By: Katarina Gaborova
Have you experienced your favorite gym at the beginning of January? It’s busy, very crowded and you can hear people talking about their new training program as a part of their New Year’s resolution. That is not surprising because getting fitter and losing weight belongs to the two most popular New year’s resolutions. Starting anything new and keeping it up requires a couple of crucial skills. One of them is, to have a precise strategy (on what, how, and a specific time line) that we can execute the intended plan. The other, is to continuously exercise our will power. A gym seems like a great place to test both. Wouldn’t you agree? Now, go back to that same gym towards the end of December and you’ll find out that it became somewhat empty.
What happens to us in between all of those months? And how is it possible that according to Richard Wiseman, the professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at Hertfordshire University, only 12 % of us are able to stick to the desired, set goals. In his research, the remaining eighty-eight percent of a sample of 3000 people did not achieve what they originally planned to, despite of the fact that more than a half of them were very confident of succeeding.
I am pretty sure that most of us have been there, at some point of our lives. We may have made that decision to start a new year with an intention of a healthier life style, less smoking, or finally unpacking that last moving box. Especially since it has already been 3 years since our last relocation! Something happens and we fall right back into the old, familiar tracks.
What can be the biggest challenge? …
We, human beings are creatures of our habit. As a matter of fact, our every day lives are run by them, 40% of the time. We get so set in our old patterns that many activities become a rooted automatic process for our brain. Starting anything out of “the ordinary” requires us to interrupt these old patterns and exchange them for the new ones. In general, we are great with coming up with ideas. However, keeping them or fully accomplishing them is more challenging, as it literally physiologically costs us more energy.
How to increase our own success rate of the personal goals? The best thing about creating a better self is that we do not need to wait until the beginning of the year. Let us utilize some of the scientific findings for our benefits:
Firstly, and foremost, today is the day to start ….
Here is how:
- Take a pen or a pencil and divide an A4 page into three columns. The first one would describe your “actual self” (how you see yourself currently as a person). The second one will include your “ought self” (as a representation of how others or yourself judges you ought to be). In the third column you can depict your ideal self (how you wish ideally to be). This idea was based on Self-discrepancy theory, which states that “people are generally motivated to reduce the gap in disparity between these different internalized parts of self”. Thus, our “ideal self” motivates us the most towards the desired change.
- You may have planned a few personal goals now.However, even if you plan a few goals, focus and apply only one of them at the same time. Here is a physiological explanation why. Our brain area of the pre-frontal cortex (situated behind the forehead) has been linked to the will-power. Focusing on two many changes at once has been found to put a constraint on this particular area of the brain. Thus, affecting decision making, regulation of emotions, creating thinking and they are all really important for our motivation. Almost like, if we are too overwhelmed, we are less likely to change anything at all. Because our will-power gets blocked. And a lack of a will-power is the number one reason for not keeping up the intended goal, according to a survey by American Psychological Association.
- Speaking of motivation, once we have a chosen goalwe need to utilize a specific, achievable strategy with a designated time table. For example, scheduling a particular exercise plan (aerobics of 45 -60 min) on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays or as prescribed by a personal trainer. The more detailed strategy covering the dates, time, duration, intensity etc., the more likely we are going to stick to the plan.
- Practicing the goals or sub-goals regularly, if possible even every day, will turn the new activity into a habit. Not to mention, that we will improve tremendouslyat whatever we are doing. Here is how it works. Any routine behaviors (like driving a car, combing a hair) gets embedded in the more unconscious area of our brain, at the base of forebrain, called basal ganglia. This region is responsible for our habits, routines, and automatic responses. If we would like to bring on any new change, we need our conscious thinking (pre-frontal cortex) override the unconscious activity. This can be done by focusing consciously on the new tasks and practice them over and over again until they finally become automatized.
