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S3 EP05: Let’s Talk about Perfectionism and Mental Wellness
The pressure to be perfect that we put on ourselves, and how it impacts our mental health.
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Let’s Talk about Perfectionism and Mental Wellness
Join us as we explore the fine line between being great at what we do and taking perfectionism a little too far. It’s no secret that dentists are perfectionists - in school, in our jobs, in our lives. We’re talking about the pressures we put on ourselves, how that pressure impacts our mental health, and strategies for fighting the urge to pursue perfection.
Special Guest: Dr. Erick Block
Featured Guest: Dr. Anna Craig, clinical psychologist
“You realize real quick that there's no teacher there to bail you out and you're not under the umbrella of the school, you're in the real world, and mistakes and failures are gonna happen, and that you can't be perfect. There's no such thing as the perfect dentist, and I think that the earlier you can learn that in your career, the better off you'll be for the long term.”
- Dr. Erick Block
In this episode of the Dental Sound Bites Podcast, we explore the fine line between taking perfectionism too far, and how that pressure impacts our mental health and could lead to burnout.
Our guest for this episode is Dr. Eric Block, a full-time practicing dentist from Acton, Massachusetts. He is the co-founder of the International Academy of Dental Life Coaches, the host of the Stress-Free Dentist podcast, and author of a series of non-fiction and children’s books.
Dr. Block talks about his journey choosing dentistry as a career, the pressures to be perfect in school and at work that lead to serious burnout and how he realized he needed to focus on his wellness.
The most important thing for him, Dr. Block says, was to reach out for help. He shares his stress-free mantra, and how this mindset change may help others experiencing the same things.
The hosts confide that this topic resonated with them as well, and share personal anecdotes of how they manage feelings of perfectionism and stress.
Dr. Block shares the experiences that led him to be co-founder of an organization of life coaches who are in the profession and gives dental professionals a place they can talk through their specific issues with someone who understands the inside work of dentistry.
The hosts share a list of six signs that signal perfectionism may be affecting your mental health.
Dr. Anna Craig, a licensed clinical psychologist, shares coping strategies for those struggling with perfectionism themselves.
As a final thought, Dr. Block shares the best piece of advice he would tell his younger self to help navigate these issues and his career after dental school.
Visit Dr. Eric Block’s website, The Stress Free Dentist.
Learn more about the International Academy of Dental Life Coaches.
Explore ADA wellness programs and resources.
Check out other wellness episodes from Dental Sound Bites.
Wright: [00:00:00] It's no secret that dentists are perfectionists in school, our jobs, and our lives. We're talking about the pressures we put on ourselves, how that pressure for perfection impacts our mental health, and can lead to burnout. I'm Dr. ArNelle Wright.
Ioannidou: [00:00:16] And I'm Dr. Effie Ioannidou. And today we are going to explore the fine line between being great at what we do, and we are always great, and taking perfectionism too far.
Wright: [00:00:29] This is going to be such a good episode.
Announcer: [00:00:33] From the American Dental Association. This is Dental Sound Bites, created for dentists by dentists. Ready? Let's dive right into real talk on dentistry's daily wins and sticky situations.
Wright: [00:00:49] During our dental education journey, we pick up so many essential skills and habits, but let's face it, like, we may also end up with a few not so healthy ones along the way too, right?
Ioannidou: [00:01:01] Absolutely. You know, I see this in academia all the time. On one hand, we try to be, from the student level to the faculty level, overachievers.
You seek the good grades. You want to excel in the clinic. You want to be involved in many activities around the school. Faculty is the same way, right? You need to excel as a teacher in the clinic. You need to excel didactically. You need to publish papers. You need to do research. You need, you need, there is a long list of you need. And it becomes really tricky how to balance all those things. Right?
Wright: [00:01:36] Right. It really is. Because I know for me, like when I finished dental school, like, I brought that same energy, that same perfectionism into practice with me, and that can be very detrimental to your health. So I'm glad we are talking about this today because dentistry is about precision.
It's not really about making sure that everything is absolutely perfect because nothing is guaranteed, right?
Ioannidou: [00:02:00] Life is unpredictable.
Wright: [00:02:01] Yeah. So I'm glad that we can share this information with our listening community today. So let's jump right in.
Ioannidou: [00:02:08] And we have the right person for this. We have a special guest today to talk about this topic.
Welcome, Dr. Eric Block.
