Fathers and mothers sharing the ‘mental load’

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

There has been quite a bit written recently about the ‘mental load’ carried by mothers. Many mothers now return to the workforce fairly soon after having children, and begin the juggle of part time working (or in some cases full time), as well as what is essentially still a huge role carrying the domestic ‘load’. This includes of course the obvious tasks of housework, cooking, caring for the children and so on – but many women are becoming aware that it’s the ‘mental load’ that is exhausting, as much as the physical tasks that need to be completed.

What do women mean when we refer to this ‘mental load’? We’re talking about things like:
– keeping on top of notes and newsletters from school/childcare
– tracking important dates each week and month, anything from when the vaccinations are due, to what day of the week the library books need to be returned
– buying birthday presents for parties your children have been invited to
– thinking ahead to the next stage in your child’s development … What do we need to start the baby on solids? When should we try toilet training? We need new school shoes soon (again!) … and so on, and so on!

When women return to work after having children, it seems there is often an expectation they will continue to manage all of this thinking and planning, rather than it being shared by both parents.
This point is made brilliantly in this post, which went viral earlier this year on social media:

https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked

It highlights so effectively that when fathers expect to be delegated to, or offer to ‘help’ around the house or with the children, this implies that the mother is in charge of the domestic duties, not him. This doesn’t reflect the equal partnership that many women are wanting in their family life – and indeed that many fathers would also say they aspire to!

So how do we get fathers more involved? Certainly in my local neighborhood I see a lot of dads involved at least in the drop off and pick up at childcare and school. When I went to the Easter and Book week parades at our primary school this year, there were lots of dads in attendance too. Does this indicate simply a willingness to attend specific events or complete particular tasks in the weekly routine – or does it also reflect that some dads do spend a lot of time thinking about and planning family life, and are willing to shape their working life (at least somewhat) around prioritizing involvement with their children?

And where are the dads’ voices in this? Most of the articles and posts I have read on this topic are the thoughts of women (see one exception below). So I thought perhaps enough from me, as yet another woman writing on this topic! Why not try and start a conversation with some families where Dad IS involved in the planning level of family life; who is sharing the ‘mental load’, if you will.

Is this you? Are you a dad who shares the mental load?

(and does your wife/partner agree that you share the load?!)
How have you implemented this? Have you been this involved from the very beginning or has it evolved over time?
What are your tips for other families who want to make this happen?
What are the challenges that dads face, that might block them from being a more equal partner in the planning and managing of family life?

For example, here are the thoughts of one dad:
https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2017/05/how-to-share-the-mental-load-of-chores-with-your-partner/

If you are a mother reading this, encourage your partner to respond or have a conversation about it and give us some feedback!

 

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

Motherhood is not a competitive sport

I have a particular interest in how women navigate the transition of becoming a mum – both as a psychologist who sees postnatal women in my practice, and also as a mother of two young children myself.

For many women, the role of mother is one they come to with high hopes and expectations. Being ‘a good mum’ might be the most important thing they hope to achieve in life. But how exactly do you measure whether you are ‘a good mum’? While this is a wonderful goal, one of the dangers that comes with it is the niggling fear that you are, in fact, not a good enough mum, and indeed that others are better at this whole mothering thing than you.

Women have a tendency to compare themselves to others, and often do so in relational arenas. For example: “Why does she have a partner when I don’t?”; “I wish my family was as close as hers”; “why are her children better behaved than mine?”. Such thoughts are quite common, and for some women they are fleeting and easily shaken off. For other women, however, such thoughts can really ‘stick’ and create a competitive mindset. When we think competitively, we are attempting to assess and rank people as to who is better, and who is worse. This can be very unhelpful as it sets us up with one of two options: we judge ourselves as better than another, which creates superiority, distancing us from others rather than connecting; or we judge ourselves as worse than another, which is also distancing but comes with the unfortunate added bonus of triggering feelings like shame, guilt and anxiety. The “I’m not a good enough mum” thoughts can cause a mum to hide herself away, not befriending other mothers, and feeling alone in her sense of failure.

Not only is competitive thinking unhelpful in these ways, but I also think it’s an inaccurate way to approach motherhood, for the following reasons…

Each child is unique
This sounds so simple as to be blatantly obvious, and yet we often treat young children as though they should all follow the same trajectory – from weight gain as babies, to ‘sleeping through’ by a certain age, to school readiness and academic milestones. It is incredibly difficult not to compare children. I think we do this because we are looking for evidence that our child is ‘doing ok’, because the assumption therefore follows that ‘I AM DOING OK’ as a mum! However, every child develops according to his or her own path. Parents have some influence over that path, but there will also be many aspects that are simply due to that particular child’s temperament, intellect, natural gifts and inclinations. Furthermore, every child’s path is going to have some bumps and some very difficult sections, regardless of how well we are parenting. During these times, it will be important that we have not attached our self-worth as mothers to our child’s behaviour, academic success or other outcomes.

