From the omicron variant to supply chain issues, the season doesn’t feel so merry and bright right now.
This year comes with its own particular set of holiday stressors.
The holidays can be a stressful time even under normal circumstances, but the 2021 season seems to be piling on the emotional strain.
Between global supply chain issues and concerns about the omicron coronavirus variant, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling a little extra anxious this year as we try to purchase gifts, plan gatherings and spread some holiday cheer. But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.
We asked mental health experts to share their advice for coping with holiday-season stress this year.
Consider your priorities.
When you’re feeling stressed about gift shopping and supply chain delays, give yourself a moment to pause and take stock of your priorities around the holiday season. Is buying all the must-have gifts the most important thing to you? Chances are, the answer is no.
“At the end of the day, the holidays are about gratitude and love,” said Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Zinnia Practice in Murrieta, California. “Whether or not you’re able to find all the gifts you want to get, focus on the love around you. Remind your loved ones about the bond that you share and begin to create memories that no supply chain trouble can take away from you.”
If you have children, remember that you set the tone for the holiday season and the lessons they receive about this time of year.
If you celebrate Christmas, “remind kids that Christmas is not just about gift-giving, but a special time to spend together as a family,” said Maryanna Klatt, a professor of clinical family and community medicine and director of integrative medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
She suggested telling your children about your favorite part of the holiday season when you were growing up. Share special memories and teach them about your history.
“This is a great starting place for them to feel a connection with their extended family that may no longer be around,” Klatt said. “Another gift you can give your children this year ― a sense that they are part of something larger than themselves, a teaching moment for the truth about the interconnectedness of being human.”
Focus on what you can control.
Thinking about all the uncertainty regarding the future of the pandemic ― especially in light of the omicron variant ― might feel frightening and overwhelming. But ultimately, that bigger global health picture is not something within your control.
“My advice would be to focus on the here and now, meaning deal with the things that are affecting you directly and try not to focus on what ifs,” said Saniyyah Mayo, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.
If you’re concerned about your family’s health, ensure that you’re up to date on public health recommendations, like getting COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots and wearing masks in public spaces.
“Know what your comfort level is when celebrating this year. Opt for small get-togethers if you do not feel comfortable being in a crowd,” Osibodu-Onyali said. “This would be a great time to create boundaries that are comfortable for you.”
Similarly, global supply chain issues are not something you can control, but you do have the power to try to get your holiday shopping done earlier than usual. Get organized with your prep. Additionally, you might spend more time planning a special meal or decorating the tree to bring your holiday vision to life.
“Regarding what you can control, ask yourself, ‘What do I want to be sure happens this holiday season?’” Klatt said. “That way you can focus your attention on what is truly a priority for you and your family.”
Make this the year you start new holiday traditions with your family.
Start new traditions.
Rather than focusing on what might be different or more challenging this year, think of this holiday season as an opportunity to try something new.
“If gift-giving plans fall through, this is the perfect year to start a new Christmas tradition,” Klatt said.
She suggested bonding with your family by going caroling in the neighborhood or driving around to look at holiday lights.
“Get Christmas nighties for kids to wear on Christmas Eve,” Klatt said. “Involve kids in the kitchen by passing down a Christmas recipe. Or teach your kids how to ‘be Santa’ by bringing cookies that they baked with you to neighbors who may be homebound this holiday season. This way they can experience firsthand the joy of giving.”
While it’s wonderful to focus on others during the holiday season, don’t forget about your own well-being.
“Make self-care your priority,” Klatt said. “It helps to make a list of calming activities ahead of time that gives you the much-needed break you need among all the holiday chaos.”
She suggested putting some of those self-care activities in your calendar for the coming weeks, to increase the likelihood that you actually do them when you need them most.
Make backup plans.
Ultimately, you might not be able to give your loved ones their prized store-bought items of choice, so it’s worth thinking of some backup options.
“Try to find alternatives for the gifts that you are unable to find, or lean into sentimental gifts this year such as crafts that you make or spending quality time together,” Osibodu-Onyali advised. “What COVID has taught us all is that life is truly precious and we most definitely were not spending enough time together before the pandemic.”
If you’re a parent, talk to your children about the difficulties this year when it comes to their first-choice gifts (even if through the lens of Santa). Have a couple of alternate gifts ready and plan fun holiday activities to reduce the chances of disappointment.
And speaking of disappointment ― Klatt emphasized the importance, and the benefits, of modeling to your children how to deal with it.
“If they see you acknowledge the challenges presented by COVID and its collateral impact, and then, most importantly, they see you move beyond a disappointment to find joy in what can come to fruition this holiday season, this is a gift they will take with them throughout their lives,” she said. “The process of acknowledging the difficulty and yet not allowing it to squash happiness is a gift of a lifetime you can give your children during this 2021 holiday season.”
If you delay sleep in favor of bingeing TV or browsing social media, you may be a bedtime procrastinator. Here’s what that means—and how to make yourself go to bed.
When you put off going to sleep
Raise your hand if you regularly find yourself scrolling through your favorite social media sites while lying in bed or catching up on the news long after you were supposed to go to sleep. You’re not alone. Plenty of adults deal with what psychologists call “revenge bedtime procrastination.”
If you’re like most people, you chalk up your late nights to taking a little time to unwind before falling asleep. But psychologists say there might be more behind your nightly activities than you think. They call it “revenge bedtime procrastination” and it can lead to sleep deprivation and other issues connected to a lack of sleep: memory loss, lack of alertness, a weakened immune system, and even some mental health challenges.
Revenge bedtime procrastination
The Sleep Foundation describes revenge bedtime procrastination as going to bed later than planned without a practical reason for doing so. Ultimately, you decide to sacrifice sleep for leisure time.
A study from researchers in the Netherlands described bedtime procrastination in 2014 in Frontiers in Psychology. The concept spread like wildfire and eventually made its way to the United States in the summer of 2020, when writer Daphne K. Lee tweeted about it.
