings from pedo to perio, and as a practice management consultant, I see many dental professionals searching for something more.

So what is that "something more" and how do we access it? I suggest "Living and Working with Intention." I define this as a way of integrating and engaging both your heart and mind in all aspects of your life's journey. To do something with intention is to bring purpose and awareness to the process. Bridging the place between our authentic self — "who we are" — and consciously bringing action to that — "what we do" — is living and working with intention. By living and working with intention, you experience a fullness and wholeness in life.

This is more than creating a highly profitable dental business with well-managed systems, and more than a satisfying home life. It is a way of living that unites authenticity with action and brings more positive relationships with loved ones, patients, and your team, more satisfaction and success from your work, and a deeper sense of connection and purpose.

Awareness is the first step

The first step in creating this intention is awareness. Honestly reflecting on your life's experiences and looking for the learning is true self-mastery and awareness. Commit to spending 30 minutes of quiet time each day for two weeks. During that time, create a timeline of your life. Start with childhood and project 20 or 30 years into the future. Create five-year increments and note the important happenings during those times. Then ask yourself some questions. These questions should pertain to developing an understanding about the patterns in your life, your current situation, and your vision for the future.

Some examples might be:
Why did I make that choice?
What was driving my decision?
What type of goals did I have in mind?
What was I experiencing in my personal life?
How do I want my life to look in the future?
Do I allow all aspects of my self to shine through?
What is my financial situation?
Who am I surrounding myself with?
Am I living and working in the right geographical location?

Reflect on your answers to these questions ... then ask yourself three more questions to create a "Statement of Intention." As you answer the questions, allow plenty of time for all thoughts to bubble up, and write as much as you can about each question.

1What are your talents?
2 What are you passionate about?
3 What environment feels most natural to you?

After you have written and thought about these questions, take the top three answers in each category and create your own Statement of Intention. For example, "My intention in life is to utilize my talents of (list your talents) to (your passion) in an environment of (your natural environment). This exercise helps you identify and become aware of your personal, internally-defined definition for the good life; living and working in the place you belong, with the people you love; doing the right work, on purpose.

The second key is balance

At this point, you have accessed awareness about the past and present and created intention about your future. Another key element for living and working with intention is balance. With the pace of life today, it is easy to fracture the pieces of your life into separate categories, experiencing only parts of yourself in each role you play: dentist, boss, spouse, parent, community member — the list goes on. By compartmentalizing our lives, and over-committing to activities, our health suffers — not just physical health, but emotional, financial, and spiritual health as well. Handling the various tasks of the day, going from one thing to the next, leaves us physically exhausted and emotionally empty. We use caffeine, sugar (I rarely see a dental office without a coffee maker and sugary treats in the staff lounge), and stress-induced adrenaline to get through the day, multi-task through dinner, and fall into bed after midnight. I am suggesting integrating your whole self, with your whole life, and prioritizing responsibilities for a sense of balance and meaning in your life that is richer and more satisfying.

What you're doing versus what you want to do

To create balance in your life, make a list of the roles you engage regularly. Under each heading, write the activities and responsibilities of that role. Then, compare this list with your statement of intention. Decide which activities and responsibilities you will eliminate or delegate to experience greater balance and satisfaction. In many cases, in order to move forward, we have to leave something behind. Chances are you have roles and activities that you participate in without a sense of joy or meaning. By consciously choosing your roles and activities, you will be living with intention. The sense of meaning and value will be inherent in the remaining areas because they are integrated with what you have identified as activities and responsibilities that are important to you.

In his book, "Eternal Echoes," John O'Donohue says so eloquently, "When your way of belonging in the world is truthful to your nature and your dreams, your heart finds contentment and your soul finds stillness. You are able to participate fully in the joy and adventure of exploration, and your life opens up for living joyfully, powerfully, and tenderly."

Awareness and balance are just two of the multi-dimensional facets of living and working with intention. A few of the other facets include presence, power, health and leadership. By exploring, defining, and creating actionable plans in these areas, unimaginable rewards will be created in your dental practice and in your life.

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