4 Connections

Reading time: about 7 minutes.

Everything's connected

Our actions, emotions, physical sensations and thoughts are all connected.

For example, if I have a pain in my chest, I might wonder if I’m having a heart attack. As I begin to think more about this, I notice that I’m beginning to feel scared, which makes me feel more tense and a little shaky.

My hands might begin to tremble, so I might try to tense my muscles to stop myself shaking. This makes me even more tense, which leads to pain in my muscles. I begin to sweat and take fast, shallow breaths.

This convinces me there’s something seriously wrong; it convinces me that I’m about to have a heart attack, though the end result is more likely to be a panic attack.

The good news is that as my behaviour, emotions, physical sensations and thoughts are all connected, if I change one of them, I change them all.

What we notice.

When we’re anxious, we tend to do two things.

  1. We focus more on our problems and challenges, and
  2. We tend not to remember times when we’ve been successful.

When we’re stressed, we have a kind of tunnel vision, we focus more on our problems. This is natural, and is supposed to help us deal better with our challenges.

Unfortunately it doesn’t help much when we’ve a lot of things to do, and can just make us feel saturated with our problems.

When we’re anxious memory works differently. We find it difficult to remember our strengths, the things we’re proud of, and the times when we’ve dealt well with problems.

It’s important to remember that when we’re anxious we underestimate our strengths. It’s not so much that we can’t cope. The problem is more that we feel we can’t.

Our experience of strong emotions and unpleasant body sensations, convinces us that we’re not coping, which makes us feel worse.

Remember our thoughts and emotions are not facts. They’re interpretations.

It’s not all that long ago that people believed the world was flat. Early explorers were afraid they would fall off the edge of the Earth. This stopped people venturing too far. The belief that we can’t cope is our modern-day flat earth, and has much the same effect.

It’s hard enough to be brave, and to face up to the things we’re afraid of, without telling ourselves that we’re weak, or that we can’t cope.

Strengths.

The symptoms of anxiety are influenced by three types of thoughts:

  1. The way we think about ourselves.
  2. The way we think about other people.
  3. The way we think about the situation we’re in.

Try this simple exercise. Off the top of your head, complete the following three sentences. Just say the first thing that comes to mind:

  1. I am.
  2. Other people are.
  3. Life is.

Consider for a moment. What effect do you think these thoughts might have? What emotions are we likely to feel if we believe the thoughts we’ve written above?

For example, what emotions would likely stem from the following beliefs?

  1. I am … rubbish.
  2. Other people are … better than me.
  3. Life is … pointless.

Now what emotions would most likely stem from the following beliefs?

  1. I am … as good as anyone.
  2. Other people are … no better than me.
  3. Life is … largely what we make it.

Some beliefs are more helpful to us than others. What we believe influences our mood and our outlook.

What we believe about ourselves affects not only how we feel, but also the things we do. Why should we bother looking after ourselves, if we don’t think we’re worth the effort, or if we think life is pointless?

Let’s take a look at some healthy, and some less-healthy, behaviours.

Some things we do improve our health. Some of the things that can increase our health and wellbeing include:

  1. Doing things which give us a sense of mastery or pleasure.
  2. Exercising.
  3. Eating healthily.
  4. Spending time with people who help us feel good about ourselves.

Some things that can reduce our health and wellbeing include:

  1. Worrying instead of solving problems. Our problems mount up, and we don’t get a sense of achievement from solving them.
  2. Avoiding challenging situations, which can make our fears grow.
  3. Paying too much attention to people who reduce our self-esteem.


What things do you do that make you feel better? Make a note of them below.

We all have thoughts and opinions about what we feel, what we think, and about what we do.

An important question is, do these thoughts help, or hinder us? Consider the following statements, and mark how true they feel for you today. There are no right or wrong answers.

I don’t think I will ever feel any better.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

Although it may take time, I can change how I feel. I know my feelings can change, because I haven’t always felt like I do today.

Everything is hopeless. I don’t see the point in anything any more.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I can change my thinking. I haven’t always thought about things the way I do now, I can recall a time when I was more optimistic.

I don’t think there’s anything I can do.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I can start to do things differently straight away. I don’t need to feel differently before I do something. A small change is a step in the right direction.

I can’t cope.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I’ve got this far and have dealt with some horrible feelings. I am still here, and can remember and think about better times, when I didn’t feel so bad.

