A Successful 2009

Defining Resolutions, Intentions and Personal Competence

By Shelley Simon, RN, DC, MPH, EdD

Chiropractors make New Year's resolutions for the same reasons everyone else does - because the turn of the calendar brings with it a sense of hope and possibility. It's a new beginning, a fresh start and an opportunity for change. You resolve to get organized, spend quality time with your staff, be more effective with marketing and make your practice more profitable. Then one day, toward the end of January, you realize you've lost your enthusiasm and you're just about where you were this time last year - only a year older.

Or, instead of making any resolutions, maybe you decide to sign up for a practice-management program, complete with kick-off workshop in a sunbelt city. By the final morning of the seminar, you're so pumped up and excited about your potential for success you can barely contain yourself. Being with colleagues who share your enthusiasm is intoxicating. But then, within a few weeks, your goals feel impossible to achieve and you're wondering how all of that optimism and energy evaporated so quickly. You are not alone.

New Year's resolutions, quick-fix seminars and "fool-proof" tactics don't ultimately work because they are missing the essential component for a successful, sustainable change effort - you. The focus of this article is how to make resolutions become realities by paying careful attention to your intentions, along with targeted personal-development efforts and measurable, actionable steps toward goals.

A Few Distinctions

The words resolution and intention are often used interchangeable, and rightly so. They are not as concrete as a goal, but are instead statements of resolve or aim. An intention is a determination to act in a certain way - to do or achieve one's purpose or goal. A resolution may feel or sound more like a pledge or a promise to one's self. Examples of financial resolutions or intentions might be, "I will pay down my debt" or "I will be more conscious about how I spend money."

A goal is measurable and has a deadline associated with it. For example: "I will reduce my personal debt by $10K by the end of this year." This is quantifiable. At the end of the year, you need only to look at your accounts to see if you've achieved what you set out to do.

Intention can also be understood as where you focus your attention most of the time. I encourage my clients to become increasingly mindful of where their attention and intentions lie, especially during challenging times. This requires cultivating both self-awareness and self-management skills.

Unclear intentions may lead to mixed results or less-than-optimal outcomes. What you habitually think about - positive or negative - very often becomes your reality. For example, you can have an intention to increase your referrals, but if your attention is constantly on your lack of new patients, you are limiting your own success. If you've ever experimented with affirmations, you already know that this technique is only effective to the degree to which you can hold an authentic belief around your chosen affirmation.


An important step in embarking on a resolution is to first reflect on past successes (and failures) so you can incorporate important lessons and insights as you move into the coming year. Everyone has experienced setting out to change something about themselves or their business, only to be disappointed when they don't follow through or achieve their desired outcome. In the face of failure, some individuals place blame, dismiss their goal as having been unimportant or rationalize why they were not successful. Others look inward, but in an unproductive way; blaming themselves for not having enough willpower or determination.

There may indeed be external reasons that change efforts fail and sometimes internal lack of determination is the culprit. In many cases, however, there is an overlooked element or minimized variable that is essential to any successful change plan. Sustainable change requires changing ourselves (our behaviors and skills) as well as our level of self-management and personal development. Your intention may be to increase new patients or build a high-performance team, and you can have scripts, procedures and an endless list of the actions appropriate to your goals. Yet, action without attention to how you are implementing your plan will likely result in disappointment.

If you could make significant change and reach your most important goals by using willpower and positive affirmations alone, you would need only to trot off to another seminar. Or, you would effectively respond to the advice of your coach, who simply says that you need to "get out of your own way" or that you should "just do it." While this might work for Nike and is a great call to action (at least to buy some new athletic gear), it might not work for you. If instead, you're ready for change at a deeper, more sustainable level, then it's time to look inward and ask yourself: "Who do I have to be to see the change I desire?" This is the developmental question that must be answered on an ongoing basis, especially when you are trying to keep resolutions and achieve goals.

The Missing Element

What's missing for most chiropractors is not good ideas or a sincere yearning for something different. More likely, what's missing is personal competence in the areas of accountability, professional development, self-awareness, and self-management that will sustain your efforts during challenging times. These are the competencies that, when coupled with clear intentions and goals, produce results. See if you can relate to one of these examples:

Doctor A wants a stable staff. She's tired of constant turnover and training. She thinks that hiring an office manger, paying more, and setting up a bonus system is the answer to her problems. Some of those actions may be useful, but what she really needs is more empathy, better communication and leadership skills, trustworthiness and/or the ability to self-assess.

Doctor B gets annoyed when patients don't agree to the treatment plan he recommends. He believes that if only he had better persuasion tactics, patients would comply. In fact, what he needs is more emotional awareness, including the ability to handle disappointment and rejection without personalizing or withdrawing. Instead of tactics, he should focus on improving his listening skills and becoming more service-oriented.

Doctor C knows that referrals are the best source of quality patients. Repeatedly disappointed by affirmation attempts, positive thinking, and sporadic monthly health care classes for new patients, he attends seminar after seminar seeking the latest tactic, trying to improve his "pitch" or searching for the perfect script to request referrals. Unfortunately, seminars and scripts won't help him until he first builds his social awareness (emotional intelligence), initiative, self-confidence, and communication skills.

Developing personal competence is the single most important factor in keeping resolutions and achieving goals. While developing personal competence is definitely a process and, as such, requires continued effort, time, and commitment, it will impact your level of success and change efforts far more than any tool, trick, script or seminar.

