How to Overcome Procrastination (10 Tips Backed by Science)
Procrastination is something we all experience. You certainly know the feeling – staring at a blank page, having an assignment waiting for you, delaying starting a large project, and doing everything except what you are “supposed” to do. You carry around this heavy, dark cloud of procrastination, feeling miserable for hours or days, but you are still unable to make the first step toward getting it done. And even though you may be irritated, agitated, you can’t sleep… you can’t work either. Until finally, something happens, and you get it done. Often in a guilt-infused panic mode, at the last moment, but you get it done.
The quality of your work may suffer. The quality of your life definitely does.
But why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we procrastinate, even when we know we will feel bad about it? The answer to this question is not simple and goes much deeper than just “laziness” or “irresponsibility”.
Why do we procrastinate?
Contrary to what most people believe, procrastination is not about being lazy or lacking willpower. Since it’s such a widespread phenomenon, numerous researchers tried to get to the bottom of it and understand the roots and reasons behind it.
“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions induced by certain tasks – boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”
– dr. Piers Steel, a professor of the University of Calgary
There are many potential reasons for procrastination, but the majority of results of scientific studies show that they come down to three groups of explanations, or can be a combination of them. They show that, usually, procrastination may be:
- a result of our brain’s natural tendency to be more drawn to instant gratification than long-term benefits
- a habit we use to cope with stress and provide emotional relief
- a way to protect our sense of self-worth
Procrastination is not a time-management problem; it’s an emotion regulation problem. So let’s get deeper into it.
I Procrastination is something our brain naturally does
The brain is pretty amazing. It is probably the most complex thing humankind currently knows. And yet, it can sometimes seem, well, a little lazy. The problem is, our brains are programmed to be more drawn toward instant gratification than toward future benefits; they’ll rather take immediate satisfaction than focus on the big picture and delay pleasure for the sake of long-term goals. In general, we struggle with tasks that require effort now in return to future possible benefits. That is why it can be so difficult to stick to long-term goals such as weight-loss programs or saving for retirement.
An interesting study from UCLA showed that, when we imagine our future self, our brain’s activity is similar to as if we’re imagining someone else completely. In other words, when you imagine yourself a day, a week, a month from now, it’s like you’re imagining, say, a mailman or a worker you said “Hi” to once at a random store. A complete stranger. So, in a nutshell, an emotional part of your brain doesn’t really care about your future self as much as it does for your present self. Not even close.
Looking from this perspective, procrastination makes sense. It explains why it’s so easy to procrastinate, and why it takes effort and active attention to break the pattern and actually start working on something you know is important for your future self, but your present self doesn’t like doing.
II We procrastinate as a way to deal with stress
Here is a funny paradox – although we know procrastination, long-term, increases our stress levels and brings a whole bunch of uncomfortable emotions, initially, we may use procrastination as a stress-relief habit.
When we feel stressed, drained, overwhelmed, or we have a low level of frustration tolerance (low ability to tolerate unpleasant feelings or stressful situations), our brains may use procrastination as a way to gain some strength and energy in the present moment. If you have something stressful going on in your life, if your brain is filled with overthinking, worrying, overplanning, anxiety, high expectations, etc., and you have something boring or challenging to deal with, your brain may be like: “Are you kidding me?! I can’t deal with this too! Give me some break!”. So, we turn to procrastination as a way to try to lower the level of stress by doing something we find less overwhelming. Watching cat videos is much less demanding than making 15 phone calls, isn’t it?
Since your brain is, pretty shortsighted, it automatically turns to short-term stress relief, even though, long term, stress will increase due to procrastination. If this worked a couple of times, your brain may start adopting procrastination as a habit it can turn to when you need to deal with something you have no motivation for and your stress levels are high.
But what about situations when we procrastinate on things we love and value, those that are really important to us?
III We procrastinate as a way to maintain a good self-image
Here is an even funnier paradox than the previous one – when we really, really want to succeed, but are also very, very scared of failure, we may self-sabotage as a way to self-protect. In other words, we may use procrastination as both, a way to sabotage ourselves and, that way, preserve our good self-image. Let’s explain.
The self-worth theory of motivation asserts that one of our primary needs, as human beings, is the need to be accepted, by ourselves and others, and the primary way we see this happening is through achievement. In other words, we feel the need to be seen as competent and capable, because this gives us a sense of self-worth, and we are ready to sacrifice our other needs to preserve that image.
Basically, many of us have a simple model in our head that our performance determines our inner capabilities and our skills, which determine our success, and this success determines our self-worth, how we think about ourselves. Naturally, when this is the case and we are facing an important task, our anxiety and fear of failure skyrocket. Performing well on a task becomes crucial because, if we fail, it is not just the work we did that is at stake, it’s our self-image as well. But we still want to do it, it’s something we value and find important. So we have two strong forces battling inside us – a driving desire to achieve and a paralyzing fear of failure.
When the desire to succeed and the fear of failure clash…
We can strive for success, really want to do something, but at the same time be afraid of failure and what it means for us. When we are overly striving both away and toward something, we can feel stuck. This is exactly how people often describe procrastination – as being stuck, against a wall, feeling like having an obstacle they can’t get over.
When this is the case, we may use procrastination as a “middle ground” between these two motivations, a smart strategy to protect the picture of ourselves as capable individuals. If we procrastinate on a task that we value and care about, there are two scenarios:
- If we fail, we have built a good excuse for ourselves – “Well, I didn’t have enough time to do it better. It’s probably not an accurate representation of my abilities”.
- If, on the other hand, we succeed, we can say to ourselves how capable we are – “Wow, I succeeded despite such a short time I had”.
It’s a win-win situation. Except it is not, because we sacrifice our peace of mind and, often, the quality of our work.
So, how to fight this?
How to stop procrastinating?
The first step toward overcoming procrastination is to be aware of it. Procrastination comes in many disguises, from guilty Netflix nights to being “busy” and doing seemingly important tasks to avoid what is really important. It’s not always easy to recognize procrastination for what it is, until it’s too late. To overcome it, you first need to stop and notice it. The second and crucial step is unravelling what lies behind it. What is your, individual reason for putting things off? From there, you can take some steps toward managing those reasons and get rid of procrastination. Here are some suggestions and tips.
I Fight procrastination by training your instant-gratification brain
Sometimes, when it comes to doing things that we are not motivated or we don’t like doing, we need a little extra push to get things going. Two things can be helpful to overcome our brains’ automatic tendency to grasp for instant satisfaction:
Re-balance the cost-benefit analysis
Instead of letting the emotional part of your brain run the show, turn up your logical, rational side. Consciously make the benefits of taking action feel bigger and the disadvantages of the “pain of doing it” feel smaller. So, you want to focus on the reward of taking action or finishing a task and make it outweigh the pain of tackling it. For example, you can visualize how great it feels to tick it off of your to-do list, or tie finishing each step of a task to a treat, to something you’re looking forward to. Try experimenting and see what works for you to re-balance things and get started.
