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habits

A shout out to Simply Noticing

A shout out to Simply Noticing

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When we feel like something’s not working for us, we want change. Whether you take this on alone or in the context of therapy, the process of change can feel daunting! Creating a space to look inside ourselves and our lives paves the way for reflection on our patterns. For example, you might tend to agree to doing things you really don’t want to do, or overcommit and regret (see Tobey’s latest blog post). Perhaps there are situations in which you consistently react in a way that makes things worse. You might go over what you have done after the fact thinking “I wish I hadn’t done that”. You want to change your reaction but it all seems to happen so fast—you feel like you are not in charge.

In Monthly Picks I posted about Shenpa, which is a Tibetan concept that refers to “getting hooked”—being caught up in something and scratching the itch. In the moment, we rarely notice that this is happening. Often if we’re not noticing, we react and feel powerless to change. When our mind wanders from the present, we allow important choices to be determined by external forces and receive consequences passively.  While mind-wandering can be beneficial in some contexts, it can also interfere with our ability to process information from the environment (Schooler et al., 2011). Wandering away from the moment without noticing can lead down a slippery slope. The risk is that life becomes a series of events we feel helpless over, leading to sadness, anger, anxiety or other uncomfortable sensations that communicate to us that something is not working.

So what’s the first step to taking charge? How do we become more of the driver and less of the passenger in our lives? This endeavour is especially difficult because sticky situations often seem to happen so fast. Taking back your power to participate actively in your life isn’t always easy but starts with simply noticing. Simply noticing is a key element of mindfulness-based meditations (Hölzel et al., 2011). Meditation and other practices based in awareness and noticing (vs. doing) have been associated with improvements in anxiety, depression, perceived stress, emotional well-being and overall mental health (Carmody & Baer, 2008). Simply noticing allows us to live our experiences as they are, rather than through the filters of our biases (Price et al., 2002). The idea is to step back and create space before we choose a response to a situation rather than reacting as we otherwise would (Baer & Krietemeyer 2006).

So how does one simply notice?

1-  Choose your target.

Pick one behaviour that you engage in that doesn’t seem work for you in the long term.  Do you often say “yes” when you mean “no”? Do you often feel compelled to assert yourself but stay quiet instead? Do you beat yourself up for making mistakes at work (or elsewhere)? Perhaps you react angrily when frustrated and say things you later regret? Choose one thing to simply notice.  

2-  Use your emotions as a guide.

When we do something that doesn’t work for us in the long term, it’s often in response to feeling an uncomfortable emotion in the moment. It may be avoiding something that we know is right for us because we’re afraid (e.g., job interview), it may be having one drink too many when we’re feeling sad or anxious. Tune in to those emotions. Ask yourself—is there a pattern here? Is there an emotion that I consistently react to in this way? In what situations do I tend to do this?

3-  Slow the tape down.

Imagine the situation as a scene in a movie. Then imagine playing the scene in slow motion. Although it feels quick in life, slow it down so you can take the time to look at each part of it. Even though time seems to be moving so much faster in these instances, you can slow down your experience and perception of the situation by paying attention.

4-  Simply notice.

Now take special notice of all the elements in the situation—and do this with purpose. Notice your Shenpa (that hook you might feel the urge to bite). Notice your urge to do something. Be present and observe the situation as though you were an outside observer.  Simply take note of what is happening, resisting any urge to do. You may choose to do afterwards, but in the first few moments, catch yourself not noticing, and instead, notice.

You might ask, “I noticed. Now what?”

Noticing is only a first step. However, it’s a powerful one: simply noticing is associated with changes in attentional functions and cognitive flexibility, which are linked to mental balance and well-being (Moore & Malinowski, 2009).  It is a step to ensuring your freedom and becoming aware enough to refrain from biting that hook. Over time, the practice of noticing will empower you to choose your life path through individual choices—ones that may have not been apparent before you slowed the tape down.


Danit Nitka received her PhD from the Clinical and Research Psychology program at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, and is a psychologist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23–33.

Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on psychological science, 6(6), 537-559.

Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and cognition, 18(1), 176-186.

Price, D. D., Barrell, J. J., & Rainville, P. (2002). Integrating experiential–phenomenological methods and neuroscience to study neural mechanisms of pain and consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition, 11(4), 593-608.

Baer, R. A., & Krietemeyer, J. (2006). Overview of mindfulness- and acceptance-based treatment approaches. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications (pp. 3–27). San Diego, CA: Elsevier

Schooler, J. W., Smallwood, J., Christoff, K., Handy, T. C., Reichle, E. D., & Sayette, M. A. (2011). Meta-awareness, perceptual decoupling and the wandering mind. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(7), 319-326.