Each mother is unique
Not only do we need to remember our child’s uniqueness, but I think that we tend to overlook our own uniqueness as mothers. The way that you mother will not be identical to anyone else. We all have incredible strengths in caring for our children, and of course we all have our faults and challenges in parenting too. All the mothers I know focus more on their faults and how they should be doing better. I wish that more of us would learn to celebrate our strengths as mums and enjoy bringing our own particular ‘style’ to the role of mothering.

Motherhood is first and foremost a relationship
In our desire to be ‘good mums’, we can also get caught up in all the activities that we think this entails – teaching our kids to read, eat vegetables, have good manners, be physically active, limit screen time, build resilience … and on it goes! (It is just me, or is there a never ending supply of articles online now about the ‘next thing’ we need to be doing to raise happy and healthy kids?!!!) In the midst of all these tasks we are trying to achieve, are our children, who are actually people, not projects. Our key role is to simply love our children and be in relationship with them.
(If you want to ponder this idea further, I highly recommend this thought provoking article: A Manifesto Against Parenting)
And yet again, each mother-child relationship is also unique! It will have its own special ‘in jokes’, quirks, joys, and dramas. So why compare? Motherhood is not a competitive sport! It is a special bond that you have with one or more little people, entrusted to your care.

So then – what to do when you find yourself feeling competitive?

It will inevitably happen. You see someone else seemingly having a ‘super-mum’ moment and you immediately feel inadequate.

I’d like to suggest a helpful response that is based on the work of Kristen Neff, who researches and writes on the topic of self-compassion. Neff argues that just as we respond to our loved ones with compassion when they are upset, we can do the same for ourselves. She suggests that there are three steps to a self-compassionate response, and here I’ve applied them specifically to the ‘not a good enough mum’ scenario:

  1. Practice mindfulness – this is essentially the practice of being present in the moment, not swept away into our past or future (if you’re not familiar with mindfulness, click here for a good introduction). In this case, I would suggest focusing your awareness on the present situation and the feeling it is bringing up. Notice if your mind wants to start judging and telling you long stories about how you’re not good enough. Also check whether your mind starts to veer into jealous or nasty thoughts about the other mum. These aren’t helpful, and can be a way to avoid the pain that we are actually feeling. Instead, try to stay in the moment. Acknowledge that you are just feeling a bit vulnerable or anxious that you are not a good enough mum. Don’t be scared of that feeling. The second step helps with this.
  2. Connect with wider humanity – the second aspect of self-compassion is actually to recognize that feeling insecurity or emotional pain of any kind is common to every human on the planet. In fact what increases our suffering greatly, is when we feel alone in our experience of painful feelings. For example, thinking that “Every other mum knows what they are doing but I have no idea … what is wrong with me?”. It is incredible helpful to acknowledge to ourselves something like the following – “I am having a painful emotion … this is not because there is something ‘wrong’ with me, it’s because I am a human being, and all human beings experience hurt and insecurity”. For mothers in particular, it helps when we realize that every mother worries she is not doing a good enough job and will even feel like a failure at times. Notice that this aspect of self-compassion is exactly the opposite of a competitive mindset! It connects us rather than distancing.
  3. Practice kindness to yourself – just as we would comfort a friend who is hurting, we can learn to comfort ourselves. There is no need to judge or beat ourselves up, it doesn’t achieve anything or help us be better people. Self-kindness might include a simple action of comfort, such as making yourself a cup of tea, going for a short walk somewhere nice, or calling a trusted love one. Just as we would soothe a distressed child, sometimes we need some soothing when emotions flare up! We can take a few deep breaths and ‘hold’ ourselves kindly in the moment. Self-kindness can also include working on more positive self-talk, including affirming the strengths that you do have and acknowledging all the hard work you put into being a mum.

I hope these steps give you some ideas about how to respond differently the next time your brain fires off the “I’m not a good enough mum” thoughts. Why not let go of the competitive thinking and instead channel that energy into enjoying your unique strengths as a mum, and the way that these enrich the bond you have with your child.

 

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

More tips for increasing your productivity

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

This post follows on from a previous post, Five tips for increasing your productivity. Here are some further ideas if you are struggling to work through your to-do list or feel that you are not achieving the goals that matter to you.

Schedule important tasks that need to be done regularly

Most of us are diligent in following through on commitments and appointments that we have booked in our calendar. We are much less likely to follow through on tasks that have no particular time allocated in which to achieve them. Instead of having vague goals or intentions, set up times in your calendar to get things done that really matter to you. In the work setting, this might mean spending some time early in the day on an important task before other ‘urgent’ demands crop up through the day. On a more personal level, you could block out times for exercise or other self care activities. I know someone who finds it helpful to write down her exercise times in her diary so that when asked by others to do or attend something, she can honestly answer, “sorry, I already have something on at that time”.