Bridge the gap between your present self and your future self
Be aware that your brain is short-sighted and that it sees your future self almost as a stranger. Thus, keep reminding yourself – it’s still going to be you. You, with your kind of thinking, your memories, your experiences, your problems, and if you don’t take action now, you’ll probably have another set of problems to deal with. Imagine if you had to face those problems right now – how would you feel? Really try to bring that feeling into the present moment. Uncomfortable? That’s exactly how you’re going to feel if you let the consequences of your inaction for your future self to deal with.
In a similar manner, when you set goals, while it’s important to imagine long-term benefits, make sure your present self knows what’s in it for them too. Find a way to make the process more enjoyable short term. Play with little rewards and see what feels good each step of the way.
II Beat procrastination when you are stressed and overwhelmed
Like any habit, procrastination can be broken, or changed. In short, every habit has three parts: trigger, response, and reward. In the case of procrastination, the trigger is stress. Your response is avoiding the task. The reward is a little bit of stress relief. What you can change in this cycle is your response. You are always going to have stresses in your life – you can’t change that, but you can acknowledge it and change the way you respond to it.
So, instead of seeking stress relief by avoiding a task (and then beating yourself up about it and becoming more stressed), you can:
1. Take the time to notice what’s going on underneath
Stop and acknowledge what is really stressing you out and taking your energy.
2. Avoid self-criticism
Forgive yourself for wanting to avoid the stress by procrastinating. There is no need to criticize yourself; that will increase the stress.
3. Identify the first step and use the “5-minute trick”
When we have to deal with something complex, it can be difficult to start because it can seem overwhelming. Finding the smallest first step that you can start with is usually helpful. A goal or a task like: “Learn Italian” is huge, and facing it in that form can feel paralyzing. On the other hand, “Search for an Italian language teacher and contact them” or “Go to the bookstore and buy an A1 Italian language workbook” seem much more manageable. To make it even easier, commit to working on the first (or any) step for only 5 minutes. Usually, you will find yourself continuing beyond that, but it’s a good place to start, because that is the most difficult step.
4. Find another way to get stress relief
Your brain needs some energy, and is trying to get it in an inefficient way – through procrastination. Make sure to compensate, but from a different source, something that is better and healthier for you. Promise yourself that after the work you do, you will do something to recharge yourself. This is not self-indulgence, but a reasonable way to look at your needs and provide yourself with enough energy to continue functioning efficiently.
To sum up, these steps may go something like this: “I procrastinate – I may be stressed about this and this and that – It’s okay, I need some relief, and my brain is trying to do this by turning to procrastination. Let’s change that. I will work on this for a limited amount of time, and instead of inefficiently trying to get some energy through procrastination, I will provide it to myself by doing this and this and that afterward”.
III Overcome procrastination when it comes from fear of failure
People who are very fearful of failure (and many high-achievers and perfectionists fall into this category) often have a kind of simplistic model in their mind: performance = ability = worth. Sometimes we procrastinate on things that are important to us, that we love and value, because we are scared to make a mistake and what that would mean for us and our self-image.
If you recognize yourself in this, here are a few things you can do:
1. Notice it for what it is and don’t let it slide
Ask yourself what is going on, what you’re afraid of. What kind of uncomfortable feelings does this task inflict on you? Then think about how realistic this kind of thinking actually is. Are you focusing on the negative or catastrophizing? Is some kind of black and white thinking present? Do you impose some “should” or “musts” on yourself? Talking to a therapist about it can also help.
2. Change your self-talk and tame your expectations
Catch criticism or perfectionism and realize it’s not helpful. Instead, you can look at things as an opportunity to experiment. Have a kind and friendly attitude toward yourself and approach a task with curiosity: “Let’s see how this will go” instead of “Everyone will think I’m a failure”. Self-compassion is incredibly helpful in this, you may want to incorporate it into the way you think and treat yourself.
3. Focus on your values instead of on your fears
Think about your values, what is important to you, and connect them with a task you do. How can you make this task less scary? Instead of focusing on what you are fearful of and why you don’t want to do the task, come up with a list of why you want to do the task, what is drawing you toward it, what is motivating you.
4. Challenge the performance–ability–worth relationship
You are more than your accomplishments. You don’t appreciate your friends because of their performance, academic or career success, but because of their other qualities, such as kindness, humor, loyalty, their ability to listen, their quirks and uniqueness. Our abilities and performance are connected, that’s true, but not always; there are many factors that determine our performance. We don’t always perform perfectly, even though our abilities may exceed what we show at the moment. It goes vice versa as well – admit it, there were situations in your life when you got lucky and got an A on a test when you really didn’t deserve it.
Be mindful of your natural brain’s tendency to procrastinate and re-balance things.
Be gentle with yourself and find a way to de-stress in a healthy way.
Acknowledge the fear, and take it along for a ride. You got this.
Do you have some useful tips on how to deal with procrastination? Share them with us in the comment section below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please be free to share it with others.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Personal Core Values – A Road To Meaningful Life
Had something like this ever happened to you?
- Someone said or did something that you strongly disagreed with, but you didn’t say anything and then felt guilty about not speaking up?
- You set goals and then failed to meet them.
- You’re so busy pleasing other people that you don’t get the time to focus on what you want, and then you get angry at others?
- You suppress what you want to do because it’s not “practical” or because you have so many things you “have to do”
If any of these resonate with you, the reason behind it may be that your actions were (or still are) not aligned with your core values.
What Are Core Values And Why They Matter So Much?
Core values are fundamental beliefs and principles that you find important in life. They highlight what you stand for, what drives you, what you see as valuable. They represent who you would like to be and how you would like to live your life.
When making different decisions, our core values give us direction. They should provide the goals and criteria that influence the path we take, what we choose, how we behave. We derive a sense of fulfillment when living in line with our personal values because our motivations and actions are aligned with what we see as important in life.
Choosing your personal core values is one of the most critical decisions when it comes to living a fulfilled life. When we don’t honor our values, we can feel lost, unmotivated, like something is simply “wrong”, and our mental and emotional state can suffer. On the other hand, intentionally creating a life that is in accordance with your values instead of automatically and habitually responding to what happens around you, without awareness and purpose, increases the chances of finding a sense of balance, confidence, and fulfillment.
How To Find Your Core Values And Make Your Life A Little Bit Easier
Many of us have no idea what our personal core values are. And in a way, it’s not surprising. In a society that actively asks us to conform, it’s not uncommon to focus on meeting other people’s expectations so much, that we lose sight of what is really important to us. Our core values get buried beneath what we think we should value.
