Clinical psychologist, Lyn Worsley talks to Leigh Hatcher about forgiveness in this three part series of weekly podcasts. Forgiveness is so much a part of healthy relationships and in the first of the series Lyn discusses the process of moving to a place of “letting go” and how even in the psychological sphere of our minds, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Written by Ivette Moutzouris
A few decades ago studies in Neuroscience believed that the brain was hardwired, that is that the way a person thought and acted was largely dependent on genetics and childhood experiences and therefore there were limitations on what you could change. A breakthrough in research in the late 1960’s led by neuroscientist, Merzenich, proved otherwise. He found that the brain could be restructured at a cellular level which proved that it was ‘plastic’ and not hardwired. Since his initial experiments many other experiments were conducted which continued to provide strong evidence for the neuroplasticity of the brain.
So what does this actually all mean and how does it affect us?
Well it means that we can re-program the brain in a sense by exposing it to new information consistently. As we do this we are creating new connections in our brains that over time become deeper connections. What we also know is that if neurons don’t repeatedly fire together then the information gets lost. So in a sense you can learn new behaviours and ways of thinking and unlearn old ones. This does deteriorate somewhat as we get older but we can still learn new things that change our neuron connections, basically the saying that ‘An old dog can’t learn new tricks’ is not true. This is of course very good news because it gives us hope when we are wanting to change behavior or thinking patterns that we feel are set in.
Another big change that has occurred in the last couple of decades is the use of the internet to obtain information and connect with others socially. On a surface level the internet has connected our world in regards to information and how quickly we obtain it and this has been very useful. It does however come with a new set of challenges which appear to be affecting the way that our brains are wiring and how we live our lives. The following are a few of the changes we have noticed.
Firstly, the amount of time we spend on the internet has increased dramatically. This is partly because the internet now allows us to do practically everything, for example, watch television, obtain information, socialize, learn new skills and so on. A research study in 2009 showed that North American young adults spend more than 19 hours a week online and this figure excludes time spend texting on phones and other devices. I’m sure that this figure would be much higher now. Surprisingly TV time has not reduced as a result but has actually increased which means a large proportion of the week is spent in front of a screen!. How does this shift in how we spend our time affect us? It means that we are less active, less time spent outdoors, less time spent being creative. It reduces the serotonin levels in our brain which needs to be higher in order to feel emotionally healthy. We need to connect more with the real world and less with the world from our screens. About 15 years ago I read an article about teenagers in Korea and China who were being hospitalized because of their addictive behaviours with internet usage. They were neglecting to eat regularly, sleep, maintain any form of physical activity and rarely spent time in the sun. Clearly this is unhealthy and even though it is an extreme example it does illustrate clearly what is being given up at the expense of time on the internet. We need the balance of a variety of activities in our week to help us maintain mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. It is important to have a holistic approach when It comes to our health and well-being.
Another problem that scientists and psychologists has noticed as an outcome of internet use is the way our brain is learning to process information. It appears that we are learning to process quick and scattered information which produces distracted thinking. Even when we are trying to stay focused there seems to be an array of alerts, advertisements and visual interruptions. You combine this with quick typing, instant responding, and constant swiping and you end up with someone who has disjointed thinking and the brain is trying to juggle this all at once. It’s exhausting just thinking about this! Which brings me to another point, the internet does not encourage reflective thinking.
As mentioned earlier the brain is soft-wired which means that if we choose to spend less time on the internet and more time stimulating our brains in a variety of ways then we can learn to be more attentive again. Being more attentive increases capacity to reflect which enhances problem solving skills and helps with regulating emotions. I would suggest practicing Mindfulness exercises/activities daily as a way of learning to slow down and minimize scattered thinking, and increase reflection. The outcome of this is a calmer self.
