Procrastination is something we all experience. You certainly know the feeling – staring at a blank page, having an assignment waiting for you, delaying to start 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 motivational psychology at 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 a 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 Stanford 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 you saw once or twice. 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, you turn to procrastination as a way to try to lower the level of stress by doing something you find less overwhelming. Watching cat videos is much less demanding than making 15 phone calls, isn’t it?
Since your brain is, as we saw, 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 unraveling 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 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 rebalance 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.
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!
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.
I’m going to mess up. 😳⠀
I’m so stupid. 😩⠀
I’m a failure. 😖⠀
I did well that time, but anyone could have. 🙄⠀
Does this kind of self-talk sound familiar?
In a world where we expect so much from ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a trap of not feeling good enough. The way we talk to ourselves when we fail to meet our or someone else’s expectations is important. In these situations, it makes a huge difference whether we provide some comfort, kindness, and encouragement to ourselves, or we turn to self-criticism. Unfortunately, too often, we choose the latter.
Where Does All This Self-Criticism Come From?
Self-criticism is an inner voice that takes a derogative stance when we don’t meet our expectations. It includes negative judgments of your abilities, physical appearance, intelligence, behaviour, even thoughts and feelings.
Rigidly demanding parents, teachers, culture or religion, unhealthy relationships, or friendships that undermined our confidence can all be the root of our self-criticism.
When we are young, we soak everything from our environment like a sponge; we learn about the world, about ourselves and other people from everything we see or hear. The messages important people in our lives send are crucial in shaping what we will believe and how we will behave. For example, if your parents had incredibly high expectations and harshly criticized you for every small mistake, their words may become an integral part of your inner voice, translated into self-judgment. They probably had good intentions – they wanted you to build working habits, to do well in school, to strive for achievement, and minimize mistakes, because they believed this would help you succeed in life and be happy.
This kind of self-talk was probably helpful to you at some point – in order to avoid punishment (both external, such as, for example, being forbidden to go out or watch TV for a month, and internal, which is more powerful – experiencing guilt and shame from failing to meet someone’s expectations), you did well, you achieved great things, and you derived a sense of pleasure from that.
So, not only that self-criticism became an integral part of how you talk to yourself earlier in life, but it’s also kept and strengthened because you may believe it’s a useful strategy. However, as you may realize now as an adult, although self-criticism may seem like it can serve certain functions, it can be psychologically devastating.
How To Tame Your Inner Critic (And Why It’s So Important)
Self-criticism is like living with a bully. That scolding voice that’s giving you a hard time over small things, always looking over your shoulder and keeping inventory of your mistakes, can seriously hold you back in reaching your goals and undermine how you feel about yourself. Self-criticism brings an overriding sense of not being good enough, can keep us from thinking realistically and from being present in our lives, and can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed.
By criticizing ourselves, we focus on our (many times non-existent, or at least exaggerated) weaknesses, or think irrationally. This moves us away from constructive evaluation and inhibits our capacity to be fully present and rationally and actively engage in our lives. Instead, we get so preoccupied with shame, guilt, and frustration that we may make even more mistakes and feel awful about ourselves.
An important thing is – you don’t have to be the victim of your harsh inner voice. Your thoughts have a powerful impact on how you feel and behave.
So how to be more friendly toward yourself when times are challenging? Here a few tips and techniques.
1. Actively notice and challenge your inner critic
Sometimes, the little voice that puts us down is so embedded in our daily inner monologue that we don’t even notice how harsh it is. What we can do is to pay attention to what the voice is saying but not giving it the power over us. We can commit to notice it and treat it as someone who is unnecessarily rude or annoying, and actively stand up for ourselves, showing it how to be more kind.
Conquering that unrealistic, overexaggerating, harsh inner talk and replacing it with a soothing voice that is not only gentler and kinder, but also more realistic, is possible and more than beneficial. But it’s not easy. Proactively changing the way you talk to yourself may not feel natural immediately. And it’s okay – you are used to one way of thinking and it takes time to rewire your brain and create new pathways. The key is to catch yourself in those unrealistic and extreme statements and not let yourself get away with them.