So, turning your attention inward and engaging in an attitude of curiosity about what makes you tick and what you think is important, can help you understand yourself better. From there, you can make wiser choices, and do it more easily.
But how to do this? How to determine your core values?
One way can be to, for starters, pay attention to how you feel in different situations. What makes you angry, sad, frustrated, bored, happy, excited? Examine these situations closely – what is the main theme?
Here are some questions that can help you start thinking in that direction:
- If you could have any career, without worrying about money or other practical constraints, what would you do?
- What kinds of stories inspire you?
- What kinds of stories make you angry and upset?
- Think about three people you most admire. What is it that you appreciate about them the most?
- What are you the proudest of?
Sometimes, a wide list of core values can also help. A shorter list, like the one on the picture below, may be useful. Or maybe a longer one, like the one HERE, is something you find more helpful and inspiring.
What you can do is take a look at the list and select 10-15 values that most resonate with you. As you work through, you may find that some values you picked are similar or naturally combine. For instance, if you value community, generosity, and kindness, you might say that service to others is one of your top values. So, analyze your choices and try to narrow down the list, to combine the values into groups. What are the main topics? These larger “groups” you made – those should be your core values.
Regularly Revisiting Your Core Values Is The Key
Our brains loooove instant gratification. Humans are wired to avoid short-term pain and chase short-term pleasure. This is why you fail to resist eating that yummy cake on your fifth day of diet (again), or why it’s so difficult to give up smoking. Small things that give us instant pleasure or delay discomfort, but don’t serve us long-term, are something we all occasionally give priority to. We sometimes lose sight of our more important goals and of our higher values. This is why, if we want to make wiser, healthier, more fulfilling choices, it’s crucial to keep revisiting them, so that we bring them back to the front of our mind and keep ourselves in check. Try to be present and act from a conscious, deliberate mind most of the time rather than letting automatic responses guide your behaviour. In other words – act as a pilot, not on autopilot.
Of course, not every activity you do will match your values. Sometimes you got to do what you got to do. However, to have that sense of meaning and fulfillment, like you’re doing something “right”, you need to be aware of your value system and try to spend most of your time doing things congruent with it. If you feel guilty or empty doing something, if you don’t find any meaning in it, perhaps these actions are not meeting your values, or even worse, are going against them.
Values can change over time. This is also why it’s essential to check in with yourself from time to time about what you value the most and if you’re acting in line with it. This can help remove those conflicting feelings that sometimes arise as a result of not staying true to yourself or not having your values clearly defined.
What are your core values? Let us know in the comment section down below!
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Dahlgaard-Park, S. M. (2012). Core values – the entrance to human satisfaction and commitment. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 23(2), 125-140.
Sagiv, L., Roccas, S., Cieciuch, J., & Schwartz, S. H. (2017). Personal values in human life. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(9), 630-639.
How to Get And Stay Motivated This Year
January is the month of new beginnings, new decisions, new choices. For many, the month of January, looking from the distance of December, feels like it’s going to be a fresh start, a blank page that will be filled with great choices we missed to make in the previous year. This time is going to be different. Right? But, with the year 2020 unfolding, it’s not uncommon that people struggle to keep up with their New Year’s resolutions. Somewhere along the way, they realize that sticking to their decisions is too difficult, or that those goals are not that important, or that “they just don’t feel like it”. What happens?
That strong urge for change that pushed us to make New Year’s resolutions – called motivation – faded away. This is not surprising – keeping high levels of motivation, in the long run, is tricky. Knowing a little bit more about how motivation works might help you achieve and keep your resolutions.
A Closer Look Into the Nature of Motivation
There are different definitions of motivation out there, but the majority basically boils down to this:
Motivation is a desire to act in pursuit of your goals. It pushes you to act, to behave in a certain way to get what you want or need.
You certainly felt this drive before, this urge to move and take action. It felt awesome, it pushed you toward reaching your goals, you felt energized and willing to engage – yes, in short, you felt motivated. But motivation is not easy to maintain. That initial spark fades away after some time and is, typically, not enough. That’s because motivation consists of three components:
- Activation – the initial decision to make things happen
- Persistence – the continued effort toward a goal despite the obstacles
- Intensity – how hard you work for your goal
Further, there are basically two types of motivation:
Extrinsic motivation comes from an external source – to get a reward or to avoid punishment.
Intrinsic motivation comes from the inside, from within us – we do something because we enjoy it.
Both types of motivation are important. However, it turns out that intrinsic motivation is more powerful.
What does this mean for you? Only knowing that something is good for you is not enough to push you to make a change; a considerable reward has to be in play. This can be something external, like social recognition, money, or approval for example, or internal, like a sense of purpose or the feeling of deep fulfilment that comes from acting in accordance with your core values. Ideally, both should be present, but even one can be enough to push you forward through all three above mentioned components of motivation.
Staying Motivated Throughout the Year – Action Plan
In terms of New Year’s resolutions, if you want them to stick, the first crucial step is to turn them from a wish/decision to a goal. But it’s not just any goal; to keep you motivated, your goal needs to be a certain way to enhance the energy you need to get to the destination:
- Optimally challenging – meaning you need to put the effort in, but it’s realistic and not too hard,
- Specific – meaning your energy is directed toward a particular outcome,
- Congruent with self – meaning your goal is in line with your values.
Once you have that set, you’ve established a strong foundation for working up toward the goal. Even if you slip up, it will be easier to bounce back from there.
Additionally, here are 4 additional hacks that can help you get and stay motivated throughout the year:
1. Find your why
Nothing drives us like a strong feeling of purpose. The question WHY we do something is crucial, and if the answer is in line with our personal values, it is a huge push forward. To find out what your personal core values are requires tapping into your deepest self and asking: “What kind of life do I want to live?“. If you can connect your work and goals to your core values, it becomes a powerful source of motivation.
2. Focus on who you want to become
People interpret situations and difficulties in accordance with how they perceive themselves, and choose actions that feel congruent with their identity. For example, if someone believes that they’re a “loser”, sometimes they will choose actions that will reinforce this belief, and not choose actions that are incongruent with this picture of themselves because “it’s not for people like me”.
Thus, for increasing motivation, it can be more effective to focus on the identity – who you want to become – than on the ability – what you want to achieve. If you want to, for example, start going to the gym more often, the reason: “Because I’m (becoming) an athlete/healthy/good looking person” might be more motivating than: “Because I need to exercise more/have a healthier lifestyle”.
3. Set small milestones
Sometimes, setting a goal can feel intimidating because it looks too big to achieve. A crucial thing to not crush your motivation down is to divide large tasks into small, manageable parts, and do one at a time. Your brain will get a hit of dopamine every time you tick one small task off of a list, which will keep you motivated.
