Using Cognitive Dissonance to Help Us Change Behaviours
Have you ever known you wanted to do something in your life, like quit a bad habit, drink more water or lose weight?
If so, you are likely aware of how difficult these things can be to implement. Often our thoughts and desires conflict with our actual behaviours. Did you know that experiencing cognitive dissonance may help these thoughts and behaviours come into alignment?
Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon in which someone holds varying or contradictory beliefs which creates psychological tension as well as an imbalance. Often, the individual feels the need to alleviate this conflict by changing one of their views to align with the other. For example, an individual who wants to stop a behaviour that they believe is harmful to their health, such as smoking, but also greatly enjoys cigarettes. These contradictory beliefs can cause cognitive dissonance to arise, which creates a discomfort that has the potential to motivate the inner conflict to be resolved.
Cognitive Dissonance in My Life
I can be quite indecisive, especially when it comes to buying decisions. Just last week I was deciding between two pairs of (very similar) running shoes to purchase. Everyone was telling me I couldn’t go wrong either way, but I was unable to make up my mind. After some time, I just decided on one, and after that happened, the value of the rejected shoes decreased dramatically. I was convincing myself that the shoes I bought were way better than the other ones, and so was everyone around me! This shift, called the post-decisional spread, is an interesting phenomenon to reduce any felt discomfort in the form of dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance from a Research Perspective
A study done by Chatzisarantis et al. (2008) worked with participants who believed that exercise was boring while also holding the view that lack of exercise has harmful outcomes. They had some participants write about a time they intended to exercise but did not follow through, while others wrote about an unrelated, neutral topic. Following this, participants completed a questionnaire to measure intentions to exercise as well as behaviour. The experimental group (who wrote about exercise) had stronger intentions and exercise behaviour than those writing about a neutral topic. This gives rise to the notion that creating an unwelcoming state of cognitive dissonance in an individual can lead to attitude change.
Can Cognitive Dissonance Lead to Change?
Although the feeling of discomfort may present as uncomfortable, it can lead to progressive changes in our lives. For example, if someone believed that fast food was healthy eating, letting them know the information regarding the negative effects may create this state of cognitive dissonance, pushing them to become more informed and possibly make a behaviour change towards healthier eating.
Another motivational factor may lie in detecting a discrepancy between one’s behaviour and their values. For example, one may express to their friends that smoking is damaging and yet do it anyways. This may be happening at the conscious or subconscious level, but pointing it out may highlight the discrepancy and be the motivating factor to change.
Chatzisarantis et al. (2008) also found that participants induced to feel cognitive dissonance experienced an increase in their perceived ability to control their behaviours. An explanation for this could be that they had yet to rationally think about the behaviour change and how they would actually go about it, and once they did they felt they had more control.
What Happens After Our Behaviour Changes?
Once new behaviours are on the rise, especially when they had been goals for a long time, positive reinforcement of the individual and the behaviour can reduce any corresponding dissonance. This will not only help form the new behaviour but also help the individual stick to it over time, maintaining the new life change!
So, although cognitive dissonance can create tension within ourselves, in various situations this tension can be used as a motivator to reevaluate our goals and values, and check in to ensure our behaviours match our cognitions!
Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., Hagger, M. S., & Wang, J. C. K. (2008). An Experimental Test of Cognitive Dissonance Theory in the Domain of Physical Exercise. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20(1), 97–115. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200701601482
4 Ways To Combat Winter Blues Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic
Changing seasons can be beautiful, but they don’t delight everyone. If you find your moods falling as fast as the thermometer during winter, you are not alone. Seasonal changes can also bring change to the whole sense of our well-being. While some welcome the changing leaves of the fall and fresh show of the winter, others may find themselves having difficulties to get up in the morning or to concentrate, feeling lethargic, unmotivated, or sad. We refer to this later, less pleasant group of feelings that many people experience during colder months, as winter blues.
Winter blues are fairly common – about 15% of Canadians report that they experience mild changes in their mood, energy levels, alertness, and appetite during fall and winter. So why is this happening?