Block: [00:02:15] Thanks for having me.
Ioannidou: [00:02:16] Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do.
Block: [00:02:19] Yeah. So I'm a full time practicing dentist just outside of Boston, about 30 minutes west. I grew up in Massachusetts. I went to Tulane University for undergrad and I didn't want to be a dentist.
My dad was a dentist, but I went to Tulane University expecting to apply to the business school. I thought I was going to become a business major and I ended up taking microeconomics and macroeconomics and statistics. And I said, forget this, I'm out of here. And I had to choose something. So I chose psychology as my major and I really didn't know what to do.
I was thinking about maybe applying to physical therapy school. Dentistry was sort of in the back of my mind. I was thinking maybe becoming a physician. But, one night at school, I just missed my mouth, and I cracked my front tooth on a beer bottle. My number nine central incisor.
And, of course, I felt no pain that night. But the next day, I went to a local dentist in Metairie, Louisiana. And I just really liked the way they patched me up and they took care of me and I walked in all embarrassed and then I left with my smile again and I said, you know what, dentistry could be for me.
So I had to take the next year off because I had to catch up with the DATs and the prereq classes. And I started hanging around my dad's office and I applied to Nova Southeastern. And I went down to Fort Lauderdale for four years, which was great. And I was actually the second class to graduate in ‘02. And then I did an implant residency back in BU. That's what brought me back to Massachusetts. And I've been practicing in Acton for about 20 years.
And I went through a tremendous amount of burnout and anxiety, and a phase where I just really regretted my place in dentistry. I was so afraid of getting sued. I was so afraid of getting a bad review. I was mentally and physically exhausted. And I really felt like I was just in a really bad place. This is about halfway through my career.
And as a psychology major at Tulane, I knew that at some point I was going to go through therapy, but it got to the point where I said, Blocky, you gotta do something because I couldn't wait until five o'clock to go home. I couldn't wait until the weekend to decompress from the week. I couldn't even wait until lunch so I could go home for an hour.
And I for sure couldn't wait until I retired so I wouldn't have to do dentistry anymore. And I thought it was something wrong with me. So I finally picked up the phone and I called a local therapist. And we just started digging into what was going on and why I was so anxious. Why I was so afraid of getting sued and a bad review and having an uncomfortable conversation with a staff member or a patient.
And, I actually thought about leaving dentistry and going to law school so I could flip the script and be the one doing the suing. That's how afraid I was of getting sued. But going through therapy, I realized it was all up here. It was just me putting too much pressure on myself. Me trying to please everyone and it didn't happen overnight, but I realized that I had to really start to take care of myself before I could take care of others.
And sometimes that meant saying no to patients. Sometimes it meant having uncomfortable situations, but I really got back to the point. And again, it didn't happen overnight. It took a while, but I love going into work every day. So I was able to turn it around and I wrote a book called The Stress Free Dentist.
And I felt like I could share my story and help any dentists out there that are going through what I went through with burnout and, and depression and anxiety. And I co-founded the International Academy of Dental Life Coaches to match up dental professionals with life coaches, continue to write books.
I have a podcast and I'm just really just trying to share my story to help any dentists out there that may be going through what I was going through.
Wright: [00:06:15] Oh my gosh.
Ioannidou: [00:06:16] Very interesting story.
Wright: [00:06:17] So good. Oh my gosh. Like I'm going to eat it all up. Seriously.
Ioannidou: [00:06:21] I know. And it makes me think that you brought up so many interesting points.
Like on one hand, you speak about the fear and on the other hand, the perfectionism, the combination of these two ideas. Pretty scary, right?
Wright: [00:06:36] Yeah.
Block: [00:06:36] Yeah. So like you mentioned, we're expected to try to be perfect and that's just not reality. And I would really beat myself up when a crown didn't fit or a filling broke or I got a bad review or if a patient didn't rebook with me, I'd be like, what happened?
What did I do wrong? And I realized that that's okay. That's going to happen. And guess what else has happened? And guess why? It's not just me. It's every other dentist in the history of dentistry that has had these issues. And I think that's a big jump that we go from trying to be perfect to having failures.
And for a lot of people, that's a wake up call. And it's a wake up call that sometimes they can't handle. And unfortunately they turn to, you know, they get depressed. They turn to pharmaceuticals or medications, alcohol, suicide, depression. And it doesn't have to be that way. And I think one of the most important things is that you need to reach out for help.
