Renewing Your Commitment to Self-Care and Your Practice

Learn how to renew your passion and commitment to your practice, the massage therapy profession and yourself.

February 15, 2012

The first part of a new year is a good time to take a look backward and envision your future. Are you where you imagined you’d be? What are the significant accomplishments you made this year? Take some time to relish your achievements, and then spend some time planning for how you’d like to be able to answer these same questions next year at this time.

Setting Goals: Broad Strokes to Nitty-Gritty. For some, envisioning the future and setting goals feels more like painting a canvas. They want to pay attention to the details, but are especially interested in taking in the big picture perspective. And that’s great, helpful even when you’re starting to think about what you want your next year to look like. Without the big picture perspective, the small details wouldn’t make sense. But, without the details, there wouldn’t be a big picture, so to speak. The trick is paying adequate attention to both aspects when you’re planning.

Big Picture. Take some time to think about the mission statement of your practice (or, if you’re employed, think about your own personal massage therapy mission statement). Then, write down some long-term goals that meet your vision of the practice. You may want to vary the focus, as well. For example, set a goal that pertains to your business, such as adding three new clients or learning a new modality, and then perhaps also set a goal about community outreach. Can you create a goal about committing some of your time to volunteering in your community?

You might also find creating a very specific profit goal is helpful, giving you a very concrete way to think about your business. You can say, for example, that you want to see a 5 percent increase in this year’s profits. Be realistic, but also don’t let yourself off the hook by aiming low. And because clients are an essential aspect to your practice succeeding (and being profi table), consider what’s working—and what isn’t—in terms of customer service, then write some client-centered goals for the upcoming year.

Nitty-Gritty Details. Once you’ve got a good idea of your long-term initiatives, begin putting together smaller action items you can attach to these goals. One effective way to think about these details in light of your longer-term goals is summed up in the acronym S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Specific. Being as focused and specific about how you are going to accomplish some of the goals you set is a great first step to actually getting them done. If you can’t envision the actions you’ll need to take to make progress toward one of your goals, then re-evaluating the initiative is necessary. For example, what specifically are you going to need to do to increase profits by 5 percent? Will you need to add five more regular clients to your practice? Or, perhaps create a presence on the Internet to market to a specific age demographic? Whatever it is, put it in writing in as much detail as possible.

Measurable. Without any way of measuring progress, setting goals is really just wishful thinking. And here is where being specific comes in handy. Making action items that are measurable gives you a sense of control and reinforces the need to take action. Following the same example about increasing profits by 5 percent, you might say: Gain five new clients in the first quarter of the new year. Drilling down the specific action even further gives you a target, and keeps you on track and moving forward.

Attainable. No one is saying you shouldn’t shoot for the stars, but you also have to have some low-hanging fruit. In other words, most of your initiatives need to be things you actually can accomplish, or you run the risk of continually feeling defeated. So, start small when you can. For example, commit to gaining one new client in one month’s time. Success is a huge motivator, so getting a couple of small victories can really give you the energy to continue working toward achieving those larger initiatives.

Realistic. Giving your bigger goals a reality check is a necessary part of the process. You need to ask yourself at this point: Do I have the skills necessary to achieve the goal? Does the goal fit the mission of my practice or my personal life? If you’ve never run before and have trouble with one knee, making running a marathon a goal to complete this year might not be realistic. Similarly, committing to focusing your marketing efforts on pregnancy massage might not be realistic if you have no training in this modality and have never before worked with this demographic.

Timely. A good part of your motivation is likely going to come from having a target date for completion, as having a goal out there that you can reach at any time is likely too vague to sustain any real energy. Giving your goals a timeframe makes tracking progress and adjusting expectations less difficult.

Renew Your Commitment to Self-Care

Creating healthy habits. As we head into spring, renewing our commitment to health can be particularly poignant—especially after the holidays. Following are a few easy habits to add to your health regimen:

Eat breakfast. Busy schedules, early morning massage therapy sessions, any number of things can conspire against your eating a healthy breakfast. But the often-heard saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day isn’t without merit.

For starters, the American Dietetic Association reports that breakfast is the first chance your body has to replenish the glucose levels that are essential to brain function and are the main source of energy. Skipping breakfast can lead to feeling tired and irritable.

Another benefit of eating breakfast is weight management. Eating a healthy breakfast can keep people from binge eating later in the day when they’ve become hungry. And though it’s true that grabbing a donut is better than skipping breakfast entirely, try to make healthy choices, such as whole-grain cereals or fresh fruit.