When Winter Blues Join Coronavirus Pandemic
During the winter, as we all know, days become colder, shorter, and darker, and we spend much more time inside. The lack of daily sunlight can throw off your circadian rhythm. This can cause your brain to produce too much of the sleep hormone melatonin and to release less serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that affects your mood. With winter approaching and us spending more and more time indoors due to the coronavirus pandemic, the result can be a chemical imbalance in our brains that makes us feel low and sluggish.
Even before the winter weather arrived, we were already experiencing a lot of stress, anxiety, and emotional loss this year. Coronavirus pandemic left a bitter taste of resentment and exhaustion that we’re still experiencing. The negative effects are now maybe even more prominent than in the first wave. Holidays are cancelled and, due to our global responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe, we can’t cheerfully reunite with friends and family to celebrate. Many are struggling with routine and the lack of energy, with loneliness and feeling of isolation, with disturbed sleeping patterns, with worry about the future. Our brains have been on high alert for months, and we are drained and tired. This is why winter blues can be amplified this winter season – our coping mechanisms and emotional resilience are wearing thin and it’s becoming more challenging to lift our moods, which is especially needed during the cold season.
Even though times are difficult – after all, pandemic fatigue joined winter blues, and that’s not an easy enemy to battle – we can still do many things to lift our moods and energy levels while staying safe. Here are some suggestions on how to combat the winter blues amid the pandemic.
1. Go outside
The fresh air and the light of the day can greatly increase your mood and energy.
One of the most common, and most significant, causes of winter blues is the lack of sunlight. It can mess with our biorhythm and disturb the normal production of chemicals in our brains that are in charge of our sleeping patterns and mood regulation. Talking yourself into taking a walk when it’s freezing outside can be hard, but the benefits are tremendous. Research shows that just a 20-minute walk every day can have a profound positive impact on our brains, helping us reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and increase attention capacity and focus. Even just spending some time on your balcony or in your backyard and soaking up the winter sun can be helpful.
2. Get Moving
Motivation follows activation. Lift those endorphins up.
When we are feeling mentally tired, we don’t feel motivated to take action. However, ironically, what can help us feel better and actually increase our motivation is – action. Action often comes before motivation. Engaging in an activity can help us take a different perspective, think more clearly, give us a sense of achievement and, from all that, improve our mood and increase our energy. So it often works kind of in a reverse direction.
Additionally, the positive effects of regular exercise on our mental health have been shown to be so large, that it became a very common part of treatment for depression and anxiety. Exercise reduces symptoms of depression due to the increased release of endorphin, a brain chemical related to positive mood, increased energy, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Therefore, including any physical activity that you like to your daily routine is something that can be really effective in decreasing the effects of winter blues.
3. Connect with others
In a time when avoiding contact is crucial, staying connected is priceless.
Loneliness and isolation tend to make the effects of the winter blues worse. In our efforts to physically distance during the pandemic, we have to put our usual ways of socializing on pause. However, maintaining our relationships, even through virtual methods, is essential for our mental health. Social support is one of the best buffers for different mood problems, depression in particular. Technology brought so many wonderful opportunities to stay in touch with our loved ones and nurture our relationships. Social networks, video calls, different messaging apps, regular phone calls – whatever virtual platform you feel most comfortable with – are all great ways to connect, share support, or just get the basic social contact we all, as humans, need for optimal functioning.
4. Try light therapy
A special artificial light could compensate for the lack of sun during the winter.
Light therapy is a standard treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it is very effective in reducing the symptoms. It works by balancing out your circadian rhythm and increasing serotonin. If your winter blues are persistent, and especially if you are not able to spend time outside, you may want to consult your therapist and invest in a full-spectrum light box specially designed for this treatment.
Winter Blues vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder
Although you may feel more unhappy than usual, the winter blues usually do not drastically affect your ability to enjoy life or cope with everyday challenges. On the other hand, if depressive symptoms are more severe, lasting for at least two weeks and seriously disrupting one or more areas of life – from work to personal relationships – we are talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a subtype of major depression that usually appears and ends at about the same time every year. While winter blues can be banished on your own with some changes in your routine and habits, SAD is a serious condition that requires professional treatment. A combination of light therapy, counselling, and sometimes medication is shown to be effective in treating this condition.
