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The Top 3 Reasons Why You Self-Sabotage and How to Stop

Faulty thinking and fear of failure play a part.

It’s easy to sabotage yourself when you’re trying to meet an important goal, like developing healthier habits, getting assignments done on time, saving money, managing weight, or building healthy relationships. Self-sabotage isn’t just one thing — it can have many causes — but the end result is that you get off track, mess up relationships, don’t get things done, or don’t perform as well as you would like. All of this can lead to feeling bad about yourself and expecting to fail, which leads to more self-sabotage to avoid facing failure head-on, which perpetuates the cycle.

Below are some of the ways in which you may sabotage yourself and suggestions for what to do instead. My colleague and fellow Psychology Today blogger Alice Boyes has an excellent new book out called The Healthy Mind Toolkit, which provides simple, practical psychological tools to help you stop self-sabotaging and develop healthy habits and attitudes instead.

Why do you sabotage yourself?

There are many reasons for self-sabotage, but three of the most important ones involve your thinking patterns, fears you may have in intimate relationships, and the tendency to avoid things that are difficult or uncomfortable. Read on to find out more.

1. Faulty thinking

Our human brains tend to be wired to cling to the familiar, to overestimate risk, and to avoid trying new approaches. This tendency, known as the familiarity heuristic, leads us to overvalue the things we know and undervalue things that are unfamiliar. And when we are under stress, we tend to rely on the familiarity heuristic even more. When our brains are tired, we resort to old habits and ways of doing things, even if they don’t work well. We are drawn to go with the familiar, even when a different option offers a clear advantage.

In one study, researchers asked subjects to do a complicated word puzzle. One group performed under time pressure, while the other was told to take as much time as they needed. After the puzzle was done, subjects were told they had to do another puzzle, but were given a choice between a longer puzzle invented by the same person who designed the first puzzle or a short puzzle designed by somebody they did not know. The group who performed under more stressful conditions (time pressure) were more likely to choose the longer puzzle, even though this would put them at a disadvantage. It’s as if their brains got confused trying to compare the advantages of length versus familiarity, and so they resorted to the “familiarity heuristic.”

It’s not always easy to tell when your brain is relying on a heuristic. Try to make important decisions when you’re not stressed and to consider the pros and cons of each choice, rather than just going with something that intuitively sounds like the best choice (but may not be).

2. Fear of intimacy or fear of rejection

We all know people who sabotage relationships when they reach a certain level of intimacy. Some people cheat, others pick fights or get controlling to push the person away, still others reveal all their insecurities or become too needy and clingy. These are all unconscious ways in which our brains fear getting trapped or rejected if we get too close. Many of these patterns are based on childhood relationships with caregivers. If you have “insecure attachment,” you may unconsciously fear repeating the past. Perhaps your parent was rejecting or neglectful, critical, inconsistent, or you had to be the “parentified child.” Parts of our brains remember this pain and begin to act in adult relationships as if we are with our parent (or perhaps do the complete opposite in an extreme way, which gets us into trouble as well).

If your fear of intimacy or rejection is strong, it is better to mindfully allow your insecure or fearful feelings to be there, while actively working to find healthy, mature ways of talking about them, rather than running away or pushing people away. You need to remind yourself that you are an adult now and have a much greater capacity to tolerate stress and rejection and to take care of yourself than you did as a child. Also remind yourself of what you have to gain by staying engaged. Try to be more self-aware and to notice the effects of your behavior patterns on your relationship happiness.

success

3. Procrastination and avoidance

A third way you may self-sabotage is by not dealing with problems until they get so big that you are forced to deal with them. Or not being able to discipline yourself to get work done on time. There are several potential reasons for procrastinating and avoiding. You may never have learned the skills to break tasks up into smaller pieces, or you may be too tired to plan out a schedule for doing the work. Alternatively, you may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task or feel like an imposter who doesn’t have what it takes to succeed. Self-sabotaging by not getting started, staying up too late, or going out with friends or watching television instead of working is a very common pattern. In the short term, you manage to avoid the discomfort of an anxiety-provoking or boring and unrewarding task. But in the long term, the things you’ve put off come back to bite you.