Protect your skin. As the weather warms, more and more people start spending more and more time outdoors—getting flower beds ready for planting, for example, or relaxing on the porch. Being outdoors is great, but you need to make sure you’re taking care of your skin. The message has never been that the sun is the enemy. After all, sunlight is a major source of Vitamin D for many  people. But, you need to take precautions and protect your skin.

First, always wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of  15. Also, if you’re going to be outside for extended periods of time, wear a hat and other protective clothing. When  possible, avoid the midday sun, doing the work you need to do outside before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. And although this goes without saying for most, absolutely avoid sunbathing.

Good dental hygiene. Your teeth do more than help you chew food. Today, physicians are finding that oral health impacts a person’s general well-being, with Dr. Michael Roizen, author of RealAge, suggesting that flossing your teeth everyday adds as much as 6.4 years to your life.

One fact that gives credence to this idea is that your teeth have a blood supply that comes from the heart. Some researchers now believe that the bacteria that cause dental plague can enter the bloodstream and may be associated with the plague that causes inflammation in blood vessels, leading to heart disease.

To be clear: No one is saying that flossing prevents heart disease, but practicing good oral hygiene should be seen as an integral part of your overall health regimen.

Renew Your Commitment to Your Practice

Getting consumers to understand the very real benefits of massage therapy can be a daunting task. Dismantling preconceived notions of massage therapy, helping people overcome price concerns, getting clients to recognize the importance of regular massage sessions are all situations you’ve probably encountered at one time or another.

One good way to overcome these obstacles is to be very specific when you target your outreach to the public. For example, according to AMTA’s most recent Massage Profession Research Report, 29 percent of massage consumers had their last massage for medical reasons, and 58 percent of consumers over the age of 65 cited this reason.

Knowing this, you can look for opportunities to reach consumers who may benefit from massage therapy for medical reasons. For example, May is Arthritis Awareness Month. Can you get the word out about how massage therapy can help relieve pain by working with a local nursing facility? Or, you might dedicate a day in your practice to educating older people in your community about how massage therapy can help them deal with any number of chronic conditions they might be facing as they age.

The Arthritis Foundation reports that aging baby boomers are going to be at the front of a 40 percent increase in the prevalence of this condition by the year 2030—pushing the number of people dealing with this disease to 67 million. That’s a lot of people in pain who you can reach with a message about massage therapy.

Do your homework. When considering how to go about doing some of this more targeted outreach, make sure you have a sound understanding of the condition or problem you’re addressing. Don’t approach a local nursing facility or consider an open house at your practice without preparing. Have materials and research on hand that explain and reinforce what you’re saying about massage therapy, and prepare yourself for questions that might arise.

For example, someone with arthritis who has had joint replacement surgery is probably going to want to know if massage therapy is recommended for them. Be ready to talk about the different modalities you might use, as well as why they are effective. You might also consider educating people about any techniques that would be contraindicated. And, if your background includes any relevant training or continuing education, make sure the consumers you speak with about massage therapy know about it.

Talking to Health Care Professionals. Massage therapy is the first integrative therapy listed on the Arthritis Foundation’s website: “Massage can be a great way to ease the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, and many doctors recommend massage to their patients with arthritis.” Some of the benefits listed include massage therapy’s ability to decrease stress, ease muscle pain and spasms, and improve sleep.

Think if you know any rheumatologists in your area that you might connect with for referrals. Can you put together an informational packet for them detailing how you think you might be able to help their patients, as well as any relevant research? Or, could you propose doing an educational seminar for patients interested in massage therapy as a treatment option?

Approaching physicians, however, can be a unique experience.

Following are a few quick pointers:

The office manager knows. If you want to get on a doctor’s schedule, get to know the office manager. For example, you might want to ask if the doctor ever does any work with massage therapists. Remember, these people are going to have a great deal of information about the doctor’s schedule and how he or she prefers to work.

Dress for success. Your instincts might tell you that visiting a physician’s office in medical scrubs is appropriate, but that’s not a good idea. Especially for the initial meeting, you need to dress professionally—meaning a suit.

Get to the point. The old cliché that time is money holds true with many physicians, and so you are going to have to get to your point fast. Most doctors are going to want to know what specific population they treat you can help, so figure that out before making an appointment. For example, when talking with a rheumatologist, you might say: “I’d like to be referred those patients suffering from low back pain due to arthritis.”