If you are struggling to cope, please don’t hesitate to ask for help.
What do you do to brighten your mood and feel more energized during these cold months? Share your tips with us!
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.
Xiong, J., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Lui, L. M., Gill, H., Phan, L., … & McIntyre, R. S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders.
Practicing Self-Compassion: 5 Myths And 5 Tips
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield
The majority of us are eager to offer kindness and compassion to other people, and value when we receive them from others. However, when it comes to giving these same things to ourselves in the moment of suffering, we are more reluctant. Does being kind to myself means I’m self-indulgent? Selfish? Weak? Not only that, but when we fail to live up to our expectations, we often tend to let our inner critic become loud and take over, dismissing the value of kindness directed to ourselves. But what if there is a better way?
3 Elements Of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself – in a supportive way, with understanding, and acceptance. It’s having a friendly, caring, comforting attitude toward ourselves, like a good coach that motivates through support and understanding instead of through harsh criticism.
The concept has been around for a while, but Dr. Kristin Neff was the first one to operationally define it, measure it, and popularize it. She proposes there are three elements of self-compassion:
- Self-kindness – Having an understanding, comforting, and caring attitude toward ourselves instead of using harsh criticism.
- Common humanity – Recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and experience pain at times, and that we are not alone in our experience.
- Mindfulness – Being with what is in the present moment. To be self-compassionate, we need to acknowledge what we feel and make room for it.
Self-compassion is a practice of being kind and loving toward ourselves, whether or not we behave intelligently, correctly, or competently, and whether or not others approve or respect us. It can increase our well-being tremendously, from feeling happier to coping with difficulties more successfully.
Self-compassion is very different from self-esteem. For a long time, self-esteem has been considered a foundation of mental health and the level of happiness. However, more and more researchers suggest that the concept of self-esteem is flawed and can have negative consequences, and that self-compassion might be a better, healthier alternative. We talked about it in our article Forget About Self-Esteem And Replace It With Self-Compassion.
Why Should You Cultivate Self-Compassion?
Studies show that practicing self-compassion releases feel-good hormones in our brain – oxytocin and serotonin – while also reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Long-term, self-compassion sets the stage for better mental health and relationships. It turns out that individuals who treat themselves with compassion and kindness tend to have:
- greater happiness
- greater life satisfaction
- increased motivation
- better physical health
- increased quality of their relationships
- less anxiety and depression
- higher levels of resilience that helps them better cope with stressful events
Practicing self-compassion can help us feel better in times of suffering, but it’s important to note that it’s not always the case. It is not a recipe for happiness or a tool to make the pain go away. Self-compassion is a way of treating ourselves while feeling pain. It helps us to not push ourselves to an even darker place with criticism and self-contempt.
Myths And Truths About Self-Compassion
In our culture that highly values strength and stoicism, there are sometimes some misconceptions surrounding self-compassion. Knowing what self-compassion is not and debunking some myths about it can help us feel more empowered to practice it.
Myth 1: Self-compassion means weakness
✔️ Truth: Self-compassion, research shows, is one of the most powerful sources of resilience, helping people overcome difficulties and thrive. Additionally, it doesn’t focus on “poor me” attitude, but exactly the opposite – recognizing that “things can be hard for everyone, including me”.
Myth 2: Self-compassion serves as an excuse for bad behaviour
✔️ Truth: Self-compassion provides emotional safety to see ourselves for who we really are and, from there, take responsibility for our actions. When we know that we are imperfect humans, it is less likely that we will feel the need to find excuses for our behaviour and blame someone else for our mistakes.
Myth 3: Self-compassion is narcissistic
✔️ Truth: Self-compassion, opposed to self-esteem, doesn’t encourage us to see ourselves as better than others in order to hold ourselves in high regard. Instead, it is a way of relating to our experience in a kind, accepting way and acknowledging that we share the human condition of imperfection.
Myth 4: Self-compassion will undermine my motivation to do better
✔️ Truth: Actually, research shows that being hard on ourselves is a serious motivation-killer. It can draw us back because, if harsh criticism is how we treat ourselves, we know that failure comes with very unpleasant emotional consequences. In contrast, self-compassion can be a motivating force that moves us forward because it provides emotional safety for making mistakes and, further, learning from them.
