Private Practice Success Newsletter
by Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC / Sept 2015
In a small business, it’s not just the way you talk to others that grows your practice; it’s also the way you talk to yourself. Negative, self-deceptive internal dialogue can derail a business owner. Instead, learn how to tap into a better and truer voice, that of your inner entrepreneur.
How Self-deception Works
It’s Monday morning and you have a list of business tasks to do this week, apart from seeing scheduled clients. Your list reads: Make an overdue marketing call, rewrite your website homepage, complete all client notes, do the monthly billing, clean off the office desk.
You have set aside time in your calendar for each task and feel assured that you can accomplish all the items on the list.
You start with the marketing phone call. You have a colleague that you respect, someone you have made several referrals to over the past year and although you are friendly, you have yet to have a referral from her. You decide to be more direct after saying hello, to tell her that you have some openings in one of your groups and ask for a referral. This feels like a bit of a risk since you tend to be unassuming, even a people pleaser, but you want to practice being more direct about your business needs.
As you get ready to dial her phone number, you pause. A series of thoughts go through your mind. “It’s not fair that I have to make this call. I help her, why doesn’t she automatically just help me back? Why do I have to work so hard for referrals anyway, its easier for everyone else but me. Forget it. If she wants to refer a client to me, she knows where to find me.” You decide not to make the call, feeling upset but justified.
Unknowingly, you have just become the victim of your own self-deceptive thinking.
Self-deception is a process of thinking based on misleading ourselves and rationalizing our resulting behavior.
We convince ourselves that what we think about a situation or even ourselves is true, despite evidence or information to the contrary. We justify our mistaken beliefs because it keeps us feeling momentarily safe and self-righteous. With self-deceptive thinking we can explain why we don’t make an important call–to avoid possible rejection– even though this course of non-action means that our business misses a potential opportunity to grow.
Self-deceptive thinking interferes with a critical element in being a successful business owner: having an entrepreneurial mindset. An entrepreneurial mindset means you have an equal measure of both optimism and pragmatism. When you tap into your “inner entrepreneur” you can hold a vision of what’s possible while, at the same time, assess reality.
An entrepreneurial mindset gives you the fuel for taking action: you stay hopeful and focused on your goals. When self-deceptive thinking creeps in, filtered with negativity and bias, it has the power to stop you in your tracks.
I see three patterns of self-deception that commonly occur in those who own and operate a private practice. Here is an explanation of each destructive pattern and tips to correct it immediately, so that you can follow through with all your Monday morning action lists.
Those who studied the work of Aaron Beck and David Burns, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are aware of the long list of cognitive distortions– thinking patterns that inhibit desired behavior. (See a list of common cognitive distortions here in a short article by John Grohol http://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions)
A small group of these distortions are called “the fallacies.” Three of these fallacies contain highly self-deceptive patterns of thinking that I see especially problematic for those in business:
1. The Fallacy of Control – when your practice doesn’t develop the way you think it should, you feel like this is your fate (you have no control) or that you alone are to blame (you control everything)
2. The Fallacy of Fairness – you feel resentful based on the lack of fairness inherent in business—bad things happening to good therapists doesn’t seem right
3. The Fallacy of Heaven’s Reward – you have trouble reconciling the large professional sacrifice you have made and the subsequent little lack of compensation you receive
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, welcome to the world of business and self-deception. Read on to better understand how each of these 3 fallacies works and my tips to overcome and correct each one today.
The Fallacy of Control
We yearn for control of our lives and our practices.
When we see little result from our best efforts at marketing, writing, networking or other business actions, we can start to feel like we are up against something bigger and more difficult than mere business realities. We can feel cursed by fate, or at odds with the energetic forces of a larger universe.
Therapists and other helping professionals I coach may tell me that a workshop didn’t fill with clients, or a Psychology Today directory listing got no response, or a meeting with a colleague yielded no referrals. As we talk, I often hear self-deceptive thinking about control. Some insist that the fault is an outside force, like fate. Others take full blame themselves, as though it is a reflection of their inadequacy.