4. “CHOOSE” instead of “MUST”
A slight shift in the language can make big changes in the mindset. Sometimes the things we’re not motivated to do and see as a chore are, if we stop and think about it, the things that we are grateful for. “I have to go to work” and “I get to go to work” sound very different, don’t they?
And don’t forget – motivation is not a one-time thing. It has to be reinforced day after day. As Zig Ziglar wisely said: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
How do you keep yourself motivated? Share it with us in the comments. Additionally, if you like this post, please be free to share it with your friends and family.
Happy new beginnings!
Armstrong, M., & Taylor, S. (2020). Armstrong’s handbook of human resource management practice. Kogan Page Publishers.
Hockenbury, D. H., & Hockenbury, S. E. (2010). Discovering psychology. Macmillan.
4 Tips To Overcome Post-Vacation Blues
Returning to your daily routine after a fabulous vacation can feel like an anticlimactic end to a life-changing experience. It’s like someone slowed down time and showed you all the stresses and chores you have to come back to, and all you can think of is “This is how I’m supposed to live the rest of the year?”. It’s like Sunday night blues on steroids. But, is post-holiday depression real?
Vacations give us the opportunity to escape the humdrum of our daily lives for some time and recharge our batteries… at least they are meant to. But what if, instead of feeling energized and ready for new challenges, we return home with an acute case of post-vacation blues?
What’s Up With Post-Vacation Blues?
Post-vacation blues, also known as post-vacation depression or post-holiday blues, are characterized by feelings of lethargy, anxiety, sadness, lack of motivation, and other unpleasant symptoms associated with the return to work after vacation.
According to the research from University in Rotterdam, people experience the largest happiness boost before their vacation, in the phase of anticipation and planning. Furthermore, shortly after the vacation ends, a significant number of participants reported increased levels of stress, anxiety, and aversion towards returning to daily responsibilities. And, ironically, the longer and more exciting the trip – the stronger these unpleasant feelings that characterize post-vacation depression are likely to strike you.
Feeling blue and unmotivated after a vacation is nothing unusual and is completely understandable. While you’re in vacation mode, you do far more of what you want to do in comparison to what you need to do. You focus purely on pleasure. And that’s great! A number of researches show that taking a vacation can significantly contribute to your mental and physical health. However, a sudden re-entry from ‘mainly pleasure’ mode to ‘more responsibilities’ mode can be a jolt on your mind and body. Thus, you need to take some time to go through this process of re-adjusting to your daily working routine.
Besides, although vacations help you rest, de-stress, and regenerate, they do not eliminate the source of problems that typically bug you in your usual daily routine. A good vacation may help you run away from your annoying boss or your overwhelmingly full inbox for a while, but they don’t fix the issue.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent post-vacation depression or at least minimize its effects. Here are 4 tips that can help you get back on track with a more positive attitude.
1. Mix your responsibilities with pleasurable activities, especially for the first few days.
In other words, give yourself some time to ease back into your daily routine. Getting back from vacation often means having to deal with a pile of chores like unpacking your suitcases, doing the laundry, grocery shopping, maybe some cleaning around the house, etc. But if boring responsibilities are all that waits for you after alluring beaches or calming nature, it can feel like a cold shower and make your life seem a lot more stressful than it actually is.
So, instead of jumping right in and setting your expectations too high for getting everything done immediately upon your return, it may be a good idea to give yourself some more time for post-vacation transition and fill it with little pleasures. For example, make yourself a fancy cocktail and play some music you love while doing the cleaning or sorting out the bills. Or, the first day after work – go to the movies. Having your first few days filled with small stuff that brings you joy and cheers you up can help you avoid the downward emotional spiral post-vacation period can effect.
2. Plan something to look forward to – even if it’s the next vacation.
One part of why post-vacation blues hit us is because, for some time, the anticipation of that vacation brought us pleasure and pushed us forward. Now that this long-awaited vacation – aka the source of happiness boost – has come to an end, our mood drops. Having something to look forward to brings positive expectations and can, therefore, help boost our mood. Even if it’s putting yourself in a holiday planning stage again, whenever that holiday may be.
3. Make a list of everything you love about your life at home.
There is no place like home. And although you enjoyed your trip, returning to the familiar comforts of life at home is something to embrace and express gratitude for. It is probable that the life you live – your hometown, job, family, friends, your usual routine and habits – have a tremendous value to you. This is the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate how you live and to notice things that you usually take for granted.
It’s easy to forget and minimize the little joys that make our ordinary day feel comfortable and homey. In that sense, it may be a good idea to take some time and make a list of everything you’re grateful for in your everyday life. Perhaps it’s a view from your window while you’re sipping coffee from your favourite mug exactly as you like it, or the coziness of sleeping in your bed, or returning to your pet, or that grocery store nearby where the kind worker always wishes you a good day, or your neighbour who’s always ready to help. Whatever it is, noticing these amazing, valuable things you’re coming back to is a good way to change the focus from post-holiday blues to gratitude.
4. Evaluate what isn’t working.
If your feelings of anxiety and sadness are persistent a few weeks after your vacation has ended and you find yourself escaping into daydreaming about past times much more than being in the present moment, maybe it’s time to look at why home life is so hard to come back to. Is your job too stressful? Are you too busy? Do you lack interesting hobbies and pleasurable activities in your ordinary routine? Are you bored? And most importantly – what can you change? Asking these questions can help you understand what makes your daily routine so unsatisfying and what steps you can take to make changes and move forward to a more enjoyable life.
You don’t have to do this alone. If you need help and guidance in identifying what holds you back and creating an action plan for overcoming these obstacles, don’t hesitate to ask for help. We’re always here.
How do you feel after a vacation? Have you ever experienced post-vacation blues? Share your thoughts and experiences down below in the comments! And if you like this post, please don’t forget to share it with your friends on social media – you never know who you might help.
Welcome home and happy summer!
Chen, C. C., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Health and wellness benefits of travel experiences: A literature review. Journal of Travel Research, 52(6), 709-719. Online HERE
It’s Time to Rethink Self-Care (+20 Simple Self-Care Ideas)
There’s been a lot of talk about self-care lately, and it’s for a good reason. Self-care is an essential part of managing stress and living a balanced life. But what is it exactly? For many, the first association to self-care is pampering yourself, like taking a long bubble bath or going to a massage. And yes, self-care can surely look like that, if it works for you. But it’s also so much more.
Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
In other words, it’s any activity that restores your energy, promotes your health, and makes you feel nurtured and taken care of. What makes it so important is that it is a vital starting point for dealing with stress and challenging situations in life. Think of it as an armour to protect the energy you need to survive and thrive. It’s not just an escape from the daily grind, but an ongoing routine that increases your resilience and overall vitality.
