Just One More… Procrastination and its Sneaky Tricks

By Andrew Scott
Psychologist
Alpha Psychology & the Resilience Centre

Grab a quick TV show or two, add a dash of Facebook, a dollop of Youtube and a smattering of entertaining memes to browse through and you have the perfect recipe for procrastination. We all love a bit of procrastination here and there, but sometimes procrastination gets the better of us.

Procrastination’s Sneaky Tricks

  • Pseudo-work

Procrastination loves to encourage us to do all kinds of things that look productive, and even feel productive, but don’t really finish the task at hand. Few of us are strangers to this trick. We spend hours formatting when we’ve only just started the report, search the net for good pictures to include with our blog post (guilty!), spend so much time preparing or planning that we end up running out of time to actually do our task.

  • Procrastination’s excuses

Have you ever thought “I’m too tired to start now”, “I haven’t got everything I need, I’ll wait until I have everything before I start”, or “there isn’t enough time right now to do it properly”. Procrastination loves to make excuses such as these to keep us from our tasks.

  • Time warp

There is nothing procrastination enjoys more than overestimating or underestimating the amount of time a task will take, or how long we have until it’s due.

  • Perfectionism

Procrastination often teams up with its cousin perfectionism. For tips on dealing with that dynamic duo I would recommend reading Ruth’s blog post below.

Beating Procrastinating?

Procrastination is a tricky foe. If you do what procrastination says you feel a sense of short-term relief and enjoyment while you sit there surfing the net or getting lost in a show. Staying on task, on the other hand, can feel incredibly uncomfortable and even quite distressing for some people. Procrastination likes to masquerade as our savior from discomfort, the one who rescues us from stress we can’t cope with… But can it be trusted? Overall, does procrastination reduce discomfort and stress in our lives?

Beating procrastination requires us to identify when procrastination is using one of it’s tricks and then doing the opposite, even if it’s only for a short time. “Easier said than done” you might think, but you could try an experiment. When you next notice procrastination say “I’m too tired to start now” test it out by starting a task now, even if its only a small start. Experiments can tell you how much discomfort you can actually cope with and how intense that discomfort can get. Many people find that the discomfort comes in waves, and that it starts to get easier if they can break through the initial ‘spike’ (like a runner breaking through the pain barrier).

Some other tips you may be interested are:

  • Use momentum

Start a task you don’t mind doing to energize yourself and then switch (without a break) to a task you have been putting off.

  • Just 5 Minutes

It is not easy to put up with the discomfort of fighting procrastination, but it is something you may be able to put up with for 5 minutes. Plan to spend just 5 minutes on your task and at the end of your 5 minutes reassess to see if you can spend just another 5 minutes on the task.

  • Reward yourself

Plan a reward for yourself after you have achieved a goal (which could be a word count or working for a time period). Beating back procrastination is always worth a little bit of a celebration!

Child Habits and Rituals: The Curious Story of HABIT the RABBIT

by BRAVE BEL with Sylvia Ruocco from Alpha Psychology

Brave Bel is 11 years old. About two years ago she caught the ‘vomiting bug’. She vomited so much that she had to go to hospital. Brave Bel said that going to hospital was almost worse than getting the bug! After leaving the hospital, fears about getting the vomiting bug stayed with her. This was when some curious HABITS arrived. Brave Bel tried her best to resist, but the HABITS and the thoughts about them just multiplied. The HABITS began to dominate her life and she became very distressed and frightened.

Brave Bel was experiencing symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is a type of anxiety problem that consists of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images or urges that are unrelenting, unstoppable and distressing. Children often know that the obsessions are ‘weird’ or ‘not right’. Compulsions, also known as rituals, are the deliberate actions that are used to relieve the fears or discomfort that are caused by the obsessions.

Brave Bel called her HABIT problem Habit the Rabbit and this is her story.

“You need some HABITS to protect you”, said Habit the Rabbit. Here’s what you can do if you think you are going to catch the vomiting bug:
1. DON’T BREATHE IN! Breathe out and then look at the sky
2. Flick your fingers
3. Step on specific spots on the floor
4. Avoid walking on lines

When Brave Bel did the HABITS she felt safe for a little while, but it did not last long. Brave Bel began to realise that Habit the Rabbit was a trickster. It did not matter how many times she did the HABITS, her fears of getting sick kept coming back. Brave Bel decided to give Habit the Rabbit some ATTITUDE! But first she needed to conduct a scientific study. She wanted to learn what makes Habit the Rabbit APPEAR and what makes him DISAPPEAR.

