Posted in lifestyle, Planning and journaling, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 9 benefits of practising gratitude and how to get started today

Last year, I wrote a couple of blog posts about gratitude. One was about how I was practising gratitude despite the situation with COVID-19 and the local lockdowns that were being enforced, and the other presented a few ways in which you could start to practice being grateful. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into the core benefits of a daily gratitude practice and share ideas on ways you can get started with a view to make it part of your routine.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is about being aware of and thankful for all of the positive things and situations in your life and their impact on you. It’s about regularly taking a moment to reflect on and appreciate what you have, even during particularly challenging times.

Finding gratitude is a skill that anyone can develop and there are so many benefits of a daily practice. Read on and you’ll see exactly why I’ve made it a habit and part of my nightly routine.

9 Benefits of practising gratitude

Makes us feel happier Gratitude encourages us to focus on the positives in our life, helping to reduce negative emotions such as anger, resentment and regret. It can also minimise feelings associated with depression such as sadness, worthlessness, self-hate and guilt.

Reduces stress High levels of stress can leave us feeling extremely tense, anxious, restless and overwhelmed. Luckily, cultivating feelings of gratitude is the perfect antidote. According to research, being more grateful lowers the stress hormone (cortisol) in our body, making us feel much calmer. It can also minimise negative self-talk which can help you to feel confident in dealing with everything life throws at you.

Improves our self-esteem One of the main things that ruins our self-esteem as adults is comparing ourselves with others in an unfavourable way. Instead of engaging in this destructive behaviour, try focusing on gratitude instead. Boost your self worth by thinking of all of your strengths and their impact on your day. Rather than feeling envious of or resentful towards others, try complementing them on their skills and be grateful for how they help you in your life.

Better sleep Finding time each evening to pause and reflect on what you’re grateful for helps you to end the day on a calm and more positive note. This can help you to wind down before bed and has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity. If you’re really struggling with your sleep, I recommend doing some reflective journalling (see point number 1 of this post) before spending time filling in your gratitude log.

Improved physical health Those who practise gratitude have been shown to exercise more regularly and have medical check-ups more often. When we reflect on what we’re grateful for, we’re likely to show more appreciation towards good physical health and this can prompt us to take better care of ourselves.

Increases resilience We might have lots going on right now which is making life super tough for us, but practising gratitude can help us see the bigger picture, appreciating that we still have lots to be thankful for and assuring us that we have the ability to cope with what’s going on and get through it, coming out stronger on the other side.

Improves our romantic relationships Gratitude plays a key role in strengthening our loving relationships. By actively pay attention to the positive things that our partner does, we learn to appreciate them more, show our gratitude and give them thanks. Expressing your thankfulness is likely to motivate them to do more things to show they love and care about you. Also, when you feel gratitude towards your partner, the chance of you behaving in a positive, kind and caring way back is greatly increased.

Reduces materialism There’s strong evidence that being materialistic i.e. being overly concerned with material things rather than spiritual, intellectual and cultural values leaves a person feeling depressed and dissatisfied with life. Learning to be grateful for what you have reduces these feelings and increases happiness and life satisfaction.

Increases optimism Developing a daily gratitude practice can help you to become a more optimistic person by encouraging you to focus on what’s going right rather than dwelling on negative aspects of your life. If we perceive our current life to be good, we’ll start to believe that this will continue in the future.

My top tips for getting started

With this many benefits, you’ll probably want to get started straight away so here’s a mini guide to help you begin:

Keep it simple It’s best not to develop some elaborate routine that will become too onerous and make you feel like finding gratitude is a complete chore and one which you can’t keep up with. When I first started I made a simple ‘two line a day’ spread in my bullet journal and decided to come up with two or three things each day. This takes me less than 10 minutes each evening and things often pop into my head during the day which I want to add (a benefit of the practice being ingrained).

Choose your method of recording Think about what style of journal appeals to you most – would you prefer writing in your notebook or BuJo or are you happier writing notes on your phone using a dedicated app? I use my bullet journal but I have looked into a couple of apps for research, Gratitude App provides daily prompts and also challenges which run for between one and three weeks. Examples of prompts are ‘Why did you start gratitude journalling? Express gratitude to yourself for taking this step’ and ‘Express gratitude for the new beginnings life gives you’. This is good if you need a little help on the ideas front. The other app is Presently, which is a lot more simple and just gives you space to free write what you’re grateful for each day. Both apps offer alarm prompts as reminders to write.

Make it a habit I’ve written before about ways to cement habits but in brief, you need to start with a cue or trigger which reminds you to do your daily practice e.g. a time, such as 8pm (for which you can set an alarm) or before/after another habit such as when you’ve emptied the dishwasher, after dinner or before you settle down to watch TV. Then, you need to focus on the benefits you receive from the habit, so, for example, you might re-read this list, or, when you get established, you might reflect on how you feel as a result of practising e.g. calmer, happier or sleeping better.

