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Don't focus on the potholes

I had a revelation the other day when out with my 15 year-old practicing her driving.  I found myself describing to her how to avoid potholes: focus on where you want to be, rather than on what you don’t want to hit. 

I first heard this years ago from a trail bike guide at a resort in the Sonora desert.  This guide would huddle us novice cyclists up periodically to prepare us for the desert trail’s upcoming twists, turns and obstacles.  He would remind us that if we focused on the cactus at the side of the trail, we’d be sure to brush against it.  He encouraged us to instead note and acknowledge its presence, but focus our attention on the clear part of the trail.

My mind took me to my conference room table, explaining the informed consent for braces treatment—the litany of all the pitfalls that I legally have to explain to patients before they start treatment.  Like the surgeon explaining that you can die on operating table.

I’ve always hated telling patients all the terrible things that can befall them, because I’d rather set the expectation for the beautiful results at the end.

Do you know anyone who likes to expect the worst, so they can be pleasantly surprised when things actually go smoothly?  Watching these pessimists go through life, I sure wonder if they don’t bring more bad things upon themselves with their fear and worrying. 

On the other side of the fence are the Pollyannas who refuse to acknowledge potential pitfalls.  They can easily be blindsided when things go wrong. 

I prefer to be aware of the problems that can arise—whether in the road ahead, in medical treatments, or just in life in general.  With that awareness, I can acknowledge the potholes, yet focus my attention on the clear spots and aim for a clear passage.  In orthodontic treatment planning, I set the intention for a desired outcome that can be realistically achieved, and chart the course to get us there.  While I legally have to tell patients all the things that could go wrong, I try to shift the focus back to the expectation of smooth sailing to a successful outcome.

What about you?  Do you consider yourself a pessimist or an optimist?

How do YOU avoid the potholes in life?

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