- Using visualization of achieving the goal successfully and applying as many visual, auditory, tactile etc. details as possible. For example, imagine that your goal is to improve your public speaking. Therefore, practice visualizing giving a speech in front of a very large audience. See yourself delivering the speech competently. Hear yourself speaking, your audience clapping, feel the pride as you are done with it. As I mentioned, we are stuck in the old ways, and as soon as we are applying any change, our brain is programmed to view it as a sort of a “threat”. Which may cause a rise of a stress hormone (cortisol). The blood gets drawn away from the prefrontal cortex further affecting our will-power. However, our visualization serves almost like a practice and as you know, the more we practice the more comfortable we start to feel.
- Getting supportfrom those around us like the family, friends along the way. If we tell to someone what we would like to change we are more likely to stand behind our word. A support can also motivate us during the tough times, just in case we are considering to give up. Recording the progress may inspire us some more.
So, cheers to a New Year and please remember- time for the resolutions is now and every day…..
By Katarina Gaborova
Before I moved to the Netherlands I lived in warm climates. My friends knew that I loved the sun so they couldn’t understand what could I possibly do in a country full of wind, rain and grey skies? Well, a few years back, one innocent April, I joined a friend to Scheveningen beach. It was 20 degrees Celsius and sunny. Dutch people were walking around and excitingly commenting on how warm it was. To my surprise, some people even brought a chair out and soaked in the sun, sitting half naked in their tiny front gardens. I thought to myself, “It’s not that bad. This country is actually quite fun. What on earth were my friends back home talking about?”
It all hit me a few days later as the skies turned grey. Suddenly the country got cold and the wind was blowing so strong that I couldn’t possibly keep the hair out of my mouth. Okay, I got my friends’ message! After that, everything seemed so gloomy.
How had I gone so quickly from a positive to negative outlook? Many of us expats and immigrants regularly experience such amazing shifts in our new country. We face various struggles and pitfalls: the language barrier; lack of physical and emotional support; living far from our roots, the known, loved ones, or from everything built by previous generations. Add to the equation peoples’ other general challenges like having the flu, helping the children manage busy schedules, keeping the household duties organized, cooking, etc., and there you are, having a day or two when you can’t help but think about what you miss tremendously or notice everything that saddens you.
On top of that, we have been given the evolutionary capacity to emphasize the negative rather than the positive (known as negativity bias). It is our inborn critical survival skill to be aware of and to avoid danger. Did you know that negative experiences or the fear of them has a greater impact on us compared to positive experiences? Or that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by negative news as opposed to the positive? Then it will also not surprise you that, according to a prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky), we make choices primarily based on avoiding losses rather than on gains.
Luckily, we can get around it. We can train our mind to consciously start focusing on the positives in our environment. It takes practice and effort but the result is surely worth it.
Shifting to the positive
Try one or all of these tricks to help shift your attitude:
- Write in your journal for a week about how much you are complaining and what annoys you the most. See for yourself whether anything can be changed or improved immediately. Complaining is venting; however, it may also focus attention to the negatives. Replacing one negative thought with three to five positive ones helps to compensate. , you may have just started studying Dutch. You may feel embarrassed to speak this new language, fearing that others will make fun of you. Encourage yourself with statements like: “I am brave to learn a new language; I am improving my cognitive abilities; I can pull myself out of my comfort zone and my confidence grows every time I do so.”
- End each day by exercising appreciation. Write down at least three positive experiences and spend two minutes describing them in detail. Such as a surprise from a friend, enjoying your puppy on the sofa, or a smile that came your way.
- Do something nice for others. Random acts of kindness give a sense of belonging, and nurture our mirror neurons (which ‘mirror’ the behaviour of others). By making others happy, you become happier too.
Now, if there is a grey sky, rain or wind or you are put to the test to see how fast you can climb out of yet another hole, pause for a moment. Look at the scenario as a challenge rather than a hardship. Even though you may not find a solution immediately, you certainly have the power to find the silver lining.
Almost everyone knows that stress is “bad” for us. Although, biologically speaking it has a very important function to prepare us to perform, to stimulate, or even motivate us. No matter how much we try to fight it, it is way too often a general part of our every day life. We just may not be aware of it.