This is what Brave Bel learnt:

1. The tricky Habit the Rabbit thoughts appeared when Brave Bel was bored or tired.

2. The Habit the Rabbit thoughts did not appear when she was busy.
The HABITS did not appear when she was:

– Talking to her friends
– Reading a book
– Dancing
– Swimming
– Watching her favourite TV shows
– Busy with school work

3. Habit the Rabbit hates it when Brave Bel is strong, and particularly hates bossy comments like:

– I am BIG, you are SMALL
– You are just a TRICKSTER
– I know the facts: when I breathe in I take in oxygen not bad things

Brave Bel learnt that she is big, smart and strong and she knows how to make Habit the Rabbit small and powerless. She remembers what to do by using the RIDE* steps.

Rename the thought: That’s the trickster talking not me!
Insist that I am the BOSS: I can do what I want (read, talk to friends).
Do the OPPOSITE: If Habit the Rabbit says step over the crack, I step on it!
Enjoy the victory! I did it! I am the BOSS!

* Adapted from Aureen Pinto Wagner (2005), Worried no more. Help and hope for anxious children.

When is a HABIT a problem?

Many children have habits or ritual patterns that do not become a serious problem. Some ritual patterns are needed for healthy growth and confidence, example checking her hair in the mirror before going to school. A ritual is only a problem if it becomes excessive and time consuming, interferes with a child’s ability to perform everyday activities, and creates distress, dread, or frustration. For example, spending hours combing her hair and feeling anxious because she cannot get it ‘just right’.

References

Below are some references to some interesting resources if you would like to learn more about child anxiety and child OCD:

Chansky, T.E. (2004). Freeing your child from anxiety. Powerful, practical solutions to overcome your child’s fears, worries, and phobias. New York: Broadway Books.

Chansky, T.E. (2004). Freeing your child from obsessive-compulsive disorder. A powerful, practical program for parents of children and adolescents. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Rapee, R.M., Spence. S. H., Hudson, J., Cobham, V.C., & Wignall, A. (2008). Helping your anxious child. A step-by-step guide for parents. Canada: New Harbinger.

Wagner, A.P. (2005). Worried no more. Help and hope for anxious children. Second Edition. Rochester, New York: Lighthouse Press Inc.

3 ways to maintain a bond with your adolescent

Adolescence. Isn’t it fun? Unpredictable mood swings, relentless social networking, peer group enmeshment and defying parents. Or so it seems.

When parents bring their teenager to see a therapist, common issues include the adolescent becoming distant and impossible to talk with, falling behind with schoolwork and increased defiance with rules. With the parent out of the room and the adolescent more noticeably relaxed, we generally start to unpack what is going on.

A common circumstance is finding a once positive and supportive relationship between a parent/s and child has deteriorated into, what sometimes could be described as complete chaos, or a loss of both control and connection with the other in a way necessary to maintain attachment. The bond that once brought them together is now tearing them apart.

So how do relationships deteriorate to this point? And how do we get them back on track?

When a child is born, we discuss the role of dyadic attachment. That is, child cries and mother attends to comfort and soothe. Child is happy and mother steps back and allows child to explore. This ‘dance’ of attachment is vital for a secure bond to occur between parent and child. In adolescent attachment, however, there is another important factor in addition to these two.

First, we need the warmth and nurturing. Every adolescent needs nurturing (even if they might not deserve it!). The second factor is security. Like any child, adolescents need to know where the ‘line in the sand’ is and when they have crossed it. The third factor that is more difficult is the factor of enabling towards greater autonomy. Enabling towards autonomy is the ability to maintain, yet transform, an attachment relationship. At its core it requires a parent to advocate for their child’s increasing independence whilst still remaining as their ‘secure base’ (Diamond and Siqueland 1995).

Warmth and nurturing
+
Security (limits and boundaries)
+
Enabling towards autonomy
=
Adolescent attachment

Psychological autonomy is vital for identity exploration. When a parent shows a high level of separation anxiety, this can at times be constraining for the adolescent. If the adolescent feels constrained, controlled or dominated by a parent, they will seek to express their autonomy in secretive or covert ways from the parent. The distrust and betrayal this causes is very damaging to the ‘web’ of attachment formed around the adolescent.

The adolescent’s brain is developing at rapid rates. Complex neural networks are being laid down in the cortex, and the adolescent’s neurobiological functioning drives him or her to be very motivated to make choices, express preferences and form opinions. The brain therefore requires the appropriate ‘brain food’ for optimal development (Perry 2006). This means lots of practice at active problem solving involving working through a process of defining the problem, determining possible solutions, learning consequences of each particular course of action and enacting a solution that is positive and healthy. It is no longer about parents solving their child’s problem. It is about supporting them to solve it for themselves. These are inherently different processes.

If a parent is not joining this exciting ride of identity development, then unfortunately we have an adolescent attempting to weave their way through their interpersonal world essentially solo. At a time when decisions can so easily be made on impulse, the need for communication to be open, flowing and honest is imperative.