You may also procrastinate and avoid because you are perfectionistic, overthink things, or can’t decide where to begin. All of these tendencies tend to have an anxiety component. You can counteract them by giving yourself a time limit to choose or by allowing yourself to make an imperfect choice. It helps to see yourself as being able to learn from experience and improve over time. This is what researcher Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset makes the possibility of failure less scary, whereas if you see your abilities as fixed, you are more likely to avoid performance situations or sabotage  yourself so your weaknesses won’t be clearly exposed.

Procrastination and avoidance (as well as addictive behavior) can also be ways of not taking responsibility for your actions. These behaviors allow you to blame outside factors, like not having enough time, if you do poorly, rather than admitting your role in not using your time well. Some of us fear success, because we shun the limelight or fear that others will expect more from us than we can deliver. But rather than facing this fear head-on, we tend to set ourselves up for failure instead.

Take-Home Message

When it comes to self-sabotage, one size doesn’t fit all. You may be too tired and stressed to think through complex choices and instead rely on easy (but inaccurate) heuristics. You may sabotage relationships, because you fear closeness and intimacy or fear rejection. Or you may procrastinate and avoid, because you fear failure or lack planning and time management skills. The solution differs depending on the area of self-sabotage. Getting enough rest and not taking on too much can help you think more clearly and make better choices. Understanding the roots of your fears of intimacy and rejection and taking small steps towards more closeness can help in the relationship arena. And taking more responsibility for planning and motivating yourself and adopting a growth mindset can help with procrastination at work.

References
Boyes, Alice (2018). The Healthy Mind Toolkit. TarcherPerigree

Jun 11, 2018

Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.

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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 


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Don’t Just Focus On Exercises, But Principles Too

Your exercise choice will evolve in tandem with your fitness level, but the principles that get you moving are constant!

Contrary to popular fitness PR mythology, health success is produced from finding, and implementing, principles, not through discovering the “perfect” exercise or workout.

Your exercise choice will evolve in tandem with your fitness level (for example, over time you’ll need a weighted vs. body weight squat), but the principles that get you moving are constant!

Principle One: Create “systems” that protect you from your lesser self

Know your triggers so you can protect yourself from yourself!

When one is motivated, energized, happy, not exhausted, not in a social situation, at the grocery store, etc, it’s easy to say, “I won’t drink at the party,” or, for me, “I won’t eat the entire box of fudge bars.” Now, following through? Not so easy.

In the grocery store I can tell myself, “Buy the bars; have one every few days,” but I know from experience that at 11 p.m. I will eat the entire box. So, I built a system where I can have them — in safe spaces. My mom keeps a box so I can visit her to have a chat and a bar. I save myself from my lesser self, but I don’t feel deprived (deprivation is health death — see Principle Two.)

Basically, create a safety net; don’t give yourself the opportunity to “go there.”

Become aware of your habits; you can’t guard against your lesser being if you’re not aware of your triggers. Journal your food intake and have “mindfulness moments” before eating. Ask, “Why am I eating? Am I hungry? Tired? Bored?” Maybe you always eat while watching TV. Possible solution? Knit instead; keep your hands busy.

One way the past replicates itself is through lack of presence; if you don’t become aware of your thought loops and habits, you will just replicate them.

Live by the equation “awareness + preparation = success!” Know your triggers. Have a plan. Then a back-up plan! Plan doesn’t work? Learn from the experience. Tweak the plan.

Principle Two: Feeling deprived is the kiss of health death

Never replace a “positive” with a negative “have to!”

Find a healthier, yet still enjoyable, substitution, or re-frame the situation.

New habits won’t stick until you figure out what the original habit offered and find a healthier way to get a similar effect

If drinking with friends provides a “social high,” don’t simply state “I am staying home.” If your 3 p.m. treat offers you a moment of peace, don’t just say,”No afternoon treats.” Walk and socialize with friends. Have herbal tea during your afternoon “me” moment.

If you can’t find a healthier substitute, re-frame the new option as a positive.

Instead of being frustrated “having to” have a salad, feel grateful that you “get to” make the choice. Replace “I can’t eat cake,” with, “How lucky am I that I get to eat berries?” This re-framing is empowering since it involves ownership, which helps fight feelings akin to adolescent rebellion; no one likes to feel forced or deprived.