You’ve grasped the bedtime part. And it’s pretty clear you’re procrastinating sleeping. But where does revenge come in? The answer to that intrigues psychologists.
It seems people who do not have much control over their time during the day stay up at night to regain a sense of control and freedom. It’s a sort of subconscious form of revenge, if you will. Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and certified sleep expert with the Better Sleep Council, says sleep scientists are fascinated because what appears as a simple coincidence might have deeper psychological roots.
How do you know if you’re a revenge bedtime procrastinator?
You might be guilty of bedtime procrastination if you:
Suffer from a loss of sleep due to frequently delaying your bedtime
Delay your bedtime for no apparent reason
Continue to stay up past your bedtime despite knowing it could lead to negative consequences
Janelle Watson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Embrace Wellness, stresses that we shouldn’t confuse bedtime procrastination with staying up late to do work or to finish homework. Those are both reasons to push your bedtime back, but when you procrastinate sleep you don’t check items off your to-do list.
“The subconscious psychological goal of revenge bedtime procrastination is to take back control over your time,” says Watson. Bedtime and sleep procrastination tends to include activities that provide immediate enjoyment, such as watching Netflix, reading, talking to friends, or surfing the Internet.
The psychology behind revenge bedtime procrastination
Revenge bedtime procrastination is still an emerging concept in sleep science, and there are ongoing debates about the psychology behind this behavior. But the truth is, Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults 18 and older get at least seven hours of sleep per night, a 2013 Gallup poll found that 56 percent of adults don’t get a full night’s sleep, and 43 percent said they would feel better if they got more sleep.
So why are some of us making a deliberate decision to fan the flames of our groggy mornings and sleepy workdays? According to Watson, the answer to that question is “at the root of revenge bedtime procrastination.”
Studies suggest that Americans’ time management has become increasingly complex for various reasons, including changing and unpredictable work schedules and gender, class, and race inequalities.
“Although work schedules are a huge contributing factor to revenge bedtime procrastination, some of my clients are also bogged down with tight schedules with their children, family, and other roles and responsibilities that take away from their ‘me’ time during the day,” Watson says.
Who is most likely to procrastinate going to bed?
Watson says that people who procrastinate when going to sleep typically want to get a full night’s rest but are not successful.
Sleep experts refer to this as an intention-behavior gap that is sometimes caused by self-control or self-regulation challenges. Self-control is typically at its lowest by the end of the day, making it easier to give in to the temptation of self-indulgence.
While most people have the best intentions when it comes to getting a full night’s sleep, studies show that you might be more likely to procrastinate going to bed at a reasonable hour if you:
Procrastinate in other areas of your life
Work a high-stress or an otherwise demanding job
Find yourself having to “resist desires” during the rest of your day
Work in an environment that requires your work life to intersect with your personal life or that does not allow you time to de-stress after work (like working from home)
Are a woman or a student
How to address revenge bedtime procrastination
If you think you might be a bedtime procrastinator, experts suggest seven ways to get to bed and start getting some much-needed rest:
Be intentional about your rest. “If necessary, schedule your sleep by setting alarms, television timers, and other devices to alert you when your bedtime is near,” Watson says.
When possible, begin winding down 30 minutes before your bedtime.
Create a realistic bedtime goal that considers your daily schedule.
Turn off all electronic devices and put any sources of distraction out of your reach after getting into bed.
Practice relaxation strategies such as mindfulness and mediation.
Get at the root cause of the issue by developing healthy coping strategies to handle your stress throughout the day.
If all else fails, talk to a therapist.
Dr. Maia Niguel HoskinDr. Maia Niguel Hoskin Apr. 01, 2021
Janelle Watson, LMFT, owner of Embrace Wellness
Gallup: “In U.S., 40% Get Less Than Recommended Amount of Sleep”
Annual Review of Sociology: “Control Over Time: Employers, Workers, and Families Shaping Work Schedules”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “How Much Sleep Do I Need?”
Experimental Brain Research: “Alerting, orienting and executive control: the effects of sleep deprivation on attentional networks”
Frontiers in Neuroscience: “Bedtime Procrastination, Sleep-Related Behaviors, and Demographic Factors in an Online Survey on a Polish Sample”
Frontiers in Neuroscience: “Effect of Sleep Deprivation on the Working Memory-Related N2-P3 Components of the Event-Related Potential Waveform”
Frontiers in Psychology: “Bedtime procrastination: introducing a new area of procrastination”
Frontiers in Psychology: “Too Depleted to Turn In: The Relevance of End-of-the-Day Resource Depletion for Reducing Bedtime Procrastination”
Journal of the American Pharmacy Association: “How Do We Close The Intention-Behavior Gap?”
Journal of Affective Disorders: “Insomnia As A Predictor of Depression: A Meta-Analytic Evaluation of Longitudinal Epidemiological Studies”
Pew Research Center: “Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins”
Sleep Foundation: “What is ‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’?”
Frontiers in Psychology: “Commentary: Why Don’t You Go to Bed on Time? A Daily Diary Study on the Relationships Between Chronotype, Self-Control Resources and the Phenomenon of Bedtime Procrastination”
Build Your Resilience and Coping Skills With These Tips
Resilience can often mean the difference between handling pressure and losing your cool. Resilient people tend to maintain a more positive outlook and cope with stress more effectively. Research has shown that while some people seem to come by resilience naturally, these behaviors can also be learned. The following are just a few of the techniques you should focus on in order to foster your own resilience.
1 Find a Sense of Purpose in Your Life
After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Candace Lightner founded Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Upset by the driver’s light sentence, Lightner decided to focus her energy into creating awareness of the dangers of drunk driving. “I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead,” she later explained. In the face of crisis or tragedy, finding a sense of purpose can play an important role in recovery. This might involve becoming involved in your community, cultivating your spirituality, or participating in activities that are meaningful to you.