Another issue which has evolved as a consequence of continued internet use is the obsession with the self. The social aspect of the internet encourages self- promotion. In moderation this may not be a big issue but since it appears that moderation is occurring less with many internet users then we have to address the overall affect this is having. Nicholas Carr an author and researcher into this topic says that we are getting our psychological and social nourishment from the internet. He describes how the internet delivers positive reinforcements in the form of ‘likes’, ‘clicks’, ‘comments’ and so on which tempts the user to continue to advertise their thoughts, pictures, comments. As mentioned earlier if this was occurring only occasionally it wouldn’t have any negative effects but it appears that people are learning to depend on and even live through their profiles. For some it’s even been used to create an alternate reality where they portray a version of themselves that is far from the reality. For a lot of younger users it causes anxiety if they feel that they are not up to date and included in social interactions. The internet can feed addictive behavior, impulsivity and an obsession with the self. It allows people to cross boundaries they might not usually contemplate, such as expression of offensive thoughts without inhibition as well as sending sexualized images of themselves just to name a few. With continued exposure to this an individual not only becomes desensitized to what is healthy and appropriate but it can also affect their view of yourselves. Basically you are training yourself to believe that your worth and value as a person is based on likes, images and responses.
As a response to this I would suggest that we learn to find value in ourselves and others by having real life relationships and connecting with each other on a personal level. I would also encourage challenging yourself to spend less time surfing the net, commenting, posting and so on. Instead spend more time reading, educating yourself, exploring your world, have mindful conversations off screen and basically just live life in your real world.
If you would like to read more on this topic I would suggest the following :
“What the internet is doing to our brains- The Shallows”, by Nicholas Carr, 2011.
“Virtually You -The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality”, by Elias ABoujaoude, 2011.
In light of the new year and the cliché discussions of “What do you want to achieve in 2017?”, I decided to do a Google search on the most common new year’s resolutions. There seems to be a general consensus amongst the surveys that people have given most weight to this goal (even more so than to happiness, finance, relationships and travel): to lose weight/ eat healthier.
Paradoxically, the saying “to bite off more than you can chew” seems like something that is easily accomplished, in the context of food consumption. Larger packages, plates, serving bowls and food arrangements have been found to increase the amount a person serves and consumes by 15-45% .
Extensive findings in this field have established that environmental factors – especially the abovementioned ones – influence eating, because they increase consumption norms and decrease consumption monitoring . Increased consumption norm is the phenomenon in which we are perceptually convinced that the amount of food served is normal and reasonable, even if it is objectively larger than the regular serving. Naturally, the increase in plate size would mirror the increase in portion size, which in turn increases the availability of food. The fact that the average size of dinner plates have increased over the past century by 22% from 9.62 inches to 11.75 inches , while the obesity rate in America has increased 8-fold since 1900 , are testament to this upward trend that is unfortunately associated with a decline in good eating habits and thus health.
A study by Wansink, Painter & North (2004) elucidates this phenomenon . In their experiment, participants were asked to simply eat the soup from their bowl until they felt full. Participants were randomly assigned to Group 1 (in which they unknowingly ate from a ‘bottomless bowl’, created by attaching the bowl to a table with soup pumped from underneath, such that the bowl would be subtly refilled to the participants’ oblivion) or Group 2 (in which they ate from a normal-sized bowl). Participants who unknowingly ate from the self-refilling bowl consumed, on average, a staggering 73% more soup than participants who ate from the normal-sized bowl. When asked if they felt full, a common response was “How can I be full, I still have half a bowl left?”. This highlights that our eating behaviours are more driven by external cues (such as the visibility, size and accessibility of food), which can lead us to mindlessly turn a blind eye to our internal cues (such as hunger and satiety)  – ‘counting calories’ with our sight rather than with our stomachs, so to speak. This notion is substantiated by findings that people who are overweight are more reliant on external cues in determining their eating behaviour, while people within normal weight are more reliant on internal cues .
While overeating is influenced by environmental factors that have increased our consumption norms and decreased our consumption monitoring, the good news is that we can mitigate this dilemma by the converse: decreasing our consumption norms and increasing our consumption monitoring . Here are 10 research-based recommendations on how to take action – I hope it serves as some food for thought:
Decreasing our consumption norms
Size of packages, plates and portions
1. Just as consumption norms can be increased by larger serving sizes, you can reduce consumption norms by doing the opposite – plating your food into smaller bowls/ plates. This will likely reduce serving sizes, which reduces consumption, and therefore weight.
2. Keep in mind that while you can make the desirable choice of eating low fat foods, you can over-consume it until your caloric intake exceeds what you would have otherwise consumed from a regular non-low fat meal . With that, here is a fairly obvious yet understated consideration worth chewing on: it is important to be mindful of what you eat, as well as how much you eat.
