I had a conversation last week with a young gentleman. He is working in a mostly private practice and I vaguely know his principal from previous educational events.
He wanted to talk about his state of mind as he is – without any warning, and for apparently no reason he could think of – becoming anxious. Worryingly and increasingly so. Perhaps, now with hindsight, there was a warning as several of his friends are experiencing something similar, and a couple are on medication for the same problem.
It’s a huge problem, with our young increasingly reaching for SSRIs, that GPOs seem all too happy to dish out.
In fact, it’s environment and lifestyle choices which are the main causes of anxiety, so to take a tablet and ignore these is simple foolishness.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure how the conversation would go with the young gentleman. As I like talking with people, we simply went for a walk for about an hour. This idea seemed bizarre to him, as if two people talking and walking was a new concept for our species.
Interestingly enough, we didn’t end up talking about anxiety so much as we talked about HIS story, his life and recent changes, and his constant anxiety and overthinking.
This guy is academically strong and finds it easy to remember facts. He is aware that 85% of your success, be that money or job satisfaction, whatever, is determined by your personality and that the most powerful way to represent this is via emotional intelligence and storytelling. (If you don’t believe this then talk to JK Rowling, Tolkien, Dostoyevsky, all the world’s major religions, the best political leaders…anyone at all, really).
He didn’t even know what his own story is, and yet wanted to be adept at telling stories to patients. He had spent zero minutes practising this skill but wanted to be an expert.
After even a short while it was obvious in talking with him that his struggles with his work are NOT the work itself but his own psychological/developmental waves.
He had plenty of lifestyle issues that are well-established, massive risk factors for anxiety, so my response was:
“You’re not sleeping enough, you’re drinking too much, you’re not moving enough, you have almost no contact with the natural world, you binge Netflix at the weekend, you keep hoping things will improve whilst doing almost nothing to make that happen, you’ve been sold the lie that the world cares about you when in reality it truly doesn’t, you can’t talk to girls as you believe there is some universal competition between genders and you think you will lose, you create and build nothing and so have almost no sense of purpose, and you stare at your stupid bloody phone every three minutes…in fact you’ve done it a dozen times since we have been talking. You are so passive it’s toxic. Your growth is impossible when you have become a super-consumer addicted to TV and Amazon. So much so that your response to all forms of stress isn’t to create or upgrade, instead you just consume more…aaaagh!
“Imagine reading a book where the story is the same thing repeated for hundreds of pages, interspersed with occasional moments of drunkeness, awkward and shameful personal intimacy and lots of complaining from the sofa. Dude, that’s your book.
“Lifestyle medicine requires you to educate yourself and take control of your health. Lifestyle medicine means you have to take responsibility.
“Prescription medicine has a pill for every single health issue your lifestyle has created.
“Most people are lazy and scared of looking inwardly. So lazy and so scared that it’s impossible for them to realise they are the authors of their own pain…So they take a pill.”
His response: “But I read a lot; I’m a voracious reader.”
Yes, but you cannot think for yourself, cannot rely on your own estimation of things, cannot make decisions.
The main issue: he’s OVERTHINKING.
And it’s affecting everything he is doing. Because he isn’t doing. Action virtually always beats inaction—particularly when it comes to fighting anxiety and stress. And have no doubt, dentistry can be very, very stressful.
Raheel and I get a lot of contact from young men who deal with types of overthinking. It takes on many forms; anxiety is the most common; others are paralysis by analysis, decision fatigue, fear of failure.
There are three critical issues with this:
1) This is antithesis of leadership: It’s impossible to be decisive, be relied upon, be trustworthy when you operate this way—patients detect this in a heartbeat. They don’t want to be dominated, but you leading them to the path of healthiness and happiness is very desirable.
2) It halts your evolution in life: Life is built by action; thoughts are meaningless without
3) You’re undermining yourself constantly. Measured, calm masculinity is strength.
Replete, calm femininity is strength. Anxiety is weakness. No one wants to put their
trust in an anxious man.
Overthinking can even take on a form of narcissism:
-“What if I mess up? What will people think??”
-“What if I make the wrong decision, and then other people beat me.”
-“I’d feel so ashamed to be judged by X.”
The irony? No one gives a fudge about you in most situations. You’re making yourself the imaginary centre of attention.
Overthinking to this level is such an utter waste of mental/emotional energy, and the problem is entirely self-created.
There is no magical formula for breaking out of this. You need the self-awareness to call yourself out on this, or come and talk about strategies that fix this with us both. To be honest, with a little help it’s easy as you already know all the answers.
E.g. Do you want to sleep well or badly? Do you want to be healthy or unhealthy? Do you want to learn predictable dentistry or just hope you get lucky sometimes? Do you want to learn the emotional intelligence and communication techniques that enhance your career, or stay in the dark and hope it magically gets better?
Action > Everything that is not action
And here is the really tough part. There are things in life that you value. Those values are unique to you. You love these things, and so you choose them. Those choices and decisions become your action. Your actions ARE YOU. The world and everyone in it then reacts back to your actions. This feels like how the world treats you. Now, working backwards, how you feel about the world and how it presents itself to you is largely because of your choices.
You value doughnuts and binge drinking, you choose them and act by eating doughnuts and going on a bender . Your actions make you less physically attractive than you wish, and the world reacts back to your appearance. The mirror isn’t kind, neither is the lycra. You feel sad. You chose to feel sad.
I don’t write this to belittle or harm you but just to help you and me accept that who you are, all your past, every little bit of it is of you and within you. Don’t fight that, as you are fighting you. Liberate and change, sure, but not in conflict with yourself.
You are a smart person. Dentists are clever, but you are not smart because you can think things to death. Your researching is pointless, you’re not that smart, and you have comparatively ZERO actual life experience, which makes your hesitancy all the more inappropriate.
Anxiety is something you ARE, it’s not something you “have”.
Be a person of ACTION and take pride in your actions and upgrades.
Not one who watches and thinks and watches and thinks.
Your nervousness cannot be what leads you.
Twenty minutes of walking, yoga, journaling, affection, walking in sunlight, being in nature, lifting weights, taking part in a professional discussion, is better than 0 minutes.
Zero minutes of watching news feeds, social media, toxic people, binge consumption, is better than 20 minutes.
All of this is why we have spent many hours building communication and psychology into the fabric of an intensely hands-on course. Our delegates value it so much.
Our feedback makes that abundantly clear.
And on the subject of taking action and being in the moment, I’ll leave you with the words of Achilles:
“The Gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
Be the best person you can be right now. It will translate into you being the best dentist you can be right now. Every single day you can be better. We’ll help. We’re good at it.
See you soon on our upcoming Advanced Operative Aesthetic and Restorative Dentistry (PgCERT)!