2 Build Positive Beliefs in Your Abilities
Research has demonstrated that self-esteem plays an important role in coping with stress and recovering from difficult events. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Becoming more confident in your own ability to respond and deal with crisis is a great way to build resilience for the future.
3 Develop a Strong Social Network
Having caring, supportive people around you acts as a protective factor during times of crisis. It is important to have people you can confide in. While simply talking about a situation with a friend or loved one will not make troubles go away, it allows you to share your feelings, gain support, receive positive feedback, and come up with possible solutions to your problems.
4 Embrace Change
Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning how to be more adaptable, you’ll be better equipped to respond when faced with a life crisis. Resilient people often utilize these events as an opportunity to branch out in new directions. While some people may be crushed by abrupt changes, highly resilient individuals are able to adapt and thrive.
5 Be Optimistic
Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency. Positive thinking does not mean ignoring the problem in order to focus on positive outcomes. It means understanding that setbacks are transient and that you have the skills and abilities to combat the challenges you face. What you are dealing with may be difficult, but it is important to remain hopeful and positive about a brighter future.
6 Nurture Yourself
When you’re stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Losing your appetite, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis situation. Focus on building your self-nurturance skills, even when you are troubled. Make time for activities that you enjoy. By taking care of your own needs, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be fully ready to face life’s challenges.
7 Develop Your Problem-Solving Skills
Research suggests that people who are able come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with problems than those who cannot. Whenever you encounter a new challenge, make a quick list of some of the potential ways you could solve the problem. Experiment with different strategies and focus on developing a logical way to work through common problems. By practicing your problem-solving skills on a regular basis, you will be better prepared to cope when a serious challenge emerges.
8 Establish Goals
Crisis situations are daunting. They may even seem insurmountable. Resilient people are able to view these situations in a realistic way and then set reasonable goals to deal with the problem. When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by a situation, take a step back to simply assess what is before you. Brainstorm possible solutions, and then break them down into manageable steps.
9 Take Steps to Solve Problems
Simply waiting for a problem to go away on its own only prolongs the crisis. Instead, start working on resolving the issue immediately. While there may not be any fast or simple solution, you can take steps toward making your situation better and less stressful. Focus on the progress that you have made thus far and planning your next steps, rather than becoming discouraged by the amount of work that still needs to be accomplished.
10 Keep Working on Your Skills
Resilience may take time to build, so do not become discouraged if you still struggle to cope with problematic events. According to Dr. Russ Newman, “research has shown that resilience is not an extraordinary thing but is rather ordinary and can be learned by most anyone”. Psychological resilience does not involve any specific set of behaviors or actions, but can vary dramatically from one person to the next. Focus on practicing some of the common characteristics of resilient people, but also, remember to build upon your existing strengths.
Why are some people better able to cope with crises than others?
While people vary dramatically in the coping skills they use when confronting a crisis, researchers have identified some key characteristics of resilience. Many of these skills can be developed and strengthened, which can improve your ability to deal with life’s setbacks.
Resilient people are aware of situations, their own emotional reactions and the behavior of those around them. In order to manage feelings, it is essential to understand what is causing them and why.
By remaining aware, resilient people can maintain control of a situation and think of new ways to tackle problems.
Another characteristic of resilience is the understanding that life is full of challenges. While we cannot avoid many of these problems, we can remain open, flexible, and willing to adapt to change.
Here are some other characteristics of people who have strong coping skills.
A Sense of Control
Do you perceive yourself as having control over your own life? Or do you blame outside sources for failures and problems? Generally, resilient people tend to have what psychologists call an internal locus of control. They believe that the actions they take will affect the outcome of an event. Of course, some factors are simply outside of our personal control, such as natural disasters. While we may be able to put some blame on external causes, it is important to feel as if we have the power to make choices that will affect our situation, our ability to cope, and our future.
Strong Problem-Solving Skills
Problem-solving skills are essential. When a crisis emerges, resilient people are able to spot the solution that will lead to a safe outcome. In danger situations, people sometimes develop tunnel vision. They fail to note important details or take advantages of opportunities.
Resilient individuals, on the other hand, are able to calming and rationally look and the problem and envision a successful solution.
Strong Social Connections
Whenever you’re dealing with a problem, it is important to have people who can offer support. Talking about the challenges you are facing can be an excellent way to gain perspective, look for new solutions, or simply express your emotions. Friends, family members, coworkers, and online support groups can all be potential sources of social connectivity.
Identifying as a Survivor, Not a Victim
When dealing with any potential crisis, it is essential to view yourself as a survivor. Avoid thinking like a victim of circumstance and instead look for ways to resolve the problem. While the situation may be unavoidable, you can still stay focused on a positive outcome.
Being Able to Ask for Help
While being resourceful is an important part of resilience, it is also essential to know when to ask for help. During a crisis, people can benefit from the help of psychologists and counselors specially trained to deal with crisis situations. Other potential sources of assistance include:
Books – Reading about people who have experienced and overcome a similar problem can be both motivating and good for ideas on how to cope.
Online Message Boards – Online communities can provide continual support and a place to talk about issues with people who have been in a similar situation.
Support Groups – Attending support group meetings is a great way to talk about the challenges you’re facing and find a network of people who can provide compassion and support.
Psychotherapy – If you are having trouble coping with a crisis situation, consulting a qualified mental health professional can help you confront the problem, identify your strengths, and develop new coping skills.
“Nothing is more intolerable than to have to admit to yourself your own errors.”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Giving up anything we’ve come to embrace (consciously or not) as part of ourselves is often a tough endeavor. Compiling a list of things that each one of us “shouldn’t do” is hard too, by the way. But we digress.
It is our sincere belief that giving up the 5 things on this list will lead to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. Each item has the potential to eliminate a ton of stress and possible heartache while maybe even providing a renewed sense of freedom.