The answer is more often a mixture of factors. Our best efforts are always affected by many factors outside of our control, such as timing or a crowded marketplace and by factors within our control, such as having the right business strategy or a willingness to follow through with the sheer amount of personal effort and expense that most business strategies require to succeed.
Take marketing, for example. I often remind therapists that all of their marketing effort is really marketing research. No one knows for sure what any given marketing effort is going to produce. Given a lack of control over the outcome, the most you can do when marketing is test out the marketplace with an idea and then try to assess the results as feedback.
Then you have to decide to repeat, tweak the idea, or try something else, and of course, retest.
The bottom line is that we have limited control in business, as in life. Some find it is easier to deal with the lack of control by self-deceptive rationalization that a business task is “not meant to be” or “not meant for me.” Others collapse in blame and feelings of failure. Neither is good for the health and welfare of your private practice.
Tip: When faced with issues of control, tap into your inner entrepreneur for better self-talk, such as: “I won’t let myself feel victimized by fear and become inactive. I detach from immediate results and choose to continually take action that furthers the direction of my vision and goals.”
The Fallacy of Fairness
Therapists and other helping professionals often feel that the success of their private practice should follow their own definition of fairness. But if fairness means justice or worthy or even rightness to you, then you will find that business results are rarely based on what is fair. For example, the rate of all new business failure in the US remains at 50% and this is not necessarily about who is more deserving or who tries harder. As with the above fallacy of control, there are many other causes at play.
The fallacy of fairness can occur in many ways. A counselor in a busy metropolitan area says, “If I do good work with clients, the work should speak for itself. It’s not fair that a caseload is based on an advertising or Google adwords budget rather than the skill and effectiveness of the clinician.”
A life coach says, “I have been in practice twice as long as my colleague, yet she got asked to present at a conference that I was dying to speak at and it’s not fair.”
Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, challenged the idea of fairness, trying to reconcile the concepts of divinity with randomness. Business success unfortunately carries the same degree of circumstance. Two therapists in the same city having the same training, specialty and even the same work ethic, can have quite varied degrees of practice success. Business results are not always fair.
Tip: Rather than emphasize fairness, you do better to focus on a clear list of business goals. If we were working together, I would ask questions like these to help shift the internal, self-deceptive conversation:
• What do you specifically want and need?
• What is your plan to achieve those goals this month?
• What additional resources do you need?
• How much time and effort can you devote to each goal?
• Who can help support you as you move forward?
The Fallacy of Heaven’s Reward
The helping professions require sacrifice, in terms of extending caring beyond session time and a host of uncompensated efforts. For example, we think about our clients outside of client sessions, we continually train to improve our skills at our own expense; we read and study throughout our professional lives. Many of us work hard for relatively low income and bemoan the lack of recognition that our profession merits.
Some rationalize this by believing that their commitment, sacrifice and self-denial will be rewarded over time. If the reward does not occur in the way it was expected, they feel betrayed. This is the deception of the Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.
This fallacy is a particularly tricky form of self-deception because it addresses an often unspoken, but expected and inherent trust about the act of helping others. It feels important that helping and giving should result in getting back.
Therapists tell me, “With the intrusion of insurance-based regulations and increasingly difficult caseloads, I give so much and at times, get back so little.” Many are left shaking their heads and wondering if their career was worth it.
I see this fallacy play out in private practice in ways both large and small: the therapist who slides her fee for a client in need then feels angry when that same client tells her about the wonderful vacation he just booked to France; the consultant who agrees to work Saturdays outside her regular work week to accommodate a client and then feels taken advantage of when the client suddenly quits for another consultant who charges less.
If you regularly violate your own policies or practice boundaries for clients, or agree to unacceptable working conditions based on some future expectation of appreciation, you are vulnerable to this fallacy.
Tip: Stay focused on the present. Respect your policies and practice boundaries. Take time for self-care and address any secondary trauma. Find ways to reward yourself for your work, using intrinsic rewards.
Intrinsic rewards are those within your control, based on the here and now. Boost your feelings of satisfaction, joy, and pride based on your work. Keep a list of your “business wins” each week and celebrate your achievements with others you trust. After a major effort, plan something big, to celebrate yourself. Don’t wait for others or even society to see your efforts. You know what you have accomplished, make it count within yourself.