This can also be a useful strategy for tasks that you tend to forget. Some tasks repeat at regular intervals but not often enough that they stay in our attention – for example, invoicing that needs to be completed by a certain date each month. If you use a mobile phone calendar, Google calendar or a program like Outlook, it is very easy to set a recurring task on that date each month. Add a reminder alert and you have an external prompt, instead of relying on your memory … or that sinking feeling when you realize you’re late on your invoicing!

Lower your standards where necessary

You may be putting off a task because you are asking too much of yourself. People who procrastinate a lot often have a perfectionistic thinking style. In their mind, they imagine that they need to complete a task thoroughly or to an exceptional standard, when this may not always be achievable or helpful. I am not suggesting that we become sloppy on things that really matter; however, if you know that you agonize over the wording of every email or spend 30 minutes playing with the fonts in your PowerPoint presentation, you might like to ask yourself if the benefit gained from these extra efforts is really worth the time? If it genuinely is (perhaps you have a boss who is really picky about fonts), then of course keep doing it! But if not, embrace the idea of “good enough” rather than perfection, and free up some time for other more important activities.

Set a timer

Some tasks have no end but can take as much time as you allow them (browsing social media is a good example, as is reading and replying to your emails if you get a lot of them!). If you find that you get carried away on these activities and waste too much time, choose an amount of time you want to dedicate to the task and actually set that amount of time on a timer (most mobile phones have one you can use).

This sounds incredibly simple (and it is!) but it really can motivate you to work more efficiently as you are more aware of a time constraint. If the activity is an enjoyable time waster for you, social media being an obvious example, you might find it hard to have the discipline to stop when the timer goes off. The tip below might be useful here!

Setting a timer is also a great strategy to use for tasks you really don’t feel motivated to do, like filing, tidying up or sorting and deleting emails. Set a small amount of time (say 10 minutes) and tell yourself to just do as much as you possibly can in that time. At the end of the 10 minutes you will have two choices. If you actually find that you have the time and energy to keep going, go for it. Many people find that the first 10 minutes is the hardest and then the motivation starts to come. The second choice is to stop, and commend yourself that at least you did 10 minutes! Some is better than none.

Use natural breaks in your schedule to set limits

This is a similar strategy to setting a timer, except that it creates a definite end point for you. Think of where there are commitments already set in your day – for example, a staff meeting that happens the same time each week, or needing to leave the house to collect your children from school. You can choose an amount of time for your task, say 30 minutes, and then get started on that task 30 minutes before your meeting or the need to leave the house. The natural break will force you to walk away from it. It may still take some practice to learn to use your time efficiently, but starting with the intention to complete the task within the timeframe is much more helpful than an open ended time limit.

Which of these tips is most relevant to you? Make a plan to try it out in the following week. Reading about it is a good start, but only doing it will actually make a difference to your productivity!

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

Five tips for increasing your productivity

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

Would you say that you are a productive person? Are you aware of all the current jobs needing your attention, and are you making good progress on them? Note that I am NOT asking whether you have ticked off everything on your to-do list, because for most people this will never happen. Most of us have more things to do, than time to do them in!
But if you are constantly feeling overwhelmed, forgetting things frequently, or unable to complete even your most important tasks, here are some ideas to consider.

Do a ‘brain dump’
Your brain is not designed to retain endless amounts of information in your current attention span. When you are feeling overwhelmed it’s really important to capture all the things you need to do. Get the list out of your head and down on paper or into your phone or computer. David Allen lists this as the first step in his highly popular “Getting Things Done” model. The key is to choose a place that you will regularly refer back to. I use an app in my phone called Errands. It’s always with me so whenever something pops into my head I can make a note of it, and set a date to complete it as well. I check my Errands list every day and re-work it often. Instead of worrying, “What am I forgetting?” or “What should I be doing?” I can trust that my list will remind me!
Learn more – David Allen’s book and website Getting Things Done

Invoke the ‘one minute rule’
Are there any tasks on your list that would actually take only a minute or two? (for example, calling to make an appointment). If so, do it right now. This gives you an immediate sense of achieving something! In the future, before adding something like this to your to-do list, consider just doing it straight away. That way, you are not wasting time writing it on a list and then possibly procrastinating about it.
Learn more – Gretchen Rubin on the ‘one minute rule’

Break large tasks into chunks
In contrast to these easy-to-complete tasks, there might be others on your list that will take many steps and repeated effort over weeks to complete. If you write a task that is too large on your list, you are even more likely to do nothing about it or procrastinate about it. Instead, think about what the steps would be to complete the task and write the first step as an item on your to-do list.
I used this tip with this very blog post. The idea of “I have a blog post to write” feels overwhelming and therefore I tend to put it off. However, breaking this into chunks works for me. The first chunk might be brainstorming ideas and writing them down for 15 minutes. The pressure is off because I don’t need to complete the post, or for the ideas to be fabulous at this stage. The idea is just to get started. Most people find once a task is started, it becomes much easier to complete.

