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psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can help, here’s a story about how…

Psychotherapy can help, here’s a story about how…

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I am a psychologist. Psychologists are people who spend a significant amount of their life studying how people work and why they do what they do* (for me that started at age 19 and has continued for the past 20 years). We practice psychotherapy. Psychotherapy helps empower people to think differently, feel differently, and do things differently while at the same time helping them see that they are a worthy person just as they are. It’s good stuff.

Here’s a little story about psychotherapy, I hope you like it…It takes place on the planet Edo.

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I know of a planet called Edo. On this planet people are born in a machine that looks like a little space ship. You live in your own ship. You can see other people and interact with them but you cannot really see into each other’s ships. Your ship has a lot of buttons and if you push them you can go forward, backward, and stop. When you are little your parents teach you how to use your ship; they teach you basic things like flying, hovering, and ship maintenance. You can learn other skills by going to school, like how to communicate with other ships, how to quantify things, and a lot of other information about the world outside your ship.

You have dreams about flying to the moon in your ship, you see other people do it and think, “I can do it too”. As you grow up you realize there are still a lot of buttons that you don’t understand in your ship. Your parents try to help you but you realize that they are limited too in their understanding of their ship and so their help only goes so far. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed by your ship and using it feels hard. You push buttons and sometimes you go places you don’t want to go and that’s scary so you stop pushing some buttons. But what if you need those buttons to get to the moon?

As you become an adult you find yourself using the same set of buttons over and over again and it feels monotonous. You start to think maybe your ship is no good, or not as good as others. Sometimes, you wish you had a different ship. You can’t see inside anybody else’s ship so you feel like you’re the only one that feels this way.

You find out about this person who studies how to help people understand and use their ships better. She helps people when they feel stuck. She’s called a psychologist**. She spent a long time studying people’s ships, getting as close an inside glimpse as possible, and she thinks that she can help you understand some of those buttons better and create new sequences and move different places.

You’re scared, what if it doesn’t work? What if I go somewhere I don’t want to go? What if I find out that this ship cannot in fact get to the moon?

She seems to understand your fears, she says that you’ll take it one step at a time and asks you where you would like to go with your ship. You tell her and she seems to understand. She says she’d like to try to help you get there and that she’ll need you to tell her what it’s like in your ship for her to be able to help you. You are scared again, because you don’t really talk about what’s inside your ship. She asks about the stuff that feels like it’s not working. You tell her about the buttons that you’ve pushed that have taken you to bad places, the buttons that seem like they should work but that do not, the ones that you’ve only looked at but never even tried, again she seems to understand. She asks you about the stuff that is working and you’re kind of caught off guard because you never really think about what is working. She says she thinks you’ll start by looking at a sequence you’ve been using and change it up just a bit to see where that takes you. You think this is a pretty small step but it’s actually hard to do and so she helps you through it and once you do it you feel better, more confident, more empowered.

She is really interested in your ship and asks you tons of questions. She helps you decide what sequences of buttons you want to try pushing more and which ones you want to push less or not at all. She is patient when you find it hard to stop pushing a button and never judges you. She sits beside you when you push a new sequence and reassures you that it’s normal to fall, “everybody falls,” she says.

She let’s you be angry when buttons feel like they’re stuck and you wish you had another ship, and then gently brings you back to your ship and what you can do in it. You start to move to places you have not gone before. At first you feel like it’s all because of her, but the more steps you make the more you realize it’s you. You start to feel comfortable in your ship, to appreciate your ship, and to take care of your ship and your ship works pretty well. You hit bumps, but you know how to get up when you fall.

You say goodbye to your psychologist. Maybe you’ll come back to see her if you hit a very big bump or want to make a very big leap, but then you’ll be off again, you and your ship, exploring the world together. You’re not sure you really want to go to the moon anymore, but if one day you do you’re pretty sure you will figure out how to get there.


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 like us on Facebook.


For more reading on psychotherapy check out these blog posts:

CBT: WHAT THE &^%#O IS THAT?!

DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY: LOOKING FOR THE PLAID

THE SKINNY ON ACT

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO MAKE THERAPY WORK FOR YOU

A few references:

Hofmann, S.G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I.J.J., Sawyer, A.T., and Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy Research, 36(5), 427-440.

Chambless, D. L., & Ollendick, T. H. (2001). Empirically supported psychological interventions: Controversies and evidence. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 685-716.

Tsai, K, C. (2012). Play, Imagination, and Creativity: A Brief Literature Review. Journal of Education and Learning, 1(2), 15-20.

