Pragmatism at the Dentist

by Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.

Yesterday, I went to the dentist…and I HATE going to the dentist. I’m not afraid of going. I have pretty healthy teeth, so I don’t have any horror stories of root canals gone wrong. I just find it exceptionally annoying. You have to sit in an uncomfortable chair with your mouth hanging open while a stranger scrapes your teeth for half an hour. To be honest, I don’t really have any irrational beliefs about this process. I don’t have any demands that the process should be different (it is what it is). I don’t think it’s AWFUL- it’s just an annoyance, and I have no doubts about my ability to stand it. I don’t judge the hygienist as a bad person because she annoys me for half an hour. After all, it is her job!

Despite all my supposed rationality, I was still letting my thoughts make this experience worse for me. I found it really difficult to stop thinking about how much I hate going to the dentist. “I’m so tired of having to keep my mouth open so wide.” “This is taking FOREVER.” “She already scraped that tooth- why is she going back to it!?” As I found myself getting antsy approximately 20 minutes into the cleaning, I forced myself to apply Dr. Ellis’ pragmatic dispute to my ruminative thought process:

Question: Am I helping myself by focusing on how much I hate doing this?

Answer: No.

Question: Is this process going to go any faster if I focus on my discomfort?

Answer: No.

Question: What is happening when I think solely about how much I hate being at the dentist?

Answer: I am getting more and more impatient and I’m having a harder time tolerating the situation.

Question: So what do I do about it?

Answer: STOP thinking about how much you hate this!

After running through these questions, I found myself focusing on something else- turning this situation into my next blog! The rest of the cleaning was much easier and seemed to go a lot faster when I stopped focusing so much on wanting it to be over.

Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.



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