Want to change the world? Start by connecting to you: Part 3

Want to change the world? Start by connecting to you: Part 3

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It’s not about proving to yourself that you can do it, it’s about figuring out how you can make it happen.

This is the last blog of a 3-part series on self-care. If I can summarize our self-care formula in 3 parts it would look like this:

1. Know WHY. Get in touch with your personal reasons for prioritizing your self-care. (See part 1)

2. Know WHAT. Figure out what self-care is for you (not what someone tells you to do or what other people are doing). Find what truly nourishes you. (See part 2).

3. Figure out HOW. Find the formula or routine that will allow you to keep practicing self-care even when life wants to get in the way.

We’ve discussed #1 and #2 in previous posts. So today I want to talk about the things that can help you make self-care sustainable (rather than a 1-week stint).

Here are a few tricks.

1. Find a daily connect to your WHYs. This is something that will remind you of what is important to you on a daily basis. This could be a daily prayer, night time reading ritual, morning meditation, a daily snuggle in the morning with your partner, anything that helps you see the big picture. Try making it something you like doing or already do so that it doesn’t take much effort. Mine is waking up earlier than everyone in the morning to have my “me time” before the day starts. If I don’t have that daily connect to myself it’s much harder to choose how I want my day to go.

2. Find your lead WHAT. Or your lead domino [as Tim Ferriss (1) might call it] or your keystone habit (as Charles Duhigg calls it in the Power of Habit (2). This is the habit that, if acted out, will make all of the others fall into place, or at least come easier. For example, many of my clients find that if they exercise in the morning they are more motivated at work and feel like eating healthier during the day, and in order to make the morning exercise happen they drink less alcohol in the evenings and go to bed earlier. So, they just have to get that morning exercise habit to happen and it has a self-care domino effect on the others.

3. Make an action plan and write it down. A lot of evidence suggests that writing down the what, where & when for a new habit will help you actually do it (3)! One thing that works for me is getting in my exercise by running or biking to work (or home from work). But, this takes a lot of planning because it means remembering a change of clothes at work, organizing with my husband drop offs or pick ups of the kids, etc. So if I sit down and plan out my week in advance I can decide which days I’m running to and from work & plan accordingly. Some other plans that help people get their exercise in are packing their gym bag the night before, or writing their exercise in their agenda.

4. Try temptation bundling (4). This is a term coined & researched by Katherine Milkman, Associate Professor of Operations, Information & Decisions at The University of Pennsylvania. She finds that if you bundle a hard to do behavior (like exercise) with an instantly rewarding behavior it can help you get motivated to do it. For example, you might decide to only watch your favorite TV shows at the gym (like she does) or reward yourself with a day off of work when you finally get your mammogram.

5. Try telling someone about your self-care habit or eliciting the help of a buddy. You can think of it as accountability, but I prefer to think of it as building self-care into your identity. “This is me and this is what I do to take care of me”.  Keeping it to yourself will not make it happen and it will not make you believe it is important to you. Tell your friends or loved ones what you’re doing, make it real, and elicit their help if you can. For example, find a morning running buddy. Join a walking group with friend. Start a recipe swap with a family member and try a new meal together each week.

The hardest part of self-care habits is keeping them going. If you see it as a healthy challenge rather than a task or a threat it is almost fun figuring out how you can make self-care work for you!! Come join our network of self-care warriors :) Follow us on Instagram @connectepsychology for your daily connect to self-care.


Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

1. Borrowing this term from Tim Ferriss and The 4 Hour Workweek.

2. Great book by Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business.                                    

3. Read more about Professor Katherine Milkman’s research on temptation bundling here. Listen to Professor Katherine Milkman talk about temptation bundling (among other behavioural tools) in this Freakonomics episode, When willpower isn’t enough.

4. Gollwitzer, P.M. (1999). Implementation Plans: Strong Effects of Simple Plans. American Psychologist, 54 (7), 493-503. 

Our psychologists share tips that have been personally relevant for them on sleep, parenting and willpower

Our psychologists share tips that have been personally relevant for them on sleep, parenting and willpower

By: Connecte Montreal Psychology Group

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In this episode we introduce you to the founding members of the team at Connecte Psychology. Jodie, Lisa and Andrea share tips from the field of psychology that have been personally relevant for them on sleep, parenting and willpower. Tune in and see if we can pique your interest about how psychology might be relevant for you!