HERE ARE 5 THINGS WE SHOULD ALL AIM TO GIVE UP:
1. THE NEED FOR CONTROL
Aside from positive self-control, we should each minimize the need to feel in control of things around you.
People tagged with the “control freak” label always need to feel in control of events, situations, and especially people; this last one strips the right of each individual to simply be themselves. Controlling others is a form of abuse; something nobody should have to experience.
Letting go of this need for control, no matter how hard at first, will feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted. It’s quite likely that your relationships will improve as well.
2. THE NEED TO BE RIGHT
For some of us, the idea of admitting a mistake – or conceding that someone else is right – produces a sense of dread. In this regard, we share the same sentiment as the great Bruce Lee, who once said:
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”
Countless relationships and friendships have ended because one (or both) person ALWAYS had to be right; no matter any facts or evidence to the contrary.
Not only is this erroneous stubbornness a relationship-breaker; it’s a very unhealthy behavior – not just for the individual, but to those unfortunate enough to be exposed to it.
Ever had a boss with an insatiable need to be right? How terrible was it to work under the microscope of a borderline tyrant? These same feelings surface in others when we insist on being right.
3. THE NEED TO COMPLAIN
Totally giving up the act of complaining is similar to giving up the need to breathe. Inwardly or outwardly, we will all engage in a grumbling episode from time to time. We all possess enough self-awareness to admit whether or not we’re constant complainers – and whether or not a change in outlook is in order.
The uncomfortable (but freeing) reality is that external stressors are a matter of internal perception. Sir Charles Lyell, in 1863, wrote:
“It may be said that, so far from having a materialistic tendency, the supposed introduction into the earth at successive geological periods of life – sensation, instinct, the intelligence of the higher mammalia bordering on reason, and lastly, the improvable reason of Man himself – presents us with a picture of the ever-increasing dominion of mind over matter.“
In short, our improbable existence, and the indisputable superiority of our species’ innate intellect to adapt in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges throughout the ages proves the natural power of man.
Complaining is a pointless act. Instead, use your mind and overcome the matter.
4. THE NEED TO MAKE EXCUSES
Excuse making is an act of self-limitation – a behavior that can stunt individual progress.
Instead of putting forth the necessary effort to achieve our goals, finish a task, or follow through on a commitment, many of us will instead take the easy way out. Allowing some baseless excuse to spew from our lips is the easiest way out possible.
Attribute constant excuse-making to ignorance, immaturity, or laziness; the effects are disruptive, even disastrous. But this can all change if we’re able to admit this shortcoming and drive forward.
George Washington Carver, an African-American born into slavery, received nationwide recognition (including in Time Magazine) for his breakthroughs in the areas of botany and biology throughout his lifetime. Despite living in a time of extreme racism, Mr. Carver once proclaimed
“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
That’s an eye opener, indeed. Well put, Mr. Carver.
5. THE NEED TO LIMIT YOURSELF
As intelligent human beings, we are aware when something we’re doing is holding us back.
We couldn’t possibly list every single thing that is counterproductive to health, growth, and happiness. We’re all different, which only makes such any attempt to compartmentalize limiting behavior all the more impossible.
Are you a chronic procrastinator? Slowly work on disciplining yourself to get things done on time.
Are you engaging in habits you know to be harmful?
Maybe you drink a bit too much, watch too much television, spend too much money, hang out with the wrong crowd, (fill in the behavior here)…it’s never too late to commit to change.
Admit your shortcomings and work (however slowly) to finding a different way.
REFERENCES: BARTLETT, JOHN (2002). BARTLETT’S FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS: A COLLECTION OF PASSAGES, PHRASES, AND PROVERBS TRACED TO THEIR SOURCES IN ANCIENT AND MODERN LITERATURE (17. ED.). BOSTON: LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY. ISBN 978-0-316-08460-4. WIKIPEDIA. (2017). GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER. RETRIEVED MARCH 21, 2017, FROM HTTPS://EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/GEORGE_WASHINGTON_CARVER#RISE_TO_FAME
Here’s good news: If you had a less-than-wonderful childhood, you can still have amazing success in life. How? It comes to do these little life skills.
What makes us healthy, wealthy, and successful?
It’s true that a nurturing upbringing, with lots of love, support, and opportunities for play, learning, and growth, seem to give people an advantage early in life. But that head start only goes so far. The rest of the recipe, according to new research, comes from you.
In a new study published in PNAS, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, researchers from the University College London followed 8,119 men and women to determine which life skills most directly contributed to their health and success in life—or lack thereof.
What they found was that those who had successful, wealthy, and happy upbringings weren’t necessarily the most successful, happy, or healthy once they grew up. Instead, it was people with specific personality traits who were the healthiest and most successful. And these traits helped ensure that were internally, rather than externally, fulfilled.
To be successful in life, start with your own mental health. “Our ability to stay ‘in check’ with our emotions is one of the most powerful life skills we have,” explains Joshua Klapow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“Emotional stability is like a regulator on our life skill set. It allows us to not be falsely optimistic, overly determined, too self-sacrificing, or too controlling. It allows us to experience life but to come back to a middle ground.”
Researchers at the Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus found a direct correlation between emotional stability and future success in a work environment. Those who were more in control of their emotions could handle typical work stressors better, leading to further opportunities at work and less stress overall. Fortunately, this is a skill you can develop.
Another study found that exposing yourself to common work stressors early in young adulthood can have profound effects on your ability to navigate stressful work situations later in life. Of course, less stress leads to better overall health. So, if you want to know how to become wealthy and healthy in the future, you may want to focus on your resilience now.
The U.K.’s University of Kent conducted a study that outlined the top skills employers look for when searching for new employees. Determination was among the top 10. Very simply, determined people get things done, so it’s no wonder that employers would want them on their teams.