You’re not good enough. – I don’t need to be perfect to be enough and loveable.
You’re so dumb – Whoops, I made a mistake. Let’s see how I can do better next time.
No one likes you – I don’t need to please everyone all of the time.
You will never make it. – This is really hard, but I believe in myself.
You never get anything right. – I haven’t figured it out yet. Learning is part of the process.
2. Develop a compassionate relationship with yourself
Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself with acceptance and understanding whether or not you behave intelligently, competently, or correctly. It’s having a friendly attitude and sending a message to ourselves: “I see you with your strengths and flaws and it’s okay, I accept the whole of you”.
This is a new concept for many people; it’s different from what we are used to. Thus, there are some misconceptions about it. Some people are afraid that, by being kind to themselves and refusing to engage in self-criticism, they will become lazy or self-indulgent. Others see it as a weakness, something that will stay in the way of their progress. We debunked some of these myths HERE, and provided some tips for practicing self-compassion, so you might want to take a look.
Like a good coach, self-compassion motivates us through love, kindness, and support. This helps us focus less on dwelling on our mistakes, and more on the present moment and moving forward. It is the opposite of self-criticism, which induces guilt and shame. On the surface, self-criticism can seem like it helps to motivate us to change, but in reality, it’s an inefficient motivator. First, because there is a high price to pay for it. And second, because self-criticism might keep us where we are for longer because we may be reluctant to admit our shortcomings, afraid of the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough if we do. In contrast, self-compassion provides us with emotional safety to see ourselves realistically and, from there, acknowledge our mistakes and try to do better.
3. What would you tell to your best friend?
Would you talk to your good friend the way you talk to yourself? When times are challenging and we feel bad, when we are dealing with failure or loss, the last thing we need is to be criticized. Instead, we need someone to help us see things from a realistic perspective and offer support, guidance, and reassurance.
You can be that friend to yourself. Thus, acknowledge your good qualities and abilities, make an effort to appreciate your uniqueness more, and offer caring and gentle words to yourself.
RAIN Technique for Dealing With Difficult Emotions
Sometimes, shame and guilt that come from self-criticism in situations when we make a mistake or fail at something, can be overwhelming for us. So overwhelming, that it becomes difficult to concentrate on anything else, or move away from self-loathing and self-judgment. What we need the most in these situations is something to help us ease the emotional chaos first, and then slowly start overcoming these intense feelings.
In these moments, the RAIN technique can be helpful. It’s a mindfulness technique used to soften and de-channel negative thoughts and provide a soothing balm for emotional pain. It can help you be your best friend instead of your own worst critic.
Take a step back and observe your thoughts and feelings. Be honest and acknowledge what you are feeling without trying to sweep it under the rug. Naming can also help, for example: “I feel worried right now” or “I feel so embarrassed for asking that question”.
“How am I feeling? Where do I feel it in my body?”
Step 2: ALLOW life to be just as it is
Accept that those thoughts and feelings are there, as part of your reality. No denial, no trying to remove or change them, no mental resistance. Just simply let them be there. This doesn’t mean you like them; it just means you are brave enough to face the reality within you.
“These thoughts and feelings are here. I can accept that, even if I don’t like it.”
Step 3: INVESTIGATE with kindness
Like a curious scientist, try to approach your state with interest and without judgment. You can investigate possible reasons you may be feeling this way, or ask if these feelings and thoughts are useful or in line with reality. Simply pause to ask questions so you can better understand what is happening.⠀
○ When did this feeling start?⠀
○ What triggered it?⠀
○ Have I felt this way before?⠀
○ What is this feeling trying to tell me?⠀
○ How realistic is my thinking?⠀
○ Is it helpful?⠀
○ What do I need right now?⠀
○ What can I do to support myself?
When you have an intense emotion, it can feel like it is the only part of you that matters at that moment. But you are not your thoughts and emotions. They come and go, and you can watch them like clouds flowing by. You are YOU, unique and complex, and this is just one of the countless experiences you had and will have.
You can use this technique to ground yourself and not feel consumed by negativity when everything seems just too much. However, we are all different which means that the same things don’t work for everyone or in every situation.
