How to Take Charge of Your Life

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Post on 17-Feb-2016




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How to Take Charge of Your Life




Psychologist Alice Haddon's five tips for keeping on track with New Year changes


Image: Yu Tsai for Harper's Bazaar

Many a good resolution falters because we forget to prepare ourselves. Crops dont flourish in unprepared soil.

Take this morning as an example.I woke up in a bad mood. I was grumpy and tired. Some of the recent projects I had started felt daunting, possibly pointless. My tasks for the day felt annoying and overbearing. I wanted to go back to bed.No doubt youve found yourself here before too, wondering where all the excitement of the New Year and new you went.

Its at this point that the content of thoughts often become dominated by blaming, complaining and giving lots of reasons for not doing things. Feelings turn from hope and excitement to defeat and disappointment.Plans begin to whither.

Preparation for change involves groundwork.And maintaining change involves well, maintaining the groundwork.So, here are my five essential groundwork tips to keep you on track with your new plans.

1.If you are a procrastinator, you will need to be prepared to opt for immediate discomfort in order toget long-term gratification.Start by writing a list of the things you are avoiding doing, break them down into the smallest possible tasks and aim to do at least one.Expect discomfort: don't let it stop you. As you begin to gain confidence in yourself as a non-procrastinator you will feel more motivated.

2. Notice the number of times you complain each day. Are you happy with that?Does it make you feel better? Chances are it doesnt.Complaining is a disempowering alternative to taking action.If there is something you can do to change the situation, take steps to do it. If not, let it go.Mindfulness meditation is a useful way of learning to let go.

3. Challenge yourself to act when youdontfeel like it.Its easy to fall into the trap of waiting until you feel like doing something to get going.Waiting will leave you feeling dispirited. Taking action in spite of your feelingswill have youenergised and proud of yourself.4.Expect to have setbacks.When bad weather strikes a farmers crops, he doesnt just give up and go to bed.He may feel disappointment, even despair - but he gets back out there to salvage the situation.Seeing things as either a total success or total failure (black and white thinking) is particularly unhelpful in setback situations. So you didnt stick to your resolution this week thats a glitch, not a failure. Also,beware of using setbacks as an excuseto return to the predictable, safe state of affairs before you committed to change.

5.Resist blaming yourself or others.It gives the illusion of power but in reality will sap your energy leaving you or the other person feeling tired and dispirited.Try to problem solve rather than criticise.Perhaps the standard you have set for yourself or others is unrealistically high? Try to fully understand what has gone wrong rather than opt for the quick fix of blaming.

My invitation to you is to try thisfor a day (this is an example of keeping the task small). As for me, since I woke up and started getting in charge, I have felt more positive and my projects feel less daunting. This is of course an on-going process. I will feel tiredand cross again. But I know that when I do, its down to me to nudge things in the right direction again.HOW TO STOP PROCRASTINATING

Psychologist Alice Haddon on four easy ways to be more productive


Photograph by John Akehurst for Harper's Bazaar

In her regular series forBazaar, psychologist Alice Haddon discusses the inner workings of the human mind.The issue of the day: four tips for procrastinators.I am writing this perilously close to my deadline. Im feeling focused but twitchy. Im worried I wont be able to do it. If I do manage, will it be good enough? I havent left myself enough time.All week, I have been obstinately committed to relieving momentary discomfort: to procrastinating. Now I have had to give up the desire to do something more immediately gratifying and wrestle with the disquieting feeling that this may not be up to scratch. These are the two bedfellows of procrastination: a challenging task snuggled up to uncertainty about outcome.

Let's take a closer lookProcrastination requires that we substitute a high-priority task with a low-priority one: the result is the immediate alleviation of discomfort.Let's look first at the discomfort of the challenging task. It may be that it will require extended focus. It may stretch us out of our comfort zone. It may be boring, frustrating, anxiety-provoking but with one swift (and often impulsive) decision, Ive gone to make a sandwich and these unpalatable feelings have dissolved.

Now, lets look at uncertainty of outcomeUncertainty brings us into direct contact with anxiety and in this state we dwell on what might go wrong. "I might not do it well enough" is a big one here as it links to our inner perfectionist.Perfectionist tendencies and compromised confidence conspire to keep us in a state of delay - but so does the anxiety of success. What if you do it really well and you are asked to do it again? Will you be able to do it so well next time? One quick switch to Facebook and the anxiety is gone.

The paradox is that, although we think that by delaying a certain task we alleviate inconvenience and displeasure (and in the moment it does), what we are really doing is signing up to the low-level persistent muttering of a guilty conscience.This is the core of procrastination: we all know its only a delay, and a delay with costs, but are there any benefits?

Its important to distinguish betweenactive and passive procrastination. Maybe the adrenalin rush of putting your task off until the last minute increases your productivity and justifies the delay? Maybe the time of waiting is a creative gestation period that enhances your output? Maybe tasks such as clipping your toenails or sharpening your pencils would not get done without the dreaded prospect of your tax return? However, these benefits can all be used to justify passive procrastination where putting off the task is purely because you want it, or the troublesome feelings, to go away.

A word onexpectation managementhere: dont try and get rid of this bewitching irrationality. As the saying goes, what you resist only persists. However, where you see it as being problematic, try to address it by acting other than you would ordinarily. Give yourself the chance to feel the satisfaction of completion and banish, for the time being, that shameful whisper in your ear which says "I havent done it yet".

Here are my four tips for tackling those persistent and problematic procrastinations:1. Tell someone youre going to do it. Procrastination is often a private pursuit. Make it public and honour your word.2. Break the task down into small time capsules or steps. Five minutes on the undesirable enterprise followed by five hours of blissful delay.3. Be mindful of the costs. If you recognise that you will spend the next five days persecuting yourself for not taking action, do it now for the promise of five days of peace.4. Reward yourself. Pair the execution of the undesired activity with a desired reward and in time the probability of repeating that behaviour will increase.