It is that time of the year again when we dust ourselves off from the year that was and start to focus on the year that will be. Goodbye to the year that took with it the irreplaceable David Bowie, hello 2017.
There is a natural tendency to aim big. Like, REALLY BIG, when we set our goals for the year. And why wouldn’t we? That’s what we are shown is rewarded by society. If you tried to add up all of the TV shows that are based around amazing transformations, you’d get bored before you ran out of shows to tally.
The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeovers, The Block. All hinged on dramatic changes.
The thing about big goals is that they take a lot of motivation. With a head full of steam as you embark on making your New Year’s resolution a reality, you might get through a few weeks before the excitement fades and you drift back towards old habits. Have you ever found that happening? Each year around this time you find yourself setting a similar resolution to last year?
That’s not always the case and I am all for aiming high. But it does tend to reduce the likelihood of following through. In one study I read it suggests that only 8% of people who make resolutions succeed in keeping them.
In 2002, Dr Norcross from the University of Scranton found that 25% of people did not keep their resolutions past one week.
One of the reasons we struggle to keep our hoped-for new behaviours is that we become obsessed with achieving the goal quickly. So we focus on the goal and see that as the sole prize. If the prize takes longer rather sooner to achieve, we tend to lose interest and see our actions as a failure. This mindset quickly derails us and we fall back into familiar patterns of behaviour.
So this year how about you slightly shift your approach? Instead of thinking about losing 15kg (or 20 or 30), focus on becoming the type of person you want to be – someone who is determined, someone who is healthy – and what that looks like as a daily process.
Why? Because your life and the path you follow is essentially the sum of your daily habits.
The most common mistake that people make is to zone in on an event or specific result, rather than putting time into establishing routines.
Here are 3 key steps to making this shift.
1. Aim for Small Consistencies Rather Than a Massive Occasionally
Dream big, but start small.
A professor at Standford University, BJ Fogg, is a master at creating new behaviours through tiny habits. Last time I checked, you can register and do a 5-day session (via email) of the Tiny Habits Program (a program that he developed).
BJ Fogg has found simple to be very powerful. And the best way to start is when your new behaviour meets these criteria:
This is the key to establishing a new, lasting habit in your life. You can expand the habit in later weeks (for example, going from flossing one tooth to all of your teeth). But to begin with, the emphasis is on simplicity.
“After I brush, I will floss one tooth”.
“After I walk out the door to let the dog out, I will look up at the sky”.
“After I pour my morning coffee, I will take 2 mindful breaths”.
“After I wake up and put my feet on the floor, I will do one push-up”.
There are two things to notice about these examples.
One, they are so simple you need next to no motivation to be able to get them done. The easier the behaviour, the less you need to rely on motivation. What’s wrong with motivation? Well, it is not that reliable and can go up and down as easily as the weather changes in the sky. Plus, it often takes a lot of work to sustain motivation.
Two, look at how they are written. They start with an existing habit and end with the new behaviour that you want. This leads me to step 2.
2. The Habit Formula
Small changes in behaviour work best when they are designed to be on a schedule – they come after an existing habit. In this sense, you can use your existing habit as your reminder to practice your new desired action.
BJ Fogg's formula (or recipe as he calls it) for establishing new habits goes a little something like this…
Something you do repeatedly already - followed by the new habit you want to create.
What could be a more reliable cue for a new behaviour than an old habit that you do every day?
Try this – make a list of everything you do in your day, day-in, day-out (for example, get out of bed, brush my teeth, pour a glass of water, go to the toilet).
These are going to make up your new anchor points. Once you have your list, go through it and see which daily behaviour best matches your new desired habit. Want to floss? Use brushing your teeth as a trigger. Want to take a daily probiotic? When you pour your first drink of the morning is the place to start.
Now, when considering the new behaviour, it is important that it matches a quality or way of life that resonates with you.
For me, 2016 has been a year where I have struggled at times to slow down. My mind has often been filled with many, many, many tabs like you see on your internet explorer moments before it freezes or crashes.
So the new habits I am working on currently encourage me to slow down.
After I put the kettle on the stove, I will take 5 slow, mindful breaths.