Success

 

Principle Three: Realistic expectations are the seeds of happiness and success

Unhealthy habits were not formed overnight. New healthier habits will not form instantaneously.

Stop setting the bar impossibly high! Give yourself time to establish new patterns.

Set the success bar to an appropriate height. Embrace “little wins.” Expect three weekly workouts, not five. Expect less sugar, not no sugar.

Expecting the impossible, such as overnight success or perfection, simply sets one up for failure. Often it produces a mentality that justifies “snowballing,” where when we deviate even slightly off our impossible course (which is inevitable), we let one small unhealthy choice snowball into multiple unhealthy choices. One cookie turns into five, which turns into a bottle of wine and no workouts for a week. Why wouldn’t we? We have framed the slip as a “failure” rather than an opportunity to analyze our goals, program and expectations.

Let small victories domino into larger victories until all of a sudden you have more healthy habits than last month. Trend positive.

Principle Four: Re-frame “failure” as an “opportunity for growth,” BUT don’t mistake “failure” for simply not trying!

Learn from every experience. Every “fall” is an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. If you overeat or skip a workout, aim to understand why. Did you get too hungry, then scarf down everything in sight? Did you skip a workout because of a lack of advanced planning?

Life is your laboratory. Keep what works. Ditch what doesn’t.

The caveat is, failing and growing is not the same thing as being lazy, sloppy or simply not trying. Don’t justify a “fall” with something akin to, “Kathleen said falling is good.”

You have to care, to learn, to be aware.

Principle Five: Stop finding problems for every solution! Find solutions for every problem

Stop focusing on what you can’t control and what you don’t have. Start focusing on what you do have and what you can control!

If you always focus on what you don’t have and what you can’t control, of course you won’t be successful.

Put another way: stop focusing on if the glass is half empty or half full. Learn how to fill your cup. Take ownership. Take control.

There is always a solution — you just have to be aware enough and care enough to find it!

Can’t get to the gym last minute? Do a 20-minute home interval workout. Missing the gym because of a child’s softball practice? Do squats and lunges on the sidelines. Traveling? Use the band!

Frame every day as your “birthday” — a time to begin again. The day will pass regardless; you may as well do something good (and healthy) with it when you can!

Kathleen Trotter    Personal Trainer             04/10/2018 


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10 Laws of Success That Can Change Your Life

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” – Oscar Wilde

What are the “Laws of Success?” Well, that depends on you. More specifically, it depends on how you think.

“Success” is an ambiguous word for a reason: it means different things to different people. For some, success is wealth. For others, money is nothing else than a tool. Consider Alfred Nobel.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist. He held 355 patents and accumulated vast sums of wealth. When he died in 1896, most people – including his family – were shocked upon learning that he willed the majority of his fortune into a trust. The Nobel Prizes were born.

“Contentment is the only real wealth,” Nobel wrote.

Now, consider Winston Churchill:

Success is not the absence of wealth nor the experience of failure. Winston Churchill, a British statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Now, consider Thomas Edison:

Edison, who was once told that he was “too stupid to learn anything” become perhaps the most prolific innovator in history, said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work!”

Whether Nobel, Churchill or Edison followed any set of laws or “secrets” of success is unknown. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t embody a “greater purpose” that enabled outstanding success.

Cause and effect govern the laws of the Universe. We, as creations of the Universe (be it God, a “Higher Being,” or something else) are also subject to its laws, are we not? Read this quote by Carl Sagan, considered by many to be the greatest astrophysicist who ever lived:

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

 

10 LAWS OF SUCCESS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

1. THE LAW OF ACTION
One common (and grave) misperception of LOA is that thoughts are all we need. This is simply not so.

Jim Carrey, the uber-famous comedic actor, once said to Oprah Winfrey: “I wrote myself a check for ten million dollars for acting services rendered and gave myself three, maybe five years … on Thanksgiving (of) 1995 I found out I was going to make 10 million dollars on ‘Dumb & Dumber’…but you can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”

Nothing is possible without action. “A body in motion will stay in motion, while a body at rest will remain at rest.”