3. Be wary of the horizontal-vertical illusion. For example, in bars, narrow highball glasses generally hold the same volume as short wide glasses, however even experienced bartenders are deceived into thinking that the latter holds less volume, leading them to pour an average of 29% more alcohol if it is served in the short wide glasses . Hence it may be beneficial to replace short wide glasses with tall narrow glasses at home.
Salience of food
4. As vision represents 80% of our perception , we can ‘manipulate’ the visibility of things in our environment in order to reduce mindless snacking on unhealthy foods. Place healthier foods at the front of the fridge or pantry, and less healthy foods towards the back. Also, keep the counter clear of foods, unless they are healthy. For example, replace the cookie jar with a fruit bowl. It can be just as peachy, if not better.
Size of food packages and portions
5. Repackage foods/ frozen goods into smaller containers. It also helps to pour foods into a small bowl or plate, rather than eat from the package.
6. Instead of stockpiling food on the counter or pantry, reduce their visibility and convenience by putting them into a cupboard or fridge right after purchase. You see, there is some truth in the old adage “Out of sight is out of mind”.
Increasing our consumption monitoring
Set goals and accountability
7. It takes at least 28 days to replace an unhealthy habit for a more desirable one. Create “The Power of Three Checklist” , by setting a calendar featuring a month’s worth of days, writing down the 3 personally relevant changes you would like to implement on a daily basis for that month, and ticking off each change at the end of each day. The checklist can be accessed here. Set up a system with someone who could provide regular support and encouragement, and with whom you can report your rate of adherence at the end of each week. Even if you are unable to implement all 3 changes every day, ticking off at least 35 boxes (out of the highest 90-93 possible checks in a month) would be enough to create a small but noticeable difference . The process of tracking change and progress is rewarding, which provides extra impetus towards reaching your goals.
Monitor caloric intake versus caloric expenditure
8. When presented with a plate of food, people of all sizes – including trained nurses and dieticians – were generally inaccurate in their estimation of the amount of calories contained . Fortunately, most products come with their nutritional information.
One of the determinants of weight is the proportion of caloric intake (calories from what you eat) to caloric expenditure (calories you have burnt through activity). Typically, if caloric intake exceeds caloric expenditure, weight gain occurs. And the converse – if caloric expenditure exceeds caloric intake, weight loss occurs. Monitoring this will allow you to be more mindful of each factor. These apps may be a fit choice for this: Lose It! or Noom Coach.
9. Eating one less bite every meal could save about 75 calories a day, which equates to weight-loss of around 8 pounds in a year. Also, drinking water gives you a full feeling without the calories.
Deliberately make healthier choices
10. For example, instead of going for the alcohol, opt for some oolong, if that’s your cup of tea.
Wishing you a fantastic 2017,
Constance H (Registered Psychologist)
- Wansink , B. (2006). Mindless eating — why we eat more than we think. New York: Bantam-Dell
- Wansink, B. (2010). From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiology & Behaviour, 100(5), 454-463. 3.
- McDermott, R. Epidemic obesity: where did it come from, what does it mean and where do we go from here? Retrieved from the University of South Australia Website: https://www.unisa.edu.au/Global/Health/Sansom/Documents/CRE/Epidemic%20obesity%20Public%20Lecture%20Cairns%20May%2021%202014.pptx.
- Wansink, B., Painter, J. E., & North, J. (2004). Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size influence intake. Obesity,13(1), 93–100.
- Wansink, B., Payne, C. R., Chandon, P. (2007). Internal and external cues of meal cessation: the French Paradox Redux? Obesity,15(12), 2920–2924.
- Barkeling, B., King, N. A., Naslund, E., & Blundell, J. E. Characterization of obese individuals who claim to detect no relationship between their eating pattern and sensations of hunger or fullness. International Journal of Obesity, 31(3), 435-439.
- Wansink, B., van Ittersum, K. (2003). Bottoms up! The influence of elongation and pouring on consumption volume. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(3):455–463.
- Roberto, C. A., Larsen, P. D., Agnew, H., Baik, J., & Brownell, K. D. (2010). Evaluating the impact of menu labeling on food choices and intake. American Journal of Public Health,100(2):312–318.
- Matamalas, R. L., & Ramos, M. S. (2009). Marketing strategy of the supermarkets. Retrieved from http://hh.divaportal.org/smash/get/diva2:239801/FULLTEXT01.pdf
- Chandon, P., & Wansink, B. (2007). Is obesity caused by calorie underestimation? A psychophysical model of fast-food meal size estimation. Journal of Marketing Research, 44(1),84–99.