Can you think of any other positive thoughts, things you might say to yourself when you start to notice thoughts that hold you back?

Make a note of them below.

People connected

Noticing the positive.

During the coming week, notice a time when you feel just a little bit better. This may be a time when you notice that your physical, feeling, or thinking symptoms are just a tiny bit better than usual.

The difference may only be small, but there are always times when we feel just that little bit better.

If you’re struggling to think of a time, ask someone you trust and who knows you well for some help. When you have thought of a time, write it down in detail below.


The date and time I felt a little better.

What was I doing?

Alone or with someone?

On a scale of 1-10, What was my discomfort score before?

On a scale of 1-10, What was my discomfort score after?

What seemed to cause the change?

Remember.

By changing what I think, or by changing what I do, I can change how I feel.

Next – coming soon.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 17 December 2017.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: July 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 84.

3 Awareness

Reading time: about 4 minutes.

We can suffer from anxiety without realising it!

It’s easy to mistake the symptoms of anxiety for those of a physical illness, while some physical illnesses produce symptoms that can be hard to tell apart from anxiety. That’s why it’s important to check with a health professional, to make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by something physical before starting this Programme.

Anxiety can have many causes. Among these are stress due to work, time pressures, money worries and relationship problems. The things that provoke anxiety are called “triggers”. Knowing what these triggers are, and how we react to them, can help us overcome anxiety. While panic and anxiety can arise suddenly, there are often signs such as an event, a memory, an emotion, a physical sensation, or a thought that appears a fraction of a second before symptoms arise.

These memories, feelings, or thoughts can happen so fast that we don’t notice them. It can help to slow down and pay attention to what’s happening, so we can find out more about our triggers.

When we understand what causes our symptoms, we take a step closer to overcoming them.Awareness

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows different levels of awareness as lines 1, 2, and 3. The area above line 1 is our conscious mind. A lot is happening below line 1, but only the small part of the blue area above the line  enters our awareness. If we’re able to quieten the mind, shown as line 2, more information enters our awareness. If we were able to quieten our minds further, to line 3, much more information would be available to the conscious mind.

Quietening the mind can help us identify more of the things that trigger our anxiety. When we’re stressed or anxious, it’s only natural to want to “feel less”. We feel the urge to suppress difficult feelings. However, trying to do so doesn’t work, and just makes us more tense and stressed.

It’s better to have a kind of detached curiosity, where we acknowledge our emotions and sensations, before letting our attention move naturally elsewhere. We intensify what we notice, so focusing on unpleasant or difficult sensations, emotions, or thoughts, just makes them stronger.

Imagine trying to listen to one instrument playing in an orchestra. The best way is to quieten the rest of the orchestra, until we’re able to attend to the one instrument we’re interested in. Identifying the triggers for our anxiety is similar. Quietening the mind helps us identify the things that trigger our anxiety symptoms, so we have more options as to how to respond.

Fight, flight and freeze.

Dinosaur
The changes that happen in the body when we’re anxious help us to cope with danger, and prepare us for “fight, flight, or freeze”. That is, we become ready to take on whatever is threatening us, to run away from it, or to hide. These changes happen very quickly, as a hormone called adrenaline is released into the bloodstream. Adrenaline produces many of the unpleasant sensations associated with anxiety, such as a racing heart, sweating, breathing fast and muscle tension.

Becoming aware.

Imagine you’re out for a walk, when you suddenly come face-to-face with a scary dinosaur! It starts to move towards you, slowly at first. It’s mouth opens, then it starts to run. How would you feel? What would you notice happening to your body? What thoughts would be going through your mind?

Think about and record below what you’d think and feel.

 

Of course, a fast and powerful reaction would be in order. Adrenaline helps us run faster, so we don’t end up as a dinosaur’s dinner!

This is all well and good, but there aren’t any dinosaurs around today. Yet the parts of the brain responsible for our life-saving responses, are much as they were many thousands of years ago.

Here’s a list of common anxiety symptoms:

  • Behaviour – trembling, running away, hyper-alertness, restlessness, tiring easily.
  • Emotions – fear, panic.
  • Sensations – muscle tension, physical pain, rapid and shallow breathing, fast heartbeat.
  • Thoughts – “I can’t deal with this”, “This will be awful”, “I have to get away”, “I’m going mad”, “I’m going to die”, continual worry, mind going blank.

Try this now. What anxiety symptoms do you have? Make a note of them below.