You need to reach out to peers, mentors, consultants, coaches, whatever it takes. For me it was therapy and now coaching. But whatever it takes because this is an extremely difficult profession that we chose. And to be perfect, I always like to say the only perfect dentist is the one that hasn't gone to dental school yet.
And the only dentist without stress is the one that just retired. It's going to happen to everyone. So kind of my stress free mantra is that there is going to be a tremendous amount of stress. You're going to have mistakes. You're going to have failures. You're going to have bad days. You're going to have bad weeks.
But it's not going to break me because I understand that this is part of the deal. This is part of the profession. I'm going to go back to work the next day and I'm going to have a better day. And to not beat myself up when something goes wrong.
Ioannidou: [00:08:30] It's exactly what Tom Hanks says. I don't know if you guys had the chance to see this clip on social media, but there is a group of actors talking about exactly what you were saying about, you know, the fear of failure and et cetera.
And Tom Hanks brought up a very interesting advice that these too shall pass. The moments that you feel, you know, great and that everybody gets you and that you are a big success. These too shall pass. The moments that you feel like a failure, that everything goes wrong, that nobody understands you, your patients don't appreciate you.
These too shall pass. That was my life philosophy since I was like 18 years old. That's why I survived this profession.
Block: [00:09:14] Yeah. I personally feel like I used to focus on, you know, the one or two bad things that would happen during the day. And I would focus on them and I couldn't shake them. I'll be up at night thinking about them.
But meanwhile, 30 great things happen during the day that I didn't think about. So it was a mindset change to really enjoy the wins. Learn from the losses and you know, you win some, you lose some, but you always learn some and you just keep on moving, but for sure, you got to reach out for help if you're having issues. Like we tell our patients, you know, try to take care of problems when they're small, same things with your mental health. Small problems can turn into big problems and if you don't get the help, then it's going to become a bigger problem.
So this is a tough profession, a lot of ups and downs for me, there's a lot more ups. But I couldn't have done this alone without, you know, my peers and my mentors and my therapists and my coaches.
Wright: [00:10:08] Mm hmm. So you've talked a lot about perfectionism, Dr. Block. So talk to us and tell our listeners, like, how much of that perfectionism came with you from dental school?
And why can this be a problem once you go into practice?
Block: [00:10:24] I think I made some mistakes in early on in my career. And I was veering away from what I call my comfort zone. I was a young associate. I just came out of an implant program. I wanted to treat everyone. I wanted to take on every case, every personality.
And that was the, probably the perfectionist in me. And I realized that you don't have to say yes to everyone. You know, if there's a case that you don't feel comfortable working on, or a patient you don't feel comfortable doing that procedure on, the best thing to do is say, you know what, I'm going to refer you to a colleague that I want to get in the best hands. This is a little bit out of my comfort zone. I used to not say that. I would take on every case because I thought it was, like, Super Blocky and I could help everyone. And I would get into situations that were a little out of my comfort zone. And that's a major wake up call. When things don't go according to plan, you realize real quick that there's no teacher there to bail you out.
And you're not under the umbrella of the school. You're in the real world and mistakes and failures are going to happen. And that you can't be perfect. There's no such thing as the perfect dentist. And I think that the earlier you can learn that in your career, better off you'll be for the long term because this profession, like many other high performing professions, it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Wright: [00:11:43] Yeah, it really is. And I, being six and a half years out and into practice, I am realizing that big time. And it's very hard being, like, a new associate, and, well, I shouldn't even say new ‘cause sometimes people are like, you're not new. But being an associate, still being very fresh into the career and making decisions, I feel like that's the thing that hurts or that that's hard for me sometimes. It's like, okay, so how to decide, and considering that I am an associate and I have, there are these expectations for me to produce, but then I have my mental health on the other hand, that I have to manage and steward and take care of me.
So it's like a balancing act. that we're not often prepared for in dental school, you know. We see our two patients. And so heading out into the real world, this is such a great conversation for us to be having to help steer our, especially our early career dentists, to kind of kickstart the career in a very positive manner.
Block: [00:12:42] Yeah. Early on in my career, I would put my white coat on and I'd be the dentist and had this major barrier in front of me and the patient. And I didn't let them into who I was or my life because I felt I had a lot of, kind of imposter syndrome where I looked really young and I felt like I didn't belong there. So I had to be this, like, robot almost.