2. THE LAW OF POTENTIALITY

Dr. Deepak Chopra made a commitment that he would allocate “30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening” to meditate. He got to the point where he was so adept at mindfulness meditation that he could, without interaction, “sit silently and watch a sunset…listen to the sound of the ocean…or simply smell the scent of a flower” and it was pure ecstasy.

When we realize the potential of our mind, the possibilities are endless.

3. THE LAW OF VIBRATION
Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the commercial telephone, predicted telepathy a century before neuroscientists even acknowledged the possibility?

“Our brains become magnetized by the thoughts we hold in our minds. These magnets attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize the nature of our dominating thoughts.”

4. THE LAW OF GIVING

Dr. Chopra writes “Today, bring whomever you encounter a gift: a compliment or flower. Gratefully receive gifts.” Wealth is not measured in money, but in affection, appreciation, caring, and love. Some of the poorest people in the world are the richest in heart. It’s all a matter of perspective. Giving, simply put, is as beautiful as it is powerful.

5. THE LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT (KARMA)
As mentioned, nothing is possible without the law of cause and effect. The Universe was “born” from cause (the “Big Bang”) that produced the beautiful planet which now we call our home.

Most scientists attribute the creation of the Universe to an immediate, extraordinary amount of energy (a “singularity”) that birthed the entire cosmos. We too are products of this miraculous event – one of cause and effect. We too possess capabilities just waiting to be acknowledged and discovered.

6. THE LAW OF PURPOSE
Every human being, whether they’ve realized it or not, have a special gift or talent to give. When we consciously direct this purpose to the service of others, humanity will evolve for the better.

If you’ve ever felt the uncomfortable gnawing for you to seek something greater, it’s because you’re meant to find something greater. (This writer has had the exact same experience.)

Do not settle for something that is beneath you. Fulfill your spirit and your destiny by following your heart’s path.

7. THE LAW OF DETACHMENT
On the surface, the word ‘detachment’ may be interpreted as feelings of isolation, or worse, a carefree way of living.

Detachment, in the appropriate context, is explained by Dr. Chopra: “In detachment lies the wisdom of uncertainty … in the wisdom of uncertainty lies the freedom from our past, from the known, which is the PRISON of past conditioning.”

Acceptance, responsibility, and tolerance are foundational to this Universal Law. We’re free to be ourselves and allow others to live as they are. Or, we may cast judgment and proclaim our ignorance. The choice is ours.

8. THE LAW OF INTENTION

Humans possess a remarkable ability to make conceive, construct, and take action on our intentions and desires. “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

Without intention or ambition, we will not achieve our life purpose. With such knowledge, our abilities are nearly limitless. The mind, as demonstrated by Laws of the Universe, is capable of expansion. Need proof? Do this writer a favor and Google ‘neuroplasticity’.

9. THE LAW OF MORALITY
Did you know that homo sapiens are the only species capable of consciously discerning right from wrong? Outliers aside, we possess an “inner voice” that tells us “how” to act in any given situation.

Morality is not some accident. Morality is a journey that will lead to a destination. We’ve, very sadly, witnessed a disproportionate amount of evil in the world. It is fair to say that our race may be on the tipping point.

Will we choose to care for our planet as it has cared for us? Will we allow others to “live and let live?” The Universe, in all its glory, has also experienced a fair share of Chaos. We can – and likely will – weather this storm if we choose right over wrong.

10. THE LAW OF SPIRITUALITY
We are not going to rant about some religious dogma. Even the most ardent “non-believer” does indeed exercise the notion that human beings are spiritual in a sense. How else does one explain things like charity, environmentalism, compassion, selflessness, or sacrifice?

Some (albeit a minority) will attribute these feelings to neurochemical reactions. So be it. We’re not here to judge. But if you consider some of the most influential people to have ever walked this earth – Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, and Muhammed – they all had one thing in common: loving one another and a belief in something greater than ourselves.

In closing…

Success is not gained through wealth, possessions, or power. Success is self-defined. If we, to the best of our abilities, make the conscious decision to follow the Laws set forth since the Universes’ inception, we will always be successful.

Love, Positivity, and Happiness to all of our Dear Readers. Thank you for what you do, and Thank You for your support.