 

Next – Connections.

 


 

Written by: SC.
Written on: 17 December 2017.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: July 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 65.

2 Understanding

Reading time: about 3 minutes.

Understanding Anxiety.

The symptoms of stress and anxiety can be very upsetting, and can stop us from doing the things we might otherwise enjoy, though anxiety only really becomes a problem when it’s out of proportion to the situation, or when it goes on for too long.

About one person in ten will consult a doctor at some time because they’re feeling anxious. It’s also very common for people with anxiety symptoms to feel low, or depressed, for some of the time.

Although it is extremely unpleasant, even severe anxiety doesn’t kill us. We don’t drop down dead of anxiety. It doesn’t cause us any immediate physical or mental harm, although, like stress, it’s much healthier for us to manage stress and anxiety, rather than to be “keyed up” all the time.

Anxiety can make our lives miserable when it gets out of control. One of the problems with stress, and anxiety, is that it can make us more worried and more preoccupied about our symptoms, which only makes matters worse – a “vicious circle.”

We can very easily become stressed and anxious about feeling stressed and anxious!

In figure 1 (below) we see how an unpleasant thought, emotion, or physical sensation can begin a vicious circle, leading to unpleasant physical symptoms like a fast or irregular heartbeat, pains in the chest and difficulty breathing.

These symptoms lead to further stress and worry, when we misinterpret them as signs of something serious; maybe we fear we’re having a heart attack, which of course makes us even more worried, stressed and anxious.

This makes us pay more attention to our symptoms, which makes them worse … and so the cycle goes round and round, until we make our anxiety so bad that we may have a panic attack.

Anxiety Cycle

Figure 1.

Will this help?

When we feel like this, it’s very easy and understandable to become pessimistic about the future. Many people think there’s no hope for them, that they will always feel awful.

It’s especially difficult if our anxiety seems senseless, when we seem to feel anxious about “everything” or about “nothing,” or when anxiety attacks just seem to come “out of the blue”.

When we’re pessimistic about the future we might not see the point in doing things. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we think there’s not much point in doing something, why should we try?

How hard we try is linked to how to be successful we’re likely to be. The more effort we put in, the more benefit we’re likely to feel!

Do you think this programme will help?

How hopeful am I?

Make a note of how hopeful you feel that the programme will help. Score from 1 for “not at all hopeful”, to 10 for “extremely hopeful.”

Do you think your level of confidence will affect how much effort you put in?

Do you think the amount of effort you put in, will affect how much benefit you will get from the programme?

Next – Awareness.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 69.

1 Introduction

Reading time: about 4 minutes.

Introduction.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear; not absence of fear.”

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910).

Anxiety.

Some people call anxiety a mild or a minor disorder. However, for those people who have experienced the distress caused by anxiety, this probably feels far from accurate.

We’re all familiar with stress and with anxiety. It can help us focus and provides us with the “get up and go” to get things done.

It’s normal to feel anxious sometimes, for example before an interview or an exam. Normal anxiety only becomes a problem when it becomes so intense, or when it happens so often that it stops us dealing with day-to-day things.

For example, does stress or anxiety:

  • Make you worry or feel bad about yourself?
  • Stop you enjoying things?
  • Prevent you from being more effective at work?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, this Programme could be for you.

Anxiety and stress.

We feel stressed when we don’t feel able to meet the demands made of us. Stress tends to add up over time, so it’s common to find ourselves becoming stressed over things we used to take in our stride.

Stress affects us all, a little helps keep us “on our toes.” It help us stay alert and effective. Too much stress and we can become tense, irritable, and unable to concentrate. The more complex the task, or the less familiar we are with it; the more stress affects our ability to work effectively (figure 1).

When we’re stressed we can begin to blow things out of proportion, we become less able to solve problems, and can have problems remembering things. Too much stress over a long period can make us ill, as well as more prone to anxiety and depression, as well as a range of physical health problems.

We’re all different, so what stresses one person might not bother another person at all. Quite often, other people realise we’re stressed before we do.

It’s very important to learn to manage stress if we are to stay healthy.

Yerkes-Dodson Curve

Figure 1.

Anxiety and shame

If we suffer from stress or anxiety it’s very easy to feel ashamed, especially if our symptoms make us feel different from others. A lack of understanding from other people can make us feel much more ashamed of our fears.

The difference between the seemingly trivial trigger, and the extreme fear it can produce, can make it hard for people to understand and sympathise. It’s no wonder we try to conceal our fears.