Prioritise
I find this point is ALWAYS listed in any article about productivity! And for good reason. To feel truly productive, just ‘getting things done’ isn’t enough. We need to be getting the things done that actually matter. In my experience, prioritizing well is a skill that takes a long time to learn. Each day, as new tasks emerge and new challenges need to be addressed, we have to adjust priorities accordingly. I find it is always worth my while to take a few minutes each day to stop and evaluate all the things I’d like to get done, and then consider, “If I got nothing else done today, what is the one thing that is most important to complete?”. Doing that one thing, as early as possible in the day, makes a huge difference! This has also helped me redefine ‘productivity’ in my parenting role. One some days, the ‘one thing’ I need to do is care for a sick child. All the other jobs fall by the wayside, which is frustrating, but it helps to remind myself that I really am doing the most important work for that day!

Use the power of habits
Are there tasks that you need to get done repeatedly? Do you find yourself procrastinating on some of these tasks because you lack the willpower or motivation to get them done? Exercise fits into this category for a lot of people, but so do a lot of administrative tasks like filing or opening and sorting the mail.
It might be helpful to learn how to build a habit in order to get this task done more repeatedly. Habits are behaviours that we tend to do automatically in response to certain triggers. For example, most of us don’t need much ‘motivation’ to brush our teeth before going to bed. It’s something we do with barely any thought because it’s so strongly associated with cues like putting on pyjamas or thinking about bedtime.
Students can set up habits such as getting home from school, getting some afternoon tea and then immediately sitting down to do homework. A further step might be starting with a particular subject each time – for example, maths if this is the subject that needs most practice, followed by working on any assignments that are due soon, and so on. If this routine is consistently followed, it becomes easier and less effort and thought is required each time to follow through. Instead of wasting mental energy thinking, “shall I start my homework now or later? … which subject should I do first?” and so on, the habit reduces the amount of decision making and motivation required.
Another habit might be that each time you check the mail, you immediately open it and throw away any junk, then sort bills and schedule payments for these, or place them in a specified place to deal with later. Set aside a time in your week to deal with the bills, then reward yourself with something pleasant afterwards – another sure way to make habits stick!
Learn more – James Clear has a fantastic website devoted to the science of creating good habits.

ONE LAST BONUS TIP! … Pick one of these five and work on it this week!
You may have come across some of these points before or perhaps they seem quite simple and obvious – but how well are you actually using them? These strategies only make a difference when implemented with consistent effort over time.

So which tip would be most helpful to you at present? Get started today and take note of how it affects your productivity in the coming weeks. Good luck!

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

Let the children play!

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre

Children seem to be leading busier and busier lives. Many children have a weekly routine that is full of scheduled and structured activities. Whether it’s tutoring, sports, music, dancing or community service groups, it’s now common for children to have activities scheduled many afternoons or evenings of the week. And of course there is homework to be completed as well! Parents feel the pressure to ensure that their children are succeeding at school, as well as getting every opportunity to develop their interests and become a ‘well rounded’ young person. However, there is an increasing concern amongst parents as well as academics and researchers who are questioning – when does this leave time for children just to PLAY?

Why is play so important for children?

It is widely agreed that play is vital for children, as it plays a key role in their physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. Professor Peter Gray, a researcher on the effects of children’s play, is concerned that too great a focus on education in countries like the UK (and Australia, I would suggest) is robbing children of important playtime.
Indeed, in a recent article he argues:

“the most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions” (Gray 2014).

Gray’s article is well worth a read – I was fascinated to learn that in areas such as east Asia, where education has long been so greatly prized, there is now a move to reduce homework and schooling hours in response to grave concerns about decreasing levels of resilience and creativity in children, and growing rates of emotional problems.

So play is clearly important, but what actually defines good quality ‘play’ and sets it apart from other recreational or entertainment activities that children participate in?

Some level of risk is an important part of play

As it turns out, some of the most important aspects of play are related to the element of risk. Some researchers are concerned that we have actually made play areas and activities for children too safe and therefore too boring and not stimulating enough for meaningful play. Consider the average playground that has static equipment like a see saw or a slippery dip (slide). There is essentially only one way to interact or play with these pieces of equipment, and the element of risk is (intentionally) very low. Even toddlers can become quickly bored. In contrast, Anita Bundy and a team from Sydney University have been researching the effect of providing unstructured materials in school playgrounds, to encourage creative and imaginative play (for example – buckets, hay bales, car tyres, cardboard boxes and wooden planks). Teachers at first worried that playground injuries would increase or that children would use the materials to hit each other; however this did not happen. In fact, teachers reported positive changes – the children played more actively but were also more social, creative and resilient (Wallace, 2009).

A similar result was found in a study in New Zealand, in which one school bravely decided to get rid of playground rules entirely! The children were allowed to climb trees, ride bikes and play with loose junk materials similar to those described above. In time, the school found there was a decrease in injuries, a drop in bullying and that students concentrated better in class. Principal of the school, Bruce McLachlan, makes an interesting observation that in response to a riskier environment, the students did not act foolishly, but rather took “incremental, calculated risks” (Fox 2014). Professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, is concerned that we often do not consider the benefits of risk taking for children.

