11.6.09 Issue #400 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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Leadership Lesson 101: Changing Habits Will Make You Gag

Reflexes are involuntary physiological responses. They are hardwired into our nervous system. You have no choice because nerve receptors react to stimuli. The gag reflex is an example. Although habits are voluntary behaviors, they are similar to reflexes. Think about all the things you do automatically. I doubt you gave much thought to driving to your office today. The complexity you felt as a 16 year old has receded into the background of your consciousness. Now you navigate all those intricate steps comfortably, frequently without much thought.

As we age, the ability to adapt and move outside our comfort zone becomes more difficult.  But if you don’t force yourself to grow, you will never achieve the highest level of performance. Many dentists who are in their own comfort zone will not challenge themselves, even though they know that they could achieve a lot more. They tell themselves that it’s too time consuming or counterproductive to upset the "apple cart," so they stay with the status quo. The upshot is average performance and average results.

When it comes to developing more effective leadership skills, you must be willing to experience the G.A.G. – Going Against the Grain. New actions require intentionality, energy and discomfort. You will feel awkward at best. Yet the more you deliberately practice new behaviors, the greater your potential to take your practice to the next level. Dentists are notorious perfectionists. On the positive side, this bodes well for precision, accuracy, and follow-through. However, perfectionists are fearful of uncertainty or ambiguity, of giving up control and letting go. They demand immediate results from themselves (and others), and are unwilling to go out on a limb and take the chance of being embarrassed. Unfortunately, this prevents true learning.

Many of us prefer to stay in the comfort zone and then, over time, the comfort zone becomes more uncomfortable than ever before. How ironic! The act of avoidance that offers a temporary sense of security becomes unrelenting insecurity. And, thus a disabling condition of stagnation sets in. If you don't step out of your comfort zone and face your fears, the number of situations that make you uncomfortable will keep growing. Over time, you run the risk of feeling "surrounded" by previously avoided situations. It is difficult to go against the grain. Here then are some ways to make learning easier to swallow:

  1. Recognize and accept that learning or doing something new is uncomfortable. The discomfort is normal. While it’s natural to want to avoid that feeling, commit to do one thing differently each day.
  2. Manage your emotions and your mood state. Anger, worries, doubts, depression, and other negative emotions interfere with learning and performance. Practice deep breathing when you feel overwhelmed and pressured. 
  3. Be sure you maintain healthy habits. Exercise, eat nutritionally, and get sufficient sleep. The stronger you are physically, the faster you will incorporate the new learning.
  4. Mentally and emotionally, prepare yourself for the change by anticipating what it will be like. Visualize the completion of your goal and imagine experiencing the adrenalin rush of the "I did it" feeling. Envision the benefits of a smoother running office, more income, and more time off to spend on recreational activities. 
  5. Nurture self-confidence. Your thoughts shape your future. Almost all anxious thoughts are irrational. Instead of worrying about possible failures and slip-ups, recognize your strengths. Remember times when you have succeeded. Reflect on experiences when you overcame adversity.
  6. Give yourself “time out” from learning. Build in time to escape through music, games, or reading. 
  7. Get support from family and friends. Get a mentor or hire a coach. Learning is hard work and you need encouragement. Feeling connected with others also reduces inner tension. 
  8. Avoid regret or self-blame. It will only prevent new learning.
  9. Use humor. Norman Cousins said that laughing is "inner jogging." He called it a work out. Several studies show that laughing lessens the need for pain medication and shortens recuperation time. 
  10. Celebrate progress. Reward yourself when positive change happens. By recognizing even small accomplishments, you build motivation to sustain learning. 

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

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