Notes:

* In Québec the current requirement for a psychologist is to have a PhD in psychology. You can read more here.

** We’re using “she” only for purposes of coherency in this story, but please be advised that good psychologists come in every gender.

Special acknowledgement to Dr. Natsumi Sawada for inspiring this story with her creative ideas and for brainstorming the content with me.

Michael Phelps: Breaking records, smashing stereotypes

Michael Phelps: Breaking records, smashing stereotypes

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Have you ever heard someone suggest that ‘Depressed people are lazy, and they just need to toughen up’? Not only can such statements be extremely hurtful, but evidence flies in the face of such thinking.

Case in point: Olympic athlete Michael Phelps’s battle with depressive symptoms and suicidality. One thing that makes his story so compelling is that he is a record-breaking gold medalist whose training undoubtedly requires tremendous focus and dedication, and who most people would certainly not consider to be ‘weak’ or ‘lazy’.

In recent years, he has opened up about his experiences (1, 2). Let’s take a look at what he has shared, and how this might relate to mental health more broadly:

1. He cited social support as an important factor which helped him realize that suicide was not a good solution.  My clinical experience has shown me that people with depression often tend to isolate themselves. Low mood seems to say ‘just stay in bed, cocoon yourself under the warm covers, things will seem quieter and safer there, and you won’t have to struggle to expend energy interacting with people or doing activities.’  Sometimes people feel like they would be burdening others with their problems, or that others won’t understand what they are going through. But the reality is that isolating ourselves from the people who truly care about us can contribute to further worsening our mood, resulting in a vicious cycle where low mood makes us want to isolate ourselves, which in turn can contribute to further lowering of our mood. And ironically, sometimes the periods when our mood is lowest and our inclination to confide or socialize is plummeting can actually be among the most important times to do the opposite and reach out.

2. He reported having been critical or disappointed with himself when he did not beat a certain world record. This suggests that he may have had a focus on outcome goals, where the motivation is tied to the result (e.g. winning a competition), as opposed to process goals where the focus is on the steps involved (e.g. hard work, love of learning) (3). This may have left him feeling like a failure when he did not achieve his desired outcome. Indeed, some research has found that process goals can have certain advantages, including more enjoyment (4). I’ve often heard clients say things like ‘I’ll be happy when I achieve x goal / when I hit x milestone / when x is over’, but as clinical sports psychologist Kristen Keim noted, it is important to take pleasure in the process and in the moment (5).

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3. He reported that his sense of self-worth declined after he retired from swimming. Sports psychologist Dr. Goldman noted that equating identity with sport can lead some athletes to lose their sense of self (5). It can be very risky to put all of your eggs in one basket by linking your sense of self-worth to any one area of life (be it academic performance, romantic relationships, or physical appearance) because of the negative ramifications for mood and/or self-esteem when we don’t perform as well as we would have liked in that area, or when our involvement in that area diminishes. As such, some therapies encourage clients to develop and value multiple domains of life (6).

4. He noted that he had not reflected on his accomplishments along the way. Perhaps it is surprising that someone who has won so many gold medals during his career would not have already reflected on his successes. But many of us can relate to being focused on getting things done; it can feel like we are running on a treadmill that is going so fast that we struggle to keep up and to catch our breath, making it a real challenge to focus on the present moment and to practice mindfulness. See my colleague Natsumi’s blogpost to learn more about mindful awareness and how you can begin to incorporate it (7).

5. He was initially reluctant to get help, and anxious about the idea of change. Some people think – if you’re not doing well, you should jump at the chance to feel better, right? In reality, things often aren’t that simple. In many ways, we are creatures of habit, and we often find comfort in familiarity, even if that familiarity isn’t ideal. The idea of some unknown change can feel risky or scary, and people may wonder if they are capable of change, if that change will be sustainable, or if they will be fundamentally different people when their depressive symptoms have improved. These are all valid questions; make sure to raise them with your therapist if they are of concern to you.

6. Having benefitted from treatment, he went on to raise awareness and develop a foundation aimed at promoting stress management for youth. Although not everyone will have their own foundation, some people are eventually able to make meaning or see the silver lining in their experience, for instance, by noting that their own struggles have improved their ability to empathize with others and to demonstrate self-compassion.

Bottom line: Struggling with depression does not make someone weak or lazy. And the wide variety of people coming forward about their own experiences demonstrates that very accomplished, hard-working and motivated individuals can struggle with mental health problems. Michael Phelps’s experience illustrates this point well, as well as the importance of factors like social support, motivation, self-worth, and mindfulness in mental health.


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 like us on Facebook.