REFERENCES:
HTTP://WWW.CHOPRA.COM/ARTICLES/THE-7-SPIRITUAL-LAWS-OF-SUCCESS#SM.0000BP0LEL39CE4JW0Z12E4X9BJIA
HTTPS://WWW.AMAZON.COM/PROLOGUE-TELEPATHY-ALEXANDER-VIBRATIONAL-FREQUENCY/DP/B00P7DNZHA
HTTPS://WWW.SPACE.COM/25126-BIG-BANG-THEORY.HTML
HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=NPU5BJZLZX0


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Start A New (good) Habit, Kill An Old (bad) One

Odds are, you are trying to break a bad habit or institute a good one right now. As a species, we are impressively committed to self-improvement, and most of us believe that habits are an effective means to that end.

Habits – actions performed with little conscious thought and often unwittingly triggered by external cues – are powerful influences on behavior and can be our greatest allies for positive change. But because they are so difficult to break, habits are also frequent saboteurs of personal progress.

“Habit is a good servant but a bad master” is how author Gretchen Rubin summed it up in her book “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habit of Our Everyday Lives.” Hers was one of three recent books I read back-to-back on the subject of habit formation; the others were Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” and Jeremy Dean’s “Making Habits, Breaking Habits.” Together, they helped me understand more deeply the importance of habit control, how to choose a habit to begin or end, and the mechanics of sticking with it.

The first thing to know, each book explained, is that a lot of our daily actions are so rote, they are automatic. “All our life … is but a mass of habits,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, though a 2006 study put the amount of habitual daily action at 40%. Still, that’s a lot of mindless behavior.

It’s helpful that we don’t need to think about how or when to drink coffee, brush our teeth or drive to work. If we did, we’d waste so much time rethinking or learning those tasks, we’d get little else done.

The whole trick is to get habits to work for you, not against you. Self-control is a limited resource, Dean explains, so a good habit means not having to exert effort every time you need to do the right thing.

Room to grow

The first thing to identify for yourself is the habit you want to work on, whether it’s starting a new (good) one or ending an old (bad) one. That’s a minor distinction, by the way. Eating healthier is eating less junk. Exercising more is being less sedentary. One is often the inverse of another.

This step requires some honest self-evaluation. What is not working in your life? What personality flaws are holding you back? Where is there room to do better?

We know what many of the most common areas of improvement are, at least when it comes to making resolutions. People want to lose weight, eat better, be more mindful, spend money more wisely, sleep better and improve relationships. By eliminating bad habits and starting new ones, you can succeed in most of these areas.

One helpful checklist frequently used for goal-setting is the acronym SMART, created by economic theorist Peter Drucker. Effective resolutions, research has shown, are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Before finishing the first book (Dean’s, which is the most prescriptive and research- and science-based), I decided on two habits to work on myself. The first was to be more present and mindful with my kids. The second was to stop seeking out and consuming free, non-nutritious food at work. One was a good habit to start, the other a bad habit to quit.

Rubin, who approaches the topic personally and looks for specific techniques that work for her, recommends starting a habit at the same time as a big turning point such as pregnancy, marriage, a medical diagnosis, a family death, an anniversary, a long trip or a new year.

Repeal and replace your behavior

The consensus among these books is that the most effective way to adopt a habit is to replace a bad one with a better one. Dean’s metaphor is to think of habits as well-worn rivers of action that flow out of the predictable path of your routine. Often, the most effective way to stop it flowing in harmful directions is not by damming it but by diverting it. For example, many people stop smoking by chewing gum.

The point is that bad habits die hard, and as with riding a bike, your brain never stops learning how to do them.

So it’s easier to think about any habit formation, even new “good” ones, in terms of replacing unwanted behavior. That made sense for my snacking at work. I started buying healthy yet still delicious snacks to keep there: yogurt instead of morning doughnuts, dried papaya instead of chocolate, sweetened rice cakes instead of stale leftover doughnuts. A supply of healthy snack options kept me on a new course of action that largely followed the old eating habit pattern.

To be more mindful with my kids, I needed to avoid the opposite behaviors, such as checking my work phone or planning activities while with them so I could focus on their needs and thoughts.
Duhigg explains that habit “reversal therapy” is a legitimate technique used for things like tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as predilections such as gambling, smoking and bed-wetting.

It’s important to make a distinction between a bad habit and addiction, however, even if the behaviors seem to overlap. Addiction requires greater intervention than habit hacking.