Add a little variety Try to find different things to be grateful for each day and make sure you are really specific so you can see the impact of things in your life e.g. the sunshine because it dried my washing nicely, my ability to persevere with an arduous task until I got it finished, the reassuring words my friend said to give me the strength confidence to get through a difficult time etc.

Share your gratitude with your family and friends If I write about something my husband said or did which I’m grateful for, I tell him. This helps him to know that I don’t take him for granted and that I really do appreciate him. The same can be applied to other family members and friends.

Final words…

As you start to practise gratitude, remember it takes time and effort to make it a habit. Each evening, I like to read through all of the things I’ve listed so far that month as a positive reminder of all of the great things and experiences my life brings. And, I make sure that I express gratitude for the fact that I’ve kept going with my daily routine, even during tough times or when lack of motivation kicks in. Of course there have been a couple of days when I’ve been super busy and a change of routine has meant that my ‘two lines a day’ didn’t get filled in, but I’ve just accepted it and reflected on why it happened so that I can put in place strategies to ensure that not completing my gratitude practice doesn’t become a habit instead.

Posted in CBT, depression, lifestyle, mental health, Planning and journaling, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Negative self-talk – its impact on you and 3 ways to challenge and reframe it

For today’s Monday Matters post I want to discuss something which I’m currently really struggling with, and that is negative self-talk. I’ve been taught various strategies in different therapy sessions throughout the years but applying them when you’re really struggling is easier said than done. Also, during periods of better mood, the techniques tend to be forgotten about as the amount of negativity is much less. So, here’s some examples of different types of negative self talk, an outline of how it damages us mentally and three key ways to challenge and reframe it.

What is negative self talk?

Before you can begin to challenge your negative self-talk you need to know exactly what it is so you can label it as such as soon as it pops into your head or out of your mouth. Basically, we have lots of thoughts running through our minds all of the time such as ‘I wonder if there’s anything good on TV tonight?’, ‘I haven’t done any watercolouring this week, perhaps I’ll have a go at some tomorrow’ or ‘I feel a bit rough today so I’m going to take it easy’. These kinds of self-talk and reflection are perfectly normal and help you to make decisions and get on with things in your life. However, when the self-talk becomes harsh and self critical, such as ‘I can’t believe I did that, I’m such as idiot’, this is when it becomes a problem and can be really damaging in all kinds of ways.

The main forms of negative self-talk (AKA cognitive distortions)

The following are some of the main forms of negative self-talk. In psychology, they’re known as cognitive distortions because they’re inaccurate, exaggerated, irrational and negatively biased.

Overgeneralisation – this is where we draw conclusions about things in life or the future based on things that have happened (often once) in the past e.g. all men are liars, we’re bound to get stuck in traffic, bad things always happen to me, I’ll never be able to do that, I always fail.

Catastrophising – very closely related to the above, this is where we imagine and believe the worst will happen and completely blow things out of all proportion, for example, during a period of depression, saying that you will never get better and will spend the rest of your life miserable, or following the end of a romantic relationship, stating that you’re unlovable and will never find anyone else.

Mental filter – this is when we experience positive and negative things but only focus on the bad stuff and filter out anything good. So, for example you might have had a day out at the park, enjoyed a picnic in the sunshine, strolled around the lake, feed the ducks and swans and admired the cute, fluffy little cygnets before getting an ice cream from the café. But, on return home, you might say that you had an awful time because you were stupid enough to drip ice cream on your t-shirt and that you got burnt because you failed to re-apply your sunscreen.

Predicting the future (AKA fortune telling) -this is where we predict what is going to happen based on little or no evidence, for example, we might say things like: ‘I just know I’m not going to get the job’, ‘I’m not going to the party because I’ll have an awful time’.

Mind reading – here, you assume what others are thinking, often in a negative way. So, for example, you might decide that your friend hates your clothes because she didn’t say how nice your new dress looked, or you might conclude that your husband is sick of you because you keep getting upset all the time.

Black and white thinking – this one involves thinking in extremes rather than anything in-between or in a ‘shade of grey’. It commonly involves the use of the words ‘always’ or ‘never’. Some examples that I’ve said recently are: ‘I always mess things up’, ‘I’ll never get better’ and ‘I’m a complete mess’.

Labelling – these are things that you say about yourself either in your head or out loud which are wholly negative and unhelpful e.g. ‘I’m a fat pig’, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I’m such a failure’ etc.