People can make us feel worse by:

  • Avoiding us.
  • Being angry with us.
  • Thinking of us as weak.
  • Blaming us.

Being alone with anxiety.

Shame stops us talking about our problems, leads us to cut ourselves off from other people, and makes us become preoccupied with ourselves and our symptoms (figure 2).

Some people with stress and anxiety complain of physical illness, headaches and palpitations, or tiredness, rather than acknowledge their fear to others. Severe anxiety makes us feel were going mad. The physical symptoms of stress and anxiety are very real, and can be very distressing.

Anxiety Cycle

Figure 2.

What can we do?

It’s impossible to get rid of anxiety completely. We’re always going to come across things that make us anxious from time to time. What’s important is that we learn to manage our anxiety, so that it doesn’t take over our lives and make us miserable. To do this, we need an understanding of what anxiety is, how it affects us, and how we can better manage it.

This programme can help with understanding, and with the practical things which can help us manage stress and anxiety. We will introduce you to some new approaches, to help manage the thoughts, feelings, and physical symptoms which accompany stress and anxiety.

We hope you enjoy the Programme and find it useful!

Next – Understanding.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 72.

Habits and Chains

Reading time: about 2 minutes.

Positive habits.

If setting goals is so useful, how come we don’t do it?

Setting goals can leave some people feeling trapped, especially if it feels they’re pushing themselves to do something they’re not sure about. Also, we might feel worse if we don’t achieve our goals.

If you feel reluctant to set goals, you could always focus on the way you get things done instead.

For example, if we want to lose weight, we can set a weight loss goal, or we can work to establish healthier habits. Either could bring the results we want.

For weight loss, relevant habits might be:

  • Buying more vegetables.
  • Eating out less.
  • Eating fruit instead of sweets.
  • Walking for 15 minutes each day.

If we want to be more fit, rather than setting goals of distance, weight or repetitions, focus on strengthening the habit of taking regular exercise.

Don’t break the chain.

We can make healthy habits easier by starting a chain. Take a printed calendar and place it where you’ll see it every day. Keep a marker pen with the calendar.

Each day on which you do your healthy behaviour, mark a tick on your calendar.

Seeing your success each day, and the desire not to break the chain, can be powerful motivators.

Another way to use chaining is to chain one habit after another. For example, getting out of bed is followed by stretching exercises, which is followed by brushing teeth, which is followed by identifying your top three priorities for the day … and so on.

Making healthy behaviours into habits helps us get them done with a minimum of effort, reducing the cognitive load, or the “thinking work” we have to do to get something done.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 72.

Setting Useful Goals

Reading time: about 4 minutes.


We can all get better at setting goals. Here’s a quick guide to setting goals that are genuinely helpful.

Write goals down.

When we write our goals down, we can “tick off” the ones we’ve achieved. This gives a confidence boost when we look back at the things we’ve done.

Make goals specific.

A good goal should specify what you’ll do, when, where, why, with whom, and how. A good goal is not vague, it goes into detail.

Use simple language.

Although your goal should be specific, don’t use long words. The simpler, the better. Ask yourself: “could an average six year-old understand this?”

Make goals positive and active.

Write goals in positive language. Avoid words such as “stop,” and “reduce.” Where a goal is to do less of something, it’s better to say what you’ll do more of instead.

For example, it’s better to set a goal to “take more exercise” than a goal to “smoke less.” When we think about stopping smoking, we make a mental image of the very thing we’re trying to reduce. Remember, we tend to intensify what we notice.

Make sure goals are achievable.

We can’t make other people change. We might put pressure on them, and try to support or encourage them to change, but at the end of the day we can only change ourselves.

Is your goal achievable for you, given the amount of time, energy, money, resources and motivation you have? A goal you can’t realistically achieve may make you miserable!

Make goals measurable.

How will you know when you have achieved your goal? Describe what people will see or hear when you’ve achieved your goal. If your goal isn’t measurable, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?

“Feeling different” goals aren’t much use. If you set a goal to “be happier,” how happy is happy enough? The goal is too vague.

Set time limits.

Choose a time during the day when you’ll work towards your goals, as well as a time by when you’ll have achieved them. Some people work best early in the morning, some later in the day.

Break up large tasks into more manageable pieces, and think whether these might actually be goals in themselves.

Visualise your goals.

