Optimism and success: It's all in the attitude

By Rabia Mughal, DrBicuspid.com contributing editor

October 16, 2008 -- SAN ANTONIO - Success in life is simply how you look at things, said Bruce Christopher, M.A., at his laughter-filled seminar, "Are we having fun yet: Humor, attitude, and peak performance in the dental practice," at the ADA Annual Session on Thursday.

Between a game of Pictionary and plenty of colorful anecdotes, he laid out the importance of having a positive attitude both in life and in your dental practice.

The seminar began with an exercise. The audience drew four quadrants on a page. First, people drew a picture of their dream house, to the best of their abilities. Then they used their opposite hand to draw a cat, after which they closed their eyes and drew a flower. Finally, still using their nondominant hand and with their eyes closed, they tried to draw a horse.

“How you talk to yourself is more important than what happens to you.”
Laughter rang throughout the room, escalating as the task became increasingly difficult and ultimately ridiculous. Christopher pointed out that during the first drawing, people were serious because he asked them to do their best. Several people even covered the drawing when he walked past.

"I made it difficult and you laughed," he said. "You told yourself this doesn't have to be perfect, this is just silly. You are professional people, but you became children."


"Because your self-talk changed," he said. "How you talk to yourself is more important than what happens to you."

It shapes whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, which in turn shapes your personal life and the success of your practice and professional life, he added.

Here are a few reasons to be an optimist, according to Christopher:

  • It defines your attitude.
  • Your attitude is contagious.
  • It shapes your mood.

People compare themselves to others when it comes to looks, status, and performance, he noted. In fact, many of us perceive negative messages about our appearance, status, and performance while growing up that can affect our attitude.

"But it is important to maintain a positive attitude because attitude predicts success," he said.

As an example, he cited a study of 1,500 people divided into two groups -- 86% in group A and 14% in group B -- based upon the main motivation behind their career choice. Group A chose their career based upon money, while group B chose based upon their love of the work. After 20 years, 101 of the study participants had become millionaires, Christopher said. Of those 101 millionaires, only one person was from group A.

"I am not trying to tell you success is money," Christopher said. "Only that money and success will find you if you are optimistic."

Attitude also is contagious, which is particularly important in a profession such as dentistry. Patients, in particular, pick up the mood in a dental office the minute they walk in, he pointed out.

"Everyone in this room has a communicable disease," he joked.

Mood is how you feel, while attitude is a cognitive choice, he continued. He gave the example of two people stuck in a traffic jam. A pessimist will worry about missing an important appointment and the potential negative effects. An optimist will accept the situation, put on some music, and loosen his tie.

Negative people are those whose reality does not match their expectations -- someone who seethes in a traffic jam or loses his or her cool if the perfect Monday scheduling starts to fall apart.

It's important to remember that what you get isn't always what you expect. Optimism is not about things going your way, said Christopher. It is about how you deal with things when they do not go your way.

Optimists see failure as something they can change -- something temporary that they can learn from. Pessimists see failure as pervasive, personal, and persistent. Optimists take risks, and they too feel afraid, but they do it anyway.

Every time you turn away from a fear it becomes more powerful and your comfort zone becomes a comfort prison, Christopher warned. But if you can take a calculated risk and break through the zone, you have a tremendous release of adrenalin and you gain confidence.

Optimists fail a lot, but they find freedom in failure, he added. They can use a tense situation and turn it into a winning opportunity.

"They know how to let things go, pick their battles, and not sweat the small stuff," he concluded.

Copyright © 2008 DrBicuspid.com

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