“Some exposure to risk is good for children,” Schofield says, explaining that children develop their brain’s frontal lobe when they are taking risks and given the freedom to calculate consequences. “The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run,” he says. “Anticipating risk helps children watch out for themselves better.” (Fox 2014).

Principal McLachlan also observed that his students became more independent and also more imaginative because there was far less adult intervention in their play.

This sheds light on another aspect of how we have reduced the risk element of play – most children today hardly ever play without close adult supervision. Many parents reading this blog would remember experiences in your own childhood of playing for hours on end in the backyard or in the local neighborhood, with minimal to no adult supervision. Hanna Rosin explores this concept beautifully in her essay, “The Overprotected Kid”. She highlights the underlying fear that most parents now have about their children being unsupervised – the possible risk of abduction or abuse at the hands a stranger. I sometimes hear parents say, “I trust my kids, but I don’t trust the world”. Interestingly, though, Rosin (and others) point out that the rate of children being abducted or abused by strangers has not increased since the 1970s. Overall, crimes against children are actually decreasing (Rosin 2014). Your child is far more likely to be involved in a car accident while you are driving, and yet we do not perceive this activity as nearly as risky! While there are some risks associated with children being unsupervised, there are also great possible gains in confidence, resilience and independent creativity (children’s ability generate their own ideas about what they want to do – in contrast to the “I’m BORED” phenomenon!).

Some practical considerations

So, how can parents respond to these issues? It is not always easy to promote your child’s independence and appropriate risk taking, within a culture that is skewed towards fear and over-protection of children. Here are some initial thoughts:

Parents of toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Encourage outdoor play with natural items like sand, water, dirt and pebbles. Often children love to play with these items as they can be manipulated into endless different combinations, stimulating their imagination and creativity.
  • Indoor play can also incorporate more creative items like blocks or playdough, rather than toys or games that can only be used in specific ways.
  • Even young children can be given the opportunity to play independently, beginning with very short periods in an enclosed environment such as their bedroom or a fenced backyard. You might supervise from a distance but allow the child to direct the play and explore the environment, as appropriate. Beginning this from an early age is hugely helpful in avoiding the problem of older children who cannot entertain themselves or use their imaginations!

Parents of primary school children:

  • Be mindful of how many scheduled activities you are allowing your child to participate in. Allow time in the week for ‘free play’ (either alone or with friends).
  • With each increasing year of age, think about some small steps towards independence that you can allow or encourage for your child. For example, playing in the backyard unsupervised; walking or riding their bike to school with a friend or two; walking to the shops to buy something. This may mean talking with your child or practicing skills with them until they are confident to do it alone. When I started at a new primary school in Year 5, it meant catching a bus to the station and then a short train trip to get to school. I have fond memories of my Dad doing a ‘trial run’ with me in the holidays so that I would be confident about where to go. I was a bit nervous but it soon became easy and was a great step in my independence.
  • Talk with the parents of your child’s friends about what level of risk and independence they are comfortable to implement with their child. Respect that different parents will be comfortable with different levels of risk. However, if you can find some like-minded parents, this may help to be able to encourage your children to do some activities together, independent of adult supervision.

These are just inital thoughts and I would be interested to hear comments and feedback from parents, as we wrestle with these difficult but important issues!

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

 

References

Fox, Michaela (2014). Ripping up the playground rule book delivers incredible results, http://www.essentialkids.com.au/younger-kids/starting-school/ripping-up-the-playground-rule-book-delivers-incredible-results-20140203-31wc2.html

Gray, Peter (2014). Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less,
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/give-childhood-back-to-children-if-we-want-our-offspring-to-have-happy-productive-and-moral-lives-we-must-allow-more-time-for-play-not-less-are-you-listening-gove-9054433.html

Rosin, Hanna (2014). The Overprotected Kid, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/

Wallace, Natalie (2009). Topsy-turvy thinking keeps creativity out of the playground, http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/topsyturvy-thinking-keeps-creativity-out-of-the-playground-20091027-hj2o.html#ixzz2y44jdw8U.

Related reading

Peter Gray has some other excellent articles online – for example here and here.

An excellent book exploring concepts of risk and resilience in the teenage years – Too Safe for Their Own Good, by Michael Ungar.

 

 

Measuring the effectiveness of our work at the Resilience Centre

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre

At the Resilience Centre, we strive to provide an excellent psychological service for people from all walks of life. We are therefore committed to measuring and assessing whether our services are effective in meeting our clients’ goals.

One way that we do this is by asking clients to complete some brief measures as part of each visit to see their psychologist. The measures we use are called the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS) and the Session Rating Scale (SRS). These scales were created by two American researchers, Barry Duncan and Scott Miller, with the aim of finding a brief yet effective method of assessing whether therapy was helping clients to achieve the changes they were looking for. The ORS and SRS can be completed with pen and paper, but more recently we’ve been using a digital version that can be completed on an iPad.