Play your goals through your mind like a film. Make it as real as possible. As you think about having achieved your goal, enjoy any good feelings as though you’ve already succeeded. Acclimatise yourself to success!

Learn from others.

If you know someone with a similar goal, what can you learn from the way they go about things? Can you talk to them? Search out people, or books, or websites, that are positive, optimistic and inspirational.

Rewards.

What’s in this for you? What are the benefits of achieving this goal?

The goals we’re doing because we feel we “should” or “ought,” or to please someone else, are often much harder to stick with.

Chunk down.

Break your goal down into smaller goals if you can. This way, you can enjoy a sense of achievement each time you achieve one of them. Build your confidence with early successes at smaller goals.

Turn your goals into a “to-do” list.

For example, break down a goal of losing 5Kg in a year, to a “mini-goal” of losing 0.2Kg this month.

Breaking the mini-goal down may mean you have fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch and a low-calorie supper.

If you haven’t achieved a mini-goal, all that needs to be re-done is one mini-goal, not the whole diet. This can help stop us getting upset and giving up.

Remember SMART goals are:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Achievable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time-bound.

Try this now. Think about a personal change you want to make. Make a note of it here, by typing in the following boxes.
My SMART goal.

I want to have achieved this by (date)

My mini-goals.

My task list (things I need to do, include “if – then” statements).

I’ll know I’ve achieved my goal when:

I might fail by / if:

To reduce the chance of failure, I will:

To keep motivated I will:

Next – Habits and Chains.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 84.

Implementation Intentions

Reading time: about 5 minutes.

Hillman Imp - a blast from the past!

What are IMPS?

Implementation intentions were introduced by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer. We’ll call them “IMPS.”

An IMP is simply an “if – then” plan.

If “X” happens, then I will do “Y.”

IMPS are more effective than willpower alone, because when faced with temptation, willpower eventually runs out.

A goal identifies what you want to achieve, for example, to take more exercise. IMPS also specify exactly what you’ll do to achieve that goal, for example:

“When my alarm goes off at 6 o’clock each morning, I will have a shower, then I’ll run up and down stairs 10 times.”

Set your own IMPS.

There are two things to think about when setting IMPS:

  1. Identify what you’ll do to achieve your goal, and when you’ll do it
  2. Identify any obstacles, and how you’ll deal with them

IMPS are written as an “if – then” statement:

If it’s 6 o’clock, Monday through Friday, then I will get up, go to the bathroom, use the toilet and shower, then run up and down stairs ten times before I do anything else.”

Goal shielding.

It’s a good idea to identify any problems that could push you off course.

Once you’ve identified these problems, you can create an “if – then” statement to deal with each one.

For example, suppose you’re trying to lose weight, but you’ve struggled with these three situations:

  1. By mid-afternoon you feel tired, so you pop out to buy crisps.
  2. When you feel stressed, you overeat.
  3. They only sell unhealthy snacks in your local shops.

In order to shield your goals, you can create “if – then” statements, for example:

  • If I’m at the office, then I’ll take fruit to eat in the middle of the afternoon.
  • If I’m feeling stressed, then I’ll go for a walk, or talk to a friend.
  • If I think I might have to buy food at lunchtime, then I’ll take sandwiches to work.

When to use IMPS.

  1. You set a goal, but don’t start it. You may need help with action initiation.
  2. You set a goal, start it, but get distracted. You may need help with keeping focused.

Can’t get started?

This happens for three main reasons: forgetting stuff, missing opportunities, and having second thoughts.

  1. Forgetting – you want to get your money under control, decide to keep hold of all your receipts, but you forget to keep them.
  2. Missed opportunities – you want to read a novel every month, so carry a book around with you. While waiting for an appointment, you miss the opportunity to read, and pick up an old waiting room magazines instead.
  3. Second thoughts – you decide to walk a mile each day. You plan to walk, but it looks like rain, so put your feet up instead.

Getting distracted?

This happens for three main reasons: temptations, old habits, and bad moods.

  1. Temptations – you set the goal of losing weight, you see a cake shop, you’re tempted, you go in, you buy a cake.
  2. Old habits – you want to stop smoking, and you tend to smoke after drinking with friends. While at a friend’s house, they offer you a cigarette. You smoke it almost without noticing.
  3. Bad moods – we tend to prioritise “mood repair” above our other goals. You’re saving for a holiday, you have an argument with your partner, you blow the money on a treat for yourself.