When discussing how to ‘fix’ the adolescent, we eventually come back to this web of attachment and look at how we can repair what has gone so horribly wrong within these three dimensions, with most focus on how to help parents stay connected and in control by supporting their child’s need for growing autonomy in a way that keeps the bond strong.

If parents are available and aware of how to enable their child towards autonomy whilst remaining as the ‘secure base’, the adolescent is more willing to openly communicate without fear of being constrained and the web of attachment continues to weave in such a way to prepare the adolescent for positive decision making in adulthood.

By: Alison Lenehan
Psychologist

“But surely there’s nothing to worry about?” Anxiety in children and how to tackle it

By Erin Patten
MPsych (Educational & Developmental)
Registered Psychologist @ Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre

I have had parents bring their anxious child to see me and say “but what does a child have to be worried about?” And the kids tell me – plenty! While their parents may not necessarily see the child’s fears as something to be scared of or worry about, the fear is real nonetheless to the child and giving them effective strategies to face their fear is really important.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience at times – and sometimes this can actually serve to keep us safe in a threatening situation. Think about our ancestors: did we evolve from people who were scared of bears and wolves and ran away – or did something else to keep themselves safe – when they saw them coming, or those who saw them coming and did nothing? (I’ll give you a hint: the second group of people got eaten by the bears and wolves!) However, in some children the degree of anxiety they experience in particular situations far outweighs the threat and means they can actually miss out on important childhood experiences such as trying new activities, making friends, or going to new places.

There are several different types of anxiety that may present in children including:

  • Separation Anxiety: These children have difficulty separating from their parent/caregiver, and often worry that something bad will happen while they are apart.
  • Social Anxiety: These children worry a lot about what other people think of them. They may have difficulty mixing in social situations and subsequently find it hard to make friends.
  • Specific Phobias: These children are scared of one particular thing or situation, for example dogs, the dark, thunderstorms, spiders . . . and the list of possibilities goes on.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: These children repeat the same behaviour over and over again, fearing that something bad will happen if they don’t do it.
  • Generalised Anxiety: These children worry about many different things, and may find it hard to try new things, seek constant reassurance, and often complain of physical symptoms such as a sore tummy or headache.

There are several things that parents can do in order to help their child with their particular fears or worries. As a parent, we all want to protect and reassure our children. However, for children with anxiety doing this too much can actually serve to increase their fears of the particular situation. If you are constantly protecting your child from the situations or things they are scared of or worried about, this only serves to affirm the message that they are not able to cope. Anxious children need to be encouraged to experience situations for themselves in order to attain the sense that, “I can do it!”

Validating your child’s fears is important, but be sure not to reassure them too much. For example, it is helpful to say, “I understand you are feeling worried about . . .” but focusing too much on the anxious behaviour only serves to reinforce it and means your child is less likely to overcome their fears.

It is important as a parent to expose your child to the things or situations that they are afraid of in order to help them reduce their fears. If you allow your child to avoid the thing they are fearful of this will reinforce the fear. Breaking fears down into more manageable steps is a helpful way to approach the anxiety. This is referred to as the ‘stepladder approach’, and this page http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/anxiety_stepladder_approach.html
has some great examples of stepladders. It is great if you are able to decide on the different steps with your child, and doing this means that they will feel more of a sense of control over what is happening. They may need to practice each stage of the stepladder several times before they feel confident to move on to the next step. Rewards can be incorporated into this process along the way too to encourage your child. It is important to remember that rewards do not necessarily have to be ‘stuff’: one of my favourite ways of rewarding my children is by doing a special activity with them (and it’s fun for me, too!).

Allowing your child to make mistakes is something that many parents find difficult. But this can be important in terms of helping your child to work out how to solve problems on their own. Although tempting, it is better not to jump in when you can see your child struggling. It gives them time to try a different strategy rather than reinforcing to them that you don’t think they can do it.

When you are tackling your child’s anxiety, staying calm and patient can be quite a challenge at times, but it is important to maintain this as much as possible. And of course, it’s a good opportunity to model your own emotional regulation strategies to your child! If at any stage you need help or support through the process, working with a psychologist is a great way to work through your child’s (or your own!) anxieties.

Erin Patten is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre. You can find out more about Erin here.

If you would like to make an appointment with Erin, please call (02) 9869 0377.

What makes some people Difficult??

Do you ever find some people difficult?  What is it about them?  We all have had some one difficult to deal with in our own lives.  Some of us struggle more than others.  I wonder why that is?  I believe that it all comes down to perspective and how much we try to control things.

So what do we mean when we say difficult people?  It could be described as any interaction that is not easy, that requires great effort (physical or mental) to accomplish, comprehend or endure.  When I do workshops on this topic there are common descriptive words that come up from the audience to describe their feeling about “Difficult people”.

Such words are frustration, pain, anger, feeling undervalued, a sense of no control, overwhelmed, sadness, avoidance, fear and even aggression.  Not nice feelings huh?