Are You Ready?

So, let's say you have a meaningful resolution, intention or goal in mind. The critical question then becomes: Are you ready? Perhaps you believe that change can only occur in response to pain, crisis, chaos or desperation. Certainly those conditions may prompt action. However, impetus for change can also come from a compelling positive vision, new idea or possibility, or a positive state of readiness.

You may, for example, be doing pretty well with marketing, but you're curious how much more efficient or effective you could become or if there might be a different level of service you could provide. Or you're reasonably confident about how your financial future is shaping up, but in light of current economic uncertainties you're wondering if you should revise your long-term plan. When individuals approach change from a place of strength and inquisitiveness, they tend to be receptive to new ideas and fresh ways of looking at their practices, their finances or any other domain they want to improve. They're ready to do the work necessary to reach a new level of excellence or potential, even though their current satisfaction level is reasonably high.

In terms of readiness, it's important to be able to distinguish between a plan that you will carry out and one that you won't. Every day, chiropractors challenge themselves to keep up with paperwork, market their practice, deal with a chronic staff problem and spend more time with their families - and then they don't follow through. They promise themselves, "I'll do it tomorrow." If you tend to make the same resolutions and set the same goals year after year and then fail to follow through, it's time to take a deeper look at the issue. Ask yourself how important your goals are to you, what tends to get in the way of achieving critical goals, and what your typical reaction is when you repeatedly fall short of success (dismiss, deny, blame, rationalize, etc.).

First Steps

After you have reflected on your resolutions, intentions and goals and are ready to take action, the next task is to decide on first steps. You need a concrete plan - one that you can visualize yourself doing - including the when, where and how. Having the first few steps of your goal mapped out will dramatically increase your likelihood of success.

First steps allow you to see early results. This is important because while you may not have a completed goal for weeks, months or even longer, you will be taking steps toward your goal, staying focused on your plan, and growing your confidence. When you can see incremental progress, you're more likely to follow through even when definitive results are not immediate.

Study the chart above for a quick recap of what we've covered in this article. The examples will help put the theories and concepts into perspective. Simply keeping on task and doing the appropriate actions steps may be enough to help you achieve your goals. If, however, you consistently fall short of your objectives, then assess your personal competencies. Keep in mind that the developmental competencies and skills listed above are options. Most chiropractors would not work on all of these at once, but would instead choose carefully from among the options.

Sometimes our own expertise and natural talents are so foundational that we minimize our achievements, forget to congratulate ourselves on results, and instead spend all our time focused on what we've yet to accomplish. Once you've completed your first steps, pause to appreciate and acknowledge your progress. If you've slipped behind on some of your action steps, make a plan to get back on track. Then map out the next steps toward your goal. Throughout this process - from the first glimmer of a resolution to seeing your goal come to fruition - remember to give proper attention to the developmental skills you need to learn or build along the way.

Challenge for 2009

Assuming that at least some of what you've read here has captured your attention, I'd like to leave you with a gentle challenge for the new year. Let 2009 be the year you take yourself and your goals seriously. Make the effort and take the steps - including the important personal development steps - necessary to have a successful change effort this year and achieve the results you want.

Ask yourself these questions: What are my most important resolutions, intentions, and goals for this year? What personal development competencies are lacking or need my attention? How ready am I for change? What are my very first measurable steps?

If you have clear answers already in mind, you are likely well on your way to a successful 2009. If you are not 100 percent clear on your resolutions, intentions, goals, personal development needs, and first steps, then spend some time with the concepts and questions in this article. Do further reading and find the support you need to achieve the goals you envision for next year - the year you take personal and professional success seriously.

Relative to developing personal competencies, see prior articles, including "The Business Case for Emotionally Intelligent Leadership" (1/1/08) and the two-part series, "A Natural Immunity to Change" (3/25/08 and 4/8/08).

Resolution / Intention Goals First Steps Developmental Competencies and Skills

Make my practice more profitable.

  • Increase revenue by 15 percent during 2009.
  • Decrease overhead by 10 percent by year-end.
  • Develop new marketing plan.
  • Review collection procedures with staff.
  • Line by line review of 2008 expenses.
  • Review and organize all financial files.
  • Meet with financial planner and accountant to establish budget.
  • Accurate self-assessment
  • Self-control
  • Initiative
  • Self-confidence
  • Innovation

Have a stable, effective staff.

  • Have solid team in place by June 1.
  • Hold staff retreat during first quarter.
  • Develop plan for staff development by May 1.
  • Draft new job descriptions.
  • Place ad for office manager.
  • Establish schedule and agenda for weekly team meetings.
  • Schedule staff retreat.
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Developing others
  • Influence
  • Conflict management
  • Trustworthiness

Manage stress and achieve optimal physical condition for myself and set a good example for patients.

  • Lose 15 pounds by year-end.
  • Weekly massage.
  • Gym two days a week.
  • Run three days a week.
  • Meditation and/or yoga daily.
  • Clear kitchen of junk; shop for healthy food that's easy to prepare.
  • Have healthy snacks in office.
  • Schedule first massage appointment.
  • Buy new running shoes.
  • Cancel old gym membership; join the gym across the street.
  • Research yoga studios.
  • Self-awareness
  • Impulse control
  • Motivation
  • Conscientiousness
  • Emotional awareness
  • Commitment

Click here for previous articles by Shelley Simon, RN, DC, MPH, EdD.

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