CPD Junkie Blog
Positive thinking: A tool to becoming better
Written by Jennifer Truong
Being a dentist is a demanding career.
You spend so many hours studying as a student, followed by many more hours working in the field. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Days can be either gratifying or absolutely chaotic having to deal with complication after complication. Hence, it’s very important for dentists to not only focus on their hand skills, but on their mental health as well.
You probably think this is not a new concept, but yet it’s estimated that, on average, 80% of our thoughts are negative. “I should have done… I wish I could have… if only I had more time…” sound familiar?
So, what’s a simple way we can go about changing this?
“Think positive, be positive, and positive things will happen.”
One emerging area of research in mental health is on positive thinking, which is a set of techniques aimed to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. Positive thinking is based on the theory that our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are all causally related. Changing our thoughts should therefore change both our emotions and behaviour. Thankfully, positive thinking is a skill that can be learned, so even those who are ‘Debbie Downers’ can benefit from these steps.
Step 1: Understand your negative thoughts
The first step to positive thinking is to recognise your negative thoughts and what triggers them. Although you’re likely aware that you have these thoughts, probably many of them, the idea here is to understand when and why they happen.
Some common types of negative thoughts are:
- Personalising. Blaming yourself when something bad happens.
- Polarising. Seeing things as either good or bad. You either succeed or completely fail.
- Filtering. You focus on the negative aspects of the situation, despite all the positive aspects.
- Catastrophising. You expect the worst possible outcome for a situation.
- Should statements. You attempt to force yourself with should and shouldn’t statements and punish yourself when you don’t comply.
Try to spend some time and effort being familiar with when your negative thoughts occur. You could note your negative thoughts in a diary or on your phone. This may sound over the top, but it’s important to understand the patterns of your negative thinking. For example, you may notice that you tend to rate your performance in the clinic as either entirely good or bad (polarizing). Alternatively, you may make a small mistake and then expect the patient to never see you again (catastrophising). You focus on that one negative comment someone left you on google reviews even though you have been showered with compliments in the preceding posts (filtering).
You’ll be surprised as to how many of these negative thoughts you have, and how tedious they seem to be in the grand scheme of things, I mean, we did spend most of 2020 in lockdown.
Murphy’s law states that things happen beyond our control and rather than dwelling on things you cannot control, challenge these thoughts and shift your energy to things you can control.
Step 2: Challenge your negative thoughts
The next step is to challenge your negative thoughts with a rational response. For example, if you rate your day in the clinic as either good or bad, challenge these thoughts with a rational response such as “My day was filled with wins and losses, which I call a typical Wednesday”.
Perhaps you automatically blame yourself when a patient’s restoration fails and you begin to question your skills as a clinician. A rational response could be “The restoration was likely to fail given the patient’s malocclusion”.
You could think of a rational response as being similar to what you’d say to a close friend when they’re having negative thoughts. This is not to say that you should adopt a “It’s not me, it’s you” kind of attitude and you definitely don’t want to make excuses for your behaviour. However, consider whether your negative thoughts are valid and more importantly, whether they will improve your skills in the future.
Step 3: Practice positive thinking
Along with challenging your negative thoughts, it’s important to spend some time focussing on positive thinking. Positive thinking is a skill that needs constant practice, but once you’ve become good at it, it’s easy to maintain. Here are some examples of positive thinking:
- Gratitude- think about the things in your life that you are grateful for. These will naturally bring your attention to the good things in your life. Think about your co-workers, your mentors, and your support system, and how much of your venting they had to endure.
- Think about your successes. It’s important to think about your recent and past successes and give yourself that little pat on the back from time to time.
- Imagine your best future. Instead of thinking about the worst outcome, instead, think about a future where your life is going well, which will make you excited for what’s to come.
- Focus on your strengths. Similar to your successes, think about your personal strengths and what you can achieve with them.
These techniques are best integrated with a structured time each day, perhaps first thing in the morning or just prior to bed. After some practice, all these techniques should become second nature. You should find that your negative thoughts will become less frequent and severe, while your positive thinking should increase.
“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.” – Roy T. Bennett
In dentistry, we have the luxury to create beautiful smiles, let that be our focus. I think I can, I know I can, I will, I did.
Burns, D. (1980). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (1st ed.). William Morrow and Company.
Rood, L., Roelofs, J., Bögels, S. M., & Alloy, L. B. (2009). Dimensions of Negative Thinking and the Relations with Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in Children and Adolescents. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 34(4), 333–342. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-009-9261-y