Music by P. Bourdon

This episode contains information prepared by or provided by Connecte, Montreal Psychology Group which is solely intended to educate and inform you. It does not provide and does not replace individual professional care and advice, provided in light of your unique situation and needs, by a health care professional.

To listen to our podcast on iTunes, click here.


Jodie, Andrea, and Lisa are clinical psychologists in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


Show notes & References

The Insomnia Workbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Sleep You Need, byStephanie A. Silberman

CBT-i Coach – App geared towards treating insomnia based on cognitive behavioural therapy

Centre for Clinical Interventions: Information sheets on sleep  

The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney 

Baumeister, Roy F., et al. "Ego depletion: is the active self a limited resource?." Journal of personality and social psychology 74.5 (1998): 1252.

Professor Sherry Turkle on “Being Owned by Your Phone”, Good Life Project

9 Ways To Get Your @#$% Organized in 2016

9 Ways To Get Your @#$% Organized in 2016

You wanted to do it. You planned to do it. You really did. And then January 2nd rolled around… I’m talking, of course, about New Year’s resolutions: the goals we set to improve some aspect of our lives for at least the next 365 days. One resolution that I’ve been hearing more and more often, from friends and clients alike, is to become more efficient, better organized and less of a procrastinator. In fact, many of us feel that our organizational skills could use some work. Educational degrees and work experience teach us a lot about the content of our jobs (the 'WHAT'), but what about the processes behind it (the 'HOW')? So many of us make a resolution to improve our organization skills, year after year, but have limited success. That’s because the way we approach our school/work tasks can become ingrained habits that are hard to break. But as I tell my clients: we weren’t born with these habits – we learned them over repeated practice. The good news is: because we learned them, we can also unlearn them (albeit with repeated practice and sustained effort)! This blogpost is all about how you can replace some of those old study/work habits with ones that can increase efficiency and – just as importantly – reduce stress along the way!

Students faced with big exams that cover a lot of material, or employees tasked with long-term projects can easily feel overwhelmed. Just thinking about everything we have to do can be anxiety-provoking and make us want to avoid getting started altogether. But viewing things this way is like a novelist thinking of everything she has to do to get her book written, published and on the best-seller list before even coming up with the topic for her book. This would be enough to make any world-class author procrastinate! So how do they do it? And do we even stand a chance? The answer, of course, is yes! Here are some steps that can help you approach these seemingly insurmountable tasks:

  1. To break your big challenge down into smaller and more manageable chunks, start by making a list of all the steps that need to get done for the project (even the small steps!). Run the list by a colleague to see if you're forgetting anything.
  2. Identify and list areas that need to be prioritized, for example, because they have a closer deadline or because other tasks depend on this one being finished first.
  3. Identify and list areas that you might be able to delegate or ask for help with. For example, if you’re a student with 10 chapters to study for an upcoming exam, make a note next to the chapters that your friend is really great at so that you can ask him for help with that part. Or if there’s a chapter that you have particular difficulty with, maybe you can contact a tutor who specializes in that topic. Just knowing that there are resources out there to help you if you need them can be of great comfort.
  4. Schedule time to complete each task. It's a good idea to overestimate or allow yourself some leeway. Writing these steps down with corresponding times can show you that there is actually time to accomplish everything you need to do, one step at a time.
  5. When you come in in the morning - focus only on your tasks for that day (or even for that morning before lunch) - rather than becoming overwhelmed by thinking of all the things that need to get done for the entire project. Assign times for that day's tasks, with some wiggle room for unexpected meetings.
  6. Check things off the list as you go, taking a moment to give yourself credit for having gotten one step closer to your goal. Too often we focus only on what we don’t do and gloss over what we manage to do, fearing that feeling proud of our accomplishments would lead us to let our guard down, to feel “too comfortable”, to become lazy, or to have lower standards. But acknowledging our small successes is an important way to keep our motivation up and to guard against discouragement!
  7. If something doesn't get done, remember to move it to a later time so that it doesn't get forgotten.
  8. Communicate with your team if you need help or if you see that you need more time in spite of these organizational tips. It’s always better to communicate these things earlier rather than later so that they can help you brainstorm options and adjust their work and/or expectations accordingly.
  9. And last but not least…Plan little rewards for yourself along the way to keep motivated: Maybe you get to go to your favourite lunch spot after you've done the first 3 things on the list.