How do you deal with self-criticism? Will you apply some of these tips to your daily life? Let us know how it goes!
And be free to share this blog post with your friends and family on social media.
Aronfreed, J. (1964). The origin of self-criticism. Psychological Review, 71(3), 193.
Neff, K & Germer, C. (2019) Kind to me. Excerpt in Mindful, 6 (6).
Powers, T. A., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (2007). Self–criticism, goal motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(7), 826-840.
Brach, T. Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN. Tara Brach. https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/
Assertive communication involves expressing your thoughts and feelings, your wants and needs in a direct and respectful way, knowing at the same time, that others have the same right. Assertiveness helps us be open in our communication and establish good relationships based on respect and honesty. Like any skill, assertiveness can be learned with practice.
In our previous blog post, we covered in detail what assertive communication is, compared it with two other common communication styles – passive and aggressive – and talked about its risks and benefits. But how exactly can you become more assertive? How to have that healthy confidence to stand up for yourself? What to do, what to say?
Here are 4 basic tips and principles that can help you on your way of becoming more assertive:
1. Recognize your values and your rights
Assertiveness is about standing up for your rights, beliefs, and values. It is about respecting ourselves enough to be OK with who we are and how we choose to live our lives. Thus, it’s important to define our values clearly and to realize that we have the right to live in line with them, as long as we do not violate the rights of others. When we are sure about our priorities and know we have the right to ask for what we want (which is not the same as necessarily getting it), practicing assertiveness becomes easier. Defining your core values and recognizing your assertive rights will help you make decisions with more confidence.
2. Practice saying NO
Rejecting someone’s request is uncomfortable for most people. However, learning to say no in a respectful way is necessary for setting healthy boundaries with others and with ourselves. A helpful first step toward feeling less guilty for saying no may be to recognize that you are rejecting the request, not the whole person, and that your wants and needs are as important as wants and needs of others. In the end, practice saying no with the simple realization that you are going to feel uncomfortable. The whole point is to build tolerance to this discomfort.
3. Communicate clearly and respectfully
Assertiveness is a golden middle between passive and aggressive behaviour. Thus, it is important to learn to express your wants and needs in a way that is direct enough, but not aggressive. The key is in confidence and honesty with respect toward others.
While paying attention to the words you say, don’t forget to keep your body language in check. Assertive communication is marked by open body language – straight posture, relaxed facial expression, kind but firm tone of the voice, smiling. If you communicate passively, your body language will be closed, stiff, you’ll avoid eye contact. On the other hand, in an aggressive communication style, there is are frequent head shakes in disagreement, eye rolls, loud or threatening voice, quick body movements.
If your tone of the voice, facial expressions, and gestures are incongruent with the words you say, people will tend to believe non-verbal signs over your verbal message.
4. Take responsibility
It is important to keep in mind that everybody is responsible for their behaviour. It is not your job to control how other people act or feel, but you are responsible for your own actions and feelings. Nobody can make you behave or feel a certain way – other people choose their actions, and you chose yours.
So how does assertive communication look like in practice? How to phrase what you want to say without shying away or coming off as too pushy? This little cheat sheet of assertive communication may be helpful on that:
Step 1: Address the behaviour, not the person
You can start by clearly describing specific actions that you are not OK with in a non-judgmental way. While doing this, it’s crucial to avoid pointing fingers and trying to induce feelings of shame or guilt in them. Describe the situation as you see it but try to be as objective as possible. Don’t exaggerate by using words such as always or never. For example, instead of saying “You are always late”, you may try saying something like: “You are 15 minutes late for the third time this week”.
One mistake that is often made in conflicts is labeling the person instead of addressing the behaviour. When the focus is on what someone is perceived to be rather than the behaviour they exhibit, the productive communication usually shuts because the person feels attacked and in need to defend their character. Instead, talking about specific actions in a non-judgmental way increases the chances of the other person focusing on solving the problem instead of becoming defensive and feeling the need to protect their sense of self.
For example, instead of saying: “You are so selfish”, you may try with: “I think that this specific action you did was inconsiderate”. See the difference? Starting the conversation in this manner does not guarantee that the person will not get defensive at all, but it can decrease the chances of this happening and increase the possibility of coming to a positive result.