Dean describes the hallmarks of addiction as not being in control and not being aware of time/energy spent on the behavior. People with addictions are preoccupied with soothing a craving and needing more and more to get the same effect, as well as suffering withdrawal without it.

Unlike bad habits, addictions eat away at important activities such as relationships and work. They tend to be an escape from normal life and are often hidden from others.

The wonderful thing about triggers

We like to think we have free will in every situation, but many of our actions are predictably triggered by external situations. And if those events are part of your daily or weekly routine, our Pavlovian tendencies become ingrained. Pajamas are on: Time to floss and brush. Cup of coffee in hand: Time to dunk a doughnut. Beer finished: Let’s have a cigarette. But triggers can also be feelings, such as stress or boredom.

Being aware of your triggers is the first step in learning how to keep them from sabotaging you and make them work for you instead. Is there a certain time of day or task when you crave a treat? What do you always do when you feel stress (go for a run or go for a drink)? What is your bedtime ritual to let your brain know it’s time to sleep?

You can help create conditions to avoid triggers, but not fully. If the trigger is deeply ingrained, maybe going back years, it will sabotage you when your guard is down. For these situations, you need contingencies. Dean calls them “If … then …” plans. When trigger X happens, I won’t do bad habit Y, as I usually do, but I will replace it with much healthier Z action.

My favorite example of effective trigger planning is Starbucks, a company that puts a higher premium on customer service than on the (habit-fueled) products it sells. Duhigg, who prefers Malcom Gladwell-esque case studies for his book, explains that the chain’s baristas are well trained on what to do when something goes wrong, such as a messed-up order that angers a customer.

Rather than improvise or consider options in those moments, they practice rapid responses – such as apologizing and offering a replacement drink for free – until it’s second nature.

You likewise need to have a plan for when a strong, perhaps rare, trigger threatens your winning habit streak. Ordinarily, I can avoid eating cupcakes at work, but what’s my plan when I’ve skipped lunch, it’s late afternoon, I have some onerous task that would be made more enjoyable with a treat, and the cupcake is filled with peanut butter?

66 is the magic number

According to one study cited by Dean and Rubin, it takes 66 days of doing something to convert it to a habit. However, that number varies depending on the person and activity. For example, it took those participating in the study less than 20 days to habitualize drinking a glass of water every day, 60 days for eating fruit with lunch and more then 84 days to make 50 sit-ups a daily habit. Some habits could take a year to form. But 66 days is a good target.

I avoided work snacking and improved my capacity for parental mindfulness for 66 days straight. Or rather, I diligently monitored these habits over 66 days, because another pillar of successful habit formation is tracking. Even something as subjective as “be more present with my kids” can be numerically self-scored every evening.

And another pro tip of habit-making (or replacing) is accountability. Tell other people. Share on social media (unless social media is the habit you’re changing). Ask your friends and family to support the effort. Getting others involved, or even just aware, makes it harder for you to give it up. And others’ support can be inspiring and helpful.

Treat yo’self: rewards

Unlike tracking and accountability, incentives are a debatable strategy. Duhigg believes that they are central to the exercise, because habits are reward-based. Rubin concludes that external rewards take you away from internalizing the right motivation behind your new habit.

For me, rewards have been pivotal. Five years ago, I took off 25 pounds and have kept it off by establishing an elaborate reward system.

If you do treat yourself for keeping a habit, make sure it’s not self-defeating. You may not want to reward, say, avoiding doughnuts by indulging in a half-gallon of ice cream.

And that’s one to grow on

At the end of 66 days, I stopped tracking my new habits and found that they had largely stuck. When I came home from work, seeing the faces of my daughters was the trigger to remind me to give them my undivided focus. I rarely (instead of automatically) checked my phone for work updates, and I put off my personal agenda items until after bedtime. And I replaced workplace snacking with my private stash of more nutritious snacks: same trigger, but alternate behavior at much fewer calories.

The real test though, is time. More than six months have passed since my 66 days of daily tracking, and I’m still doing a solid job on mindful parenting. I have occasionally slipped on the work snacking, though. I wouldn’t say I’ve failed at it, because I’m building up a new long-term habit muscle for healthy snacking, and I ate a lot less junk food than I would have without trying.

