When Goals Don’t Work

//When Goals Don’t Work

When Goals Don’t Work

What to do when things don’t work out as planned because … they can’t.

Then What? There’s only one thing to do.

Visualize a donut. Pick it up and exercise self-control, which probably won’t come naturally.

Ignore the edible part, even if you’re dying for a bite.

Focus on the hole.

That, by far, is the best part of the donut.

Read this blog post and you will master the Donut Discipline – a system of analysis, attitude, planning, and taking positive action. It’s a cure for panic and paralysis, in even the most unpredictable of times.

For those in dentistry, there’s more good news: You and your practice team are already well versed in dealing with uncertainty, probably better at it than you give yourselves credit for. The Donut Discipline takes this to a higher level.

Here for you in a few thousand words….and a donut.

Ultimate Either/Or

This conceptual donut has been part of our teaching and training for years. The popular treat’s shape illustrates a vitally important distinction, and vital choices to be made.

The edible part of an actual donut represents everything you cannot control, because it’s beyond control. However, such stuff impacts you, upsets you, derails plans, makes yesterday’s goals ten times tougher or unattainable for the time being. You can’t do anything about it … because, well, you can’t. This includes things like the weather, traffic, the economy, and other people’s behavior.

We humans, especially during times of stress, have an unfortunate tendency to fixate on things beyond our control. Then we are likely to complain, freak out, or freeze. People run, hide, assume the crash position, or bang their heads against the wall as they fixate on the unfixable. All the while there’s a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, bemoaning the helplessness.

Helpless you truly are, in the Zone of No Control.

To help yourself, you must look to the hole of the conceptual donut. There, waiting for discovery and action, are all the things you can control, or at least influence. The more you look, the more you see what you control and what you can do with it.

In the donut hole are things like your own attitude and actions, your daily routine, how you take care of yourself and those around you, the entertainment you choose, the people you choose to associate with, and how you care for the environment in which you live. Just recognizing that you have a measure of control lifts the spirits and changes the world, your world. While you cannot control or change the world outside of yourself, you can control and change your internal world and the world immediately around you. Even if you can only change your attitude, the difference can be huge.

What you cannot control versus what you can control. This may be life’s most vitally important either/or.

Especially NOW!

The Big, Bad Now

Life has always been unpredictable. Things almost never went completely as planned. We developed and taught Donut Discipline to help people get a grip and make smart moves when things go sideways.

Everyone in the world now living has experienced a time when things have not gone as planned. A pandemic, economic shutdown, natural disasters, civil and political unrest, and the domino effect that results.

It seems like everything now is like the weather here in North Texas – changeable and sometimes deadly dangerous. So now, it’s more important than ever to make the clean, clear cut between what can be controlled, what cannot, and what, specifically, you can do in response to the uncontrollable.

First off, you must recognize which is which.

Feelings and Refocus

Anybody who knows me, knows I am not an ethereal kind of guy. I assure you the following is 100 percent practical, actionable, results-directed advice.

Tune in to your emotions.

Ask yourself, “How am I feeling today? Am I feeling controlled, or in control?”

Negative emotions are prime indicators that you’re feeling controlled, a consequence of focusing on the wrong part of the donut.

If you’re telling yourself, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that,” you’re declaring the situation hopeless and yourself helpless. This kicks open the door to clinical-level negativity, i.e. depression. That and other emotional problems are currently through the roof. Few people are truly prepared to deal with the repeated shocks that keep hitting, with next-to-no idea what’s coming next, and no indication when – even if – things will steady and get back to anything like what used to seem normal.

So much for feeling controlled. It’s bad and makes things worse. And it’s easy to fall into.

It takes emotional and mental discipline – Donut Discipline – to refocus on what you can control and more discipline to think and do something about it.

Feelings from the correct focus include hope, encouragement, enthusiasm, clarity of mind to perceive what you can control, and the will to take action. But we need to be realistic about our expectations.

Be ready for refocus to show you’ve got a lot of work to do. On the other hand, you now know you have more than you imagined that you can work with, which you control. And that is a strong start.

Regrouping, Action-Planning, Goals

Say you have a long-standing financial plan: smart every which way, and leading to a goal of economic freedom. Then, due to current economic disruptions, you lose your job, have a business reversal, or your investments take a dive.

