3.9.12 Issue #522 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Willpower vs. Willingness
Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

Many people believe they could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower. With more self-control we would all eat right, exercise regularly, stop procrastinating, and achieve all sorts of noble goals. So when we don't follow through with positive changes in our lives, we attribute it to a lack of willpower - which is considered a sign of weakness. This leads to negative feelings, so ultimately you give up and go back to the bad habit. You quit music or language lessons. You tell yourself there's nothing you can do to be a better leader. After all, you're either born that way or you're not.

Trusting in willpower to alter habits or to motivate you to improve is akin to believing in the tooth fairy. Certainly the emotions you experience at the onset are exciting. You feel hopeful. But it takes more than good feelings to modify behaviors and thoughts. It's not easy or quick. It takes discipline and time. The positive enthusiasm fades as the reality of hard work sets in.

Human beings are programmed to maintain homeostasis. Change disrupts that balance and we actually fight the process, even if the end result is desirable to us. Brain chemistry and complex interactions between genes take hold, producing internal roadblocks to success. Fortunately you do not have to be a helpless victim of your physiology. 

It isn’t willpower but willingness to learn and grow that is key to developing yourself as a leader and taking your practice to its fullest potential. Dentists are notoriously perfectionists. On the positive side, this bodes well for precision, accuracy, 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. Recognize and accept that learning or doing something new is uncomfortable.

Research indicates that agile learners thrive in new and difficult situations. They are clear thinkers who know themselves well and are willing to take risks. They have a curiosity about their world and they apply new knowledge. Most importantly, and not surprisingly, agile learners deliver results - even in new situations.

This is the standard to which all leaders need to strive, particularly in these difficult financial times in which we live and work. Effective leaders understand that people need both information and time to accept change. They also realize that they can't wait forever to get everyone onboard. So, they break big changes into small pieces that people are willing to accept more quickly. By moving in stages, effective leaders move their organizations with steady forward progress instead of periodic quantum leaps.

Building a record of quick, early wins helps people accept the upsets that will happen on the way to success. Effective leaders understand the power of momentum - either positive or negative. They break changes into small pieces then pick their first move because it has a high-probability of success. By breaking big changes into bite-sized pieces, effective leaders set themselves up to build positive momentum. They know that an early failure or setback can create more resistance later - even if they overcome the initial setback.

The goal is to improve implementation. Here are some strategies to get you into action and help you maintain momentum. Make a list every morning on a 3x5” index card. These are 3-5 priority actions that can be accomplished easily and quickly. Carry the card with you through the day and look at it frequently (at least once every couple of hours).

  • Do only one task at a time and fully focus on what you are doing. Consider a 10 minute plan. Set a timer and work on something for just 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, switch to something else if you want (chances are you may get so involved you will keep going). Reset your timer for the next 10 minutes.
  • Keep track of your accomplishments and celebrate your success at the end of the day (track your completed tasks on a weekly basis). 
  • Pay attention to the language of your thought processes. Be encouraging rather than self-defeating. Telling yourself “I’ve got to get more organized so I don’t feel overloaded” can be restated as “By being more organized, I will have more free time for golfing and sailing” (or whatever your recreational passion might be).
  • Schedule planning time and write it in your calendar. Keep these time segments small. Start with 10 minutes of uninterrupted thinking time. Use the timer mentioned above.
  • Accept that there is no perfection. Establish deadlines on your “data gathering” time. Most of life’s daily decisions are not life-and-death. Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. And remember, even if you make a less-than-perfect choice, you are masterful at adapting.
  • Expect some setbacks. If you don’t complete your five priorities of the day, commit to doing better tomorrow. Remember that everything will take longer than you thought. Be realistic and patient.

Forget about willpower. Make a commitment to learning and stay the course.

Dr. Haller is available to coach you to higher levels of performance in your practice. Contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com.

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

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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