One of the common problems with Difficult people is how to we continue to interact with them, that is assuming we cannot remove them form our lives altogether.  The truth is that most often we need to continue to work with talk with, or serve these people.

Ongoing communication and interactions can quickly become strained.  When this happens it is a very slippery slope.  Why is this?

Well let’s start by quickly talking about communication, what does it mean to effectively communicate?  It is to be heard and understood.  Now I didn’t say agree, but the receiver needs to understand your intentions.

When our emotions run hot we tend to start to assume and misinterpret which is like adding fuel to the fire.  Our logical mind can almost shut down when we become really upset and as such we tend to over react.  Can anyone relate?

Any parents out there, think of a time when you are feeling on top of things, it’s been a good day and your kids are being difficult.  How do you respond?  If you’re like me it is with a cool calm head, you are strong and effective and things work out – eventually.

How about on a bad day when you are feeling tired, emotional and fragile.  Same issue your kids are being difficult (if they are like mine they can smell a fragile Mum from 100 metres).  Before you know it, same scenario and you are the one screaming and kicking like you’re a 3year old having a tantrum!  Nice…….

Difficult people can bring out the worst in us.  When our emotions get in the way and we misinterpret and assume things.  When we avoid conversations thinking that this is the answer.   There is hope!

If we can learn a few simple principles and can increase our awareness we can turn things around for everyone’s benefit.  Firstly, each of us can be difficult!  Amazing thought huh?  Each of us has the capacity to cause tension for another.  Particularly, for those who see the world or interact in a different way to us.

For example, the faster thinking, fast talking, driven, bossy, demanding people can cause quite a bit of tension in the more relaxed, patient, non confrontational people.  Just by entering the room these strong styles can cause friction.

Those colourful fun loving, chatterboxes who can talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles can cause quite a bit of tension for the straight laced, serious, analytical of us who don’t understand how some people can be so frivolous and unfocussed.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “the single biggest problem is the illusion that communication has taken place”.  So, if communication is being heard and understood.  It means that the intent of your message has been clearly heard and understood by the receiver.  This does not mean agreement, but it does mean understanding.

Difficulty comes from there being a gap between the person communicating and the person receiving.  This gap can be from areas such as cultural differences, perspective, past experiences, upbringing and mindset.  The larger the gap between the two, the higher the likelihood of miscommunication or misinterpretation.

For example, we communicate with others the way that we prefer to be communicated with.  A driven, dominant person can come across to a gentle patient person as quite confrontational.  A fun, loving, talkative person can come across to a conservative analytical person as flippant and self-centred.

Two dominant people can cause friction in one another as they subconsciously battle for who will hold the reins and have control.  While two non-confrontational people may secretly drive each other crazy as neither one of them is courageous enough to speak up about issues.

An important breakthrough we need to have when it comes to difficult people is realising what part we play in the equation.  We can actually make the interaction worse by adding fuel to the fire.  When we accept others for who they are, true connection can happen.

Seeing the value that each of us bring (yes even difficult people have strengths and bring enormous value) will change the quality of your interactions dramatically.

Being aware that the only thing we can ever truly control is our attitude and response to others.  When we realise this we can start to have quality connections with others, even those that see the world in a completely different way to us.

So next time you are struggling with such a difficult person or situation try to appreciate the person for their strengths and give them the time and encouragement to be the best they can be.

Here are some tips to assist you to get the most out of your connections with others even those who can be difficult at times.

  • Read the behaviour only –  not the intention.  Let’s face it we don’t know someone’s intention, and when we assume we usually get it wrong.  If someone if very different from us then our assumption is even more likely to be off track.  If you aren’t sure, ask….
  • Try to see things from their perspective.  There is a real power in seeing the world from someone else’s perspective.  It can lead to understanding on a completely new level.
  • Communicate with care.  Each of us deserves to be communicated with, with care.  What I mean here is to be mindful of what you are saying and to care about the person through the communication. 
  • Be assertive.  Assertive communication is on the continuum between passive and aggressive communication.  It is about being effective in your communication and being clear on your intentions. 
  • Be respectful of the others feelings, you can disagree but never disrespect.  Each of us craves understanding and respect.  Maturity comes when we can be comfortable with the notion that there can be perspectives and opinions other than our own.  Being able to listen to another’s opinion with an open heart and mind without being threatened is a skill that will certainly build connection. 

 So next time you are faced with a difficult person, or a difficult situation – breathe.  Don’t take things personally.  Realise that we are all different and that there is strength in our differences.  Don’t be threatened when someone goes about things in a way that you don’t understand.   Look for the value in them and their perspective.  See their differences as a compliment to your strengths.

When we are courageous enough to truly see others despite our differences, accept them and appreciate them, no matter how different from us they are; our interactions with others will be strengthened and our connections can be all they were meant to be.