 Have you done any of these things? You can use “if – then” statements to help shield your goals.

Good and bad IMPS.

Make sure your IMPS are specific. Avoid vague IMPS like these:

  • If I want to smoke, then I’ll distract myself by doing something else. It’s better to be to be specific about how you’ll distract yourself.
  • If it’s morning, then I’ll exercise. It’s better to be specific about what you’ll do, the time and the day.

Here are some examples of good IMPS:

Goal – Keep track of my spending.

IMP – If I take out my wallet to pay for something, then I’ll keep the receipt in my wallet, then I’ll take out a notebook and jot down how much I’ve spent.

Goal – Lose weight.

IMP – If I’m walking down the street and I see a cake shop, then I’ll cross the road and keep walking.

Goal – Save money.

IMP – If I’m at the bank, then I will make a deposit in my savings account, however small.

Goal – Relax.

IMP – If I feel myself getting angry or upset, then I will take a deep breath, count to twenty, and distract myself.

Goal – Read a good book.

IMP – If I have some waiting time, whether it’s waiting for the dentist, or waiting to pick up my kids, then I will take out my book and start reading.

Conclusion.

With implementation intentions, you’re planning the actual things you’ll do to achieve your goals, as well as when and where you’ll do these things. You’re also creating a plan about how you’ll maintain progress, even when faced with obstacles.

Research shows IMPS are much more effective than willpower alone.

Before you go, why not write down some IMPS, maybe an “If – then” statement about how you can keep your progress going with this Programme, when faced with obstacles or distractions.

For more information, read: Gollwitzer, P. M., Wieber, F., Meyers, A. L., & McCrea, S. M. (2010). How to maximize implementation intention effects. In C. R. Agnew, D. E. Carlston, W. G. Graziano, J. R. Kelly (Eds.). Then a miracle occurs: Focusing on behavior in social psychological theory and research (pp.137-161). New York: Oxford Press.

Next – Setting Useful Goals.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 81.

Identifying Goals

Reading time: about 4 minutes.

Urgent is not the same as important.

Do you feel you’re working hard but not achieving much? Maybe you’re confusing “urgent” with “important” tasks.

Dwight Eisenhower said: “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

An urgent task needs attention right away. Important tasks count towards our personal goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but often they’re not.

Take a look at the following Eisenhower Matrix:

Eisenhower Matrix

DO FIRST.

Tasks that are both urgent and important.

Some things are both urgent, and important. They need immediate attention and count towards our personal goals.

  • Some emails – maybe a job offer, or a new opportunity.
  • Exam deadlines.
  • Bill payments.
  • Car repairs.

We need to crack on with these “DO FIRST” tasks. Instead of waiting to the last minute, schedule these tasks in advance.

We can often reduce the number of “urgent and important” jobs by using a diary, and by thoughtful planning.

Do the worst, first.

When we’ve a list of things to do, it’s often best to do the hardest or nastiest job first.

Mark Twain said that if we eat a frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse was likely to happen to us that day.

If we get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first, it’s easier to look forward to the rest of the day, rather than dreading the jobs to come.

PLAN.

Jobs that aren’t urgent, but are important.

These tasks may not have a pressing deadline, but they help achieve our overall goals.

They might involve improving relationships, future planning, and self-improvement; for example:

  • Exercise.
  • Family time.
  • Learning.
  • Hobbies.
  • Meditation.
  • Budgeting.

These important things can add to our happiness, fulfilment and success.

Often, we focus on whatever seems urgent at the time, while we hope to get the important stuff done later. The trouble is, the urgent stuff tends to “crowd out” the important stuff, leaving us busy but feeling like we’re not really getting anywhere.

DELEGATE or DECLINE.

Urgent but unimportant tasks.

These tasks need attention straight away, but usually don’t help us achieve our goals or mission. Sometimes, they involve helping other people meet their goals and priorities, for example:

  • Phone calls.
  • Text messages.
  • Most emails.
  • Favours for friends.
  • People dropping in.

These might be “feel good” tasks. They can often make us popular!

They might feel important, but mostly we’re doing things that are important for other people, rather than for ourselves.

In the long run this can make us resentful. We might need to learn to say “no,” or learn to delegate better.

DROP.

Tasks that are neither urgent, nor important.

These are our distractions, for example:

  • Watching TV.
  • Surfing the internet.
  • Playing video games.
  • Social media.