References

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/19/health/michael-phelps-depression/index.html
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2017/07/03/sport/olympics-michael-phelps-swimming-mental-health/index.html
  3. Qu, Y.., Pomerantz, E. M., & Deng, C. (2016). Mothers’ goals for adolescents in the United States and China: Content and transmission, J Res Adolesc., 26, 126-141.
  4. Wilson, K. & Brookfield, D. (2009). Effect of goal setting on motivation and adherence in a six-week exercise program. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6, 89-100.
  5. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/08/post-olympic-depression/496244/
  6. Fairburn, C. G. (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. 
  7. https://connectepsychology.com/blog/2016/1/11/3-simple-mindfulness-practices-for-coping-with-difficult-experiences-and-emotions-in-day-to-day-life

 Moving through emotional pain towards what's most important: One of of my favorite strategies for staying balanced and getting out of my head

Moving through emotional pain towards what's most important: One of of my favorite strategies for staying balanced and getting out of my head


Guest post from Dr. Natsumi Sawada, Registered Psychologist (originally published here).

Dr. Natsumi Sawada is a psychologist in private practice in Vancouver, B.C. Natsumi is passionate about using psychology to help people live meaningful, peaceful, connected, and joyful lives. For more of Natsumi's transformative tips check out her blogFacebook or Instagram


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A central feature of one of my favorite therapies, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (aka ACT) is the idea that identifying our “values” and moving towards them even when we are experiencing emotional pain is crucial for psychological health and wellbeing.  

What are values? They are the things in life that are most important to us. They are what we want our lives to be about. They are different from goals in that they are not things that we can achieve or complete and they are not future destinations. They are the the things that are most important to us in life and in the now. Examples might be: Helping, creativity, our relationship, emotional closeness, caring for others, kindness, independence. One way to tap into your values is to ask, “Who or what is most important to me?” I will write more on identifying values in an upcoming blog post.  

So why move towards values even when we feel terrible? 

Well, ACT proposes that pain is an inevitable part of being human (or sea slug for that matter). To experience physical and psychological pain in the form of difficult thoughts, emotions, and sensations is to be human. It is not pathological, abnormal, or something to be changed. Our lives cannot be separated from pain. We inevitably experience loss and disappointment; feel sadness, anger, fear, guilt, and shame; experience self doubt and self judgment. We don’t often recognize that everybody suffers especially in the Instagram era when all we see is everybody else’s glowing faces and smiles on our screens while we struggle through the slop. But the idea that everyone is happy is bogus. The truth is, every person feels emotional pain and will feel pain throughout their life. Values are important because moving towards them orients us and give life meaning (and all the positive things that come with it). If we want to create meaning in our lives we cannot wait for the skies to clear because being human can at times be a little like living in Vancouver in November.  

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This sounds grim but it’s actually great news because to be psychologically healthy we need to experience positive AND painful emotions. For one thing, it’s natural to feel painful emotions. Imagine you never felt sad or afraid. I don’t think I need to explain why that would problematic. Painful emotions and thoughts serve important protective functions. We need to experience fear, sadness, and guilt to function in the world and to be human (more on this later). Some people argue we need to embrace this vulnerability that we all share, to connect with and be of service to others. Some research even suggests experiencing too much positive emotion is bad for our health and well being. It can cause us to engage in more risky behavior, impede our performance, and hinder our ability to empathize and take others’ perspectives (something that is crucial for good relationships). Research also suggests pursuing happiness can do more harm than good because the more people pursue happiness the less they seem to experience it. See this article for more. So forget the “don’t worry be happy" stuff. Ideally we have a little of both.  

However understandably, humans don't like to experience pain (and don’t even like to experience the possibility of future pain) so often when we experience it we struggle against it like a fish on a hook and line. We think about it, we worry about it, we dread it, we anticipate it, we question it, we obsess about it, we try to mentally problem solve our way out of it. A large part of the war we fight against our painful mental experiences (such as sadness, anxiety, anger, worries, doubts, obsessions, rumination) often takes place in the form of a why question: Why can't I be happier? Why me? Why am I so weird? Why am I messed up (or insert another insult of your choice here)? Why does life have to be this way? Why is everybody such a [bleep]?  

According to ACT, while this is a totally understandable response to pain, this mental war is problematic because whether you experience a little psychological pain or what seems like a lot, the struggle against it makes things so much worse; It creates pain 2.0 otherwise known as suffering. This is similar to an idea found in Buddhist philosophy, illustrated by the story of the two arrows:  

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“…When touched with a feeling of pain, the ordinary person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows…”   

The idea here is that when we experience pain (it could be physical pain as described here or emotional), we often react to it by fighting against it. We feel anxious and we get mad at ourselves for feeling this way, we feel sad and we feel ashamed, we feel depressed and we ruminate on the question “what is wrong with me?” and then ruminate on the answer, “you are deficient.” This causes us to, in effect, shoot ourselves with a second arrow: We add suffering to pain.  