Did you for example know… that we may feel stressed even though we are involved in activities that are perceived to be “positive” ? Such as partying, our own wedding, having a new and exciting addition to our family etc. It is because stress is characterised as a mental or emotional state, related to strain and tension due to novel or highly demanding circumstances.
Here is the good news though, the recent research shows that stress as such is not as damaging as it once was thought to be. It’s mostly our own thoughts and believing that stress can eventually “kill us”.
So, next time when you feel the pressure, you may benefit from evaluating your thoughts. See the reasons behind your actions. Observe the fascinating way your body prepares you for your next big challenge. Note that whatever your body is doing, it is amazingly helping you to cope. And in case, that it gets too uncomfortable, there are many ways how you can support yourself. Just as an inspiration, I will list a few suggestions how to become a better friend of the stressful part of yourself:
1.) First of all, coming from the holistic point of view –we can not possibly function mentally if we are not taking the best possible care of our body physically. So, as a start you may want to eat healthy and nutritious meals. Here is an idea how to battle some of that stress with food.
2.) Drink enough water (to be on a safe side try to drink approximately 2 liters per day).
3.) Exercise regularly (minimum 3 times per week, for at least 30 minutes each time. I would suggest an aerobic exercises in order to increase your heart rate). It is also a great way to release some endorphines or so called “happy hormones). So you will end up being fit, happy and stress free. How great is that?
4.) Sit down, define and mark down stressors in your life and try to either alter them or avoid them.
5.) Schedule some fun activities and if you can, do it with people whom you love spending your valuable time with. You may end up laughing a lot. Laughing therapy is a great energiser, pain reliever and yes it does remove some stress levels.
6.) To increase a physical relaxation, get a full body massage at least once a month.
7.) It has also been repeatedly shown how important it is to be aware of positive psychology .The main focus is on positive emotions, thoughts, and our strengths instead of our weaknesses. One way how you can train your mind is to focus on what you already have. Be thankful for that (practice appreciation). Instead of searching and telling yourself what is wrong with you or what you are still missing.
8.) Accepting certain things may also release some accumulated pressure rather than feeling like not having a control. Of course you may want to use this as a last resort after you have tried to change them. This may also include letting go of anger and practicing some forgiveness. And for that we have meditation or mindfulness techniques.
Try it and please feel free to let us know if the above suggestions helped you to change something.
Sometimes people ask me “what is life coaching?” When working with life coach, you will find out that he/she works as a facilitator. In the client/coach relationship the client is an expert of their own life. Coach provides new skills, techniques and motivates the client to achieve specific goals. This approach is quite different from psychotherapy. Mostly, because in coaching, the main focus is on solutions and not on the problems. In coaching you predominantly focus on the point right now and from this point forward. This is not to belittle the fact that you may have developed certain behaviours or patterns based on your previous experiences in life. Which may also be briefly explored in the sessions with the goal of learning from these experiences, and use whatever was useful or change whatever was perceived as limiting and get a fresh new start to shape the future.
Please watch this short video that explains life coaching in more details. Once you enjoyed it and you would like to know more or set an appointment please feel free to contact me. I offer private coaching sessions online, on the phone or in my office.
This short video talks about Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). NLP offers a set of various tools that can contribute to change of specific behaviours quickly and easily. This can be done by examining person’s structure of subjectivity. We can teach our clients new ways how to re-program and bring a change also on a neurological level.
Please watch this short video that explains Neuro-linguistic programming in more details. Once you enjoyed it and you would like to know more or set an appointment please feel free to contact me. I offer private coaching sessions online, on the phone or in my office.
This video and emotional freedom techniques (EFT) were created by Mr Gary Craig. Emotional Freedom Techniques is a form of counselling intervention that combines various theories of alternative medicine including acupuncture, neuro-linguistic programming, energy medicine and thought field therapy.
Please watch this short video that explains Emotional freedom techniques in more details. Once you enjoyed it and you would like to know more or set an appointment please feel free to contact me. I offer private coaching sessions online, on the phone or in my office.