We ask clients to complete the ORS at the beginning of their first session with us. This provides a ‘snapshot’ of how they are doing when we begin working together. The ORS is comprised of four scales – personal wellbeing, close relationships, social wellbeing (including friendships, work and/or school) and overall functioning. Usually clients are asked to complete the ORS at every subsequent visit. Immediately clients are able to review with their psychologist how things are changing and progressing. There is a good body of research indicating the validity of the ORS against other longer questionnaires. This means that an increasing score on the ORS is a reliable and valid indicator that therapy is leading to improvement’s in the client’s wellbeing. The advantage is that the ORS is so simple to complete – it only takes about a minute! Research also indicates that if working with a psychologist is to be effective, there is typically some positive change within the first few sessions. This is why completing the ORS at every session is so useful. It ensures that we are accountable to our clients. If they are not experiencing the positive changes they are looking for, we are happy to discuss trying a different approach, or referring to another psychologist in the practice who may be more suited to the client’s needs.

At the end of the session, we ask our clients to complete the Session Rating Scale (SRS). Again this is very quick and simple to complete. It asks for feedback from the client about their experience of the session and whether they feel the psychologist is addressing their needs and goals. At the Resilience Centre, it is essential to us that clients are able to talk to us honestly about any concerns they have or improvements that need to be made. Each person is unique, and effective psychological work needs to be tailored to the client’s own goals, personality, learning style and so on. The client’s input and feedback is therefore invaluable in creating a really effective partnership with the psychologist.

Since 2011, we have been using My Outcomes, a secure online program, for entry and analysis of our ORS and SRS data. This program allows each practitioner to track the progress of individual clients, but also enables us to generate statistics about our effectiveness as a whole practice. All data is de-identified before being entered online (i.e. a user number rather than the client’s name is entered), which maintains the anonymity and confidentiality of our clients. However, we respect and understand that some people do not want to participate even in this confidential way. When they first come to the Resilience Centre, clients are asked to complete some paperwork, and this includes a question about whether they are willing for their de-identified data to be used in our analysis. Of course, any questions about this process are always welcome.

Many psychologists and therapists around the world are now using the ORS and SRS to ensure that they are providing an effective service that meets their client’s needs. Research indicates that when these measures are used, clients are more likely to achieve their goals and are much more empowered and engaged in the process of change. At the Resilience Centre we have experienced many benefits from using the ORS and SRS with our clients. For example, we work with a lot of children and young people, who are at times reluctant to come and see a psychologist, or nervous about what the process might involve. Using the ORS and SRS shows that we take their opinions seriously and are willing to open up a down-to-earth conversation about what will help them to feel comfortable and involved in the process.

So if you are thinking of seeing a psychologist at the Resilience Centre, please know that your feedback is not only welcomed – it’s essential! We look forward to partnering with our clients and doing our very best to meet their goals and needs.

Websites with further information and articles about the ORS and SRS:
https://heartandsoulofchange.com
http://scottdmiller.com/performance-metrics/
http://www.myoutcomes.com

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

Will I ever get it all done?!? … some tips for improving your organisational skills

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre

In my work with clients experiencing anxiety or any sort of stress, a topic that often comes up is the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. Whether it’s schoolwork, the household chores, work tasks, or juggling the endless array of family events and social catch ups, it’s likely that you sometimes feel like there are not enough hours in the day. However, this is a feeling that can escalate, causing you to panic, avoid tasks or people, and then criticize yourself for letting things get out of hand. This of course saps all your motivation and leads you further into the problem. Disorganisation is a common problem, so let’s look at some reasons why this might be so.

Why do I find it so hard to be organised?

Our lifestyle in most Western cultures today is extremely complex. Our brains struggle to keep up with this level of constant information-gathering and decision-making. Consider the way in which humans have lived for thousands of years (and still do in many countries) – daily life was comprised of fairly simple and repetitive routines, and often choices were quite limited. For example, deciding what to eat was mostly based on which foods were available. What a contrast to the experience of grocery shopping and wandering past literally thousands of products trying to decide what you need or want! Why write a grocery list? Because most of us struggle to remember 10, 20 or 30 different items, especially if some of them are unusual (it’s easier to remember standard items like bread or milk that we buy every week). And yet in other contexts, we often expect our brains to remember a vast number of things we need to do, people we need to call, and so on. If you have been kicking yourself for forgetting things, you might need to cut your brain some slack!

A second reason to consider is personality style. A number of well-researched personality questionnaires (for example, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator) include a dimension of personality that relates to organisation and decision-making. Some people have a natural desire for order and completion and they tend to develop their own habits for keeping their space neat and tidy, remembering jobs they need to do, and so on. Some people are differently wired and tend to prefer flexibility and spontaneity. They may find it harder to plan and organise as it does not feel as ‘natural’ for them. If this is you, do keep in mind that there are many assets to being a flexible person! For example, you probably cope much better with interruptions and last minute changes to plans, than do your highly organised friends. However, you might also find it helpful to learn a few habits that can help you be organised, when and where it’s really needed.