Struggling With Self-Care
While a part of self-care is taking care of your physical health, it also means – and here comes the tricky part – paying attention to your needs and allowing yourself to act on them. Many of us don’t know how to practice self-care because we weren’t taught to pay attention to our inner states, trust them, and be honest about them. Instead, we learned what we’re ‘supposed’ to feel or think, and try to ignore things that are opposite to that. For example, you may feel upset about something, but at the same time you think that you shouldn’t feel like that but be strong, positive and grateful. So you suffocate your anger, sadness, or anxiety about the certain situation.
If this is something that sounds familiar, there is a chance that you apply the same mindset on self-care too. In other words, you have the idea of how self-care should generally look like and force yourself to do activities that fit into that picture. So self-care becomes a chore, which is exactly the opposite of what the whole concept is all about.
Despite its huge importance for mental health, self-care still sounds a little yucky for some. The reason for it probably lies in the fact that, in our culture that glorifies self-sacrifice and ‘hustle’, it’s easy to feel guilty for wanting something different than that. We may feel wrong or shameful if we put our needs first, if we take some time to relax and do something nice for ourselves instead of helping others all the time or tirelessly working toward our goals. As a consequence, we might label ourselves as being ‘selfish’, ‘weak’, ‘lazy’, or ‘entitled’. And, of course, because we don’t want to be any of these things, we neglect meeting our needs, sometimes to the point where our body and mind beg us for it. The end destination – exhaustion and burnout.
Considering its significance for our wellbeing and at the same time so many misconceptions attached to it, it’s time to rethink self-care, don’t you think? Let’s debunk some common misbeliefs about it.
Misconception: Self-Care Is Selfish
Truth: Self-Care is Necessary for Maintaining Loving Relationships And Investing in Them
Think about it like when you’re in an airplane. The flight attendants always tell you to, in case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask first, and then help others. It’s similar with mental health – if you’re not properly taken care of, there is a chance you’ll end up not helping anyone, including yourself. The lack of ‘me’ time can drain your energy and lead to resentment toward others. And that, you’ll admit, is not the most positive starting point for investing in relationships.
Self-care is the opposite of selfish. It means you’re preparing to be there for others and to give and help not out of guilt but because you honestly want to.
Misconception: Self-Care Means I’m Weak
Truth: Self-Care Is a Necessary Part of Being Strong and Healthy
Self-Care is not a sign of weakness, but a fundamental aspect of staying healthy, emotionally and physically. Practicing self-care is not proof that you can’t persevere and cope with challenges, but a sign that you’re thinking long-term. Almost everywhere we turn, there is some sort of messaging to push it harder, to stretch our limits, to go, go, go. Self-care doesn’t fit in this kind of mindset society imposes on us, and sometimes it takes courage to go in the opposite direction – to slow down and take some time for yourself. And something that takes courage is surely a sign of strength, not a weakness.
Misconception: Self-Care Means I’m Lazy/Is a Waste of Time
Truth: Self-Care Boosts Your Productivity
Today, many of us are addicted to busyness. We always have to be on the move, make plans, have things scheduled in. But your energy is not limitless. If you never stop to take some rest and you neglect your needs, it is a well-known road to stress, overwhelm, and burnout, which all lower your productivity. On the other hand, self-care is a way to recharge and prepare for new challenges. It’s not a lack of self-determination, but exactly the opposite – a smart strategy to keep you in line with your goals in the long run.
Simple Self-Care Ideas to Try
A self-care routine doesn’t have to be something big, expensive, or time-consuming.
Still not sure where to start? Here are some simple self-care ideas that might give you some inspiration to start exploring what works best for you.
1. Eat a healthy meal. If you’re into cooking, prepare it yourself. Experiment with new tastes.
2. Set a date with yourself. Visit a museum, go to a cinema, or treat yourself to a nice dinner
3. Get a solid eight hours of sleep.
4. Go to your favourite workout class or take a walk in nature.
5. Book a massage or a spa day. It’s a part of self-care too!
6. Stretch. Multiple times a day. Pay full attention to your body.
7. Take time to breathe gently and deeply. While doing that, say some kind words to yourself.
8. Switch off all your electronic devices (laptop, tablet, phone, TV), and enjoy the silence.
9. Meet with a friend whose company you really enjoy.
10. Learn something new that always interested you. Wake up that curious inner child.
11. Write in a journal. Get honest about your feelings and needs.
12. Meditate or practice mindfulness.
13. Practice gratitude.
14. Write yourself a ‘well done’ list at the end of the day to celebrate your achievements, however big or small they may be.
15. Curl up with a cup of tea and read a book or watch your favorite TV show. Extra points if you light up a yummy smelling candle ?
16. Tap into your creative side. Try sewing, writing fiction, painting, dancing, or buy some crayons and a coloring book.
17. Say NO to activities or gatherings that drain your energy.
18. Seek therapy.
19. Practice self-compassion. Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a close friend.
20. Practice taking ‘should’ out of your vocabulary and freeing yourself from feeling that you ‘should’ do things.
How do you take care of yourself? Let us know down below in the comments. And also, if you like this post, please share it on your social media. Let’s raise awareness about the importance of self-care.
Why You Keep “Attracting” the Same Situations Over And Over Again
Do you feel like the same situations keep happening to you over and over again? Do you keep attracting partners that don’t fulfill your needs or you face the same problems in different relationships? Are you struggling with the same stresses and conflicts at work, or you keep losing your jobs? It’s like you’re a magnet for people who hurt you, or embarrassing situations, or bullies at work, etc.
I am sure that, at least once in your life, you have said or thought something like: “Why this keeps happening to me all the time?”. And really, why? Is it some kind of a mystic cosmic power that brings these experiences to your life? Fortunately, psychology has a more realistic explanation to why you keep entering the same unpleasant situations all over again. Let’s explore what actually happens.
Frameworks You Live By
From the moment you are born, you are in a survival mode. During your childhood, your little mind is programmed to absorb everything that is happening around you in order to learn and adapt to your environment. You pull in the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, ideals of those around you. By interacting with your parents or primary caregivers, you form certain beliefs about yourself, other people, and life in general. These beliefs are the product of the way you interpreted behaviours of your important adults and how they treated your needs, as well as things they were telling you about other people, rules, and life in general.
Of course, not all parents are the same. Thus, some will be convinced that life is a fight, you are not allowed to make mistakes and need to be perfect in order to succeed or be loved and appreciated. For others, life will be a scary and dangerous place full of people waiting to hurt you, so you need to be careful who you trust and never let your guard down. Some will, on the other hand, believe that life is easy and fun, that people usually have good intentions and that, whatever you do, everything will be okay in the end.