Determined individuals are willing to move past obstacles to reach their future goals. According to the PNAS study, 26.4 percent of people who had four or five of the important life skills outlined here, including determination, were in the highest wealth range of participants.
Determination also boosts health. According to Dr. Klapow, “Determination is critical for health and well-being as the majority of our health and well-being goals require daily prolonged effort.
Determination allows us to move beyond day-to-day living.” Not everyone is born with a fire in their belly, but it can be learned. Self-determination is something therapists and teachers help instill in people every day. In fact, about 62 percent of teachers often plan activities for students that will help them develop self-determination skills.
Many therapists focus on self-determination theory (SDT), which supports one’s personality traits and innate abilities to build their motivation. Of course, you’ll need to find some motivation to stick to what you learn, so sometimes you have to dig deep.
“As we learn to look at the world as a series of events and situations that we can exert control over, we feel mastery and predictability. That allows us to remain calm, to be determined, and to take action,” says Dr. Klapow.
One study that shows the importance of self-control followed 1,000 children from birth to age 32. Those who continued to exhibit the highest amount of self-control through their lives were less likely to develop health problems, have a substance addiction, have low income, or commit a crime. A person with self-control understands that actions make a difference.
“It is not a matter of having false beliefs that we can control everything in our lives, but rather looking at situations and challenges and believing that our own actions can have an impact,” explains Dr. Klapow. “This results in less stress, more proactive behavior, and more opportunities to succeed.” The same study shows that people can foster their own self-control—7 percent of participants dramatically increased the skill on their own throughout the study.
The most important thing you can do to become master of your universe is to start looking at the bigger picture. How will your actions now affect you later? You’re less likely to start something that could drag you down later if you understand the risks now.
Just because optimists believe that good things will happen to them doesn’t make them unrealistic; instead, it means they try to find the good in everything they do and see. The University College London study, led by psychology professor Andrew Steptoe and his colleague Jane Wardle, showed that this key life skill, when combined with at least some of the other life skills, had profound impacts on our ability to take better care of our health and find success later in life.
A study in Clinical Psychology Review researched the impact of optimism alone on health and success and found that optimistic people are more resilient to life’s stressors, allowing them to move past negative aspects of their jobs and everyday lives more easily. Optimists are also less likely to be re-hospitalized, develop heart disease, and have low immunity, and are more likely to live longer and healthier lives.
When it comes to future success, optimists have a lower college drop-out rate and are more persistent in achieving goals than pessimists. If you don’t always look on the bright side, you can still develop a greater sense of optimism. Cognitive behavior therapy is common for pessimists, as it focuses on changing thinking patterns to be more optimistic and productive. This intervention can even help those who feel they’re spiraling into depression from negative thoughts.
By definition, conscientious people are concerned with doing things correctly. They’re typically very organized, pay attention to details, and are generally responsible. A study in Frontiers of Psychology found that high conscientiousness more consistently determined one’s life satisfaction, income, and success than the other life skills examined, including emotional stability and cognitive ability.
Conscientiousness is a reliable predictor of academic grades, job performance, marital stability, and physical health. University of Illinois psychologist Brent Roberts told businessinsider.com, “Highly conscientious employees do a series of things better than the rest of us. [It] is like brushing your teeth. It prevents problems from arising.” These are people who like sticking to rules and achieving goals.
Determination is often a trait you’ll see in a conscientious person, so they’re more apt to be aware of what’s needed to be successful, stay healthy, and then stick to those norms.
According to Harvard Medical School, you can heighten your conscientiousness by hanging around conscientious people who can encourage positive behaviors. Also, make a specific schedule for yourself and follow it daily. If you have to, set reminders on your phone to get yourself in the habit of sticking to your plan.
Where you’re going doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Maybe you should just go.
Lately, I’ve been hearing from lots of friends who are struggling to make the right decisions.
“I want to write a book but I don’t know where to start.” “I’d love to quit my job, but what would I do?” “I’ve always wanted to travel but can’t find the time.”
In a way, they’re all saying the same thing: They’re scared and stuck.
But here’s what I know: 30 years from now, you won’t remember what cereal you chose at the grocery store. On your deathbed, you won’t care which vacation cruise package you picked. You won’t recall whether you chose to see the romantic comedy or the action adventure movie (unless, of course, it’s another “Die Hard” movie — those are great).
None of these things will have mattered. What will matter is that you acted, that you made a contribution, and that you decided to do something. Or that you didn’t.
The fact is, most decisions aren’t life-changers.
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The universe doesn’t care what you have for breakfast, but chances are you will eat something. Certainly, some people would say you’d be better off eating eggs than Pop-Tarts (unless, of course, we’re talking brown sugar Pop-Tarts — those things are divine). So it’s not that all decisions are equal — they aren’t — it’s that most of the time, you just need to decide to do something.
Often the decisions are just about whether to act or not. And this is the very thing most of us are afraid of doing. We waste time writing up plans and setting goals that never get done. We worry about doing the wrong thing and obsess over inconsequential details. And, sadly, we sometimes end up squandering the most important moments of our lives because we’re afraid to just do something.
For me and plenty of people I talk to, a lot of the planning is basically just stalling.
Hiding. Another way to stay stuck. So what’s the solution? What’s the answer to this paralysis we sometimes feel?
I’m not anti-planning, but sometimes you just need to start. Life is a journey, not a business plan. What would happen if you quit trying to control things? I know, it sounds sort of grand, doesn’t it? But do you want to plan your life away or live it? Let go and live the story.
Where you’re going doesn’t matter as much as you think it does, either. Just go. More often than not, you just need to move in a direction, not the direction. Stop worrying too much about which way to go and just get going.
A friend of mine calls this “the bicycle principle.”
He means that it’s easier to make changes in life once you’re moving. Just as with riding a bike, you can steer more easily the faster you’re going. And conversely, if you’re not moving and you try to steer, you’ll probably fall down.