Rubin would call it “stumbling,” and we should accept that it happens in the habit game. Stumbling is not a reason to quit trying.

You may want to read one of the habit books, too. The three overlap and support each other, but my personal preference was for Rubin’s, largely because I feel a kinship with her love of life-hacking, introspection and applied psychology.

She’s the author of the bestselling “The Happiness Project” and wrote this new book, she explained, after concluding that habits were the best means to actually achieve happiness.

But I’ll give the last word to the wise Ben Franklin, whose advice would make all these books unnecessary. ” ‘Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them,” he wrote.

By David G. Allan, CNN       January 5, 2018
 
This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness.
The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. 
You can follow David at @davidgallan
 
source: www.cnn.com


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Why ‘2-minute Mornings’ Might Be More Effective Than New Year’s Resolutions

A fool-proof way of sticking to your New Year’s resolution

Author Neil Pasricha takes us through new ways to cultivate happiness and success in 2018.

Neil Pasricha would like to see the end of New Year’s resolutions.

The motivational speaker and bestselling author of “The Book of Awesome” and “The Happiness Equation” says the problem with resolutions is that they tend to be vague and are thus doomed to fail.

“I don’t think resolutions work. I know they don’t work from the research, and I don’t think they’re doing us much good because if you start a resolution and you fail, you just feel worse about yourself,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday.

The reason that most New Year’s resolutions fail is that they are just goals, not specific plans of action, Pasricha believes. What we need instead are systems that will force us to change our bad behaviours and create new habits.

“Systems beat goals every time,” Pasricha said, and added that if we truly want change, we have to force ourselves to change.

“So if you want to lose 10 pounds, maybe sell your car and walk to work. Now you have no car, so the system is, how will you get to work?” he explained. Any plan that regiments us into new habits will eventually force a shift in behaviour, he said.

One change in habits that Pasricha recently developed for himself is what he calls “two-minute mornings.” Every morning, Pasricha forces himself to take two minutes and “invest” them into reflection and planning out the rest of his day.

“The way I look at it is we are awake for about 1,000 minutes a day. My challenge for myself is to take two minutes to make the other 998 more effective, more productive and more positive,” he explained.

During those two minutes, he forces himself to write out the answers to three prompts: one for looking back; one for being mindful of the right now; and one to look ahead to what’s next. They are:

“I will let go of…”
“I am grateful for…”
“I will focus on…”

The first prompt is a time for some unloading of stress and guilt and a little self-forgiveness– not unlike what Catholics engage in when they step into a confessional.

“We all carry around anxieties and stresses. All of us do. If you think you don’t, you’re lying,” Pasricha said.

By reflecting on what needs to be let go, we can unload some of the stress we needlessly place on ourselves, and perhaps stop comparing ourselves to unfair standards.

The next prompt is designed to move away from guilt, stress and negativity and place the focus on all the things that are good about our lives right now.

Even though we live in a time of great abundance, with longer lifespans than ever, more technology, advanced health care, and less warfare, we’re more stressed and anxious than ever, Pasricha said. By focusing on what we’re grateful for, we can remind ourselves how lucky we are.

“If you focus on the positive, you’ll keep looking for it every day,” Pasricha said.

Finally, he said it’s important to set three small, achievable goals a day. Things such as: calling or emailing a friend; going for an evening walk; being friendly with cashiers and asking them about their day.

The aim is to create bite-sized goals that you then check off as accomplishments at the end of the day

“Take the endless list of things you could do, and narrow it down to three things you will do that day,” Pasricha advised.

Angela Mulholland, Staff writer   @AngeMulholland     December 27, 2017
 


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How to Stop Projecting

These tips can help you stop projecting your less-flattering traits onto other people.

Expert Source: Psychotherapist and clinical psychologist Joseph Burgo, PhD, author of Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives.

Cranky existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, “Hell is other people,” and we’ve all felt this way from time to time. Especially when the snide comments of a coworker, a friend’s constant complaining, or our sister’s endless bossiness annoy us to distraction. If only they would change, we think, we’d find some peace.

We’re often wrong about that. In a process psychologists call projection, we attribute traits we dislike in ourselves to other people. Then those people drive us crazy when they remind us of qualities that we’re trying to suppress.