These belief systems become the frameworks we live by. They are like colored glasses that affect how we see everything unfolding in our lives. More importantly, these beliefs direct our decision making, condition our behaviour and, ultimately, affect how others react to our behaviours and how they treat us.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Now, imagine a situation that you’re going to a party where you don’t know almost anyone.
Version 1: You’re afraid nobody will talk to you because believe you’re boring or not good with new people. Consequentially, you will probably feel self-conscious and anxious, and enter the party acting awkward, standoffish and not so friendly. As a result, people will not be encouraged to come to you and start a conversation, which will only, in turn, reinforce beliefs you already had.
Version 2: You strongly believe that you’re an interesting person and others will be open to meet you. You think: “This party is going to be great”. People will probably be drawn by your openness and outgoing attitude and come talk to you, which also proves you were right in your beliefs in the first place.
This effect is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, a term coined by famous sociologist, Robert Merton.
Merton noticed that sometimes a belief brings about consequences that cause reality to match the belief. He defined self-fulfilling prophecy as “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true” (Merton, 1968).
In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that we hold about a future event that manifests because we hold it. Our expectations and predictions of what will happen impact our behaviour, which shapes how others see us and how they act toward us. In turn, they provide feedback we set ourselves to get in the first place, which serves to reinforce the original belief. Generally, this process is unintentional – we are not aware that our beliefs cause the consequences we expect or fear. And that’s exactly why it’s so difficult to tackle them down and start changing them.
Breaking the Cycle Can Be Hard…
Breaking the cycle of entering the same situations over and over again can be tricky, in the first place because we don’t see our fundamental beliefs as beliefs but as actual facts about the world. Subconsciously, it’s important for us to prove that our beliefs about how life works are “right” because it gives us a sense of security. If we “know” the rules by which the world functions, we feel like we can prepare and know what to expect. That’s why we filter information so they can fit our belief system. We rate experiences that are in line with our beliefs as an important “proof” that our frameworks are actually true, while we label those opposite to our frameworks as unimportant coincidences that won’t impact the way we see the world.
Over time, these patterns of thought and behaviour become our automatic response, a sort of a habitual reaction to circumstances. Researchers believe we have neural pathways in our brains that are reinforced by habit. The more you repeat the behaviour, the stronger your neural pathway for that behaviour becomes, and the easier it triggers the next time.
It’s like a forest dirt road – the more you walk on it, the more well-established it becomes. You have an automatic impulse to walk down that well-worn path, rather than on the grassy part. However, this dirt road often leads to the same destination. To break the cycle, you need to consciously resist the urge to stay on the road you know and start walking on the grass to a different direction. Over time, as you repeat taking the same route on the grass, another path will form and it will be easier to walk on.
…But You Can Do It!
One thing you can do to make the first step toward exiting the circle of “attracting” the same problems is to, for starters, let go of certainty. It’s important to understand that much of what you think you know about yourself, other people, and life, is more probably a belief and less probably a fact. It is a product of your upbringing and your past experiences. But the good news is that we can choose our beliefs and, therefore, change them.
You can start off by choosing a pattern that you want to break out of. Then, write down the past five times when it happened. List all the details about those situations – how did it happened, what led to it, why you think it happened. Now, try to find commonalities across these situations. In the end, try to find what part you play in these situations? Are there any behaviours that might have led you to the common outcome?
Here is a list of questions that might be helpful in discovering a pattern and your part in it:
- What keeps happening over and over again?
- How does it start?
- What happens next?
- And then what happens?
- How does it end?
- How do you feel after it ends? (John James, 1973)
This process is crucial for changing your patterns. It gives the opportunity to tackle down the reason you might have taken up a particular role and contributed to the outcome that keeps happening. From there, you can set up a goal – what you want to change and what results to get – and then map out a different path from the one you’re taking now.
It’s absolutely okay if you’re not able to identify the reason behind the same situations repeating in your life by yourself. A good therapist can help you figure out where you’re standing and how to proceed.
Please share your thoughts and experiences on the topic down below in the comments, it’s always amazing to hear it! Also, don’t forget to share this post on your social media.
How to Deal With a Sudden Job Loss: Emotional Survival Kit
Let’s be honest – losing a job can wipe you out emotionally. That huge wave of sadness, anger, blame, fear, anxiety, and a whole bunch of other unpleasant feelings might be incredibly confusing and difficult to deal with. If you’re going through a rough patch after a job loss, know that you are not alone. In fact, dismissal from work is often cited as one of the top 10 traumatic life experiences, along with divorce and death of your spouse. For example, according to the famous Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, it is one of the top ten most stressful life events you can experience in your life.
So, in short, losing a job hurts. Here are some guidelines on handling the emotional challenge of the job loss and, eventually, bouncing back from it.
Losing a Job Is Not the Reason to Lose Yourself
How many times did you say something like “I am a [job title]” when asked to tell something about yourself? The deep-rooted western-culture question: “What do you do for a living?” testifies of how significant a job title is for describing a person today. A professional role, for many of us, became an important part of how we see ourselves (and others). It became a part of our identity. For some, work is central for defining their self-image and self-worth. This is known as a “work-role centrality” – when you’re defining yourself mostly through your job role.
Looking from this perspective, losing a job, for some, is not only about losing financial safety but also can mean losing a part of an identity. It’s like losing a part of yourself, as well as direction and meaning. A layoff, therefore, can result in confusion on who you are and how you feel about yourself. Identity problems that emerge after a job loss are upsetting, and it’s important to recognize and address them.
It might be helpful to have one truth in mind:
Your job is what you DO, not who you ARE.
Personal identity is far more complex than your professional role. Yes, you might’ve loved your job and contributed to society in amazing ways through it, but that is only one small part of who you are as a person. There are other parts of who you are as well that you may be overlooking. Your relationships, your core values, skills, passions, interests, they are all a part of your identity. All those traits may have influenced the career path you’ve chosen and the role you’ve taken on your former workplace. When you lose that job, these qualities do not leave with it – they are still yours, a part of who you are.
Feel the Feelings but Also Seek Support
A layoff is often experienced as a loss. What often naturally follows is a grieving process. You may cycle through a range of different emotions, and that’s okay. Let yourself be sad about all the things that you have lost with your termination. You’re allowed to feel the anger for the unfairness of the circumstances you’re in. Give permission to that unsettling feeling of be with you. Don’t suffocate your emotions because it will eventually only lead to more confusion and stress. Know that this unpleasant mix of emotions is normal and passable, and you’re able to handle it.
In fact, did you know that letting your emotions out on paper after you lose your job can be healing and stress-reducing? What’s more, it may increase the odds of you finding new employment more quickly!