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.
Praise has become the most commonly cited tool in the toolbox for Parenting 101. From toilet training accessories that chime “you’re so great, you’re a star” to monogrammed reward charts modern parents are pretty creative when it comes to finding ways to praise and reward their kids for just about anything.
Concerned about your child’s confidence, motivation, self-esteem, or NAPLAN performance? Our culture sees praise is seen as the sure-fire way to increase kids motivation to do just about any worthwhile activity. And if the praise doesn’t work- parents can rest in the belief that because it’s nice- it surely can’t do any harm? Right?
While its true that carefully applied praise and encouragement can make the world of difference to a child facing a difficult challenge- the type of praise we give our kids matters immensely.
Carol Dweck, an American psychologist has been researching praise and educational outcomes for over 45 years. Her research identifies two types of praise and explores the links with persistence, perseverance and creative problem solving.
She says praise that focuses on traits such as intelligence and talent creates hidden obstacles to life long learning. “Praising students’ intelligence gives them a short burst of pride,” says Dweck, “followed by a long string of negative consequences.”
When kids are praised with classic ‘smart kid praise’ such as “I knew you could do it, aren’t you clever” they don’t go on to face challenges with more confidence, perseverance or motivation. Instead the ‘smart’ identity creates an obstacle to persistence and creative problem solving.
When kids are praised for qualities they see as fairly fixed- such as intelligence, sporting prowess, or musicality they also internalise the understanding that being smart means you should expect to do things easily. If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not. While these kids might perform ok when things are comfortable- when they are faced with something new, or competition they aren’t used to- the smart label comes back to bite them.
Instead of bringing confidence and creativity to new challenges, kids praised for being smart were more likely to avoid learning situations that they fear could be hard for them. Dweck found that kids in this situation put more of their energy into keeping up the appearance of being smart- and less energy into persevering, applying creative strategies or problem solving. As a group, the kids who had been praised for being smart lost confidence and enjoyment as a task became challenging. In fact, when kids had recently received praise for their intelligence they feared being found out so much that they were more likely to lie about their results.
So what’s the alternative? How can we use praise to be a helpful and effective motivator for kids?
Dweck identifies a second type of praise that is much more effective at enhancing learning and motivation. Process praise tells students what they’ve done to be successful and helps them draw the links with what they need to do to be successful again in the future.
Process praise focuses in on the particular strategies or qualities the child applied to succeed at a problem. It might sound like “I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it” or “You really studied for your English test, and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, outlined it, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!”
Kids in Dweck’s research who were praised for their process of learning developed a ‘growth mindset’ instead of a ‘fixed mindset. This shift allowed them to see challenges as things that could be overcome with effort and utilising a range of strategies. In this mindset kids aren’t satisfied with just ‘learning in order to get good results’ but experience learning as a life-long process and improvement as something they can always attain if they are willing to participate in the struggle.
Two tips for praise with a growth mindset:
- Demonstrate a growth mindset by talking to your kids about your own history of learning and improvement. Tell your kids about the skills or competencies you have had to work to improve and how you did. Identify with them as they experience the struggle involved in deliberate learning.
- Praise the process not just the result. Reflect back to your child that you noticed them using special perseverance, creativity, problem solving or planning to achieve a goal.
Here are two web resources for considering effective praise.
Good material for thinking through helpful praise at different developmental stages.
A wider perspective on praise and motivation.
by Kristen Bayliss
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre
Perfection. Wouldn’t it be nice? We have all heard of it and many of us desire it, but what are the consequences of embarking on a pursuit for perfection?
Firstly, it is important to distinguish between adaptive (helpful) and maladaptive (unhelpful) perfectionism. We have all heard the words, “yeah they’re a total perfectionist”. Maybe this was in reference to a school assignment being handed in the day before it was due or perhaps a night out with the fellas was missed in order to get a good night’s rest for an early start the next morning. These are examples of adaptive perfectionism, which reflect motivation, forward planning and self-belief. In contrast, maladaptive perfectionism involves self-criticism and unrelenting standards that can significantly impact ones performance, professional attainment and social and emotional well being.