Isn’t it interesting that failure usually happens not when we move too quickly, but too slowly? So just start pedaling and see where you end up. Where you are is nowhere near as final as it seems.
If this whole bicycle thing challenges the very fibers of your being, try any (or all) of the following:
1. Go for a jog or a bike ride to nowhere in particular.
Just start moving in hopes of leaving the familiar. Turn down every random street or path you can find until you get lost. Don’t worry about how you’ll get back. Then, see where you end up. You’ll make it back alive — I promise — and you just might be surprised where it takes you.
Remember what it feels like to wonder where you’re going. Do you recall the resistance to just get moving in the first place? Make an effort to get lost more often. It’ll make you better at overcoming that initial stall you experience every time you have to make a decision, big or small.
2. Sit outside without any technology for a full hour.
Let yourself get bored and see where the boredom takes you. Can you hear the birds chirping? The wind blowing? Yourself breathing? Pay attention to the cars or kids or sounds of insects in the background. Count the noises you recognize and imagine where they’re coming from. Bonus points for journaling about this and sharing it with someone.
Try to do this once a week, then every other day, then every day. One of the reasons we struggle to make better decisions is because we keep getting distracted with new things. Distraction is antithetical to decisiveness. Giving yourself a break from the noise will help you tune into the choices you need to make.
3. Do something that scares you.
Apply for a job. Tell someone you love them. Ask your neighbor on a date. Laugh out loud in a public place. Deliver a speech to a stranger. Climb a tree. Call someone you have a grudge against and apologize.
When you do this, pay attention to the release of fear you feel. Remember that feeling the next time you feel intimidated by a big goal or a risky situation. Remember that you didn’t die. And try to trust the process in the future.
Some of these things may seem silly, but the more you do them, the more in control you’ll feel.
The truth is that we can’t plan life, but we can participate in it. The things that seem uncontrollable are more in your grasp than you realize. Just remember:
It’s not about the destination. It’s about the direction.
If you don’t know what to do with your life — what book to write, what song to sing, what job to choose, which person to ask out — just try picking something. It’s not a fail-proof solution, but it ain’t a bad place to start. Because the truth is once you start moving, you can always change directions.
This story was originally published on the author’s blog. FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:@jeffgoins
She looked at me and said, “It doesn’t matter what I do; I can’t change it.” This wasn’t the first time I’d heard words like this leave a friend’s mouth, but it was the first time since I had experienced some awakenings of my own.
I used to feel, as my friend did, that my life was happening to me. The belief that we don’t get to chart the course of our lives was deeply ingrained in our subconsciouses, which makes us feel totally powerless, leading to frustration and unhappiness.
But recently in my own life, I’d realized the truth. While we can’t control what happens to us, we are the only people who can control how we react to those situations.
We can react from a place of victimhood, throw our hands up in the air and say, “It doesn’t matter what I do.” But this makes us feel trapped — like there’s a wall between what we want and where we are, with no escape in sight. Victimhood contributes to bitterness and sadness.
Sometimes we flail and scream, and sometimes we resign ourselves limply to the inevitable, but at no time do we take transformative action in our lives, take back the reins, or assert that we are the captains of our own ships.
What some people never realize is that the true cause of our unhappiness is the belief that we have no control.
Breaking free of that belief is a prerequisite to happiness. Here are seven things happy people believe:
1. We choose our responses to every situation.
2. We are the authors of our stories.
3. We always have a choice.
4. Life’s trials are the most crucial periods in which to affirm your autonomy over your life. Hold on tight to that.
5. Welcoming hardship comes from the belief that struggles are not happening to us, but for us.
6. Those struggles are the most efficient conduit by which we learn and grow.
7. In any undesirable circumstance, there are three — and only three — happiness-promoting responses:
1. Accept and embrace the situation for what it is.
If we’re in a job that we aren’t happy with and we choose to embrace it, we no longer complain, commiserate with friends, bemoan our situation, or find ways to rebel. We actively make the best of it, every day.
2. Change the situation.
If we stick with the job example, changing the situation can look like having a conversation with the boss, implementing new ideas for a more satisfying work experience, etc. It means making the decision to stay in the situation while working to make it better.
3. Leave the situation.
If we choose to leave the situation, we quit the job and move to another one. Make this decision not out of frustration or desperation but after calm, measured consideration about what will make you happiest in the long term.
All of these options, each as much as the others, has you in the driver’s seat. No, we can’t control what life throws at us. But we get to decide how we’ll react to it. This is your ship! You get to steer. So start charting your course.
Marc and Angel are the authors of 1000 Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently. Here’s their amazing list of 30 things to start doing for yourself. If you enjoy this, be sure to visit their website for more inspirational advice and tips for life.
#1. Start spending time with the right people. – These are the people you enjoy, who love and appreciate you, and who encourage you to improve in healthy and exciting ways. They are the ones who make you feel more alive, and not only embrace who you are now, but also embrace and embody who you want to be, unconditionally.
#2. Start facing your problems head on. – It isn’t your problems that define you, but how you react to them and recover from them. Problems will not disappear unless you take action. Do what you can, when you can, and acknowledge what you’ve done. It’s all about taking baby steps in the right direction, inch by inch. These inches count, they add up to yards and miles in the long run.
#3. Start being honest with yourself about everything. – Be honest about what’s right, as well as what needs to be changed. Be honest about what you want to achieve and who you want to become. Be honest with every aspect of your life, always. Because you are the one person you can forever count on. Search your soul, for the truth, so that you truly know who you are. Once you do, you’ll have a better understanding of where you are now and how you got here, and you’ll be better equipped to identify where you want to go and how to get there. Read The Road Less Traveled.