James Pennebaker, a reputable Texas-based social psychologist, has shown the powerful effect of expressive writing on the well-being and even reemployment of those who lost their jobs. In his research, 63 recently laid-off, unemployed individuals were separated into two groups. The experimental group wrote about their feelings and thoughts about the job termination, while the control group avoided the painful topic of their past job and wrote about job-seeking strategies, or did not write at all. The surprising result? 53% of those who wrote about their feelings landed jobs in the next few months compared to 18% of individuals from the control group. They all went through approximately the same number of interviews.
What’s important in this phase is that you don’t go through it alone. Reach out for support from your friends or family, your significant one, your therapist, someone you trust. Be clear about your needs and the type of support you need, and genuinely ask for it. Sharing your struggles with someone lessens the weight of stress and isolation you may be feeling and strengthens the connection with people who care about you.
Job Loss Can Be an Opportunity for Self-discovery
It’s possible that you spent most of your time on your job, working for years with little to no rest. Even if you loved your job and enjoyed making an impact through it, maybe some other aspects of your life or other interests got a little neglected. It might be a good time to give yourself some space to rest and gain some clarity. This gap between jobs can serve as a valuable time for you to rediscover your interests and introspect about what you really want your career and your life to look like. It can be also a good opportunity to set priorities, learn from your past mistakes, make a plan and, eventually, when you’re ready, take action.
Give yourself some time to decide what to do next. And, as you decide on the next step or your next job, remember not to carry your old emotional baggage with you. As you can see, there are companies that opt for other methods to hire someone before they conduct a regular screening. This can include background checks, health screenings, and more. Therefore, be sure to leave your past behind and start over.
And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s okay to pinpoint your past mistakes, but don’t criticize or bury yourself with dwelling on “what if…” and “if only…”. Instead, remember everything you appreciate and like about yourself and what you do well. Keep your strengths in focus, set goals, and gently move forward.
Have you or someone you know ever unexpectedly lost a job? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Also, if you like this post, please share it on your social media – you might help someone going through a hard time of losing their job.
Spera, S. P., Buhrfeind, E. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of management journal, 37(3), 722-733. Online HERE
How to Beat Sunday Night Blues
How is it possible that it’s already Sunday night when it feels like Friday was half an hour ago?! The struggle of knowing the laid-back, weekend You has to dress up tomorrow and face the overwhelming to-do list of the working week again is real. That sinking feeling you experience on Sunday night is what millions are dealing with too – the Sunday night blues.
Why Sunday Nights are So Tough?
For one thing, Sunday night blues started in our schooldays, when Sunday evening meant the fun of the weekend is over and we have to return to our boring textbooks and homework. Even when those days are over, out body and mind remember those anxious feelings and Sunday night remains the trigger that brings this response back. The fact that, for many of us as adults, Sunday means roughly the same thing – returning to tasks and responsibilities on our workplace – additionally strengthens that familiar physical and psychological response we developed a long time ago. For this reason, even people who love their jobs are not immune to Sunday night blues.
An additional thing that probably happens is that you are thinking too far ahead. We described this cognitive distortion HERE, so you might want to take a look. In short, when you think about everything you need to finish during the next week all at once, stress spikes up and you feel overwhelmed. What you ultimately do is you’re cramming the workload of five working days, so about 40 working hours, into one moment of thinking; the result is, naturally, that it looks like too much to handle. But in reality, things are usually easier while you’re actually going through them.
“You probably know it yourself – something seems so much more frustrating or difficult or boring when you think about it ahead than while you’re actually doing it.”
So, when Sunday evening comes, your body and mind habitually start familiar pattern all over again: worrying about the upcoming week, feeling of overwhelm for everything that has to be done, sadness for weekend being too short, anger at yourself or others for not doing everything as planned, irritability, anxiety, depression. You may even have a hard time falling asleep.
How to Beat Sunday Night Blues?
Sunday night sadness and anxiety may be common, but you don’t have to live with them. Here are a few things you can do to outsmart your sad Sundays and feel uplifted for the week ahead.
Keep your weekend plans realistic
You want to make your weekend as enjoyable as possible, and that’s great. However, it’s important to not get caught into the trap of setting the expectations for the weekend so high that it becomes a race of accomplishing everything on the list.
If you’re determined to finish work reports and answer some additional e-mails, reorganize your closet, meet with friends on a drink, spend time in nature with your family, read that exciting book that’s sitting for too long on your bedside table, and go to a yoga class all in the same weekend, activities that are supposed to be fun and relaxing might turn into obligations. The end result is that you’re probably going to end up either exhausted from running to achieve all of it or frustrated that you haven’t accomplished it all. Either way, your mind on Sunday night consequentially becomes, well, a not so pleasant place.
Sometimes, even the most organized people have to deal with the reality that things don’t always go according to the plan. Because of this, try to see plans you make on Friday afternoon as an outline, as a list of possible things that you have the freedom to do on the weekend, not as plans written in stone. It’s wonderful to have a variety of choices – embrace it. But don’t let can and want turn into a must.
Active leisure time
Many people don’t leave the house on Sunday. When we combine it with the fact that “feelings of anxiety and depression are most common when the person is not particularly busy”, as the professor of psychology at Roosevelt University, Steven Meyers says, then it’s easy to recognize why Sunday becomes a perfect time for those unpleasant feelings to creep into our minds.
One good way to avoid entering this “empty space” is to replace your passive leisure time with enjoyable activities that will occupy your mind and redirect your attention. And by this we don’t mean doing some house chores – reschedule them for some other day. Instead, you want to do something you enjoy – spend time with friends, exercise, devote time to hobbies, do something creative, anything that is fun for you and gives you something to focus on.
One amazing way to spend your Sunday is volunteering. One study found that people who volunteer are happier with their work-life balance. Further, those who volunteered in their free time were less stressed and less likely to feel burned out at work. Another study shows that volunteering in our free time makes us feel like we actually have more time! It suggests that volunteering makes us feel more efficient, like we are doing something big and valuable with our time, and therefore like we are less stressed and hurried.
Schedule something you look forward to for the working week
You know that fuzzy excitement before a vacation? That tingling anticipation of all the adventures that you might experience on your trip? Well, a micro version of that happens before your weekend. Having something to look forward to often serves as a fuel that helps us go through stressful times. But sometimes the weekend can feel too far away, and especially so on Sunday night.
However, you don’t have to save all your fun activities for the weekend. Scheduling little things you enjoy strategically throughout the week should give you something to look forward to, which will relieve some of the stress and anxiety and boost your mood and energy. When, on Sunday, you know that the next time you’ll enjoy yourself won’t be the next Friday but actually much sooner, already on Monday even, the upcoming week doesn’t look so long and scary. These activities don’t have to be anything big – scheduling a romantic dinner on Thursday night, going out for a movie on Wednesday, or curling up in your bed with a blanket, a cup of tea and your favourite book on Monday night will do just fine.