Shoulds and muststhis involves putting undue pressure on yourself and creating unreasonable expectations which become impossible to keep. For example, you might say ‘I should be a better wife’, ‘I must tidy up all of this mess’, ‘I should exercise more’, I must make sure I’m on time for my appointment’. Using ‘I need to…’ isn’t particularly helpful either e.g. ‘I need to lose weight’, ‘I need to be a better mum’, I need to get that work done’. I’ve written an in depth blog post on this previously as it’s something we covered in my compassion group classes.

The consequences of a tendency towards negative self-talk

As well as causing high levels of stress for both the individual and their close family and friends, negative self-talk has a number of negative consequences including:

  • lack of self belief
  • poor levels of resilience
  • diminished ability to make positive changes in your life
  • reduced self-confidence
  • decreased motivation
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • likelihood of depression and anxiety being exacerbated

Personally, I find that negative self-talk goes hand-in-hand with depression and feelings of anxiety which only serves to make things worse.

3 ways to tackle your negative self-talk

In order to remedy our tendency to negative self-talk we need to recognise when we’re involved in it and actively challenge our words. Here are three ideas on how to do this:

Recognise it, write it down and challenge it

There are a number of psychological studies that have looked into developing awareness of self-talk and the key findings suggest that those individuals who wrote down their own personal examples in some form of log book showed greater insight into the specific content of their self-talk and the consequences of its used. They were also able to start challenging their initial thoughts in order to create more balanced conclusions.

Recognising and challenging your self-talk takes time and commitment but is really worthwhile doing. The following example is my own and I hope, by sharing it, you can see how the process works (you may need to click and enlarge it to see properly). When challenging the evidence, I find it helpful to think about what a good friend or my lovely husband might say in response to what I said.

Take it to court

This is a great technique, which I used in my chart above and feel is really helpful for cross examining your self talk. It commonly used in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and involves metaphorically take the thought or belief to court and place it in the dock. You then find evidence for and against the thought or belief, considering the factual evidence and not opinions. Working for the defence, you try to prove that the accused (your thought or belief) is truthful and correct by providing evidence that shows that your thought or belief is 100% totally true. You can see examples in column 4 of my chart. Then, working for the prosecution, you look for evidence that this thought or belief is not true 100% of the time. For this, you need to select good quality evidence that would hold up in court. Finally, the judge summarises all of the evidence and composes a final statement which is realistic, rational and balanced. This should then help you to see alternative ways of thinking and enable you to undermine your extreme and unhelpful though. You can find worksheets to go with this technique at Getselfhelp.co.uk.

Find more positive alternatives

When you catch yourself saying negative things, try to come up with more positive alternatives or different ways of looking at the situation. Again, think about what a good friend or your partner would say to counteract your thought or belief. Here are some examples which might help:

Negative self-talkPositive self-talk
I hate feeling like thisIt’s okay to feel like this, my feelings are valid
I’m never going to get betterThis is temporary and I have the ability to get through it. I’m taking things one step at a time.
I hate my bodyI’m grateful for everything my body can do, I’m healthy and strong and my body is beautiful.
My life is awfulThere are so many good things in my life right now.
I’m getting everything wrongEveryone make mistakes and we all have days that are better than others.
I need to do some exerciseI would like to do a little more exercise so I can feel more toned.
I can’t do itIt’s going to be hard work but I can do it
I’m so stupidI made a mistake, so what, everyone makes them!

Final thoughts

You might not need to complete these exercises all of the time but when you find yourself dealing with feelings associated with anger, depression or anxiety, try to make time to stop and become more aware of your thoughts. Then you can start to reflect on them, challenge your views and find alternative ways of looking at things. Hopefully, after developing the skills associated with thought investigation and thought challenging, you’ll find it easier to put the ideas into practice and conquer your negative self-talk and start being nicer towards yourself.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Posted in CBT, compassion, lifestyle, mental health, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: The psychology of optimism and how to become a glass half full kind of person

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

When I was struggling with anxiety and depression at the end of last year and the beginning of this one, I found myself being very negative and developing a very pessimistic view of the future. I was convinced things (I) would never get better and spent a lot of time wallowing in self pity and believing I couldn’t make myself well no matter how hard I tried. Now I’m feeling well, I’m happier and full of optimism and any challenges I face don’t feel like mountains that I’m unable to climb. I’ve always known that being optimistic is a key part of wellbeing but how can we remain that way all of the time, even when things are a little (or a lot) shitty? Today’s Monday Matters post looks at the psychology of optimism and how we can foster it no matter what life throws at us.

What is optimism?