So much for your goal and the lifetime dream it embodied. Right? Well, no. It’s true that when you’re thrown into survival mode, with the emotional shock and grief of loss, there is an impulse to throw your goal out the window. It might seem sensible, but it’s part of a panic reaction.

Do not give up on your goals just because realistic outcomes change in uncontrollable ways. In the above example, things changed financially. For a while, anyway. You may need to draw down to get by. But do not forget that you are the same disciplined, money-smart individual who worked toward your financial goal, that now needs to be reassessed and adjusted, not dumped.

You’ve already proven you’re up to the challenge. And you want to get real about non-monetary assets such as your experience, intellectual property, work ethic, attitude, demonstrated ability to take results producing action. You know you can break big goals into immediate, actionable sub-goals. How do you know? Because you were doing it!

This is not glib surface feel-good. It’s deep, and it’s not always easy.

A Donut Example

Hard challenges need not be hardships.

Dealing with Donut Discipline opportunities is something we do often at the Total Patient Service Institute and the Crown Council. Take for example a member practice that lost one of its dentists to a tragic accident at the same time they were ramping back up from the Covid shutdown. There were so many things this team could not control, including their initial emotions related to the shock and the loss.

This team took a deep dive into the donut hole and inventoried assets and possibilities within their control. They had a beautiful practice with great patients, an amazing team, and the help and support of each other. Combining these elements, they built a plan for comfort and recovery, personally and professionally. Then they took action.

Did it work? Yes. Where uncontrollable forces derail plans, focusing on the donut hole can result in new outcomes that can be bigger and better than the original goals.

Wording to Win

Is it period, or a comma?

Talking out loud or to yourself about the uncontrollable, always go for the comma.

Never say, “There’s nothing I can do.” Period, Full Stop.

Say “There’s nothing I can do, about this particular thing…” And keep throwing commas at it, “There’s nothing I can do, about this particular thing, but I can do this, and I can do that…”


This one can be legit when it indicates sincere regret. But there’s way too much throwing around “Sorry” with no real apology or regret. Then it’s about lack of control, meaning, “Sorry, I can’t do anything about this,” and “You can’t, either” and “Nobody can.” It can mean somebody’s dodging responsibility, avoiding the Donut Discipline.

Where you absolutely don’t want to hear people throwing “Sorry” around, is your dental practice. Especially with patients.

Donut Dentistry

Dental practices can get deep into negative spaces. It shows up in their language. Everything becomes a great big “Sorry.” There are all these terrible situations imposed on us, factors beyond our control. Sorry, sorry, sorry, especially for themselves.

This reflects self-defeat, reinforced by terrible messaging among team members and, much worse, with patients.

There is no need for the Days of Sorry. Instead, refocus and apply the Donut Discipline.

No more morning meeting whines about bad things happening beyond anybody’s control. Discussion and messaging go straight to the donut hole and things to be done to work around the uncontrollable and do better. There will be talk about the best things that happened yesterday, and better things to be done today and tomorrow.

Practices that are focusing on the donut hole are finding ways to run smoother and faster than it used to be. Distancing, strange to say, can be something to bond over, because things go so easily, fast and friendly. The patient pulls up and calls or texts, “Hey, I’m here,” and the team replies, “Come on in, we’re ready,” or maybe “Hang tight in your car for just a couple minutes.” Waits, if any, are generally much shorter than they used to be, because of new efficiencies and on-time mentality the system encourages. Before they get out of the chair, patients book next appointments and then just get up and go.

Happy patient – happy practice.

It took uncontrollable events to force us to focus and take control.

You’re Already Good at This

If you’re in dentistry, you are used to uncertainty and the unpredictable. Has there ever been a day in any dental office when things went exactly as planned?

NO dental team can line up and march through the day in lockstep, per plan and schedule. No, you make adjustments, juggle and move things around, to react to the unpredictable needs of the moment. Though you can’t anticipate, much less control, what comes at you, you maintain control and adapt.

You can, and you do. The term Donut Discipline may be new, but you already know what it means. It’s been a secret friend for a long time. Now it needs to be a best friend. So make it happen. Apply the Donut Discipline. And, if you’re in the mood, pick up a box of donut holes (not donuts) for your next team meeting!


Goals and The Donut Discipline is described in full in the FREE e-book, When Goals Don’t Work, by Steven J. Anderson, available here.

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By | 2021-12-20T11:31:56-06:00 December 15th, 2021|Photo|
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