One goal of ACT is to teach us how to reduce this suffering by learning to let go of the automatic habit of shooting the second arrow when we experience pain and instead move towards our values. Rather than getting caught up in the net of pain and suffering, we engage with and move towards what's important to us even when we feel pain. The idea is that we can experience painful mental events such as sadness or anxiety or the thoughts, “I can’t do it” or “I don’t want to” or “I’m a failure”  AND we can go on bike rides, work in the garden, do our work, paint a picture, act in a loving way, meet a friend, and do other things that create meaning and value in our life. The experience of a painful mental event cannot stop us from doing these things. The idea in ACT is that we recognize these thoughts and feelings with mindfulness AND then we move towards what's important to us with pain in hand.  

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Does it sound hard? It can be! The experience of sadness for example can organize our whole being to want to lie in bed, cry, eat cheetos and ice cream, surf the internet mindlessly for hours, and ruminate about what went wrong. Does this mean this is our only option? No. As difficult as it might be we can mindfully recognize our emotions with kindness and then, with the same attitude of love and care, ask ourselves, “Does acting on my urges take me farther from or in the direction of who or what is most important to me?” We can then do our best to take a small step towards what is important. It is not always easy but with a lot of practice we can learn how to do this. We can learn how to respond more flexibly to emotional pain instead of always going with the knee jerk reaction of resisting it, hiding from it, smothering it, and turning it into suffering. Some of the mental skills that can help us learn to do this are mindfulness, self compassion, and distress tolerance. I will talk more about these skills in future blog posts.    

I’m writing this post because I find this idea of moving towards values with pain particularly valuable and I use it a lot in my own life. When I feel despair, sadness, or anxiety, for sometimes what seems to be no reason at all, one of the most helpful things I've learned to do is to mindfully take note of the emotion and accompanying urges that arise in me, remind myself of my values, and encourage myself to take one tiny step in the direction of my values.  

For example, if I feel despair I might notice the urge to listen to sad music, lie in bed and watch Netflix, or ruminate about the things that are not going well for me and what I’ve done wrong. However, while understandable, these behaviors are designed to numb or escape pain and take me further from my values of learning and teaching, caring for others, developing my skills as a psychologist, being an engaged and loving partner, and creative expression. So, I do my best to notice these emotions and urges with kindness, acknowledge how painful they are, and then if all goes according to plan, I take a tiny step in the direction of my values. I repeat TINY. This is crucial because when we feel anxious or down even “small” steps can seem overwhelming. My tiny step might be washing the dishes in the sink, reading a page of a book, going for a walk around the block, or send a half dozen friends a cat meme (someone usually responds). Although it’s important to note that the point of moving towards values is not to get rid of pain, I sometimes find that after I have made a move towards my values, my difficult emotions loom less large or sometimes even pass. And, at the very least I’m sad but at least I’m sad AND I went for a walk and took a step towards health.  

If you want, try this out for yourself. Write down a few of your values and the next time you find yourself caught up in painful thoughts or emotions, see if you might remind yourself of some of your values and ask yourself the question, “Does acting on these mental experiences or thoughts take me closer to or farther away from what is most important to me?” If the answer is farther you might ask, “What tiny step might I take towards my values?” If this seems really difficult get in touch with a counsellor or psychologist for help. 

It's important to note that what feels tiny to me might feel microscopic to you or it might feel huge. Take a step that feels tiny to you. It might be doing five jumping jacks or washing three dishes or it might be reorganizing your house or running a marathon.  Meet yourself where you are at. The main point is to take a tiny step towards your values, notice that you did it, and see what happens next and repeat. Let me know what happens.  

Those times when “being healthy”…. isn’t. How to integrate self-care into our exercise goals

Those times when “being healthy”…. isn’t. How to integrate self-care into our exercise goals

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Lucy is a 25-year old working in her first job post-university. She’s always been an active person, but has never been confident with the way she looks. She considers herself to be pretty healthy, though. In the past year, she has gotten into more intense forms of cardio work-outs, and she makes sure to exercise most days, as well as to do yoga a few times a week. That’s good for body and mind, right…?  When she doesn’t have time to fit in exercise into her day, she gets antsy and feels irritable and guilty. Doesn’t that happen to everyone?