Myth 5: Self-compassion is just self-indulgence
✔️ Truth: There is a big difference between giving ourselves temporary pleasures and making choices that lead to long-term wellbeing. With self-indulgent behaviour, we try to make ourselves feel better instantly, even if those actions are not beneficial for us in the long term. On the other hand, as mentioned before, self-compassion is not a tool to take away the discomfort; it focuses on our long-term wellbeing, even if it means a certain amount of displeasure in the present moment. But it also provides comfort and emotional safety needed while going through that unpleasantness.
How To Be More Self-Compassionate?
Self-compassion is not always easy to do. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially to those who didn’t have caring or particularly supportive figures in their lives. For many, it is a completely new way of relating to themselves. But we can allow ourselves to slowly learn how to do it, one self-compassionate act at a time, step by step.
Here are 5 practices that can bring us closer to being more self-compassionate:
RE-EVALUATE YOUR SELF-TALK
Are you your own worst critic? When you make a mistake, do you blame yourself or put yourself down? Is it how you would talk to your best friend? It’s important to notice our self-talk throughout the day and make a transition from negative self-talk to more kind and empowering way of treating ourselves.
STOP THE COMPARISON GAME
Social comparison is a strong weapon against our happiness. Oftentimes, we tend to compare someone’s best with our average, or even our worst moments which, on top of being pointless, is a recipe for feeling bad about ourselves. Instead, realize we are all different, not only in our traits and abilities, but also in our history and life circumstances.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO MAKE MISTAKES
Encouraging yourself to do your best is not the same as forcing yourself you absolutely must do your best. Allow yourself to make mistakes and forgive yourself for them. This is particularly difficult for some people because they derive a sense of self-worth from performing well, or from perfection. However, you are worthy of love because of who you are, not because of being “flawless”.
Mindfulness and self-compassion go amazingly well together. Noticing what is happening right now, without labelling and with acceptance, is the first step toward allowing yourself to feel how you feel with no judgment. From there, it becomes much easier to manage your emotions and thoughts.
The relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. You can’t run away from your own company, so it’s crucial to nurture it. Get to know yourself, your needs, interests, and curiosities, and don’t judge yourself for having them. Instead, allow yourself to schedule some quality “me” time every so often and have a fun or nurturing date with yourself.
Self-compassion is all about giving ourselves room to be human – imperfect and unique, creative and capable of great things at times, flawed and sensitive at other. It teaches us to, though all those ups and downs, unconditionally accept ourselves, and realize that we are connected with others in our imperfections.
How do you practice self-compassion?
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9), 1133-1143.
Cousineau, T. (2018). The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart and Your World. New Harbinger Publications.
Neff, K. D., Rude, S. S., & Kirkpatrick, K. L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of research in personality, 41(4), 908-916.
Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of research in personality, 41(1), 139-154.
3 Things You Can Do to Recover From Setbacks More Quickly
We all face adversities in our lives. Stress, trauma, tragedy, health problems, significant changes in our lives, they are all difficult to experience. However, there is one quality the majority of people share to a greater or lesser extent and that is – resilience.
Resilience is the ability to move through adversaries and rise from them. It is a set of skills and psychological traits that allows us to cope with struggles and recover from them.
Research shows that people, in general, are more resilient than you might think. The majority of people are able to utilize their inner and outer resources to recover from failure or unfortunate events. However, some people need significantly less time to do so.
What Resilient People Do Differently?
People with higher levels of resiliency, on the other hand, approach the situation with a positive attitude and the ability to regulate their emotions. This allows them to be more objective in observing what is going on and how to overcome the situation or at least reduce the damage. Additionally, this helps them move forward without dwelling on the negative outcomes for too long, and reframe the situation in a positive manner.
Fortunately, scientists also found that resilience is something that can be built. There are certain skills that are trainable and that can increase resilience significantly, such as self-compassion, confidence in your strengths and abilities, problem-solving skills, emotion-management.