There are two main areas of organisation that many people struggle with – organising their time and organising their space (or more specifically, the constant array of ‘stuff’ that comes into that space, be it your home, office, car etc).

Organising your time

The first step is to develop a good system for remembering all the things you need to get done. Given the above information, it’s important to stop relying on your brain to keep track of all your commitments and tasks. Find a way to keep an external record, so that you are no longer relying on your memory to keep prompting you (which often fails, and can be exhausting). Time management expert David Allen speaks of the importance of ‘emptying your head’ as the first necessary step to getting things done effectively and efficiently. Here are some examples of an external system:
– a simple to-do list written on paper
– an editable to-list (for example, a Word document on your computer), which enables you to easily move things around as priorities change
– using your smart phone – either a specific app or entering tasks into your calendar along with alerts/reminders (an incredibly useful feature!)
– post it notes, placed so as to remind you
Now I’m sure you have heard this tip before but I believe there are a couple of further steps to ensure that a ‘to-do’ list actually helps you. The first is to use a method that resonates with you. If you are practically attached to your smart phone, then an app may be helpful. But if you are a traditional pen and paper person, feel free to stick with that. It is much more likely to work for you.
Secondly, the real key with any system is that you need to refer to it regularly. This is where most people fall down. Make a habit to check in with your list on a regular basis. For most of us, this would be each day. Perhaps look at your list while you eat breakfast or have your morning coffee. Another idea could be to review it at the end of the day, and make a note in your diary/calendar/phone of a couple of things you can achieve the following day.

If you are following this approach but still regularly find that you are missing deadlines or running out of time to do things that you consider important, you may need to take stock and assess all your commitments. There are three main possibilities:
1. You have taken on too much – some tasks will need to go. Be realistic about what you can achieve. While it’s hard in the short term to say no or pull out of a commitment, you will feel so much better in the long run without the constant guilt of unfinished tasks hanging over your head.
2. You are taking too long on some tasks – you will need to speed up (this is often an issue for perfectionists). Try to identify some tasks where you can simplify or streamline things a bit, and save your time for the tasks that really need your best effort.
3. You are wasting time on other things instead of focusing on what needs to be done. Let’s face it, this is a struggle for all of us. Self-discipline is not easy! If you find that you procrastinate a lot, Andrew’s blog on this topic may be useful.

Organising your space

Professional organiser Lissanne Oliver has shaped my thinking greatly in this area and I highly recommend her book (see below). I’m sure you have heard the saying “a place for everything, and everything in its place”. Simple and yet hard to achieve! Here are some ideas for actually living by this principle:
– When you bring something into your home, think about where it should be stored, and put it there as soon as possible.
– Try to put things away as soon as you have finished using them. Small amounts of tidying on a regular basis are much less exhausting and overwhelming than having to do a big clean up.
– Consider also a place for things that come and go a lot – a dish or a shelf for your keys and mobile phone, a spot for mail that needs to be opened or bills that need to be paid. These are things that often get lost, or that clutter up the dining table, because we haven’t ever designated a proper spot to store them.
– If your home is bursting at the seams with ‘stuff’, here is an interesting rule for thinking through whether to keep something: Do you use it regularly? Is it beautiful? Is it of great sentimental value? If the answer to all three questions is no, then have a think about why are you hanging on to it!
– Recognise that you will regularly need to make time to cull your stuff and throw things away. This is especially true in regards to the endless variety of paperwork that comes into our homes every week – newspapers, bills, catalogues, school notes, and so on. I love Lissanne Oliver’s suggestion to open your mail right next to your bin so you can immediately throw away all the unwanted items. Developing small habits like this can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Again, sticking to these strategies requires discipline, especially at first. But the pay off can be far reaching – whether you’re hoping to have a more restful and clutter-free home, be ready for tax time – or simply remember where the car keys are! What can you get started on today?

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

For further reading

Getting Things Done by David Allen
See his website http://www.davidco.com for further information and a range of free tools and resources.
Sorted! The ultimate guide to organising your life – once and for all by Lissanne Oliver
See her website http://sorted.net.au for further information.

Nobody’s perfect, so why are you trying to be?

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre

Yesterday morning I headed off to present a workshop, complete with a PowerPoint presentation which I had spent a long time perfecting. On arrival, it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to use my laptop to present. This problem was easily fixed, I simply transferred my presentation onto the organiser’s laptop and was ready to go. There was only one glitch – the font I’d used for all my headings wasn’t there on this new laptop. On pretty much every slide, the text looked the wrong size and just …. not right!

Now immediately, your reaction might be, “who cares about a font?!” … Perhaps you wouldn’t be bothered at all by this experience. In which case, this may not be the article for you! However I can guarantee there will be others reading who can immediately resonate with my niggling feeling of annoyance that my great presentation didn’t look quite right anymore! If this is you, it’s likely that more than once in your life, someone has called you a perfectionist.