And that I think put a lot more pressure on myself. And when things didn't go right, I would almost get my back up and try to, you know, debate the patient and that didn't, didn't work out well. It created a lot of stress. Now I really let the patients in, you know, to my life and with my kids and my family, I build relationships with them.
I get to know them. They get to know me. We're kind of in this together. And it's really taken a lot of stress off of if things don't go according to plan, if things do go wrong, which it, that will happen at some point. Now I will just say, hey, you know, we tried this didn't work out. Let's move on to a different option and working it out with the patient going on this journey with the patient.
I take lots of documentation. I show patients pictures of the decay or the cracks and they’re in this with me. And that has really helped relieve a lot because if patients don't understand what you're doing, and a lot of what we're doing is invisible to them, it's, you know, the back of their mouth, they can't see what we're doing.
I have a great interval camera. I take great pictures of mid cleanout photos. I'll show them the decay and the dark spots and cracks. And then at the end of the procedure, I always show them that this is what your tooth looked like and now it's, you know, it's all white and we fixed it.
But it really helps if something doesn't go according to plan. If that crown leaks or that filling breaks or the patient starts to have pain, then I'm not the one to blame. I did my best. I educated the patient and I'll show the patient again. This is what your tooth looked like. It didn't work out. Let's move on to the next step here. Building great relationships with patients so that they understand that I'm a person, you know, I'm not just the dentist, but I'm a person and I'm there with them and we're going to work on this problem together.
Ioannidou: [00:14:54] I really like the story of yourself in the young age and how the imposter syndrome play a role and how, you know, you evolve and you change your behavior and you adapt to the needs to kind of balance the perfectionism and your mental health together. ArNelle, did you have any experience of this, any stories that really took a toll on your mental health?
Wright: [00:15:20] Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, everything that we're talking about today just resonates so strongly with me because I am a perfectionist to my core. Like I think about it all the time. I like to be efficient. I have this dream that patients won't have to wait. I feel like I take on patient stress. Or I take on their concerns.
So if they're waiting too long in the lobby, then it's like, I'll go and call them back and sometimes I jump in front of my assistants. And although, like ,I lead my team really well, but I hate for them to feel like they're drowning. Even though no one is coming, coming and saying, oh my gosh, doctor, I need you to come and help me.
But sometimes I just do entirely too much. And so for me, when I saw even in some of our paperwork, like in preparing for this podcast, I was like, oh my gosh, the stress-free dentist. I would love to know how I can live that life. Because I feel like, as I've gone more into the career, and I learned even more complex procedures, then I'm pressured to perform.
And so for me, I feel like it's always like a performance every single day. If I have certain patients that I know have high expectations, I always try and meet those expectations. And I'm realizing now again, six and a half years in, I'm realizing that this can be to my demise as opposed to just being like, all right, you know, I'm going to take care of myself and I'm going to refer this case.
Now I'm not suggesting at all or saying that we should, we should just refer cases that we don't want to do, or we should offload our cases onto our colleagues. Because that's not going to end well for anybody. I think for me, with my mental health and really protecting that, it's important for me to say, hmm, you know, I think that we're gonna refer this one out.
So I deal with this on a very, very regular basis, which is why I get so excited when we hear, when we get to talk to experts who can also give me some tips too.
Ioannidou: [00:17:16] What you just said, I think it's also an indication of self awareness, right? So it's very important to know your limits, to know what you're good at and what you're not good at. And, you know, kind of move in your life with this.
Block: [00:17:31] Yeah, what has really helped me, and I always say you be you, me be me. We're all different. We all come from different practices, different cultures, different languages, different schools, and what works for me may not work for another dentist. And I always like to share how I have created workflows and game plans for every procedure that I go into.
And more so for like an implant ‘cause there's a lot more planning that goes into it. But when I go into that room and there's a filling or a crown, I have a game plan. And it really has really helped take a lot of the stress. There's no more voices in my head that say, you know, Blocky, pick up this burr, pick up that burr.
I have a game plan and I have a workflow. It's like a recipe. And I go from burr to burr, to burr, to burr and material to material and step to step because it really just puts my brain on autopilot. And it's almost like when you're driving on the highway and you've all of a sudden, you're like been driving for 20 minutes. You don't even realize you got on the highway and you took seven turns. You don't remember it because you're in this, like, trance. That's what happens to me a lot of times when I'm doing procedures that are in my comfort zone. And that's really helped me.