#4. Start making your own happiness a priority. – Your needs matter. If you don’t value yourself, look out for yourself, and stick up for yourself, you’re sabotaging yourself. Remember, it IS possible to take care of your own needs while simultaneously caring for those around you. And once your needs are met, you will likely be far more capable of helping those who need you most.
#5. Start being yourself, genuinely and proudly. – Trying to be anyone else is a waste of the person you are. Be yourself. Embrace that individual inside you that has ideas, strengths and beauty like no one else. Be the person you know yourself to be – the best version of you – on your terms. Above all, be true to YOU, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.
#6. Start noticing and living in the present. – Right now is a miracle. Right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. So stop thinking about how great things will be in the future. Stop dwelling on what did or didn’t happen in the past. Learn to be in the ‘here and now’ and experience life as it’s happening. Appreciate the world for the beauty that it holds, right now.
#7. Start valuing the lessons your mistakes teach you. – Mistakes are okay; they’re the stepping stones of progress. If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not trying hard enough and you’re not learning. Take risks, stumble, fall, and then get up and try again. Appreciate that you are pushing yourself, learning, growing and improving. Significant achievements are almost invariably realized at the end of a long road of failures. One of the ‘mistakes’ you fear might just be the link to your greatest achievement yet.
#8. Start being more polite to yourself. – If you had a friend who spoke to you in the same way that you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend? The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others. You must love who you are or no one else will.
#9. Start enjoying the things you already have. – The problem with many of us is that we think we’ll be happy when we reach a certain level in life – a level we see others operating at – your boss with her corner office, that friend of a friend who owns a mansion on the beach, etc. Unfortunately, it takes awhile before you get there, and when you get there you’ll likely have a new destination in mind. You’ll end up spending your whole life working toward something new without ever stopping to enjoy the things you have now. So take a quiet moment every morning when you first awake to appreciate where you are and what you already have.
#10. Start creating your own happiness. – If you are waiting for someone else to make you happy, you’re missing out. Smile because you can. Choose happiness. Be the change you want to see in the world. Be happy with who you are now, and let your positivity inspire your journey into tomorrow. Happiness is often found when and where you decide to seek it. If you look for happiness within the opportunities you have, you will eventually find it. But if you constantly look for something else, unfortunately, you’ll find that too. Read Stumbling on Happiness.
#11. Start giving your ideas and dreams a chance. – In life, it’s rarely about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance. You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work. Most of the time you just have to go for it! And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should be. Either you succeed or you learn something. Win-Win.
#12. Start believing that you’re ready for the next step. – You are ready! Think about it. You have everything you need right now to take the next small, realistic step forward. So embrace the opportunities that come your way, and accept the challenges – they’re gifts that will help you to grow.
#13. Start entering new relationships for the right reasons. – Enter new relationships with dependable, honest people who reflect the person you are and the person you want to be. Choose friends you are proud to know, people you admire, who show you love and respect – people who reciprocate your kindness and commitment. And pay attention to what people do, because a person’s actions are much more important than their words or how others represent them.
#14. Start giving new people you meet a chance. – It sounds harsh, but you cannot keep every friend you’ve ever made. People and priorities change. As some relationships fade others will grow. Appreciate the possibility of new relationships as you naturally let go of old ones that no longer work. Trust your judgment. Embrace new relationships, knowing that you are entering into unfamiliar territory. Be ready to learn, be ready for a challenge, and be ready to meet someone that might just change your life forever.
#15. Start competing against an earlier version of yourself. – Be inspired by others, appreciate others, learn from others, but know that competing against them is a waste of time. You are in competition with one person and one person only – yourself. You are competing to be the best you can be. Aim to break your own personal records.
#16. Start cheering for other people’s victories. – Start noticing what you like about others and tell them. Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are leads to good places – productive, fulfilling, peaceful places. So be happy for those who are making progress. Cheer for their victories. Be thankful for their blessings, openly. What goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you.
#17. Start looking for the silver lining in tough situations. – When things are hard, and you feel down, take a few deep breaths and look for the silver lining – the small glimmers of hope. Remind yourself that you can and will grow stronger from these hard times. And remain conscious of your blessings and victories – all the things in your life that are right. Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t.
#18. Start forgiving yourself and others. – We’ve all been hurt by our own decisions and by others. And while the pain of these experiences is normal, sometimes it lingers for too long. We relive the pain over and over and have a hard time letting go. Forgiveness is the remedy. It doesn’t mean you’re erasing the past, or forgetting what happened. It means you’re letting go of the resentment and pain, and instead choosing to learn from the incident and move on with your life.
#19. Start helping those around you. – Care about people. Guide them if you know a better way. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you. Love and kindness begets love and kindness. And so on and so forth.
#20. Start listening to your own inner voice. – If it helps, discuss your ideas with those closest to you, but give yourself enough room to follow your own intuition. Be true to yourself. Say what you need to say. Do what you know in your heart is right.
#21. Start being attentive to your stress level and take short breaks. – Slow down. Breathe. Give yourself permission to pause, regroup and move forward with clarity and purpose. When you’re at your busiest, a brief recess can rejuvenate your mind and increase your productivity. These short breaks will help you regain your sanity and reflect on your recent actions so you can be sure they’re in line with your goals.
#22. Start noticing the beauty of small moments. – Instead of waiting for the big things to happen – marriage, kids, big promotion, winning the lottery – find happiness in the small things that happen every day. Little things like having a quiet cup of coffee in the early morning, or the delicious taste and smell of a homemade meal, or the pleasure of sharing something you enjoy with someone else, or holding hands with your partner. Noticing these small pleasures on a daily basis makes a big difference in the quality of your life.
#23. Start accepting things when they are less than perfect. – Remember, ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good.’ One of the biggest challenges for people who want to improve themselves and improve the world is learning to accept things as they are. Sometimes it’s better to accept and appreciate the world as it is, and people as they are, rather than to trying to make everything and everyone conform to an impossible ideal. No, you shouldn’t accept a life of mediocrity, but learn to love and value things when they are less than perfect.