Step 2: Use “I statements”
Sometimes describing the behaviour that you don’t like and asking for it to change is enough. However, it can often be useful to let the other person know how you feel and what you need in a particular situation. Express your feelings and needs in a clear and open manner that’s at the same time non-blaming and non-critical. While doing this, you should be careful to frame the communication from your perspective, describing how you feel.
Avoid focusing on the other person, or trying to blame them for how you feel. Instead, share your emotions and your needs in the context of their actions. For example, instead of saying: “You don’t help enough around the house”, you may say: “When you don’t help out with the housework, I feel overwhelmed”. This way, you take responsibility for your emotions (because don’t forget, nobody can make us feel the way we feel; we respond to what is happening according to our thoughts and beliefs), but simultaneously address the problematic behaviour.
Note that, sometimes, these “I statements” can seem like emotions, but they are really just about other person’s actions. For example, when you say something like: “I feel…manipulated, ignored, mistreated”, you don’t express genuine emotions. What you’re really saying is: “You manipulate, ignore, mistreat me”, which is, again, describing other person’s behaviour or, more precisely, how you understand their behaviour. “You statements” can sound overly blaming and critical, which, again, moves the focus of communication from finding a solution to self-protection.
Step 3: Listen actively and put yourself in other people’s shoes
Just listening is not enough for good communication. We need to be actively listening. Active listening means that we are fully engaged in a conversation, that we are trying to truly understand the message the other person is trying to convey, and that we are putting effort into making the other person feel heard, understood, and safe to speak. This means that we will show interest in what the other person has to say by, for example, nodding, leaning forward, not interrupting them, etc.
The key is listening to understand, not to respond. When we are focused on what we want to say next, we are focused on ourselves, not on the other person. That can prevent truly hearing and understanding their message, which can further lead to misunderstandings, bitter feelings, and overall unproductive communication.
Trying to see things from another person’s perspective and to acknowledge how they understand the situation can be incredibly helpful in creating a productive dialog. It can make the other person feel heard, understood, and respected, which makes them more likely to listen to you openly, and less likely to get offended.
Step 4: Offer a solution
People can’t read your mind. You can state what you’d like to happen next, or invite the other person for a discussion to find a mutually satisfying solution. You can say something like:
“I would like…”
“I think… What do you think?”
“I appreciate your concerns, what do you suggest we do? How can we get around this problem?”
Putting it all together, here are some examples of assertive communication:
“This is the fourth time this month that I’m doing extra work because you have fallen behind. I understand that you are busy, and I want to be a team player, but I am under a lot of stress when this happens. What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“I completely understand what you are trying to say, but I will have to disagree. I see the situation this way. How can we find a common ground?”
“When you are late to our dates, like you were the last three times, I feel frustrated because I need to wait. Also, I feel hurt because it seems to me like I am not a priority. I would appreciate it if you would respect my time and arrive promptly the next time.”
“I understand that you need my help, and I would like to help you, but I really need to take care of myself today because I feel run-down. How about tomorrow?”
“No, thank you” (Yes, this is perfectly fine to say, no need for excuses or explanations)
Assertive communication can feel stressful at first, especially if you’re used to another form of communication. Remember your assertive rights, take a deep breath, and dive into it. It becomes much easier with practice, and the benefits are numerous.
Do you find it difficult to communicate assertively? What are your experiences with this style of communication? Let us know in the comment section below. Additionally, be free to share this article on your social media; who knows, maybe someone finds it useful and get inspired to improve their communication skills.
Duckworth, M. P. (2009). Assertiveness skills and the management of related factors. General principles and empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy, 124-132.
Duckworth, M. P., & Mercer, V. (2006). Assertiveness training. In Practitioner’s guide to evidence-based psychotherapy (pp. 80-92). Springer, Boston, MA.
“Being assertive means that you are willing to hold up for yourself fairly – without attacking others.”
