How to do everything better

Dental patients come to a dentist with many needs. People ask that the dentist and staff be caring, honest, competent, responsible, attentive, possess integrity, and help them to deal with their anxiety and fear. But there is one special quality the dentist and staff must have to satisfy the patient`s needs. This basic quality is the ability to devote full attention to each moment. If the dentist can focus fully on each task, the patient will receive the most capable care the dentist can provid

MARVIN MANSKY, DDS

There are basics to everything. With dentistry, attention to detail is imperative.

Dental patients come to a dentist with many needs. People ask that the dentist and staff be caring, honest, competent, responsible, attentive, possess integrity, and help them to deal with their anxiety and fear. But there is one special quality the dentist and staff must have to satisfy the patient`s needs. This basic quality is the ability to devote full attention to each moment. If the dentist can focus fully on each task, the patient will receive the most capable care the dentist can provide.

Mastering quality treatment skills is necessary. Staff and financial-management skills are necessary. Also essential is developing a "connected feeling" between dentist and patient. By eliminating mental distractions and focusing fully, most tasks needed for these skills can be accomplished faster, more successfully, with less stress, and with greater personal satisfaction.

Distractions limit effectiveness in accomplishing goals. In an office situation, poorly organized office systems, financial difficulties, difficult patient-staff interactions, dentist or patient anxiety, psychological problems, personal problems, or physical problems can cause distractions.

The dentist`s training and experience qualify him or her as an expert in gathering information, making clinical diagnoses, and providing treatment. The patient is best served when the patient`s concerns are taken into consideration. By discovering what a patient thinks and feels, a dentist can present information and treatment in a manner that is appropriate for that patient.

The dentist also has the responsibility to do a competent examination, to present his or her findings in a manner the patient understands, and to support the patient in wanting to become healthy. If a treatment plan, unilaterally developed without patient input, is rejected, it can become a serious distraction to the dentist`s attentiveness. This is especially true if the dentist perceives this as a rebuff to his or her good intentions. It is more helpful for the dentist to acknowledge that his or her recommendations lack pertinence in the patient`s life at that moment. A later moment may find the patient more receptive and appreciative of well-intended support. Distrac-tions can develop from making unconfirmed assumptions about the patient, when genuineness is lacking, when the patient is not respected, and when the dentist does not have the patient`s best interests at heart.

A special benefit of focusing fully is that it can lead to a Flow State. "Flow" is a word coined by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-sent-mil-hi) to describe the state occurring when a person undergoes a peak experience. Being effortlessly focused and fully absorbed in a challenging task is characteristic of a peak experience. Skills equal to the challenges presented and high-level concentration with an immersed feeling describe the peak experience. A moment-to-moment awareness is present in the Flow State as time flies, self-consciousness disappears, and problems are forgotten. The flow experience itself becomes a worthy part of the goal. It is during this state that a person feels happy, in control, and at peace.

Each of us focuses fully at certain times. If something doesn`t immediately come to mind, try climbing or walking on large rocks. Inattentiveness in a dangerous situation, even for a moment, can mean injury or death. Even easily distractible people can negotiate dangerous terrain when survival is dependent on the ability to focus.

The ability to focus fully on each task has many benefits:

Y Increased success in any task

Y Decreased stress

Y Tasks are accomplished more completely within the time available.

Y Many different tasks can be handled sequentially, with less stress.

Y The achievement of a Flow State

Y Increased control and a feeling of well-being

Y Full attention to each moment is a prerequisite to feeling connected with others. When both the treating professional and patient feel connected, the patient feels safe and protected and the treating professional wants to provide the best care possible. This is a classic win-win situation.

Y Increased ability to be aware of moment-to-moment changes in another person`s responses. This is necessary for effective communication.

Y The ability to select relevant bits of information, to evaluate the information, and to choose the right thing to do.

For most of us, the ability to be more attentive to any task can increase with "intention" and training. Increasing the ability to focus attention requires the following:

(1) Having the intention to increase your attention

(2) The ability to give attention to your attention - i.e., the ability to increase your awareness when your mind wanders

(3) The ability to return your attention to the task that you were focused on when you realized you were distracted

The attention-focusing exercise on Page xx is a tool for increasing your attention level. The benefit of improving your attention-focusing skill is that, in a relatively short time, you can do everything better.

Practice this exercise. Once you consistently are aware of when your mind wanders - and when you can bring your mind back to what you want to focus on - then begin to focus your attention on any current task, instead of your stomach rising and falling. For example, if you are preparing a crown and become aware that your mind has wandered, bring your attention back to the crown being prepared. If you are interviewing a new patient and become aware that your mind has wandered, bring your attention back to the interview with the new patient.

The ability to keep your mind consistently focused on a task that you currently are working on offers many benefits. You will increase the number of tasks that can be accomplished. Task control and more successful outcomes will become common. You will feel more connected with others and have a greater awareness of what another person is thinking and feeling. And last, but not least, you will have a feeling of well-being that results from doing a stress-reducing, meditative-type exercise throughout the day.

These benefits will provide you with an incentive to continue your efforts to increase your attention-focusing ability. This exercise truly affords you an opportunity to do everything better.

Attention-focusing exercise

(1) Sit quietly in a comfortable position and loosen any tight clothing.

(2) Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing.

(3) Breathe deeply, hold your breath for a moment, and then exhale slowly and completely. Do this three times, letting your exhalation symbolize the tension leaving your body.

(4) Now, give your full attention to your stomach rising and falling. Expect your mind to wander. It will. As soon as you recognize your mind has wandered, bring your attention back to your stomach rising and falling. Do not concern yourself with the depth or speed of your breathing.

(5) If you have a problem keeping your attention on your stomach rising and falling, tell yourself "up" when your stomach rises, and "down" as your stomach goes down.

(6) Continue this exercise for 15-20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time. Do not use an alarm or you will unconsciously prepare for the ringing of the alarm.

- When you finish, sit quietly for a few minutes. Keep your eyes closed and, after a minute, open them. Do not stand up immediately.

The goal of this exercise is to be able to focus your attention on your attention. The idea is to raise your awareness, so you know when your mind has wandered.

Bring your attention back to your stomach as soon as you realize your mind has wandered. Practice this exercise until you are comfortable bringing your attention back to your attention.

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