Embracing mindfulness in your practice and personal life will be good for your health—and perhaps even your bottom line.
COULD IT BE that by slowing down you might actually speed up your production? Maybe. One of my wise front-desk employees once asked me, “If you don’t have time to do it right in the first place, when will you have time to do it over?” I still think of that question 20 years later when the fury of the day hits me and I just want to get my restorative cases finished in a flash.
Flash, indeed, is exactly what hits me when I rush. I end up leaving flash along the contacts of my fillings, and then I spend 10 extra minutes filing them down, flossing them, catching and breaking floss, then filing them down some more until I get a smooth surface. Had I simply placed an extra wedge or noticed the small gap between the band and the margin in the first place, I would have saved myself all that time.
I am, I find, less rushed as I get older. I guess you can credit wisdom for that, but I also credit something else: mindfulness training. Prior to learning about mindfulness-based stress reduction, I often felt the pressure of the dental frenzy build within. I felt patients’ expectations personally. I felt team obligations climb onto my shoulders. I felt daily pressure to be perfect.
Although I feel some of those things still, I don’t feel them to the degree I used to. I can thank Duke University’s training courses on mindfulness-based stress reduction for health-care professionals. They introduced me to people like Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of mindfulness, and other amazing teachers of a more mindful way of living.
What is mindfulness? It’s awareness. And it comes, according to Kabat-Zinn, “by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.” Along with my training, I picked up ways to meditate. Meditation offers a sense of calmness I rarely felt prior to my training. Our lives are crammed with activities, decisions and financial obligations. How we react greatly influences the amount of stress we carry.
Stress affects our health, of course—but not just our health. It has an impact on our families, too, and on our relationships with employees and patients. It therefore affects practice finances. So perhaps it does mean we’ll make more money if we’re more mindful.
I can’t guarantee that, of course, but I can guarantee you’ll be able to manage your life a little better. Mindfulness training taught me to make space in my life by neither thinking too far ahead nor living too much in the past. I savor the present moment more now. I let go of mistakes more easily, and I let (some of) my future unfold without tightly controlled scheduling. It’s a relief.
A mindful way of life is not easy. I have to practice every day with pauses, meditation, self-talk and yoga. The urge to compete, do more and be more sneaks into my brain every day. I balance those admittedly motivational, useful thoughts with mindfulness, so I can accept more, listen more and be present more with my patients, team members and family.
If you’re looking for more balance and less stress, it may be time to seek a more mindful approach to living. You might make more money. More importantly, you may even make a longer, healthier, happier life. •
DR. LISA KNOWLES is a dentist in East Lansing, Michigan. She also speaks nationally on mindfulness-based stress reduction for health-care professionals, eco-friendly dentistry, restoring teeth and the team, and oral/systemic issues beyond 32 teeth. Her website is Beyond32Teeth.com.