After I let my dog out to go to the toilet at night, I will look up at the sky.
After I put my son to bed, I will do one yoga sun salutation.
Simple. And relevant to me.
Choose actions that reflect the kind of person you want to be. If future-you looks back on 2017 in 12 months-time, what kind of qualities would make you proud and alive?
3. Reward Yourself
There is a simple 3-step pattern that every habit follows.
Each time you do your new behaviour, it is super important that you celebrate your success. You could say to yourself “I am awesome!”, “what a legend!”, “winning!” or whatever.
This might sound a bit silly or over-the-top, but it works. You need to feel good about what you are doing for it to stick. By developing the ability to give yourself a pat on the back, it makes you want to repeat the small behaviour again and again.
The 3-step pattern of cue, behaviour and reward wasn’t taken off of the back of a cereal box. It has been repeatedly proven over time through scientific experiments to be true. You can see it in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit (he calls it the “Habit Loop”) and even look back in history to the Russian Physiologist Ivan Pavlov and his classical conditioning.
The bottom line is this – rewards are critical for a behaviour to continue. Sure, you will hopefully get a pay-off from the actual behaviour itself (being more mindful, doing more push-ups, taking your dog for a walk). But initially, your own cheer squad is going to be the best place to start.
When declaring victory, there are actually two moments where this is important. The most obvious one is right after you do the behaviour. Common sense tells you that.
The other is when you actually remember to do the behaviour.
When you put the kettle on the stove and remember now is the time to take your two mindful breaths – BOOM! Celebration time. Time for a little dance. Do your best to stir up feelings of awesomeness – practice different phrases, internal versus external dialogue, images and see which ones bring about the greatest sense of accomplishment.
With these ideas, you are now well-equipped to make changes in your life and establish habits for the long-term. Remember that knowledge is useless without action. If you have a goal that really matters to you, now is the time to make it a reality and put it into action. A little step at at time adds up very quickly.
Start small, remember that behaviour change is a skill that you can develop through these steps, and smile. Life doesn’t have to be serious all the time.
“Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive”.
- Van Wilder.
Cheers to good health and happiness,
There are many things that I am enjoying about being a parent: watching my son grow, learning to sit and then crawl, walk and now run, saying words for the first time, looking at the world through his eyes with a sense of wonder at the smallest and most innocuous things like a clothes peg or piece of string that has blown onto the lawn from who-knows-where.
I have to say that there are also many things that I am looking forward to as a parent: watching him learn how to read, kicking a soccer ball and having his first crush. There is one thing that I know is likely to come along, something that will be sure to push my buttons particularly on days when I am tired.
The whys… “Why is the sky blue?”, “why can’t men have babies?” or “why don’t crabs have eyebrows?”. Why why why why why!
But there is something in this for us adults. We have stopped asking about the why as much as we used to and instead tend to nod our heads and go with the flow.
“You should exercise more”… “ok”.
“You should eat less sugar”… “ok”.
“You should recycle your garbage”… “ok”.
“Meditate for 10 minutes a day”… “ok”.
The why’s are really important. You see, the more we understand something, the more likely we are to engage with it and create new habits. Through understanding we know what we are trying to achieve beneath the surface, which makes the act of doing it way cooler and more rewarding.
For example, magazines, TV, newspapers, the dude at the coffee shop with tattoos up his arm – they all tell you that daily mediation is like drinking water or going to the toilet – it is vital for your survival. But why? Well, check out the research. Dr Amishi Jha argues that at least 12 minutes a day strengthens our attention and working memory. And those clever cats at Harvard have been able to prove a link between brain plasticity and mediation. Through daily meditation practice, you can play an active role in changing your brain and increasing your well-being. Meditation literally rebuilds your brains grey matter in just eight weeks.
Doesn’t knowing that make meditation more appealing? Rather than just being told to meditate by the magazines at the Woolworths checkout because Lara Bingle does?
See. The why is totally powerful.
So let’s check out a ‘why’ for today.
“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Sound familiar? This guy called Shakespeare came up with it and placed it in a little play called Hamlet.
But what does it mean? And why does thinking something good or bad make it so?
Well, I’d like to introduce you to the Cognitive Behavioural Model.