The other thing that has really helped me is, and this took a tremendous amount of going back to really figuring out who I was, I'm more introverted. So I like to decompress by not socializing or not talking. And the social aspect of the profession was really a grind on me. You know, you go from room to room to room.
But I have patients in my chair, I may have two patients in two operatories and I have to go check hygiene and I have to put on that happy face and be on my A game. And it's almost like acting, you know, no one wants a sad, tired dentist working on them. So I noticed by after eight hours, I was just junk. And I thought there was something wrong with me, but it's just the way I'm wired. And my wife gets me. She understands there's days where I come home and I've just got nothing in the tank.
But understanding the way my personality is and who I am has really helped me to realize that this happens to a lot of dentists. It's not just me. It’s, you know, we live these parallel lives as dentists and we often don't share our weaknesses or our failures. Understanding that has, has really helped me a lot too.
Wright: [00:19:53] In the very, very beginning, when you said you picked up the phone to call a therapist, like mid career or at whatever point it was that you realized, that's exactly what I noted too, Dr. Effie, was that self awareness piece, just knowing when to seek help. But I will say there are people who may be listening to this podcast and they may not have that psychology background or they may hold on to their pride a little bit longer.
And I know we're kind of going in a different direction in this moment, but if you can talk to us about like, if you don't have that background or if you don't have maybe that confidence or to kind of face what it is that you're experiencing, what would you recommend for our listeners to do in that instance?
Block: [00:20:39] Yeah, that's exactly why I co-founded the International Academy of Dental Life Coaches. Because I had a background in psychology and I knew I always wanted to go through psychotherapy. For others, they may not know where to go. Now the other thing is that my therapist was just a local therapist and she knew nothing about dentistry.
And I would go on these long winded rants about, you know, the front desk and the assistants and the Office manager. And she'd be like, wait, so what does the hygienist do again? And I'd be like, Oh, you know, it's like, it's so hard to, dentistry is such a complex profession to try to explain to someone else.
So I wanted to create an organization of life coaches that are dentists, hygienists, they're men, they're women, they're team members. So they understand dentistry. And that's why I co-founded that organization. For, to give dental professionals a place to go to work out their issues.
And it could be just someone that wants to get to that next level. Maybe they're doing great, but they just want to kind of get over that hump and go from ordinary to extraordinary. That's what a life coach can do.
Ioannidou: [00:21:50] I like it. And I was thinking about the next thing that I had in my mind, like, the balance through these life coaches. You can find the balance between excellence and perfectionism, right? And the fear of failure and, you know, it's so complicated. And I'm not sure if it's exclusive to dentistry, but I'm sure every medical profession goes through these vulnerable and weak points, I guess. But, so, how do you reassess this relationship with perfectionism?
How do you control it on an everyday basis, like, in your practice?
[00:22:28] Yeah, if I have a mistake or a failure, that's part of the deal, it's going to happen. And I used to think that, hey, I'm the dentist, I'm the leader, I'm the, you know, the owner of the practice, whatever I say goes. And you're working with people and your patients are people, your staff are people.
It's not easy to work with people and everyone's different. And I thought that I could change people, but a lot of times you can't. A lot of times I'm the one that has to change, not the other person. And then you add in the, you know, the staff shortages and all the issues with staffing going on.
That's been a major stressor for every industry, especially dentists. But I just don't beat myself up if something doesn't go according to plan. I just, I don't do it anymore. I go easy on myself. I give myself a break. There's a great book that I read to my son when he was seven, he's eight now, called the Good Egg.
And I loved this book and it was about an egg that was, his shell was cracking and he was a little egg and he was cracking up because he was putting too much pressure on himself. And his doctor who had an IV of yolk in his arm was telling this egg, he's an egg boy, don't put too much pressure on yourself because no one is perfect.
So I think that's really an important takeaway that if something happens that didn't go according to plan. It's happened to every dentist and it's going to happen again. So it's like I said, it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Ioannidou: [00:24:02] I like this.
Wright: [00:24:03] All right. I have to throw a curveball in here. Wait. So Dr. Block, at what point did you start going easy on yourself?
Because for me listening to this, I would say, oh my gosh, well, you've been practicing for way longer than I have. And so I feel like I can't afford to go easy on myself. And so. I hang on to like every little thing and, you know, someone who's new into dentistry, like just graduating, they may disagree and they may say, oh no, I want to do all of these things.