Let’s think about Jack, who is in Year 11 and trying to start his English essay due next week. Each time Jack sits down to start his essay he feels his stomach sink and muscles tense. His hands start to tingle and he notices his heart beating in his chest. Jack’s mind starts racing and he finally says to himself, “I can’t do this”, and slides his books off the table. We can see that Jack’s essay has triggered a strong emotional reaction, which may suggest unhelpful perfectionism characterized by several common negative thinking patterns:
Crystal-balling: Jack predicts what will happen next, that is that the work won’t get done.
Generalizing: Jack attributes his present difficulties to reflect poorly on his global capabilities.
Catastrophising: Jack believes that he may get dropped a class, receive a detention or never achieve admission into TAFE or University.
Black/white: Jack thinks that his assignment will either come together easily and he will “succeed”, or he will fail miserably.
Emotional reasoning: Because Jack feels anxious, it must be a disaster!
Ultimately, in this moment Jack has forgotten the times when he handled similar situations and his ability to engage in work now has been impaired by worry about what may happen later.
Perfection may be characterized by:
- A tendency to put off important things, even when this causes distress;
- Avoidance of unfamiliar or challenging situations where performance may be evaluated;
- A sensitivity to feedback and evaluation;
- Becoming upset, irritable and anxious about making mistakes; and
- Giving up on tasks easily or getting delayed by a tendency to start things over.
Now, we can ALL relate to the above examples from time to time, however when unhelpful perfectionism becomes a problem one may experience:
- Heightened stress, anxiety and low mood;
- Decrease motivation;
- Procrastination and avoidance;
- Guilt for putting things off;
- Poor time-management and disorganisation;
- Needing frequent reassurance from others;
- Reduced immune system and more frequent illness;
- Reduced productivity and goal attainment.
So how may we reduce unhelpful perfectionism?
- Be mindful of your ‘self-talk’. Particularly when under stress, don’t hesitate to take out your metaphorical magnifying glass if you need to challenge the evidence and helpfulness of your thoughts;
- Never forget the many shades of grey in life. Keep perspective and acknowledge that failure is a healthy and necessary part of life;
- Celebrate success, but regularly praise and reward your efforts;
- List the benefits and consequences of your perfectionism;
- Set SMARTY goals, (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Framed and Yours!)
A note on reducing perfectionistic thinking and behaviour in children:
- Encourage perseverance and reward effort. This enables children to push themselves beyond their comfort zone by reducing the perceived consequence of “failure”, therefore fostering emotional resilience and helping a young person to keep some much needed perspective;
- Discourage competitiveness and foster individuality. For example, bolster personal strengths and interests;
- Promote balance between social, academic, physical health and recreational activities;
- Teach systematic problem solving, planning and organizational skills; and
- Be mindful of what you are modelling through your direct and indirect communication, because children are extremely observant!
“YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS YOURSELF YESTERDAY”
Greatness can only develop by successfully responding to adversity. Our role models teach us that risk is necessary for learning and thus, failure partner’s success. It takes courage to step into the unknown, perseverance to stay there and humility to graciously accept defeat with self-kindness. So how will you celebrate the achievement of your next ‘failure’ and look upon this as undisputed evidence of your own pursuit for excellence?
Mathew Pfeiffer, Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre
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.
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.
Recently I have been personally challenged by the concept of rhythm. Rhythm in many different parts of my life; personal relationships, physical movement, spiritual growth and professional development to name just a few. It’s not a word I’ve generally associated with these activities but for some reason, at present, I’m drawn to it.
As a psychologist in private practice, I often notice that periods of low mental health can often be characterised by a lack, or a loss, of rhythm. This may be due to an unforeseen or tragic circumstance which has thrown us off course or a life transition such as starting university, retirement or becoming a parent. It may also be due to sheer exhaustion, cumulative stress or a loss of meaning in one aspect of our life. And let’s not forget the small things; a physical injury that alters our exercise routine, a change in the way things are done at work, a close friend moving away. All these, and more, can contribute to a loss of rhythm.
We all live to our own beat. A beat that changes as we change, that adapts to the activity and is unique to you. Whether it be fast, slow or syncopated, it is somewhat repetitive; a pattern that regularly re-occurs. Similar to hearing our favourite song, there is a certain comfort in being able to anticipate the rhythm as it gives us a fair idea of what comes next. When we can see a short way ahead, it helps us to “know”. This knowing gives us a sense of control and allows us to plan. When we know how some things in our day or week look, we can initiate them automatically, almost without thinking; for example starting each day in the same way or allocating Monday for this and Tuesday for that. Such a routine would significantly decrease how much thinking we do about the future and enable us to be more mindful of the existing moment.
