The Little Voice Inside

I was 16 years old and I remember it like it was yesterday. As we started our shoot around before high school hockey practice, I took my helmet (with face visor) off and I distinctly remember this little voice inside my head saying:”This isn’t a good idea. Maybe you should keep it on.” Three hours later, as I sat on the chair at the emergency room with an eye specialist telling me that the accidental stick across the face may leave me with limited vision in my left eye, I realized that I should have listened to that little voice. Across the room, my mother, faint from seeing her son with a baseball sized eye socket, would have agreed.
In life, we’re faced with a lot of choices, with business decisions being no different. They often seem difficult, but there’s almost always an inner voice telling us what to do. I’m not talking about the Jiminy Cricket voice that tells us right from wrong. Hopefully, you’ve got the moral side of this figured out. No, I’m talking about the one that tells you what to do when it comes to strategic decisions about your practice and career. You know, the one that I ignored right before David Harrinson swung a hockey stick across the bridge of my nose in 1984. I knew what was the right choice, and I ignored it and while that was a “no brainer”, we all ignore that voice from time to time. It’s OK, because life teaches you to start listening.  (BTW-if you ever wanted to learn about the science behind inner speech, here’s a scientific study that’s guaranteed to give you more than you ever wanted.)
As a friend of mine once put it: “In my 20’s I started realizing that there was a voice I might listen to before making decisions, but I ignored it. In my 30’s I started realizing that the voice was generally right. In my 40’s I wouldn’t make a decision without listening to it.”
If you’re reading this and you’re over 45, you probably get what I’m talking about.  It took me two decades in practice to realize that I needed to listen to that little voice. My friends and I talk about this all of the time and wish we had figured this out 15-20 years ago. If you’re in your 30’s and successful, that’s great, but in time you’ll understand what I’m talking about. It just takes time. Here’s an example:
Your practice is humming along. Life is wonderful, you’re making a great living, you’re working 3 days a week and you’re happy. But, you aren’t sure if you should open a second practice. Heck, you have tons of friends who have multiple locations, so why shouldn’t you join the crowd. You don’t have a business plan, but it seems like a great idea. Getting that second practice seems so appealing and in a couple of years,  you’ll be able to hire an associate, take more time off (again), etc.  Then that little voice jumps in and says: “You’re happy and spending a lot of free time enjoying life. This is what you worked for, and we make enough money. Let’s enjoy our 4 days off every week.” Now, I’m all for a written business plan to help you guide yourself through these sorts of decisions, but the honest truth is that most clinicians don’t have one, so they go on emotion and without 15 or 20 years of experience, “the voice” often gets ignored. I guarantee that the “inner speech”, the one that reminds says “Milk!” after you’ve left the supermarket, knows more about what you should do than your emotional side.
Let’s talk about an easier, more common event. Your assistant shows up 5 minutes late for your morning huddle. It’s the third time she’s done it in the last month. You meant to discuss it with her before but you got too busy and you’re now fuming mad. There she is, in the morning huddle, flustered and sorry that she was late and your first instinct is to say something right there. You want to tell her that it’s not acceptable and to send a message to the rest of the team. But that little voice says not to do it and that you should approach her quietly and let her know that you’d like to talk to her at the end of the day. Emotion gets the better of you, you ignore the voice and say something and we all know where it goes from there.
Sometimes it’s about whether or not you should trust that banker at his word or whether you should hire a particular person or even the right clinical decision. You just have to slow down and hear it.
About 20 years ago, I asked a teacher how one knows what to do in terms of TMJ issues. He told me that you get experience from mistakes, but the only way you make mistakes is through experience. That is the proving grounds for that little voice. You’ll learn to trust it over time, and let me tell you, it’s generally right. In business, in the clinic and in life.
We all err from time to time. It’s a part of life and I wouldn’t trade my mistakes for anything. They’ve taught me a ton and it’s helped refine my decision making process and they’ve also shaped that voice that now is like having a second, trusted advisor for all of my decisions. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, start listening more during those quiet times. I promise that 20 years from now you’ll look back and understand exactly what I mean.
Wishing you an amazing day,
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