These tips can go a long way towards becoming more organized and efficient at school or work, but making these changes are, of course, easier said than done. Feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, and irritability can often creep up and be hard to deal with. Here are some tips that can help with these difficult negative emotions:

  • Ironically, exercise can be the last thing we feel like doing when we are stressed, but it can actually be one of the most helpful ways to reduce our stress! If you’re not in the habit of exercising, remember that it doesn’t have to be anything too intense – even a brisk walk around the block, jumping rope, or going for a swim can help to release endorphins and burn off some of that stress!
  • Breathing exercises can also be a very helpful way to increase relaxation and reduce stress. 
    • This module called "The Calming Technique" from the Centre for Clinical Interventions provides a great introduction to learning these breathing exercises.
  • Last but not least, try examining the thoughts underlying your negative emotions. In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), we learn that negative thoughts can often contribute to our negative emotions, that some unhelpful thinking patterns can increase the intensity of our negative feelings, and that challenging these thoughts can reduce the magnitude of these negative emotions. For example, if your thoughts are “I'm a failure, I’m not doing enough, everyone else is doing a better job than me”, this would likely increase the intensity of your negative emotions. But it can be hard to challenge these negative thoughts about ourselves; we may be in the habit of speaking to ourselves this way, making it hard to notice – let alone challenge – unhelpful thinking patterns. To help you do this, ask yourself if you would judge a fellow friend/co-worker this harshly if they were in the same position. The answer is often a resounding “no”. But why is that? Because we are far more compassionate/understanding towards other people than we are to ourselves…but isn’t that a double-standard? Why should we use one set of standards for our friends/colleagues and a different, harsher set of rules for ourselves? Just imagine that a co-worker you were close with was going through the same thing. You might respond by saying something like “It’s understandable that you’re stressed because this is a big project and it can be overwhelming / it’s a new topic that we haven’t worked with much before / there is so much to get done in so little time. But you’re being too harsh on yourself. The reality is that you’re not a “total failure” - you do tons of things well – just the other day the boss told you he liked your work on project X. And this project is really hard – Jane and Alex were just telling me they’re struggling with it too! And remember - you felt like this with the previous project and you ended up doing really well, so there’s no reason this one should be any different!” It can be really helpful to write out what you would say to a loved one in the same situation, and then say the same thing to yourself!              
    • This module called "Helpful Thinking" from the Centre for Clinical Interventions can be very helpful for coping with work-related worry.

The bottom line is that habits can be very hard to break (see Mark Manson's article, "Shut Up and Be Patient")! Try to be patient with yourself along the way, and to give yourself credit for your efforts (regardless of the outcome) as best you can! 


Simcha Samuel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


Professor Richard Koestner shares his knowledge about the why, how and with whom of goal pursuit.

Professor Richard Koestner shares his knowledge about the why, how and with whom of goal pursuit.

Want to make changes in your life? Most of us do. On our very first podcast episode Professor Richard Koestner shares the why, how and with whom essentials for goal success. Richard Koestner is a Professor in the Psychology Department at McGill University where he has conducted research on human motivation for the past 27 years. He has published over 125 scientific articles and has received several awards for excellence in teaching. He first inspired my love of psychology when I attended his undergraduate class at McGill and today he shares some of his expertise with you. We talk about his journey to becoming a professor and researcher and dive into a little research on teaching and parenting related to his earlier work. We move into a discussion about why it is difficult for people to successfully make changes in their lives; why we usually fail 6-7 times before we make changes last! Professor Koestner has dedicated his research to understanding what helps us beat these odds and in this episode he talks about three important ingredients for success related to the why, how and with whom of goal pursuit. We also discuss when we should think about letting go of some of our goals and how to do that most effectively. This episode is a must if you're thinking of making New Year's resolutions or any resolutions for that matter. Hope you get as much out of his teachings as I have over my years of knowing him.

Music by P. Bourdon

To listen to our podcast on iTunes, click here.


Jodie Richardson is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. Richard Koestner is a professor in the Department of Psychology at McGill University. Learn more about Richard's research here.


Show notes

Drive, Daniel Pink

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, Faber and Mazlish

Self-Determination Theory, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan

Edward L. Deci, Professor of Psychology, University of Rochester

David McClelland, Professor at Harvard University

Wayne R. Halliwell, Professor and Sports Psychologist

Peter M. Gollwitzer, Professor of Psychology, Implementation Intentions

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

The Importance of Goal Disengagement, Carsten Wrosch, Professor of Psychology at Concordia University

Jutta Heckhausen, Professor of Psychology, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, Edward L. Deci

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister, John Tierney