This diagram depicts how emotions, thoughts, and behaviours all influence each other. It is the behind-the-scenes mechanics for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and can be a useful tool for stepping back from a situation and observing your own experience in terms of these interactions.
If you are getting caught up in thoughts of not being a good enough dad, employee, partner, then you are going to feel bad. Guilty. Worthless. Sad. And what happens when you feel like this? You might withdraw, spend more time by yourself, talk less, do less work because you feel lethargic. Before you know it, your thoughts are really going to be kicking you in the guts. Now I really am worthless! A terrible friend or parent.
But if you think you are doing an ok job as a parent or partner, that you make time to be present when you get home from work, you’re more likely to feel content, perhaps even happy. Which gives you more energy, so behaviourally you are more likely to spend more time being the person you want to be. Walking the dog, cooking dinner or bathing your son.
At the end of the day you are the same person, but your thoughts have influenced the pattern of moods and behaviours.
So why is this helpful I hear you ask? It’s helpful because you can target any of those areas – your thoughts, feelings, behaviours – and start the spiral back upwards if needed.
Feeling sad? Do something behaviourally that makes you happy. Watch Zoolander or listen to David Bowie.
Thinking you are a lazy dad? Take your daughter down to the local park this afternoon. In that moment you might start to think that you’re a somewhat engaging dad. Which will have a positive impact on your mood.
This is also where mindfulness or the ability to notice your thoughts as thoughts comes in handy. If you can start to change your relationship with your thoughts (try prefixing a particularly troublesome thought with “I notice I am having the thought that…” and see what happens) you can take some of the influential power out of it. Which can lessen the associated uncomfortable feelings and open you up to do something more helpful behaviourally.
Perhaps Shakespeare could have written “nothing is either good or bad, but holding on tightly to your thoughts makes it so”… meh, it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. That’s just something you’ll have to think in your head whenever you hear that quote.
So now you know a ‘why’ that can be really helpful. Why do I do something that used to make me happy, even if it doesn’t now or I find it hard to motivate myself to do it? Because it can start the ball rolling on new thoughts and feelings which can begin to make it easier to do those things.
Why should I learn to notice my thoughts? Because it can lessen their consuming strength and therefore reduce the scale of pain or discomfort (you might still feel anxious or sad, but perhaps a 4/10 rather than an 8/10, which is waaay easier to deal with).
Try it out for yourself – when you catch yourself feeling unhappy or lost, check out the cognitive behavioural diagram and see if you can find the links – what were you just thinking or doing? What could you do differently to turn the cycle around?
As always, have a great week ahead being the human you want to be.
PS I've had some great feedback about the online meditation course. If you've thought about trying out meditation before, check out the details HERE.
The amount of times I have heard people say to me “I’ve just never felt like I am bad enough to see a psychologist”. Struggling in silence for years because there “are people heaps worse than me out there”. Not wanting to bother those around them with their troubles or worries.
Despite some great awareness campaigns out there such as ‘R U OK? Day’ we still hesitate to talk about what is going on in our lives. This brings to mind two things that I want to share with you.
ONE: anytime is a good time to talk.
Let me say that again: anytime is a good time to talk. Whether you meet the diagnostic criteria for depression (which we will get to in a sec) or not – talking helps. It can be useful for gaining a better understanding of your situation, it can help you feel supported and assist you in processing what is happening in your head.
When you get out of your head and talk aloud, you can begin to feel less trapped in a cage.
Still don’t believe me? Then try this: depression is an illness that can get worse if left untreated.
Remember that everyone feels sad or down sometimes, especially during tough times. Feeling sad or upset is a normal reaction to difficult situations. Talking about it can help you move on rather than letting these feelings linger and end up impacting the quality of your life.
Anyone who tells you it is a sign of weakness is full of it. In fact, there is nothing but strength in opening up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It takes courage to be willing to experience whatever comes with talking to someone. To be willing to feel fear of judgement and anxiety. Charging towards these emotions rather than running from them.
