Phooey on New Year’s Resolutions!

Shocked pediatric dentist

The New Year seems like the perfect chance to make a change, which is why so many people set resolutions to change their lives. “This year I’ll lose weight!” “I’m going to spend less time surfing the internet!” “This year I’ll definitely write that novel!” Most of us have made these types of promises to ourselves at some point, but how often are we successful?

Some experts peg that success rate to be between 5-10%, which isn’t exactly promising for your odds of success. Odds are, by now you are already backsliding.

What about the goals you’ve made for your team? I can hear you asking, “Dr. Haugseth, aren’t we supposed to be making goals to improve our practice?”

Yes. I’m not saying that goals aren’t important. What I am saying is that New Year’s resolutions are “phooey” and there is a better approach to changing your behavior and meeting objectives.

Our brains are powerful, and we often operate out of feedback loops we aren’t even aware of. To start, have your annual team meeting in January and discuss your practice (or personal) objectives you’d like to accomplish in the year. Try not to put these objectives in the framework of ‘New Year’s resolutions’ as you risk putting those goals into the doomed proverbial resolution bucket, and risk your team treating those objectives the same as all of the other resolutions they make (and more than likely give up on down the road).

Instead, think of these objectives as modifications or adjustments to how you currently do things at the practice or in your personal life. This will help your team commit to the modifications or adjustments longer term.

Remember the Habit Loop?

Making decisions saps a little bit of energy out of us every time we do it. Most of the things we do on a day-to-day basis, such as drinking coffee, watching TV, or responding to emails and voicemails, are conditioned responses. They are habits, things we do automatically because we have found a groove, a path of least resistance that’s easy to follow. If you’ve ever driven home in a daze and not even remembered the drive, then you should understand how you can perform a complex series of actions without even thinking about them.

That is why habits are so hard to change. At some point, we made choices that were appealing (at least in the moment), and we’ve become comfortable with our less-than-ideal habits. Our attempts to improve usually fail because we never respond to the actual cue that influenced the behavior in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle. To break the cycle you need to adopt a science-based approach.

Changing habits requires three things: A cue, a routine, and a reward. You can learn more about how these factors interact through this article.

Changing an existing habit entails creating a new one. We often think of our resolutions as restricting ourselves in some way, but it’s a lot easier to overcome mental obstacles when you approach from a positive perspective, and add things to your life. When you’re attempting to eliminate a bad habit, think of it as replacing it with a better one. Be positive.

Three Steps to Form New Habits

      1. Start small

Begin with small things, and rather than trying to completely reform you or your team all at once, break the goals up throughout the year, biting small chunks off at a time. “Increasing production by 15%” is a big bite. “Getting one additional referral per month” is a small bite that will help the team reach that long-term goal. Whatever the objective is for your practice, have the rest of the team be involved in goal-setting and tracking so they are invested in the results.

      1. Attach the desired change to an established cue

There are many things in our day that are programmed into our routine. If more patient referrals are the goal, incentivize team members and patients to aid in recruitment. Internal marketing is the best ROI you can get. To make asking for patient referrals a routine, attach it to a behavior that is already very reliable. If your staff is already very consistent at sending thank you cards to new patients, include cards for a referral program with them. Alternatively, if your practice conducts quality control surveys, respond to happy patients with a thank you letter and an explanation of your referral program.

      1. Make it easy to do

It’s better to take a step in the right direction than to swing for the fences and miss. When patients have trouble remembering to floss, I help them with cues and we figure out ways to help them be more successful. If they always grab a glass of water before bed, then a post-it note on the kitchen cabinet might help them get through the first week successfully. Any reliable cue that your team members won’t tune out can be the crutch they need to make a new habit stick.


If you want your team to blow the roof off of 2018, then tackle your goals in bite-sized pieces throughout the year. Work as a team to hold each other accountable, and frame things in a positive way that you will enjoy.

And if you need ideas on how to improve the profitability of your dental practice, download our guide!

Practice profitability guide button



If you don’t hit the mark, there’s no need to worry. There will always be next year.


~ Dr. Rhea Haugseth