Perfectionistic thinking is surprisingly common, and there are some great aspects to being a perfectionist! Seeking to live life according to high standards can lead to achieving great results academically or at work, and being someone that others know they can rely on to do their best (and really good PowerPoint presentations too!). However, left unchecked, perfectionistic tendencies can lead to a very strong internal sense of pressure to meet standards that in fact may be unrealistic. There can be a very real sense of fear about what will happen if not everything is ticked off the list, or completed to a worthy enough standard. It’s no surprise then that perfectionistic thinking is a risk factor for the development of conditions such as burnout, anxiety and postnatal depression.

Here are some features of perfectionistic thinking and some ideas about how to address them.

“It really annoys me when things aren’t done properly”

I believe this thinking style is strongly related to temperament and personality style, as well as often being shaped by one’s upbringing. Some parents promote a strong work ethic and push their kids to do their very best. Some children also show a preference from an early age for doing things carefully and thoroughly. Perhaps you have always had an eye for detail or enjoyed the feeling of completing a task. All of the above can be entirely healthy and lead to being a thorough and hard working person. However, there are times when circumstances change and you simply can’t complete something to the same standard that you prefer; for example, if you experience a significant illness or injury. Some perfectionists insist on dragging themselves around, compelled to get through the ‘to do’ list, when in fact their body is crying out for some rest and recuperation. Another common example is amongst new parents, especially mothers. It can be very confronting to feel that “I have done nothing all day except look after the baby”. However, looking after a baby is not only one of life’s most vital jobs, it is also one of the most complex and ever changing jobs as well! But for the perfectionist, it is hard to let go of the other tasks that didn’t get completed. Developing some flexibility here is crucial. Yes, you will always get a kick from ticking things off your list! But recognise that during some times in your life, you will have less energy for getting things done, and will need to let some things go. The other option is to do a less thorough job, and learn to feel okay about that! For example, a quick 5 minute tidy up of your desk or clean of the bathroom when there simply isn’t scope for anything more.

“It’s not okay to fail or make mistakes”

if you resonate with this statement, I encourage you to ask yourself ‘why?’ … Why isn’t it okay to make a mistake? If you do fail or mess something up, what is the worst that could happen?
I find that this kind of thinking is usually fueled by one of two great fears – one is that we are somehow inadequate or flawed; and the other is that people will be disappointed with us. Again, these beliefs often develop as we are growing up. Whether intended or not, children sometimes pick up the message from their parents that they need to perform to a certain standard in order to be loved and accepted. And so when mistakes are made, they get the sense that they are inadequate or a disappointment to their parents.
Neither of these is a pleasant feeling! So we can feel compelled to try and avoid feeling this way by always being amazing and brilliant and competent in the hope that we will somehow be ‘enough’. Of course, the reality is that sooner or later, someone will be disappointed with you. No matter how amazing you are.
Everyone makes mistakes. Of course you are flawed. That is part of being a human being. Learning to embrace both of these realities enables you to strive for high standards while also living with the awareness that you will not meet them every time. When you fail to live up to what you or someone else was hoping for, you will feel bad for a while. But in time, you will be okay.

“I don’t want to burden other people with my problems”

I have heard this, literally word for word, from so many people that I have talked with and worked with over the years. I believe it comes from a place of genuinely good intent – the desire to be a good friend or supportive family member who is not overwhelming or a ‘drag’ to be around. However, what this thinking style fails to take into account is that sharing our struggles is a fundamental part of any human relationship that has moved beyond the superficial.
When working with people who are struggling with the thought of being a burden, I often ask them – do you know anyone seemingly ‘perfect’, who never shares anything that they are finding hard in their life? Usually the answer is no; occasionally it’s yes and I ask what it is like to be around that person.
I wonder how you would find such a person? … intimidating? Irritating? Distant? In any case, it would be hard to get close to this person or feel totally relaxed and at ease with them. I think someone whose life seems perfect unsettles us because we know it is unnatural! If in fact you are holding back your worries or problems from everyone in your life, you are lacking the best relationships of all – the ones where people know you, your weaknesses as well as your strengths, and are still willing to hang around! For more thoughts on this, Brene Brown has a fantastic talk on TED.com about the importance of vulnerability in building truly meaningful and satisfying relationships.

While these tips may give you some ideas for challenging your thoughts, for some, being a perfectionist has been a life long habit and can be hard to shift. Talking with a psychologist can help to identify expectations and beliefs that can be shifted to become more realistic, flexible and more compassionate to both yourself and others.

In time I have learnt to identify the ‘niggling’ feeling that pops up when my PowerPoint font doesn’t look right – and countless other day to day examples of when life is messy, when I fall short of the mark, or when well made plans just don’t work out. Now I try to smile and have a little laugh at my ‘perfectionist’ self, let it go and get on with making the best of it. Not perfect. But my best – which in the end, is all we can ask of anyone.

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.