We all have goals in our lives, and so do our patients. These goals may include learning a new technique, losing weight, saving money, or attaining a healthy attractive smile.
And it is easy to assume that the gap between where we are now, and where we want to be in the future, is caused by a lack of knowledge. It is also easy to assume that the same issue exists with our patients…that they just need to be informed more…that they “need to be educated” more.
But the reality is that knowledge alone rarely influences or drives behavior. In fact, new information may actually undercut progress toward change.
It all comes down to our personal and cultural bias toward ‘cognitivism’ – the belief that left brain objective facts and truths cause people to learn and therefore change.
But it simply does not work that way.
Learning something new and being exposed to new information are two VERY different things. Carl Rogers brilliantly explored this topic in his landmark book, ‘Freedom to Learn’, a book about the importance of experiential learning.
In many cases, the constant exposure to new information can be a clever way for us to avoid taking action. We studiously watch the news every night, but do nothing with the knowledge. We take course after course, but on Monday mornings, the routines and rituals resume. We even see patients bounce from one “second opinion” to another, seemingly stalemated.
In situations like these, we and our patients often claim that we are preparing or researching for the best answer, but such thinking is often just a rationalization to ourselves that we are moving forward when in actuality we are going nowhere, coddled in our bubble of the latest and greatest information steaming from the world’s greatest thinkers.
Acquiring knowledge and failing to apply it has become a multimillion dollar info-tainment industry in dentistry. And the fun locations, great socializing and food can all be expensed!
But what happens at the end of the day? A record number of CE credits to brag about? Another notch on the belt for studying under the latest guru?
Carl Rogers taught us that the highest levels of significant learning must include personal involvement at both the affective and cognitive levels, be self-initiated and so pervasive that it changes attitudes, behavior, and in some cases, even the personality of the learner.
New behavior emerges out of new beliefs, which are anchored in our values, and which create new meanings which then shape our habits.
It is our habits – not our knowledge which shape our lives. And it is habits -not knowledge- which shape the lives of our patients as well.
Paul A Henny, DDS
Thought Experiments LLC, © 2016