– Albert Ellis
We can all think of times when our boundaries were violated but we didn’t know how to protect them. When we knew we should speak up, but we didn’t. When we sensed that we are being taken advantage of, but we just accepted it, unable to say NO. These are not pleasant situations, and they can easily leave us feeling neglected and powerless, seeming like whatever we do – confront or comply– we won’t feel good about ourselves. But there is a way to actually not feel guilty for expressing your thoughts and feelings and defending your rights. The key is – learning how to communicate assertively.
What Is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is a skill of communicating your opinions, wants, and needs in an open and honest way, while also considering the opinions and needs of others. It refers to being able to recognize our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. Assertive people don’t shy away from defending their points of view or standing up for their goals but do that in a respectful and polite way.
Assertiveness starts with recognizing two main things: your core values and your (and other people’s) assertive rights.
Your core values are the fundamental beliefs and principles that guide your behaviour. They reflect what is important to you, who you want to be, and how you want to live your life. Your core values help you set priorities and provide direction and criteria that influence your personal decisions. When we live in alignment with our core values, we derive a sense of fulfillment and, often, a higher level of confidence in our choices. Thus, defining your personal core values is critical for setting priorities and feeling self-confident when setting boundaries or standing up for your rights.
Assertive rights highlight people’s freedom to be themselves and take responsibility for their choices. When you are assertive, you know your rights and also know that others have them too. From there, you are self-assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly and fairly, without disrespecting others.
Assertiveness As a Sweet Spot Between Passive And Aggressive Communication
Assertiveness is a core social skill because it dramatically helps in delivering your message successfully. If your communication style is too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people either won’t recognize or acknowledge your rights and needs, or will be too busy defending themselves.
With a passive communication style, you’re sending the message that your needs, thoughts, and feelings are less important than the needs, thoughts, and feelings of others. Not being able to express yourself honestly, or doing it over-apologetically and feeling guilty about it, putting yourself down and shying away from saying NO are all signs of passive communication style. Although your intention may be to keep the peace and increase the chances of other people liking you, this kind of behaviour easily permits others to disregard your wants and needs, which can quickly lead to building up stress, resentment, and anger, which can damage your relationships.
On the other hand, with an aggressive communication style, you don’t have the problem to state your thoughts, needs, and feelings, and do so in a very open way. However, this style sends the message: “I am right and you are wrong!” The main difference between assertiveness and aggression is that the first is about balance, while the second is about winning. Being assertive means you consider your rights and the rights of others as equally important. There is a big difference in the words used, the tone of the voice, and in body language used. Assertive people are firm without being rude. Aggressive people demand what they want while dismissing others’ wants and needs and violating their rights. You can make choices for yourself, and that is what assertiveness is about. But when you make choices for others, that is aggressive.
- Being open about your thoughts and wishes, and encouraging others to do the same
- Being solution-oriented
- Realizing you have the freedom but also the responsibility for your decisions and actions
- Being able to admit mistakes and apologize
- Having the confidence to stand up for your rights when they are violated
- Behaving as equal to others – not above, not below
Assertiveness is a sweet spot between passivity and aggression, and like any skill, it can be developed and improved through practical exercises and experience.
Benefits And Risks of Practicing Assertiveness
Learning assertiveness skills can help you:
- Politely and effectively say NO
- Negotiate win-win situations
- Feel good about yourself and others
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Set healthy boundaries
- Communicate more clearly and openly
- Develop your leadership skills
- Protect yourself from being taken advantage of
It’s important to note that assertiveness is not a tool for “getting what you want”. Being assertive is about choice, responsibility, and healthy boundaries. It may increase the chance of getting what you want by promoting open communication and respect, but is by no means a guarantee for a positive outcome.
Sudden use of assertiveness may be mistaken for aggressiveness by others, especially by individuals with a passive style of communication. Also, be aware that some organizations and cultures prefer people to be passive, and can find assertive communication rude or offensive.
An Assertiveness Training can teach you how to speak assertively, use appropriate body language, understand your rights in interpersonal situations, give you the opportunity to practice, and much more. If you think assertive training is something that you need, be free to contact us for more details.
If you like this blog post, please be free to share it on your social media.
What is your communication style? How difficult do you find being assertive? Let us know your opinion in the comment section below!
Smith, M. J. (2008). When I say no, I feel guilty. Pacifica Tape Library.