Here are three things resilient people are able to do that allows them to bounce back from difficult experiences more quickly and effectively, that you can start cultivating more as well:
They are able to reframe their narrative
When something bad happens, there is not only one way to interpret it. We can choose how we explain the meaning and consequences of events. Highly resilient people are able to reframe difficult situations, at least to some degree, to their advantage. They can see setbacks as a form of helpful feedback, the opportunity to learn, or as something that, in the end, led them to a good path.
They use social support
Resilient people usually don’t act “tough” or like they can cope with everything alone. They lean on their support system and let the people who care about them be there for them. Good relationships are crucial for recovery because they can provide different kinds of support, from emotional to practical.
They practice self-compassion
Being resilient doesn’t mean you have to pretend that you feel okay about the disappointments and failures. It doesn’t mean that you should suffocate your true emotions and put on a happy face. Instead, resilience is kind of the opposite. It’s the ability to accept your unpleasant emotions about the situation without judging yourself harshly. It is about offering yourself some love and kindness while learning from the experience.
All this, of course, does not mean that resilient people don’t feel painful emotions or that they don’t face their feelings, hiding behind the positivity. Resiliency means healthy coping, which suggests that it demands emotions to be felt and accepted before taking action toward recovery.
How easy/hard is it for you to bounce back from a setback?
P.S. We always encourage sharing our articles with your family and friends. You never know, maybe they are in a place in life where they can find it particularly useful.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
How to Live a Good Life: Lessons from Positive Psychology
Do you know what ‘positive psychology’ means?
Positive psychology as a term can be a little misleading. It might sound like encouraging you to “just be positive” and “cheer up”. However, this is not what positive psychology is about, and it should not, by all means, be confused with pop-culture self-help books and motivational speakers. Whilst the latter can be useful in other situations, they suit a different purpose.
For a long time, psychology as a field focused on negative aspects of human life, on people’s shortcomings and pathology. The main question was: “What is wrong?” However, about two decades ago, Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, proposed a new approach that asks: “What is right?”.
The Science of Happiness
Positive psychology is a science of positive aspects of human life. Its goal is to, using scientific methods, find and promote factors that increase our wellbeing. Hence, it puts a spotlight on topics such as happiness, creativity, meaning, wisdom, personal strengths, core values, resilience. Nevertheless, this does not mean that positive psychology neglects to repair what is ‘wrong’; it just emphasizes that building strength is equally important. It is intended to fulfill, not to replace traditional psychology.
Positive psychology proposes three kinds of a happy life:
- Pleasant Life (“Life of enjoyment”) – Focused on experiencing positive emotions. This is how happiness is most often viewed in everyday life and popular culture.
- Good Life (“Life of engagement”) – Focused on personal strengths, immersion in activities that have a purpose for us, and accomplishing goals. We derive happiness from being optimally engaged and from “getting lost” in activities we love. This state of being absorbed in the activity we enjoy and are skilled at is referred to as a state of “flow”.
- Meaningful Life (“Life of affiliation”) – Aimed toward a higher purpose, how we derive a sense of meaning and belonging when we are contributing to a greater cause.
Positive psychology is a wide area encompassing a variety of different techniques that aim to encourage people to identify and further develop their positive traits, experiences, and emotions. It teaches us how to function optimally from the place of authenticity and inner fulfillment.
According to research, there are 5 pillars that contribute to positive well-being, the model known as PERMA:
1. Positive emotion
We all like to feel good, to experience joy, gratitude, optimism, etc. Positive psychology believes that positive emotions are more than just smiling; they reflect the ability to remain hopeful, optimistic, and creative in the face of setbacks and challenges.
Our sense of well-being increases when we pursue activities that stretch our skills and in which we “lose ourselves” so that time seems to fly by. This kind of intense immersion in the activity is, as mentioned before, known as “flow”. It can be anything, from playing an instrument or a sport to solving an intellectual task or engaging in a hobby we love.
We are social creatures, and connections with other people play an incredible role in our positive well-being. We derive a sense of meaning and happiness from healthy relationships, from feeling safe, loved, and nurtured, and providing those feelings for other people.
A great sense of fulfillment comes from the feeling that our personal and professional endeavours have a purpose, that they contribute to a greater cause. Knowing why we do what we do leads to the feeling that our lives matter, which is a big source of life satisfaction.