To consolidate, think about the experience of lacking routine when a new year begins. After returning from a holiday break, we find various demands and opportunities abound. The mornings may feel a bit chaotic or uncertain with questions like “how will today work?” or “what should I do next?” After a while, once we’ve bumbled around in a stop-start sort of way, we work out what is essential and what is simply nice to do. This forms our two contrasting elements which are also essential for rhythm. Just as music will have an upbeat and a downbeat or long and short notes, our life rhythms require opposites like “need to do” and “want to do”. Both are important; they provide enough fluctuation to keep life interesting. If we only do what is absolutely necessary and never allow time for ourselves or plan enjoyable activities, then we are left with a fairly dull or exhausting beat.
This then begs the question: is there a difference between rhythm and routine? To this, I would say “yes”. A life that is balanced with both work and play (need to do and want to do) is often a practical base for positive mental health. Routine is the regular procedure, the unchanging, steady beat, sometimes described as “the daily grind”. Rhythm, however, is what syncopates this beat; it gives our life momentum, interest or challenge, and keeps us moving forward. If we are to see rhythm in our lives, we need to ask ourselves “what energises me?”, “what gives my life meaning?” or “what is it that I really LIKE to do?”. Perhaps it is friends or family, keeping fit, playing music, learning new things, having fun or giving to others. We are all unique in what brings us joy and motivates us…what is it for you?
Take a moment here to identify these for yourself.
Then…of course, because these things make us feel good, we want them to keep happening so we can rely on them. So plan some ‘want to do’s’ into your routine. Maybe daily, weekly or six-monthly – it will depend on what it is.
Go on…plan it. If you don’t, then quite possibly it won’t happen.
My sense is that we enjoy and appreciate the good things in our life when it’s not the only thing we do. We need that steady beat in the background that gives our life structure and predictability. Yet we make it more interesting and purposeful when we add our personal flair to it. May you discover your own personal rhythms, giving life to your routines.
Definition sources: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/routine http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rhythm http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/syncopate
By Ivette Moutzouris
I am a strong believer in hope. I wouldn’t be working in this field if I didn’t believe that change is possible and looking forward is definitely part of the process.
If I had to put it in my own words it means looking forward with a desire and yearning that things can get better. Without hope we are stuck and oftentimes we are stuck looking at what we don’t have, what hasn’t worked out and if you remain in the frame of mind long enough you can start to feel down and lose the very thing that can propel you forward……hope!
We need to believe that things can get better so that they do get better. But this doesn’t mean that life becomes perfect with this attitude. It means that we search for the meaning and sometimes the acceptance of what was and what is. By making some sense of the past and the present we can learn to improve, to make better choices, to change our expectations. We can also see what has worked (even if this didn’t happen often) and take better control of our immediate future by reproducing it again and again. In Psychological terms this perspective is called Solution Focused Therapy. It is the idea that change occurs when we focus on solutions rather than the problem. This doesn’t mean we disregard the problem(s) it simply means that solving our problems involves focusing on what’s working or has worked in the past instead of over focusing on what hasn’t. I have recently been reading a book on marriage- saving techniques which has this focus and in the first few chapters I was impressed by the author’s strong conviction that marriages can improve. She often had hope for her clients even when they seemed to have lost hope and she taught them how to look for exceptions in their marriage (i.e. times when things were going well) and to work on building on what already existed that was good. She found that this approach not only encouraged more immediate change but it also gave her clients a more practical and hopeful way of looking at their relationships. She also stressed that if something wasn’t working then adopt a different approach. This may seem obvious and simplistic but she did point out that in our relationships we often get stuck relating and reacting a certain way and this becomes a habit.
This approach is not only proactive but it is also reflective and hopeful because it is making a decision that things can be different and learning how to put this into practice. Once we experience a positive change it gives us hope into our future. It is an encouraging way of looking at your life. Instead of focusing on the negative we learn to be wiser as we reflect on the past, live in the now and look forward to the future.
Weiner-Davis, Michelle.1992. Divorce Busting. New York. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.