Patient Media


Killing Snakes

by William D. Esteb

I'm not particularly fond of snakes. There's something about their scaly appearance and deceptive nature that bothers me. They hide (a snake in the grass). They slither on their bellies. They are sneaky. They are deceptive. They can be a hidden threat.

Ever killed a snake? On several levels there is something primitive about the act. If you've ever killed a rattle snake you know what I mean. It usually takes but one carefully positioned stroke when using a shovel. Yet no one I know stops at this modest commitment of energy. No, when you kill a snake you go beyond the necessary. In an unexplainable and needless use of force, every fiber of your body is focused on the destruction of this largely helpful and innocent reptile.

Our family has a saying that describes this phenomena when applied to anything from cleaning the house to washing the car. "He's going at ___ like killing snakes." Killing snakes is a metaphor we use to describe anyone's total commitment in getting something done. Sometimes it means someone is going overboard and is being just a bit overzealous in their efforts.

It isn't a pretty metaphor, but it is powerful.

Whether you're a front desk C.A. choreographing a spectacular Monday evening rush hour or a doctor writing a report, I hope you're doing it with "killing snakes" intensity. I believe it was the business consultant Tom Peters who said, "Excellence is never the result of moderation." When you inventory people you know who are enjoying life, a common denominator is an intense sense of passion in their work (or play) that is infectious. Think of the preachers, doctors, salespersons, and others who have attained high levels of success and recognition. What they share, regardless of vocation, is singleness of purpose. Ironically, away from the pulpit, or the patient, or the sales prospect, these individuals are often perceived as one dimensional and not having fun. So committed and focused, to outsiders they are often seen as humorless taskmasters. Don't be fooled. The real "juice" in living comes with total, 100% commitment. They're having fun--I can guarantee it.

Don't confuse constant opportunity chasing or simply being busy with a killing snakes attitude! There's much more to it. Being relentlessly busy and having your attention distracted from the latest emergency leads to burnout. What I'm talking about is the fulfillment that comes from the joyous and total immersion in a project or the subject at hand. Time stands still, yet when you finally are prompted to look at a clock, hours have passed. There is a connectedness in the moment.

If you want to start "killing snakes" in your office and unleash the power of 100% commitment, here are some tips from an especially experienced snake killer I know:

Awareness. It sounds so obvious, but first you have to see the snake. Yet you'd be surprised how many people can't see real or potential snakes. Their feedback loops and lack of sensitivity make it difficult for them to see opportunities for service. They neglect to recognize calls for help or "read the trail" of our times and anticipate the future. It requires openness. Those suffering from bigotry or prejudice of any kind need not apply. If you like the status quo you're too comfortable. The truly happy people I've met are bothered about something. You first need a pet peeve or special project to get completely committed. In chiropractic this could take on the interest in building more of a cash practice, becoming an accomplished public speaker for chiropractic in your community, patient education techniques, developing the pediatrics aspect of your practice, or becoming an expert in some area of the profession. Analyze the trends you're seeing in your practice. Look for opportunities.

Purpose. Each of us is here for a purpose. Have you discovered yours yet? No snakes will fear for their lives until you do! This is much more than goal setting--which is critical, too. Your "purpose" often emerges when your skills and interests are in sufficient alignment so your vocation and avocation are one and the same. Snakes laugh at doctors who do things in their offices that should be delegated to others. Buying office supplies? Tracking X-ray film inventory? Cleaning the bathroom? Stay on purpose! Just because you can file X-rays, doesn't mean you should. When you're in touch with your purpose the decisions to ignore, postpone, or delegate responsibilities in your office are easier. Become a better steward of your skills and training.

Proper Tools. Killing snakes with your bare hands is not recommended. The proper tools make the job easier and faster. Sometimes the proper tool is simply a brain that is unencumbered by a limiting attitude, avoiding negative people, or constantly reminding yourself of your vision for the future. Do you have the resources in your office to get the job done? Do you have the horsepower? Is your staff similarly committed or are they just passing through on their way to something else? What's the condition of your adjusting table? Does the copy machine have the features your staff needs? Do you have enough phone lines? Do you have a mechanism to consistently educate your patients? How are your office systems functioning? When mistakes occur, do you blame people or systems (or the lack of systems)? The right tools in the hands of a craftsman is a very valuable thing.

Plan. Without a plan, valuable time and energy is wasted, and this bothers snake killers, who favor efficiency. While it looks to the bystander that snake killers have boundless energy, the best snake killers quickly lose interest when the return on their "energy investment" isn't sufficiently great enough. Obviously they have well-refined procedures and policy manuals. But don't be fooled by the obviousness of these tangible artifacts! They know where they're going and they have a plan to get them there. But any good snake killer worth his or her salt is open to new possibilities. They plan for unforeseen contingencies. They always know what to do if "the ball is thrown to them." So while they have a plan, they trust themselves enough to make revisions and exploit fortuitous windfalls.

Act. This is where amateur snake killers are revealed. Snake killers are doers. Merely planning, visualizing, or having a positive mental attitude won't do. Snake killers go boldly without reservation. They are champions of new ideas and sticklers for details. They willingly risk making a mistake or appearing foolish. Probably because they are caught up enjoying the moment, they don't worry what others think. Yet, because they believe in themselves and have properly laid the groundwork, they rarely fail. This is where their 100% commitment and total presence in the moment are so helpful--they get the job done! Novice snake killers who become preoccupied with snake bites or other distracting fears often find these ruminations become self-fulfilling prophecies. Experienced snake killers focus on the outcome and have a clear picture of the goal posts. They are not self-conscious. When you're killing snakes, form is not important--results are.

Clean up. Whenever you kill snakes there is always a mess. So it is advisable to take steps to restore order and take inventory of the situation. This willingness to conduct a post-mortem is a valuable feedback device that completes the cycle, going back to the awareness needed for improved snake killing in the future. After you clean up, celebrate. Beginner snake killers often overlook this important aspect. Instead of the countless successes, too many would-be snake killers take home the failures, remember the lost opportunities, or spend staff meetings recounting the "ones that got away." Acknowledge disappointments and then move on. Be sure to smell the roses and bask in the glow of your accomplishment.

Everyone has a pet project, that when mentioned, causes a sparkle in their eye or an infectious smile. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow, The Psychology of Optimum Experience, calls this feeling "flow." "In the flow," and "go with the flow" are two phrases that reveal the attitude of someone truly in the moment. When you're killing snakes you are totally "in the flow" and things happen without forcing them. There is efficiency and economy of movement. There is directness with finesse. There is elegance.

Killed any snakes lately?

Buy the book
My Report of Findings
Originally published in 1993
240 Pages
US $24.95

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