Having realistic goals and ambitions and working toward them is a significant part of positive well-being. Accomplishing a goal that required utilizing our skills and investing notable effort boosts our motivation and gives us a sense of pride and moving forward.
Positive psychology teaches us how to flourish and thrive. Its empirical findings are proof that normal life doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be good.
How do YOU show up in those five areas of your life? What does a good life mean to you? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below. Also, if you find this article interesting, please be free to share it on your social media.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Ackerman, C. (2018). What Is Positive Psychology & Why Is It Important? Positive Psychology. Online HERE
PERMA Theory of Wellbeing and PERMA Workshops. Positive Psychology Center, Penn Arts & Sciences, University of Pensilvania. Online HERE
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 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!
Forget About Self-Esteem And Replace It With Self-Compassion
You probably heard that self-esteem is one of the most important things for leading a productive, successful, pleasurable life. But the term is a little confusing – does it mean self-worth? Self-respect? How do you know your self-esteem is too low and how much of it is too much? What is the optimal level of self-esteem?
Cambridge English Dictionary defines self-esteem as “belief and confidence in your own ability and value”. Self-esteem is also often defined as “One’s own sense of self-worth or personal value”. What is problematic in this concept is that it refers to “worthiness” and “value” of the human being.
The Illusion of Self-Esteem
Let’s stop for a second and see what value means: “The regard that something is held to deserve”. Indirectly, the term “self-esteem”, therefore, suggests that holding ourselves in high regard is something to be deserved. It suggests that we need to have certain traits or do certain things to earn to be “worth” of respect and love. It inevitably includes self-evaluation. But here is the thing…
You are “worthy”, “valuable” and “deserving”, if you want to use these poor terms, simply because you exist, because you are alive. There is no such thing as “more valuable” or “less valuable” person. Achievements, skills, talents, or some qualities or lack of those can’t determine our human value, because our worthiness is already set simply by our existence.
It is important to note that self-esteem is a concept different from self-efficacy, which refers to how well you believe you’ll handle future actions, it represents your belief in your own abilities. Someone can be appreciated by many people, accomplish great things, be successful in several areas, and those are all amazing things that are certainly pleasant. You may achieve greater happiness or more efficiency by achieving your goals or by believing in your abilities, but that doesn’t increase your intrinsic worth, nor do your failures can lower your human value.
Chasing Self-Esteem Won’t Make You Happier – Maybe Even the Opposite
Another problem with the concept of self-esteem, other than the fact that it is based on non-existent, or at least unhealthy, premises of “worthiness” and “value”, is that it also obliquely requires comparison with other people. Evaluation can’t exist without comparison to some “standard” or some external object. Therefore, determining our own worth means we first have to compare ourselves with others. As Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) claims: “Self-esteem theoretically rests upon an often inaccurate and unstable global rating of the self in comparison to others”. This necessarily means that, to have high self-esteem, we need to feel above-average. You can easily see it in the simple fact that today, in our culture, being seen as average is considered an insult. But for every human being to be special and above average is logically impossible.
Trying to see yourself as better than others all the time is exhausting and can easily lead to self-criticism. To retain superiority, we have to meet very high standards. As soon as our feelings of superiority slip – which is inevitable because there are so many different people in this world and there is always someone better, smarter, prettier etc. – our self-esteem easily goes down.
For a long time, mental health professionals believed that high self-esteem is a predictor of greater happiness and life satisfaction. However, as much as this notion seems like common sense, research shows that there is no scientific evidence of a correlation between higher self-esteem and pleasurable living.
Another study states: “Self-esteem in the West is not based upon an unconditional appreciation of the intrinsic worth of all persons. (…) Research, in fact, demonstrates that high self-esteem displays associations with a broad range of psychosocial dysfunctions, including, for example, narcissism, poor empathy, depreciation of others, prejudice, aggression, and distorted self-knowledge”.
Okay, if not self-esteem, then what? Well, there is actually a healthier alternative to self-esteem that really predicts better mental health, greater life satisfaction, and overall happiness – self-compassion.