#24. Start working toward your goals every single day. – Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Whatever it is you dream about, start taking small, logical steps every day to make it happen. Get out there and DO something! The harder you work the luckier you will become. While many of us decide at some point during the course of our lives that we want to answer our calling, only an astute few of us actually work on it. By ‘working on it,’ I mean consistently devoting oneself to the end result. Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
#25. Start being more open about how you feel. – If you’re hurting, give yourself the necessary space and time to hurt, but be open about it. Talk to those closest to you. Tell them the truth about how you feel. Let them listen. The simple act of getting things off your chest and into the open is your first step toward feeling good again.
#26. Start taking full accountability for your own life. – Own your choices and mistakes, and be willing to take the necessary steps to improve upon them. Either you take accountability for your life or someone else will. And when they do, you’ll become a slave to their ideas and dreams instead of a pioneer of your own. You are the only one who can directly control the outcome of your life. And no, it won’t always be easy. Every person has a stack of obstacles in front of them. But you must take accountability for your situation and overcome these obstacles. Choosing not to is choosing a lifetime of mere existence.
#27. Start actively nurturing your most important relationships. – Bring real, honest joy into your life and the lives of those you love by simply telling them how much they mean to you on a regular basis. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be everything to a few people. Decide who these people are in your life and treat them like royalty. Remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.
#28. Start concentrating on the things you can control. – You can’t change everything, but you can always change something. Wasting your time, talent and emotional energy on things that are beyond your control is a recipe for frustration, misery and stagnation. Invest your energy in the things you can control, and act on them now.
#29. Start focusing on the possibility of positive outcomes. – The mind must believe it CAN do something before it is capable of actually doing it. The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful. Listen to your self-talk and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Regardless of how a situation seems, focus on what you DO WANT to happen, and then take the next positive step forward. No, you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to things. Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects – whether or not you’re happy and successful in the long run depends greatly on which aspects you focus on. Read The How of Happiness.
#30. Start noticing how wealthy you are right now. – Henry David Thoreau once said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Even when times are tough, it’s always important to keep things in perspective. You didn’t go to sleep hungry last night. You didn’t go to sleep outside. You had a choice of what clothes to wear this morning. You hardly broke a sweat today. You didn’t spend a minute in fear. You have access to clean drinking water. You have access to medical care. You have access to the Internet. You can read. Some might say you are incredibly wealthy, so remember to be grateful for all the things you do have.
This is such a wonderful list. If we take little steps every day and practice these things, we can make great improvements in our lives. Share this post with your friends and loved ones. |
Change is hard, we’re told. But it’s also a constant, they say. Inevitable, they add. These are all words of advice we’ve heard countless times — beliefs we’ve learned to swallow whole and pass on with little forethought.
But when we listen more closely, we may discover a decidedly bleak outlook on life. If change is hard, as well as inevitable and constant, we’re essentially asserting that life is always, and inevitably, full of challenges. And sure, no one will deny that life isn’t characterized by some degree of challenge at most times.
But the bigger question here becomes this: are these beliefs about change helping us, or conditioning us to resist a part of life we can’t avoid?
While not all change is created equal — some seems like an obvious blessing, other may take time to become so — it seems to me that these conventional ways of talking about change gives it a bad rap from the get go. And after all, without change, there would be no new love, no seasons and no “best ever” experiences.
So how can we turn change, especially big change, into something that we initially look at as an enriching aspect of life?
It’s a question that’s been on my mind a lot recently, mostly because in the early days of 2015, my family and I moved from the West coast to the East coast. With so much changing so quickly, I’ve been taking a deep, long look at my own relationship with change.
Here are some simple reminders and practices that have helped me to thrive during this period of widespread change:
1. Like oil and water, change and control don’t mix.
Having been taught that change is “hard,” we resist it by creating elaborate roadmaps of the future, whether out loud or in the silent comfort of our own minds. Unfortunately, these mental roadmaps lead to suffering when our expectations don’t mirror our experience.
Whenever you catch yourself trying to predict the future, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath and visualize or do something simple that gives you comfort, whether it’s your daily walk or cuddling up with your coziest blanket. Bring all of your senses into the experience and let yourself get carried away in the feelings of safety and enjoyment it brings.
Over time, this simple practice will help to train your brain to feel safe, instead of fearful, in times of uncertainty.
2. Unknown ≠ Bad. (NEVER forget this).
By now, most of us are old pros at surviving. Since it’s a habit that’s most easily accomplished by maintaining the status quo, we tend to view the unknown as bad, if not downright threatening. The actual truth, however, is that the unknown has delivered every one of us immeasurable amounts of delight, love, light, laughter, joy, abundance and fulfillment over the years.
When you find yourself spiraling down the rabbit hole of future doom, stop and force yourself to focus on times when your negative expectations were disrupted in wonderful ways. Remember the interview that went better than expected, that call you got out of the blue from a dear old friend, the fact that you woke up to sunshine this morning. Each of those gifts came from the exact same unknown that you’re now facing.
3. Yes, you CAN freak out now.
We’re often told that the emotions we experience during times of change — emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness and anger — are “bad” or “negative.” The problem with these emotions, however, isn’t that they exist; it’s that we were never taught how to release them.
Since it’s only by experiencing the full force of your emotions that you’ll be able to let them go, at those moments when they’re swelling up inside you, it’s crucial that you let yourself feel them fully. Whether you do this through journaling, yoga, meditation, running, hiking, howling at the moon, or a mix of these and more — figure out what works for you and use it. Constantly.
Turning big change into big progress isn’t about doing any of these things perfectly, or all of the time. It is, however, about making a conscious point of moving forward — in ways big and small, seen and unseen — each and every day. When you do that, you eventually have the moment I had when I sat down to work this morning — in our new office, in our new town, finally without a box in sight. Ahh.