You see this mantra everywhere — in advertising campaigns, greeting cards, tattoos, and billboards. And who doesn’t want to live without regrets? Unfortunately, most of us treat regret as a response — it doesn’t come without some bumps and bruises in the form of lessons if you’re willing to learn them. But have you ever considered ways to prevent regret?

That’s where the importance of long-term thinking and goal planning come into play, especially if you’re a private-practice owner. I know from having so many clients over the years, that dentists tend to be short-term thinkers. And it’s easy to see how, as dental school taught you to focus on clinical skills, advancing your continuing clinical education, and being the best dentist you can be, not about long-term thinking about your practice.

You get so bogged down in the day to day of treating patients, that you don’t take the time to pick your head up, take your mask off, and plan for your practice’s future. Fifteen, 20 years later when your practice is stalled (or dying), you begin to look back with regret.

Dental school didn’t teach you business strategies. In fact, you’re probably like most dentists without their MBA just figuring it out as you go along. You may be setting a goal here or there, but only enough to sustain you from one month to the next, because that’s about as far out as you can think.

Target destination

Long-term thinking and goal planning helps you define a target destination that goes way beyond a single year. When it comes to your business, a helpful concept about target destination is to think about it this way: The business you have today is not the business you set out to have.

So let’s take a minute to think about the current state of your business. Mentally chart your net income over the past five years. And I mean your true net income — what was on your actual tax return, not all the perks you added in or investments you made. Has each year been better than the previous? Maybe you had an uptick last year, but the previous three were down. Or, have you been on a roller coaster of ups and downs?

Looking at the past five years keeps you from deluding yourself into thinking you’re doing well just because you had one really good year. If you can’t sustain growth, you’re not headed forward; you’re headed for trouble (and are probably already in it, you just don’t realize it or can’t admit it).

Now think about this: Do you want the next five years to be a repeat of the last five? Do you accept the fact that if you do nothing different, you will get essentially the same results for the next five years? And the five after that?

If you want your business — and your life — to be dramatically better, you have to do the right things in the right ways. The key to having great success is in having a great “run.” That means stringing five, 10, even 15-plus great years together. You have to continue to build on that initial success to maintain it in the long run. The only way you can do that is through discipline and long-term thinking.

New patient goals

Long-term thinking is critical for all aspects of your life, but in the interest of time and space, let’s focus on your new patient goals. Do you have any? Do you know the importance of constantly increasing new patients? Do you know that each new patient brings in a conservative estimate of $1,500 to your practice?

New patients are so important that one of my clients, Dr.¬†Todd Sala of Sala Family Dentistry in Reno, NV, calls them the “gateway to a buffet” of everything else: increased collections; increased profitability; and decreased stress.

Knowing the importance of new patients and then planning exactly how many you need to impact your practice’s growth over the years are two aspects of long-term thinking. Have you planned for practice growth through increased new patients? Do you know how many new patients you need to sustain growth over the next year? How many new patients you need to sustain growth for three years? How about for five years and beyond? If you are going to run a business, you need to know where that business is going to be in at least five years out, not next month.