You know, they may just kind of have those mental acrobatics and actually justify or rationalize why they're gonna take on that high stress case. Like, can you talk to us about that?
Block: [00:24:41] Yeah. And you know, the students coming out with an incredible amount of debt right now, so they have to produce, they have to pay back those loans.
So there's a lot of stress for that. And when you're in a position where you have to sell dentistry because you need to pay rent and you need to pay the bills, it's not a comfortable situation. So that is a really difficult thing for young dentists. But I was guilty of this early on. I would take on, I would do everything.
I would do endo, do difficult extraction, sinus lifts. And there was cases where I would tell myself, I wish I didn't get involved with this. I would pay all the patient's money back because they were upset, I was stressed, it took, you know, months to finish it. And that was me going out of my comfort zone.
So for the young dentists out there, get trained, get educated, and find out what you like to do. Find out what you don't like to do. Blocky, don't do endo. I don't like endo.
Wright: [00:25:37] Me either. No endo for me.
Block: [00:25:40] No endo for me. I refer those cases out and I'm glad to see them go. And same thing with difficult extractions. I no longer do those because I don't like to do them. They're not in my wheelhouse. That took a while for me to understand. I wish I had done that a lot earlier on because in some cases it just wasn't worth the money. The stress that caused me wasn't worth it. So get trained, get educated, find out what you like to do, and stay in your comfort zone.
Perfectionism. I'm actually writing my fifth book called A Stress Free Next Level Dentistry. And it's all about how to elevate your practicing career and go from ordinary to extraordinary. And I talk a lot about, you know, case selection and patient selection, but to under promise and over deliver to, to really temper patients expectations, bring them back down to earth. And if they are someone that doesn't want to come back down to earth, that's not a case I'm going to take on. So. I think it has a lot to do with your case selection and your patient selection.
Wright: [00:26:43] I love that so much. So it all goes back to finding your comfort zone, being aware. And one of my mentors always said to me that this is something that I hold really, really close.
They said, um, arm yourself with knowledge. So that getting trained piece of advice that you just shared with everybody, that's gold. So you've been listening to this episode thinking, man, this sounds just like me, but I'm not sure. We have some signs that we want to share of perfectionism that might be affecting your mental wellness.
So one sign may be that you have extremely high or unrealistic standards. Another sign of perfectionism may be that the bar for success that you have, it keeps on moving. So there's really, you're not feeling satisfied, or you're not feeling, like, that you're ever hitting the target, or even able to.
Another one to the list is when you do meet those goals, you assume that they may have been too easy.
Ioannidou: [00:27:38] That's right. Beating yourself up and being the very hard inner critic is sometimes one of the manifestations of perfectionism. And the fear of disappointing others, which I think is a big one. And as we discussed previously, like, you know, paying attention to mistakes and forgetting the good things of the day and, and focusing on the one minor mishap, right?
The slight thing you did wrong, but not the 10 things that you did right. So here are some coping strategies for those struggling with perfectionism themselves or are dealing with a coworker who is perfectionist.
Craig: [00:28:15] Hi, I'm Dr. Anna Craig. I am a licensed clinical psychologist, and I am here at the Dugoni School of Dentistry at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, California. I'm going to be talking today about perfectionism. This is something I see in a lot of students, residents, and new grads that I work with in my career. And so let's get started.
A high standard of perfectionism is established in dental school. So for example, the expectation for perfection in Sim Lab, where mannequins are all the same, unlike the variety seen amongst real human beings.
And as dental students, you're often evaluated by faculty, but also by yourselves internally. Your internal method of evaluation might be harshly focused on what you've done wrong, or the mistakes you've made, rather than on your accomplishments. We can refer to this as your inner critic. Very likely your inner critic and perfectionism started before dental school because being in such an exacting and challenging profession tends to invite people with more perfectionistic and achievement-oriented personalities.
When you experience stress or anxiety, such as fear of failure or rejection, perfectionism comes out as a coping strategy to avoid that failure. So we can appreciate the inner critic and perfectionism sometimes when it seems to help us achieve our goals. However, this appreciation can also reinforce the inner critic as an unhealthy coping tool in moments of stress or anxiety related to our career identity or our performance.