If you don’t have someone in your life that you can go to, reach out to the supports around you. There are Men’s Sheds, GPs (who can refer you to a psychologist, some of whom bulk bill), online help (such as Beyond Blue), LIFELINE (13 11 14), apps (such as Mind Compass by the Black Dog Institute), the list goes on. You can also jump in with the barefoot community and get some useful info straight into your mailbox (click here).
TWO: empower yourself with education.
Like many things in life, the more you know about it the less overwhelming it can seem. It can also help to normalise what you are going through and help you to deal with your experience in an optimal way.
This ties into another question I often get asked: “How do I know if I am depressed?”
Ok. Are you ready?
To begin with, there is a chance that you or someone you know is experiencing depression. A 20% chance actually, as depression affects one in five Australians.
While those who meet a diagnosis of depression need support, I want to add a little caveat here:
I think the people who just fly below the radar, who just miss the criteria and yet still experience the swings in negative mood and emptiness, who for the most part bounce back rather spontaneously, make up a part of our communities who miss out. This is a group who go along thinking they are not bad enough to reach out. The guys and girls who live with transient depression (my term for it).
Because it tends to pass on its own, there is less emphasis on learning skills to be proactive rather than using the passage of time as their go-to strategy. I want to connect with these individuals, hold you kindly by the shoulders and gently say “Talk about it. Chat with a friend. Get it out of your head”. The ideas that can help someone who has been diagnosed with depression will absolutely help you reconnect with your life and rekindle some joy. Some hope.
Ok, where were we? Ah-ha! That’s right – what is depression…
While we all have the capacity to feel sad or low (which is still a good time to talk, remember?), but depression is more than this. People with depression can have these overwhelming and often intense feelings for weeks, months and even years.
From a traditional clinical point of view, a Major Depression diagnosis relies on someone having a depressed mood and / or a loss of interest in daily activities for more than two weeks. They also need to meet five (or more) of the following criteria during that period of time: significant weight loss or weight gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, poor concentration or indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Phew. That’s a mouthful. But we are getting there.
When breaking this down even further, current trends in models of depression suggest that there are three subtypes: psychotic, melancholic and non-melancholic depression.
Psychotic depression makes up about 1% of those with clinical depression. This is characterised by a severe depressed mood, psychomotor disturbance (think retardation or agitation) and psychotic features (such as delusions and hallucinations).
This is an extremely severe form of depression, with research suggesting effective treatments are physical and biological (think antidepressants and Electroconvulsive Therapy in some cases).
Melancholic depression makes up about 9% of those diagnosed with depression. For these individuals you would be experiencing a severely depressed mood and psychomotor disturbances (but no psychotic features).
If this is you, anti-depressants are usually required here (although the range of effectiveness for different ones tends to be very wide). Unfortunately psycho-therapy and counselling are not appropriate as stand-alone therapies in melancholic depression, although they can be used in addition to medication.
Finally, non-melancholic depression makes up the remaining 90%. Clearly the majority of people diagnosed with depression fall into this category. Here you would notice you have a depressed mood that lasts more than two weeks and is affecting your ability to function in important areas of life such as work or at home. No psychomotor disturbances or psychotic features are evident here.
The good news is that psycho-therapy and counselling can be used as the primary treatment therapy here (and this is where the transient depressed group can share strategies). Talking about your situation, gaining perspective, problem-solving, reframing the way you think, noticing your thoughts, planning for enjoyable activities, regular exercise, nutrition, improving the quality of your relationships, connection with values and matching actions…. The list goes on and on.
So how do I do this? An important step is to find a psychologist or counsellor that you click with. Just as you find there are some people in your day-to-day life you get along with, it’s the same with finding a therapist. Take your time to find someone you like. Check out their website, listen for word of mouth ideas, look around. If you don’t get along – say so and move on. It is your life, you know?
There is also plenty really cool research out there around the effectiveness of a regular mindfulness practice in managing depression (and preventing relapse). Did you know that they have discovered that mental training practices such as mindful meditations can actually change our brains both functionally and structurally? Think about how awesome that is – we can actually use our own minds to change our brains! What is even cooler is that research is showing that those changes can help to cultivate a greater resilience to stress and worries in our lives. If you want to try out a mindful meditation for yourself, subscribe to our mailing list and I’ll send a 10 minute mindful meditation with yours truly. That way you can dip your toe in a give it a go for yourself.