Ask the right questions
Your Sunday night blues might simply be a product of overthinking, but they can also be an important sign. Take a step back and try to identify what’s causing you anxiety, stress, or sadness. Do you have too many commitments? Do you need more sleep? Have you neglected yourself for too long? Is your job in opposition to your personal values and beliefs? Maybe it’s time to slow down a little. Whatever it is, pinpointing the exact root of those unpleasant feelings that occur right before Monday is the first step toward a solution.
If you need additional help, do not hesitate to reach out. Your therapist can help you explore where your Sunday anxiety and sadness come from and create the right strategy to soothe them.
If you know a friend or a family member who is having a hard time on Sundays, share this article with them on social media – they may find it helpful.
How do you fight Sunday night blues? Leave a comment below!
A Couple of Tricks to Build Self-Discipline (Even If It’s Difficult)
Chances are, at least once in your life, you firmly decided that you’re going to get disciplined and change your behaviour or a habit. You’re going to get up at 5AM and go for a run every day, or workout five times a week, or you may decide to write a book… And chances are, after a few days, you just gave up.
It’s okay. You are not alone; it happens most of the time. Why? Because:
1. You relied on your motivation rather than on self-discipline; and
2. Building self-discipline is, simply, difficult. It doesn’t come naturally to us as humans.
Clash of the Titans: Motivation vs. Discipline
But I don’t feel like it!
I know. Me too. Bill Gates also doesn’t feel like it either. Yet, self-discipline is not about how you feel – it’s about what you do despite how you feel.
On the other hand, motivation is emotionally driven – it’s a desire to do something. When you’re motivated, doing the thing comes easy. The problem is, however, that we often expect our motivation to last forever and to be the force that always draws us toward success – which is unrealistic. When you rely on motivation to change a behaviour or build a habit, you’re standing on the very unstable ground with its chances of collapsing changing by the day. In contrast, self-discipline helps you not fall off the path. It is driven by reason and therefore makes you do the right thing for your long-term benefit despite the fact you may want to do something else.
To reach your goals, you need both self-control and motivation. Motivation is your “why” behind the goal, and it is a very powerful engine to keep you going… on a good day. On days this engine is not so active, which happens to everyone, you need the self-discipline to continue doing the thing that brings you closer to success. Utilizing only one will get you nowhere.
Why Is Self-Discipline So Hard?
We, as human beings, are evolutionarily built to experience pleasure and avoid discomfort. We are also adapted to respond to immediate events, like a threat or a current problem, or immediate pleasure, and have an emotional reaction to them, which are essential for our survival. But when it comes to long-term planning, we’re not so good, or at least behaviours that follow from it are not as strong because they’re not wired to our emotions. We naturally go toward pleasure and away from pain. That’s why we fall to the temptation of doing the pleasant thing even when we know it’s not the smartest choice for us in the long run – the emotions overpower our reason.
However, our instant-gratification mind is not super useful in modern society. Learning to do things even when they are boring, hard, or frustrating, is absolutely necessary for success. Now read that again – there is a word learning. Self-discipline is not a trait but a skill, and like any skill, it can be learned. If practiced on a regular basis, like any skill, it becomes easier and you become better at it. Additionally, research found that people with higher levels of self-control are happier over both short and long run. Sounds like a skill worth developing, right?
How to Push Past Yourself And Get It Done
Okay, let’s equip you with some tricks that will help you become more efficient.
1. Don’t think about it too far ahead.
Thinking about all 15 tasks that need to be done today or this week can be overwhelming. When you think about them all at once, they can seem like a scary mountain you don’t want to climb on. This illusion eventually leads you to give up or, if you don’t, to stress out ahead. What happens here is a cognitive distortion – all those responsibilities piled up all at once in your mind make you believe you’ll have to deal with them altogether at the same time, while in reality, you’ll complete these tasks one after another, in small chunks, which is much easier. You probably know it yourself – something seems so much more frustrating or difficult or boring when you think about it ahead than while you’re actually doing it.
So, instead of ruminating about all the things that need to be done, try to concentrate only on the first task in front of you. Just begin the first thing like it’s the only thing you have to do today, and do it mindfully. For example, if you’re in the gym, concentrate only on the movements you’re doing. Try not to think about the report that waits for you when you get home or the sink full of dishes. That will only stress you out and make it seem like a whole lot of work. The report and the sink will be there whether you stress about them or not.
2. “Only 5 minutes” trick
Similar to the previous one, if you think about hours and hours of work you have to put in to achieve something, chances are you’ll procrastinate. A good way to trick your brain is to pick the first task and tell yourself you’ll do it only for 5 minutes. No more, no less. And yes, after these 5 minutes you are allowed to stop. But the magic that happens in most cases after these 5 minutes is that your energy and momentum will start to flow. You might even won’t want to stop and end up getting involved in the activity. The best thing about this 5-minute-trick is that you realize doing the thing is less painful than you thought after all. The hardest thing was to start.
3. Remind yourself of your big WHY every day
When things become difficult, we can easily forget the big goal behind all our efforts. It’s human nature – remember how our brains are wired to respond to immediate problems rather than to long-term goals? Because of this, it’s important that you keep your reason easily accessible to your brain. One way to do it is to remind yourself of the end result you want to achieve every day. Morning journaling about your goal and reasons for achieving it might be helpful. Or you can place a photo of your goal result in front of your bed or on your screensaver. This will help your brain not lose sight of the long-term result. Thus, you’ll get a stronger stand against temptation more easily and actually persist in doing what brings you closer to success.
Self-Discipline Through Self-Acceptance
I think the word discipline got a bad reputation over time. We somehow started associating it with punishment when it’s really all about something very different. It’s about self-love and self-respect.
Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A discipline is a student, not a recipient of behavioural consequences. – Dr. Dan Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child.
Self-discipline is a form of self-love. It means you are committed to doing something good for yourself. It shows that you want to build a meaningful and valuable life for yourself. That’s amazing! When you look at self-discipline from this perspective, as a way of loving and appreciating yourself, it becomes a little easier to do what you know is best for yourself even when you don’t feel like it.
And remember – nobody is disciplined all the time. You’ll make mistakes; it’s completely natural. When this happens, the most important thing is to be kind to yourself and not fall into self-criticism. Self-compassion will help you get back on track faster and move forward. This “moving forward” after a failure is a crucial trait for the self-disciplined and one that is required for success.
Yorkville University Featured Post on MACP Alumna Ashley Kreze
Yorkville University has written a featured post on Registered Psychotherapist, Ashley Kreze. Read more here: http://www.yorkvilleu.ca/news/blog/macp-alumna-ashley-kreze-runs-private-practice-hosts-tv-talk-show/
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