These can help us reduce stress, so we shouldn’t get rid of them completely, but make sure we don’t devote too much time to them. They won’t make us happy or satisfied in the long run.

Identify a list of things you have to do, think about your goals and create your own Eisenhower Matrix below.

Things I need to DO now, that are both urgent and important.

Things that aren’t urgent, but that are personally important to me – PLAN.

Urgent, but unimportant tasks – DELEGATE or DECLINE.

Things that are neither urgent, nor important – DROP.

Next – Imps.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 75.

Understanding Change

Reading time: about 3 minutes.

Scrolling road image

Change can be hard.

Change is rarely straightforward. Thinking it’s going to be easy can lead to frustration, if it turns out to be harder than we thought.

Don’t despair if you don’t make the same progress every day. It’s probably better to think that change might take a lot of effort. That way we can prepare ourselves for any tough times ahead.

Change is not linear.

When a plane is on autopilot, it doesn’t travel from A to B in a straight line. The autopilot makes adjustments to the course, so the journey is more like the wavy line below:

Aircraft path

Like an aircraft, we change by making small adjustments to our path. Overall, we can move towards our goal, even if it doesn’t seem that way from moment to moment.

Are you ready?

Take a look at the diagram below …

Change cycle

Stage 1.

When we’re at stage one, we haven’t thought much about change. We might be fairly comfortable with the way things are.

Stage 2.

People at stage two are thinking about change. They feel less comfortable than those at stage one. Maybe they know there’s a problem, but think things can’t change. They might think the problem isn’t worth dealing with, or tell themselves there’s nothing they can do about it.

Stage 3.

People at stage three have made a decision. They might have made plans or set goals. We usually feel better when we have a plan.

Stage 4.

We get busy. We work on our goals.

Stage 5.

Change gets easier, and our confidence grows. Feelings of well-being increase.

Stage 6.

There’s no guarantee of success, something goes wrong. Life is about setbacks as well as successes. But we don’t give up.

Stage 7.

We build on the gains we’ve made. We learn to become more resilient, more “stable under stress.”

Of course, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. One day we can feel determined, like we’re at stage three. The next day something happens, and we can feel like we’re back at stage one again.

It’s normal to feel uncertain about change; we might switch between good and bad days many times before we reach our goal.

Remember.

Change is often harder than we think.

Some days are worse than others.

Do not let failure put you off.

Keep your goals in mind.

Notice the good things.

Stay optimistic.

For more information, read: Prochaska, J. O., & Norcross, J. C. (2002). Stages of change. In J. C. Norcross (Ed.), Psychotherapy relationships that work (303-313). New York: Oxford University Press.

Next – Identifying Goals.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 85.

Goals and Commitment

Reading time: about 3 minutes.

Picture of football goal

Why goals?

When we focus on our goals, we focus less on our problems. This helps us feel more positive and gives us more energy. Goals provide something to aim for, and allow us to measure our success.

We intensify what we notice.

When we turn our attention inwards, we risk making our sensations and emotions stronger, because attention intensifies experience.

When we focus the mind on sorrow and pain, we risk intensifying those feelings. When we focus on our goals, and on our strengths and well-being, we strengthen those positive feelings instead.

Do I need goals?

Having goals doesn’t work for everyone. Some people find it more helpful to focus on WHY they do things, rather than on where they want to be. Others prefer to work by principles. They find it more useful to focus on HOW they’re doing things.

For some, identifying positive habits; small positive behaviours repeated each day, feels more helpful.

If you’re the kind of person who finds goals useful, and you want to get better at goal-setting, you’ve come to the right place!

Commitment.

Sometimes we’re ready, willing, and able to change. Other times we’re just thinking about it. Sometimes we’re not convinced change is needed, or whether change is possible.

Think about what you’re prepared to put into your goals. Think about how committed you feel to setting goals right now, then score your commitment from 1 to 10.

A score of 1 means:

“I’m not going to put much into it, but I’ll give it a go.”

A score of 10 means:

“I’m prepared to do whatever it takes, no matter what.”

Choose a number to show how committed you feel today. Don’t think about it too much, just make a note of it below.

Think about your score if it’s very low, or if there’s a difference between what it is, and what you think it ought to be.

As a general rule, the more energy you put into change, the more you’ll achieve.

What could you do, or what would have to happen, to increase your “commitment” score by just one point? Make a note of your answer below.

Next – Understanding Change.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 77.