What Is Self-Compassion?
“Self-compassion means that the individual fully and unconditionally accepts herself whether or not she behaves intelligently, correctly, or competently and whether or not other people approve, respect or love her” (Ellis 2005, p. 38).
Self-compassion is the way of treating yourself – in a supportive and non-judgmental way, with kindness, understanding, and love. Being self-compassionate mean that you recognize previously mentioned notion about all humans having value simply by the fact they exist in this world, not by the set of traits and abilities they possess. Self-compassion encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, without forcing yourself to meet some high standards to feel that you are okay as a person. It allows you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view without evaluating or comparing yourself with others.
Why Nurturing Self-Compassion Over Building Self-Esteem?
Opposite to high self-esteem, studies haven’t found any negative effects of self-compassion yet. In fact, self-compassion predicts better psychosocial adjustment and resilience while avoiding the liabilities associated with high self-esteem.
Self-compassion gives us a more stable sense of self-love because it comes from within. On the other hand, as it’s based on comparison with others, self-esteem is unstable because it depends on external circumstances. This often results in having a more negative emotional reaction or protecting behaviours when people evaluate us negatively or even neutrally because we are trying to protect our self-esteem from collapsing. With self-compassion, in contrast, we don’t need to defend or protect ourselves from negative feedback, because we know that it won’t affect how we see ourselves as a person.
Self-compassion provides emotional safety to see ourselves as we really are. Instead of labelling ourselves as good or bad, as of high-value or worthless, we should accept our flaws with an open heart, take responsibility for our behaviour and choices, and still be kind to ourselves. It’s okay that we are imperfect humans leading imperfect lives, and we don’t need to strive to be “better” than others to love ourselves or hold ourselves in high regard.
Ellis, A. (2005). The myth of self-esteem: how rational emotive behaviour therapy can change your life forever. Prometheus Books.
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/
10 Things You Can Do To Increase Your Happiness
If you ask people what is the purpose of life, what is the one thing they strive to achieve in life, the majority of them will probably respond with one thing:
“To be happy.”
Happiness is the most important desire people have, something everybody wants in their lives. However, for different individuals, happiness means different things. Some find happiness in hanging out with friends and socializing while others enjoy little pleasures by themselves, such as a warm bath or a good book, more. All in all, everybody wants to achieve this state, and many don’t know how.
Buffer shared 10 things you can do to increase your happiness, backed by science. Here they are:
1. Exercise More
Scientific research showed that exercising daily can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight. Additionally, it exercise is proven to be an effective tool in battling depression.
2. Sleep more
We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves and that it helps us focus and be more productive. Well, scientists found out it’s also important for our happiness. How well we sleep affects our productivity, as well as our sensitivity to negative emotions.
3. Move closer to work
Research shows that commuting to work affects our happiness, even more than having a big house. Seriously! On the other hand, when you think about it, commuting is something we do twice a day, five times a week; it’s no surprise it has such a dramatic negative impact on our happiness.
4. Spend time with friends and family
Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of dying. But it can also instantly increase your happiness, even if you’re an introvert. Among numerous other studies, The Terman study found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives.
5. Go outside
Making time to go outside on a nice day can improve your happiness drastically. One study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood but broadened thinking and improved working memory.
6. Help others
Helping others actually makes you happier and more satisfied with your life. For example, spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. Also, volunteering is another way to make other people’s lives better, but also to improve your own.
7. Practice smiling
Smiling itself can help us feel better, but it has an even more powerful effect when backed up with positive thoughts. Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly.
8. Plan a trip
Regardless of whether you are planning a vacation or are taking a trip closer to home, you certainly know the excitement you will feel when you think about your future holiday. And, it turns out that planning your vacation actually makes you feel happier. One study showed that the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks! Choosing a destination that makes you feel calm and content will give you that feeling of positivity.
Meditation clears your mind, calms you down, and makes you feel more relaxed. But it’s also been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier life. We can literally “rewire” our brain for happiness with meditation.
10. Practice gratitude
Expressing gratitude can increase your happiness dramatically. Additionally, you’ll be more satisfied with your life in general.
What have you tried today to increase your happiness?
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