Extensive research into behavioral change has identified various stages that lead to purposeful and sustainable behavior modification.
The transtheoretical model (Prochaska & Velicer, 1997) of behavioral change describes an initial stage of “precontemplation” in which a person is unaware that a behavioral problem exists and, therefore, fails to recognize the consequences of their behavior. Such individuals show little interest in changing their behavior because they are simply clueless that their behavior is creating a problem.
Abraham Maslow, a noted American psychologist, is attributed with another similar finding which deals with the development of competence. His four stages of competence describe an initial phase of “unconscious incompetence” in which the individual fails to recognize or is unconscious of their own incompetence and, therefore, is unreceptive to learning a new and useful skill that will likely move them towards the competence that they so desperately need.
What Maslow describes is, in my opinion, the leading cause of suffering, dissatisfaction, and burnout in the healthcare industry. As a healthcare coach, I spend much of my time helping clients come to the awareness that we are often our own worst enemies by failing to recognize our behaviors that create personal and professional barriers to our fulfillment. This significant blind spot leaves us in a state of limbo; chronically suffering the symptoms of a curable malady yet lacking the capability to acknowledge its existence.
Furthermore, our education, while teaching us to be masterful technicians, has failed us in the arena of entrepreneurship and leadership competence. It is in this arena that our unconscious incompetence continually hurts us. Michael Gerber, in his bestselling book, The E-Myth, describes a technician as someone who eventually suffers disillusionment with their chosen profession because they lack awareness of the necessary entrepreneurial skills of prioritization, delegation, and expansive thinking, which is an essential ingredient in the entrepreneur’s mindset.
I see this problem often in the healthcare industry where, as technicians, we concentrate on profit at the expense of fulfillment. This problem is likely to worsen as our newest colleagues, facing overwhelming educational debt and lacking the necessary entrepreneurial skillset, will come to view profit as the ultimate proof of their success. This is most unfortunate because many of our more senior colleagues will testify that financial success is not the cure for our disillusionment and burnout. Neither is exceptional clinical skill or knowledge.
Quite simply, we are not suffering because we lack intelligence or financial success; we are suffering because we lack self-awareness and the motivation to change. Because we suffer from unconscious incompetence, we fail to recognize the real cause of our suffering and tend to blame external forces for our disillusionment. We lack the awareness that we are the ultimate arbiter of our “emotional success.” Our suffering and frustration are both caused by and resolved by us. Once we come to this awareness, we can begin the process of turning frustration into fulfillment, finding passion, and creating energy where burnout once existed. By acknowledging that a problem exists and we are the cause, we become motivated to acquire the knowledge and skill that will lead to sustainable behavioral change.
It goes without saying that we cannot solve a problem when we fail to acknowledge its existence. Some of us accept our suffering and dissatisfaction with our profession because we have come to believe that it is part and parcel of our job. We see no realistic resolution to our pain and we begin to feel trapped and helpless. We live with this disillusionment until it becomes unbearable and then we seek help. The fortunate ones seek the help and guidance of a therapist or coach.
The good news is that we are not meant to suffer from disillusionment and burnout. With proper guidance and the implementation of some basic entrepreneurial skills, we can find sustainable joy, fulfillment and financial reward in our clinical practices.
If you are currently experiencing frustration or burnout with your chosen profession, seek answers now. Acknowledge that a problem exists and that you likely are the cause of the problem. Also acknowledge that you hold the key to resolving the problem. Seek help and never accept the false narrative that pain and suffering go with the territory.
With the proper mindset and the motivation to change, a better future awaits you.
Dr. Joel Small and Dr. Edwin McDonald, the founders of Line of Sight Coaching, are dental practitioners, authors, speakers and Business Leadership Coaches who work with healthcare professionals to help them build more successful practices so they can live the balanced life they seek.