As a psychologist working with individuals aiming to improve their mental health, the topic of exercise often comes up in session. We have all heard that we “should” do some form of physical activity in our week (I’m going to come back to that word later). Indeed, the benefits of exercise on physical and mental health are well established (e.g., Penedo & Dahn, 2005, Anchor, 2010); better mood, reduced stress, increased motivation, better physical health across a range of measures, and an overall better quality of life.

But how can we approach exercise with an attitude of self-care, rather than obligation? And how can we notice when we’re taking it too far? Some clients describe moments when focusing on fitness and health can feel like a compulsion. It can be something that we feel we have to do (otherwise we might feel guilty, for example) - rather than something that feels good. It can feel obsessive and rigid, rather than a way of caring for our bodies and minds. The messages that we get from social media and general culture can be confusing, too. The rise of extreme fitness trends and Instagram-style fitness celebrities and workshops put forward the notion that fitness is about intensity, and pushing your body to its limit. And hidden in there too (often not so subtly) is a focus on body image - we “should” be strong, muscular, and intense in our dedication to physical fitness. As described in this recent article in the Walrus, messages about fitness have changed, but the focus on body image remains. For many adherents of extreme fitness, the message remains that, “we would be happier if our bodies were different”.

So how to pursue exercise in a way that is caring towards both your mind and body?

1. ADOPT AN ATTITUDE OF SELF-CARE

To quote this lovely blog, which discusses focusing on health in a mindful and balanced way: “Try paying attention to how you feel, the signals your body is sending you, and what would truly serve the needs you have.”

Self-care is a simple concept, but one that is often difficult to prioritise, given all the competing demands in our day. But the basic idea is that there are certain core needs that should be met in order for us to feel both mentally and physically healthy. Namely:

  • Stay hydrated - drink water
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Be physically active
  • Go outside
  • Take a shower
  • Sleep
  • Spend time with friends and family

In essence, self-care has some basic ingredients, but the “fine tuning” is unique to every person. It basically means taking some time to make sure that you are taking care of you (check out this link for some examples shared by individuals).

2. ALLOW YOURSELF TO CHOOSE

Identifying our self-care needs involves tuning in with our bodies and allowing ourselves to think about what would truly be in our best interest. Importantly, this involves allowing yourself to choose what you need in that particular moment. Sounds easy, but think about how often you end up feeling that you “should” do something else instead (is it just me…?)

For instance, if you’re feeling tired and stressed after a long day at work, what would serve your needs best? Would exercise help you get rid of some of that pent-up energy, and boost your mood? Or, some days, do you feel that what you really need is to sleep? This may mean choosing to go to bed early, and cancelling some of your plans (not always easy!). When you notice that your knee is hurting (a personal example of mine, following a knee surgery), does it need rest? Or, on the contrary, do I need to get to the gym and do my knee exercises? When you notice that you’re feeling under pressure and irritable at work, can you say no to a few requests and allow yourself to complete your existing tasks as best you can? And could you do some activity that will allow you to feel good and direct your focus back to you and your health (some laps in the pool, a dance class, a jog)?

The key is to become familiar with your body’s signals and needs, and allow yourself to choose what self-care would look like for you at that time - be that going for a jog, taking some time to read, spending time with loved ones, or simply going to bed. Being honest and flexible with oneself is key here. Feeling that you “should” do something is a warning sign to ask yourself if it is truly in your best interests. (Note: It’s worth pointing out here that self-care does not mean being selfish, or considering only your needs. It’s not “me first”, but rather “me too”, and ensuring that you maximise your own resources in order to be able to engage with what’s important to you - check out Andrea’s blog for more on this topic).

For those who have difficulties identifying their self-care needs, check out this fun, interactive guide).

3. IDENTIFY WHY EXERCISE IS IMPORTANT TO YOU

Read Jodie’s awesome 3-part blog posts which discuss identifying and connecting to your values, and figuring out how they can be pursued on a daily basis. Pay special attention to self-criticism (“you need to lose weight”) or “shoulds” that leave you feeling coerced (i.e., the stick, rather than the carrot). Jodie breaks this down into figuring out your WHYS, WHATS, and HOWS. This includes the most challenging part - how to keep your self-care habits going!

Follow us on Instagram @connectepsychology for your daily connect to self-care.


Maeve O'Leary-Barrett 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

Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Crown Business: New York.

Penedo F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Curr Opin Psychiatry;18(2):189-93.

Rupert, P. A., & Kent, J. S. (2007). Gender and work setting differences in career-sustaining behaviors and burnout among professional psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(1), 88-96. 

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.