“Parts of ourselves don’t simply disappear when we disown them,” explains psychotherapist Joseph Burgo, PhD, author of Why Do I Do That?

Shouting “I could never be like that!” in response to an annoying person helps deflect attention from the part of us that is actually like that. And even if the other person renounces his or her unpleasant behavior forevermore, someone else will come along and trip that trigger — at least until we accept that we’re rejecting it in ourselves. This process is part of what Burgo calls our “innate tendency toward integration.”

Learning to identify projection, Burgo says, is enough to stop it in its tracks — and prevent it from harming our relationships. He offers some tips on how to get a handle on this sneaky psychological defense mechanism.

Challenges to Overcome
• Ego. We tend to believe we’re mostly perfect, which has its drawbacks. “When we encounter something that challenges this idealized view of ourselves,” Burgo says, “we’re much more likely to blame it on other people than to own it.”

• Lack of awareness. The projection response is largely unconscious, he notes. Until we notice its signs in our mind and body — physical tension, mental obsession — we’ll be unaware that we’re doing it.

• Psychic resistance. The whole point of projection is to offload feelings that we don’t want to feel — usually aggression, sadness, shame — onto others. So, it’s natural that we resist owning up to our feelings and the role we are playing in a difficult relationship. “We’re not particularly interested in taking back the projections because they’re painful,” he says.

• Habit. If we’ve been projecting for years onto a person or group, the pattern may be so ingrained that it operates like a “built-in defense,” says Burgo.

• Exhaustion. We’re more likely to project our feelings onto others when we’re tired, tense, stressed, or feeling rundown.

• Our real shortcomings. “There are always ways in which we fall short,” Burgo notes, “so trying to maintain a sense of self-worth can be challenging. It’s much easier to blame other people than to struggle with our own feelings of shame or disappointment.”

• The real shortcomings of others. The people who bug us are not perfect either; they may well be displaying antisocial or inappropriate behavior. Distinguishing the difference between our “stuff” and theirs isn’t easy.

• Dehumanization. When we project, says Burgo, we turn the other person into a symbol: the Bossy Jerk or the Needy Wreck. “They become a personification of the thing you’re getting rid of. Rather than being a whole person with whom you might be able to empathize, they become a kind of caricature.”

Strategies for Success
• Notice preoccupation. Projection has characteristics that distinguish it from mere irritation, says Burgo, and chief among these is an “inability to let go of our focus on the other person.” This comes with intense feelings and a conviction that you are not like that person or group at all. “It’s a kind of mental blaming and self-justification that can go on and on and on.”

• Look inward. Projection is, by definition, a turning outward. The first step in overcoming it, he says, is to make the shift to self-awareness. Take stock of how you’re feeling, how you’re breathing, and so on. This will help interrupt your obsessive focus on the “problem” person and redirect your attention to where it can do some good.

• Calm yourself. “Focus on your breathing to stop the word-chatter in your head that’s justifying the projections,” Burgo advises. Take a few breaths in on a count of four, and exhale on a count of eight. This is a simple and effective way to settle yourself down.

• Notice your body. When he senses he may be projecting, Burgo does a body scan, checking “my back and shoulders where I carry tension, around my eyes where I register fatigue and sadness, in my belly where I feel hunger and other kinds of longing.” He suggests noticing these sensations without trying to explain them in relation to someone else — which can be challenging.

• Get real. Burgo acknowledges that difficult people may well possess the same negative traits you disavow in yourself. “We often project into reality, meaning that if we’re a very critical person, we’ll project it onto someone who actually is critical,” he explains. “But they’re not only critical, and you need to try to see them in their full humanity. And if they are truly toxic, you need to shield yourself from them rather than making use of them to disown parts of yourself you don’t like.”

• Trade places with the other. Burgo suggests asking yourself, “How would I feel if I knew somebody else was thinking about me the way I’m thinking about X or Y?” This can help convert the other person from a symbol of what you don’t like (in yourself!) into a human being who, like you, is probably just doing the best he or she can.

This originally appeared as “Own Up” in the September 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Jon Spayde is an Experience Life contributing editor.

BY JON SPAYDE | SEPTEMBER 2017