Emotional intelligence is the capability to accurately identify and monitor your and other people’s feelings, as well as the ability to effectively manage your emotions.
You may know that general intelligence (IQ) can be important for success. But did you know that emotional intelligence (EQ) is equally, if not even more important?
Emotional intelligence is a key element of success in the workplace, as well as for happy and healthy relationships. Research shows that high EQ leads to better communication, effective conflict management, and empathy toward others. It also helps us connect with our feelings and live in tune with our true selves. It is, therefore, not surprising that emotional intelligence is essential for reaching personal and career goals and for building successful professional and personal relationships.
In a similar way IQ reflects how you process information, EQ refers to how you process emotions. However, EQ is much more flexible than IQ which means that it can be trained and improved.
The term emotional intelligence first appeared during the ’80s and was later popularized by psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman. He suggested there are 5 elements of emotional intelligence. Each of these elements can be developed and improved, and the more you have them in check, the higher your EQ should be.
5 Important Elements of Emotional Intelligence
- Self-awareness – A critical part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand and monitor your own emotions. It also refers to the capability to recognize the relationship between your behaviours, motivations, and feelings. Being self-aware means you are in tune with your emotions and values and see yourself realistically. It also means you’re aware of how others perceive you and understand how your moods and emotions affect other people.
- Self-regulation – Another important part of emotional intelligence is being able to think before you act, to control your impulses and direct your emotions appropriately. This means you are flexible and able to modulate your feelings when facing change or stressful situations. Good self-regulation also refers to having integrity and taking responsibility for your actions.
- Motivation –People with high emotional intelligence are pretty good at motivating themselves without relying on external sources such as money or recognition. What drives them is a higher purpose, internal values that move them forward. They set goals that they see value in and combine inner drive and discipline to reach those goals. Correspondingly, they have the ability to motivate others.
- Empathy – The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and act accordingly is a big part of emotional intelligence. When we recognize how others feel and approach them with something they can relate to, we are creating a connection. This plays an important role in building relationships, managing conflicts, motivating people or helping them see the bigger picture.
- Social skills – The capability to communicate well and find common ground with others is crucial for creating good, stable, and meaningful relationships. Crucial skills in this domain include, for example, active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, leadership, and persuasiveness.
How Does Emotional Intelligence Look Like In Practice?
In everyday life, we can see emotional intelligence in someone’s sensitivity to the moods of others and the ability to grasp the point of view of other people or as readiness to see what is going on with them beneath the surface. High emotionally intelligent people can, for example, recognize that someone’s angry outbursts may come from the feeling of helplessness or fear. Thus, they can act accordingly instead of jumping into defense mode immediately. Similarly, emotional intelligence allows us to recognize emotions and motivations behind our own behaviours or behind some other emotions that may mask the real feelings. From there, high EQ helps us manage those feelings and direct them appropriately.
Some signs of high EQ:
✔️ You are able to stop and think before you act
✔️ You are able to objectively watch your thoughts
✔️ You show empathy and understanding for others
✔️ You recognize your mistakes and offer a genuine apology
✔️ You have a moment-to-moment connection with your emotional experience
✔️ You know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your values
Emotional intelligence is about being open and ready to connect – with others and with yourself, practicing and balancing both is the key to raising your EQ.
Would you like to test your EQ and learn more about your personality characteristics? With our highly trained professionals, you can assess your Emotional Intelligence through Profile Evaluation System (PES) to get an extensive, well-rounded, and comprehensive description of different aspects of your personality, including your EQ.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 much 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
About 75% of people don’t leave the house on Sunday (source). 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 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 on the next Friday, but actually much sooner, already on Monday even, the upcoming week doesn’t look so long and scary. Some people find using cannabis products is a great way to destress mid-week. With so many promotions like these san diego dispensary deals, it’s no wonder that people are using it more and more. Once you have bought your cannabis, it is all about finding a method to take it that suits you such as through a bong or ingesting edibles. If it s something you are thinking about getting into, then you can check out these different types of bongs to help you get started. If cannabis isn’t for you then there are many other activities you can do to help you look forward to the week ahead. 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 favorite 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 with 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!