Motivation in Dentistry


About the author

Dr Affan Saghir BChD MJDF

Affan graduated in 2013 from Leeds Dental Institute and started working at the beautiful Avondale Dental Practice in Yorkshire. As part of Dental Foundation Training, Affan was awarded first prize by the Yorkshire Deanery and FGDP Yorkshire for his presentation on Root Canal Treatment. Affan is a board member for FGDP Yorkshire, Sponsorship Executive for BDA West Yorkshire Division, and a Director for Dentinal Tubules Leeds. Recently, Affan was awarded Young Dentist of the Year 2016 by MyDentist for his commitment to education and patient care. He is currently working at Yorkshire Dental Suite as the Cosmetic Lead within the practice, Mapplewell Dental Centre and MyDentist in Shipley. Away from dentistry, Affan enjoys keeping fit and playing sports, spending time with friends and family, and indulging his interest in British tailoring.

Motivation in Dentistry

As a Director of Dentinal Tubules, I was given the task of writing a small article aimed to help dentists. Because I feel there are Dentinal Tubules Directors who are better qualified to provide opinion on clinical topics, I have decided to focus on an area that many Dentists identify as a stumbling block: motivation. I want to share my methods for staying motivated and hope this can inspire some of you to try a different approach.  

Being motivated is crucial to becoming successful but, as I imagine we are all aware, it can become very difficult at times. Coming back from work tired and drained, the last thing on any of our minds is to go to the gym, read the latest article, or even cook a healthy meal! Nevertheless, by always striving to become a better, ‘improved’ version of myself I have managed to find several ways to increase productivity that have made positive changes to my life. I’d like to share my journey and methods, for any of you that feel you may need a little more motivation from time to time. 

1. Self-Reflection

To remain constantly positive and productive 24/7 is an absolutely unrealistic target that nobody can achieve. Instead, I challenge myself on a daily basis to continually improve as both a clinician and a person. A key element to improving myself is to critically self-analyse my daily routine. Every day, before I sleep, I replay the day in my mind and ask myself three simple questions: 

“What did I do today that was GOOD?”

“What did I do today that was BAD?”

“What can I do to IMPROVE myself for tomorrow?”

These simple questions, asked regularly, help me to self-reflect. Continual improvement is the crux of remaining productive and, without self-reflection, I can never know how to improve.

This self-analysis also allows me to see what makes me happy through the day and how I can maximise this. Essentially, all motivation derives from a sense of happiness; it naturally follows that feeling happier therefore increases motivation to achieve more everyday. Hence, another crucial question I always ask myself is:

“What made me truly happy today?”

The answer to this question is completely subjective but YOUR answer is the essence of maintaining a positive and healthy mind-set for the start of the next day. This is a core thread running through the works of Michelle Geilan and her Institute of Applied Positive Research, summarised in her book, ‘Broadcasting Happiness’. The book shows that—alongside engagement, challenging oneself and building a strong social support network—being optimistic is a key element of achieving success. In fact, this combination of factors has been shown to lead to 75% greater success in business. Gielan further believes the use of ‘fact-checking’—challenging negative thoughts and understanding the good and the bad—to be an excellent promoter of good psychological growth. I have found that helping people, in both clinical and non-clinical settings, provides me with a profound sense of happiness. Attending the gym and doing a workout also makes me happy, and although it’s often a struggle to drag myself there, once I’m in my zone I can literally feel unstoppable! Going out to meet new people, seeing exciting places, and spending time with my friends and family are other ways I try to stay happy. 

Asking and answering these questions personally and honestly helps me to identify how to be happy and fulfilled, and ultimately how to lead my life with more ease and relaxation.

2. Goal Setting

After identifying how I can improve myself, the key is to plan and set realistic targets and goals to achieve this improvement. For me, this is the most important rule to staying motivated. When I first graduated as a Dentist, I particularly wanted to become proficient in Endodontics, so I committed most of my lunch breaks to accessing extracted teeth! I try to set myself realistic goals and keep striving to provide dentistry that I am proud of; my patients deserve nothing less! This attitude has filtered through into my personal life, helping me to get fit, become healthier through staying active, and improve my diet. I did this by setting small daily goals, all working towards a vision of what I wanted to accomplish. Simply wanting to become healthier without a goal was not enough! I started to track my progress and was motivated by the achievable daily goals. I am extremely happy with how far I have come, and can easily continue to grow throughout my life and career by continuing these incremental gains. My strategy follows the simple teachings of Darren Hardy and his ‘Compound Effect’. To remain positive in difficult situations, Hardy found it better to make small changes on a daily basis than significant changes quickly (which carries a greater risk of reverting back or becoming worse). And, as I’ve talked about above, being happy and positive is the key to motivation!

3. Be Organised

I feel like I speak for everyone when I say that, as dentists, our lives can get rather busy. One of the hardest parts of being productive is how to achieve all we want to in such a small amount of time. For me, this can be very difficult: there’s so much out there that I would love to be a part of but simply can’t. This is when clear organising is key. I—initially with difficulty—formed a good habit of making a quick note of everything in the diary of my phone, which gives me the chance to assess and prioritise how best to spend my day later. Also being more organised allows me to really maximise and utilise all the hours of the day. By knowing what conference/event is happening, I can tweak my timetable accordingly to make sure I can fit the maximum possible into each day. This in turn makes my self-reflection ever more satisfying: knowing I’m operating at full capacity, primed and ready for the next day to ensure I am being the best I can be. This mindset again follows Hardy’s principles of the Compound Effect: establishing a routine and organising positive activities for the morning and afternoon have been shown to help maintain a productive working attitude throughout the day, leading to success and growth in all work, social and personal contexts. 

4. Be Adventurous

Breaking through a mundane routine is also critical to maintaining a healthy and positive mindset. I found sticking to the same routine every day very dull. So I added new and exciting activities to my life, like visiting new places around the country, touring in my car, etc. These are just a few examples of how I ‘change it up’; you should find things that excite you, things you might not even have thought to try! Michelle Gielan’s work again supports this theory: a lack of innovation and ‘spark’ in our lives leads us to exhibit classic negative emotions such as ‘hunger’, ‘anger’, ‘loneliness’ and ‘tiredness’. These feelings typify a negative mind-set that easily spills into our working lives and destroys our motivation and productivity. By engaging in exciting and new opportunities, you broaden and recharge yourself, creating an overall healthier lifestyle. Having plans for such activities also makes working through the week easier, knowing you’re working towards something fun! 

5. Relax and Reward Yourself

Finally, a key to staying productive is knowing how to relax and reward yourself effectively. How to relax can vary greatly for each individual, so understanding what allow you to ‘reboot’ ready for the next day is vital; a little more self-reflection is required here. Personally, I enjoy eating in restaurants, buying new gadgets, going for a drive, swimming and even oil painting! Once you understand what makes you relax, make it part of your reward for achieving your goals. I find this works very effectively whereby, in my routine life, it provides more satisfaction to the relaxation, making the reward feel even greater than it is! 

I hope by reading this article you now have some ideas on how to maintain a high level of motivation in your daily life. I am very fortunate that I am passionate about dentistry and would quite happily work seven days a week without fatigue. Nevertheless, it is important to have a balanced lifestyle and continue enjoying your daily routine. 

My last thought is: stay in the moment. We are forever planning our future and waiting for the next big event. Don’t miss out on the simple enjoyments of the day, today. 


Affan Saghir

Affan Saghir

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