The inner critic tends to be quite all or nothing in its outlook and very pessimistic. It fuels catastrophic thinking and the illusion that you will be denounced or ridiculed or view yourself as an utter failure if you do not perform perfectly.
Some of this comes from the feedback you received in dental school, but it doesn't always come from actual real life data. So in a way, perfectionism, or perfection, becomes the belief that you hold. So for example, that might sound, like, the only way I can succeed or be applauded is if I perform perfect work, have perfect interactions with colleagues, or run a perfect business.
Okay, so what can you do about this? The process of lessening the influential power of your inner critic is gradual and takes time. There are steps and the inner critic can not just be turned off, practice kind of makes perfect. You would start by noticing and observing when your inner critic emerges.
Hearing its voice as separate from your own, if that feels right to you. So sometimes I encourage people to think of this as kind of like a demanding negative critical coach that really only tries to encourage by pointing out what you've done wrong and what you should stop doing. A different kind of approach as a coach would be to be encouraging, pointing out what you've been doing correctly so you know what to keep doing, while also, of course, pointing out things that you might want to change.
The inner critic can be noticed also by its all or nothing, black and white, absolutist thinking. So words like always and never or words like failure are indicators that your inner critic is talking and coming from the perspective of perfectionism. Catching the critic in the act is the next step. So ideally, interrupting it or responding to it would be what you would do.
You're not just observing it anymore. You challenge it, give it new data, and actual data from your lived experiences. This can be done in the moment, but also when reflecting on a procedure or something that you did in hindsight. So this would be reviewing what actually happened and what the actual outcome was, including if you made a mistake. Was the catastrophe that you had worried about something that actually happened.
This new data will differ from individual to individual. For some it might be acknowledging the reality that you're working on human beings who are all different and the unexpected often happens, meaning the level of control you have over the outcome is actually not nearly as high as you are taught based on evaluatory standards in dental school where criteria are standardized.
For others it might be reframing focus from the outcome to the relationship you have with your patients. As a healthcare provider, the procedure itself and the finished product is important, but so is the care and compassion that you bring to your role and to your interactions with your patients. Some patients might expect perfection, yes, but many will not because they understand that the reality that perfection is often impossible and at times quite unnecessary for good quality of life and other outcome criteria.
Wright: [00:32:36] Thank you, Dr. Craig. We'll be back.
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Wright: [00:33:39] We're talking with Dr. Eric Block about wellness and perfectionism.
Ioannidou: [00:33:42] What have you found that works for you in combating the perfectionism problem and maintaining your mental well being, Eric?
Block: [00:33:50] Yeah, there's, there's so many things and, you know, everyone is different and everyone's in a different situation. I try to remove negativity from my life. I try to surround myself with positive people. I don't tolerate negativity. I try to keep an inner circle that is very positive and remove pessimism and downers because that can really take over your brain fast.
So my recommendation is find your clan, find peers that will share their failures, will share their mistakes, and not pretend like everything is perfect. I like to learn from other people's failures and mistakes and to find out that everyone else isn't perfect either. So, you know, the people you surround yourself with are extremely important.
There were certain triggers that I would have that would really, like, set me off and make me upset and angry. And I learned that you need to sometimes let things go for 24 hours or 48 hours before you make a decision or act on it. Let things give some time before you make a decision.
Wright: [00:34:50] That's a really good one. I love that one.
Ioannidou: [00:34:52] Sleep on it.
Block: [00:34:53] Yeah, sleep on it, wake up and then, you know, think about it again. And then take action if needed. Having a routine has been really important for me. I wake up about 5:30. My kids are, you know, they're 8 and 10, but when they were born, I was, I would do the morning shift. So I got used to waking up early.
So now I wake up and I just start writing. I've written many books and articles. And for me, that's like my Zen. I'll get up, I'll write. Then I go to work and I start doing some sun salutations and stretches. And it's kind of like my way of getting ready for the day. So having a specific routine that you do, at least in the morning, has really helped me.
And one of you two mentioned goals. I didn't have goals. So now I created goals for myself. For my family, for my practice, for my entrepreneurialism, I've set goals and I tinker with those goals. So that, I think that's really important too, because when I was a young dentist, I didn't really have goals. I would just work and, you know, try to make money and that was, that was about it.
So I think the older you get, you understand how important keeping, you know, positive people around you, having routines, having goals and just keeping things positive.
Wright: [00:36:04] So, so good.