So in summary:
If you think you’re not bad enough to talk with someone, then that is actually a cue for you to talk with someone.
And if you notice any of the symptoms listed above, guess what? It means there are many other people out there like you who are going through tough times. You’re not alone and it’s important to reach out. And there are things you can do to get back on track. Now you know what signs to look out for so you can get in early and cut off depression at the pass. Remember, it is like a skin cancer – the earlier you get it treated the better the outcome.
What's with the lama?" I hear you thinking. Well I'm glad you asked!
You may or may not know that Psychology Week is fast approaching. From the 6-12th of November to be exact. It is an annual initiative to increase public awareness of how psychology can help people and communities lead healthier, happier and more meaningful lives.
This year, the APS (Australian Psychological Society) is introducing the 'Compass for Life'. A campaign that will help Australians measure and improve their happiness and wellbeing by promoting 'Ways To Thrive'.
It's pretty cool actually - during Psychology Week a campaign page (www.compassforlife.org.au) will go live. It'll allow Australians to measure their own wellbeing, happiness and life satisfaction by taking the survey at that website.
Which brings me to our happy Lama. The survey tool is based on the understanding that there are five pillars underpinning psychological wellbeing and happiness - positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. Otherwise known as PERMA.
Which makes me think of hairstyles (perms), funny animals and as it turns out - a cool smiling lama with dreadlocks.
I'm currently reading "I am Pilgrim" by Terry Hayes and wanted to share a passage that is one of those simple yet wonderful tales with a moral idea woven into it. It goes a little something like this.
Do you know how villagers catch monkeys? They chain a ewer - a vase with a narrow neck and a bulbous bottom - to the base of a tree.
They fill the bottom with nuts and whatever else the monkey likes to eat.
In the night, a monkey climbs out of the trees and slips his hand down the long neck. He grabs the sweets and his hand makes a fist.
With his fist clenched it's too big to get back up the narrow neck, and he's trapped. In the morning the villagers come round and hit him on the head.
I like the grounded theme: if you want to be free, all you have to do is let go.
For those playing at home - this photo was taken on a trip through Croatia (this is in Zagreb).
Cecil, 94, farmer, horseman, State Ploughman Champion five times running - he stopped competing when he overheard someone say "there's no point competing if old Cecil does", from then on he switched to teaching others to work Clydesdales.
A true family man with 9 kids, 22 grandkids, 27 great grandkids and 2 great great grandkids.
Cecil cleared the land for his farm in 1951, using his big Clydesdale mare and a drag saw. At one point he was milking 308 cattle, twice a day.
He recalls the day he first got into rough riding (breaking in young horses that had never been saddled or ridden): "This giant of a man called Neil Campbell said 'it's Cec's turn on this fella'. And I said 'no way'. And he said 'well you either get on him or my boot'. And I looked at his boot which was about 18 inches long and about that wide and I said 'well, I'll have the horse!'. Stories for days.
After that day it was a challenge he relished, getting a green horse to a stage it worked well. "You'd put the horse in the biggest paddock you could find, just climb aboard and let him rip, and hope to god you'd stay on before you hit a fence". Wow.
Scott: Any struggles right now?
Cecil: Life is frustrating these days. My mind is firing but my body keeps me from doing the things I love. Last week I had a hip operation. The nurses don't seem to mind this cheeky old bugger... it's easy to get a bite.
Scott: What makes you happy?
Cecil: Having my family around me... seeing my kids and grandkids happy. I don't want material things or travel, I love to be home.
Scott: What is something you'd like to do before you die?
Cecil: Right now I want to get out of bed and walk properly. Somebody's got to feed the chooks.
Scott: How do you want to be remembered?
Cecil: As a giving person. Someone who makes time for others and helps them. Look out for those around you, that's what life is about. It's what I've always done and what I'll always do.
Scott: What advice would you give others?
Cecil: Never judge a book by it's cover... always give people a chance, discover who they are inside and out. Be a good listener and never judge without good reason.
Cecil is an extraordinary example of a golden era, a loveable mix of larrikin and gentleman. An amazing man.
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