Mind Over Matter



Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.” Although James Allen wrote those words over a century ago, they contain some of the most important keys to success in dentistry today. No, Mr. Allen was not a dentist, but he understood the profound truth that being successful is not a product of circumstance; it is the result of thoughts and actions. When I first read those words as a young dentist, I had the impression that they embodied a powerful concept. That concept is simply that our current circumstances are highly malleable and only through demotivating thought and inaction can they solidify into reality. The day I started thinking about dentistry in those terms was the first step in a long journey that proved that first impression right. I would like to share with you some of the insights I gained throughout my career as I sought to apply this precept to my life, my dental practice and the patients whom I served.

The Power of Thought
Everyone approaches life with certain assumptions. Many people assume that if they work hard, go to the right schools, know the right people, live in the right neighborhood and work at the right place, success will follow. On the surface this assumption seems logical, but upon closer inspection this assumption has a fatal flaw. It sets the determining factor on external rather than internal factors. In my experience, the true conduit to success is found within one’s own thoughts. James Allen eloquently wrote, “Suffering is always the effect of wrong thought in some direction.”

When I first started my dental practice I thought that success was guaranteed if I just made sure to provide adequate dental care to my patients. When success didn’t automatically happen, I thought I would be more successful if my practice was in a more affluent area. I thought there was no way that the blue-collar workers coming through my doors could afford comprehensive care, so why present the big cases? In reality, my lack of success was not a function of my circumstance, it was the result of my way of thinking. I was creating mental limitations that prevented me from engaging patients in terms of value and outcome, rather than cost and the limitations of insurance. After this realization, I approached every patient as if they deserved the best treatment possible, with the assumption that they had a way to pay for it, and most importantly, that the patient wanted what I could offer. Once I made those thoughts part of me, the circumstances I thought once limited me, no longer had an affect on my dentistry

Fear and Doubt
When I lecture, I like to ask members of the audience a simple question: “How many of you have prepped a full arch?” Without fail, only one or two hands go up. My next question is, “Why aren’t all of you doing full arch cases?” The responses are varied but the answer almost always boils down to fear. Fear is a mode of thought that keeps more dentists from reaching their potential than any external force I know of—including the economy. James Allen wrote,

“Thoughts of fear, doubt and indecision crystallize into weak . . . and irresolute habits, which solidify into circumstance.” Dentists who are afraid of the perceived complexities of full arch dentistry are creating a circumstance that will forever hinder their success. Doctors who are afraid of presenting comprehensive cases because they fear the patient will say “No” will never have a chance to do the life-changing dentistry that patients will truly value. Dentists who fear change will be forever trapped in a career that will be defined by struggle and disappointment.

I struggled with these fears when I started practicing, but I quickly found that replacing fear with faith broke down all the barriers that were preventing me from reaching higher levels of production. I had faith in the patient’s ability to understand and see the value of what I was presenting. I didn’t let the fear of “No” hold me back from presenting the kind of comprehensive dentistry that I knew the patient needed. A direct result of this change in thought, patients began to have faith in what I could do for them. As simple as it sounds, that is one of the key reasons that my small “blue-collar” practice was able to outperform dental practices in the wealthier areas.

Thought and Action
The requirements for success are not secret, nor are they difficult to understand. Why then do so many people struggle to attain success? The answer is deceptively simple. They fail to succeed because they fail to act on what they think or know to be true. Ironically, many of the people who read this article will think there is truth in what I am saying, but very few will actually take that thought and translate it into action. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly conceived or planned action—simply putting a thought into action has amazing transformative power.

When I first began trying to apply these concepts into my practice, the attempts were not perfect, but they created movement towards a goal. As I experimented, my approach became more refined and the outcomes improved. If you need someone to help you, find a mentor. Start taking courses that will help your skills advance and put those new- found skills to the test…now! Waiting for a “perfect case” to come along to try something new is a recipe for failure. Seize the opportunity to turn every positive thought or insight into action and you will be amazed at what even small attempts can accomplish. Failure is not the opposite of success; it is the consequence of not acting. If you can conquer your fear to act, you will conquer failure.

I will close as I began with another quote from James Allen, “As a man thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” The power to succeed in dentistry and indeed any aspect of life is found within the individual. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or if you are only a few years from retirement; the power to become what you want resides within you. External forces, no matter how daunting they first appear, give way when the force of positive thought and determined action are applied

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Dr. Dick Barnes is the leader in practice development for today’s cosmetic practice. A graduate of Marquette Dental School, he began his general dentistry practice in Rialto, California. As his practice, skills and reputation grew, he became known as one of the world leaders in cosmetic dentistry. In addition, Dr. Barnes taught at Loma Linda University and the University of Southern California, at their respective dental schools.


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