Ioannidou: [00:36:05] I like what you said. Yeah. It's really important to have goals and, you know, because I think this is like, it's something that you kind of assess, self assessment in like long, short and long term.
So I think it's really important and keeps you grounded too and happier.
Wright: [00:36:22] I call it vision casting. So I'm always, like ,thinking about, I typically use, one word to, like, describe or guide my year, something that kickstart the year with. So I love the goal setting part. I'm definitely a goal setter.
So before we wrap for the episode, I think you did a great job so far, Dr. Block, with sharing any advice that you would give to our listeners who are struggling with perfectionism, if they're seeking a healthier mindset in their professional lives. So if there's anything that you didn't get to share or anything that you left off of that list with some of the tips that you've shared so greatly for us so far, you can take a moment and share those now.
If there's any final things like, or any tricks that you have or any just experiences that you can share that might benefit our listeners.
Block: [00:37:09] Yeah, you know, earlier on in my career, I was able to associate in a few different styles of offices and I really kind of absorbed what each practice and each culture and each style of practice, they're all different.
And I took those and kind of molded them to my own. So I really recommend for any young dentists out there, go see what's out there. Try a high volume practice, try a boutique style practice, try a, you know, a DSO, try a private practice. Try different things and then start to mold your own way, your own style.
I mean, it may take a couple of years, may take a few years, but if I could tell a young Blocky, I'd tell him, you know, take two or three years, see what's out there. Learn, find some great mentors, go to their practices, watch them, assist them, and you will learn so much and then you'll start to learn what you like to do, what you don't like to do.
And then start to create your own style of dentistry. But for sure, the most important takeaway that I want to give to people here is to reach out for help. Do not go into this profession alone. And for me, it was such a game changer to reach out to a local therapist. I still get therapy. I still go through coaching.
I talked to my peers. I have mentors. And a lot of times dentists, they're in solo practices and they're on, they're in their own little bubble and it can be really hard on them. So branch out and you can make this a wonderful career. But for sure, you can't think you're going to be perfect and everything's going to be peaches and cream because that's just not reality.
Ioannidou: [00:38:46] That's right.
Announcer: [00:38:48] On the next Dental Sound Bites.
Wright: [00:38:50] We're taking a fascinating look at the top challenges and trends for dentists in 2024. We're talking to Dr. Marko Vujicic, Chief Economist and Vice President of the ADA Health Policy Institute, and taking a deeper dive into the projections for the new year.
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Such a great conversation. Oh my gosh. I could go on and on, but we know that, you know, we got to let our listeners go. We have to let you go, but we just want to say thank you so much for joining us on Dental Sound Bites and sharing all of your experience with us and talking to our listeners, giving them some soundbites that they can continue to refer to in everyday practice.
Block: [00:39:34] Oh, thanks for having me.
Ioannidou: [00:39:36] Just give us a few ideas, if some of our listeners or all of them want to find you, where can they find you?
Block: [00:39:44] You can go to thestressfreedentist.com or you can email me at eric@thestressfreedentist. com. I'm on Facebook. I'm on LinkedIn. You can check out the IADLC.com which is the International Academy of Dental Life Coaches.
And please, anyone out there, please contact me if you have any questions. Mental health can be a touchy subject and sometimes people don't feel comfortable talking about it. Anything, anyone wants to talk to me about clinical, non clinical, mental health, feel free to reach out to me.
Wright: [00:40:13] Thanks so much for being here, Dr. Block. We really appreciate all of your time.
Ioannidou: [00:40:17] Thank you so much.
Block: [00:40:18] Goodbye. It was such a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Wright: [00:40:20] So good. Well, we will have all of the resources and information mentioned in this episode. It's going to be linked for you all in the show notes on ada.org/podcast.
Ioannidou: [00:40:31] And if you like this episode, share it with your friends, then be sure to subscribe to our podcast, wherever you're listening, so you can get the latest episodes.
Wright: [00:40:42] You can also rate and write a review and follow us on social media.
Ioannidou: [00:40:47] And please don't forget the conversation continues on the ADA Member App. Catch this episode bonus content. What you didn't hear on the show. Goodbye.
Announcer: [00:41:00] Thank you for joining us. Dental Sound Bites is an American Dental Association podcast.
You can also find this show, resources, and more on the ADA Member App and online at ADA.org/podcast.
The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the American Dental Association.