According to the Oxford dictionary, optimism is ‘a feeling that good things will happen and that something will be successful; the tendency to have this feeling’. The exact opposite of this is ‘pessimism’ which is described as ‘a feeling that bad things will happen and that something will not be successful; the tendency to have this feeling’. Further to this, an optimist is ‘a person who always expects good things to happen or things to be successful’, whereas a pessimist is someone who ‘always expects bad things to happen’. I do think these are oversimplified definitions, however, as most people realistically know that over time, good and bad things will happen to us all and that it is our reaction to events and thoughts and feelings which can be described as mainly optimistic or pessimistic.

Why are some people optimists and others pessimists?

Early research into the subject tends to suggest that an optimistic or pessimistic view is largely an inherited biological trait, but more recent works have shown that environmental factors can influence us too. In other words, we are born one way or the other but our life experiences can impact on us too so, for example, we may learn to have a positive outlook from our childhood if we have an optimistic parent who encourages associated traits such as self belief, resilience and acceptance. Conversely, being surrounded by pessimists who believe they are hard done to, always see the worst in a situation and have a tendency to be negative overall can influence our thoughts and feelings about life too.

So, even if you are a ‘glass half empty’ type of person, it is possible to learn to be more optimistic or reduce pessimism by working on challenging and changing your thought processes. This does mean that if you have always been described as an optimistic, there is a chance that, with certain life experiences, you may develop a more pessimistic view (sometimes temporarily) but there are many ways of of combating this.

What are the benefits of being optimistic?

There are so many benefits of being of being an optimistic person in terms of physical and mental health. Optimists:

  • have healthier lifestyles, for example they exercise more, have a balanced diet, are less likely to smoke or binge drink and just generally make better choices with regard to their health
  • have better quality relationships with family, friends, partner or co-workers
  • have more life satisfaction, happiness and high levels of psychological and physical wellbeing
  • are good problem solvers and tend to strive for what they want as they believe themselves to be capable of high levels of achievement
  • are more motivated
  • have better self esteem
  • are generally more successful
  • accept their failures and learn from them
  • have a better immune system
  • have lower cortisol levels (stress hormone)
  • actively pursue their goals
  • recover from physical illnesses more quickly
  • take less time to recover from surgery
  • less likely to have a stroke or cardiovascular diseases
  • have lower blood pressure
  • emerge from difficult circumstances with less distress than pessimists
  • see setbacks as temporary events caused by circumstances
  • are more likely to engage in health related self care activities such as regular check ups

How can we learn to be more optimistic?

The idea of learned optimism is a concept developed by a leading American psychologist called Martin Seligman.

learned optimism involves developing the ability to view the world from a positive point of view.

Seligman

He believes that the positivity associated with being an optimist can and should be cultivated and that being optimistic is a key part of good health and wellbeing. So, pop on your positivity glasses and read my suggestions on how to train or rewire your brain.

Shift your focus – instead of thinking about what you can’t control, focus on what you can instead. In any situation, there are things that can’t be changed and things that can. If you spend your time obsessing over the former, you will quickly become stressed and frustrated. However, if you look at what you do have control over, you can control the controllables and forget about the rest.

See setbacks as temporary – it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong or doesn’t go the way you expected, it’s something to be learnt from. Resolve to come back better and stronger!

Regain your sense of control – focus on what you can do to improve a situation and believe in your ability to make things better rather than focusing on the barriers. This is in contrast to ‘learned helplessness’ associated with pessimism.

Watch out for unhelpful phrases – talk such as ‘I never…’, ‘I can’t…’, ‘I always mess up…’ etc is not helpful and can create a negative mindset. Try to catch yourself saying them and come up with some alternatives which are more positive – ‘I might be able to…’, ‘I could…’ etc.

Think about the company you keep – some people seem to complain about everything and never have a positive word to say. After so many minutes of talking to them, you might find you start being negative too. It’s almost like the pessimism is contagious. Conversely, spending time with a optimist, can encourage feelings of optimism and make life seem much more rosy. I’m not saying cull everyone from your life who isn’t a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, but you might want to think about who you spend most of your time with.

Avoid overgeneralising – After something has gone wrong for you, have you ever found yourself thinking or saying that the world is conspiring against you, or everyone has got it in for you? Remember that one set back in one aspect of your life does not mean that everything is going wrong. Neither does it mean that you are unlucky or any of those other things that might pop into your head or out of your mouth!

Take a balanced approach – In every situation there are positives and negatives. Unfortunately, the society that we live in often encourages us to focus on the more negative side and ignore the many positives. I like to do some gratitude journaling each evening to focus on the positives in my day. I might also have a few negatives that become problems to work on solving, but I try not to dwell on what I can’t change or those minor irritations which we all have.

How can we stay optimistic during tough times?

As I said earlier, when I was struggling with my mental health for so many months, I found it very difficult to be optimistic in relation to the present moment and the future. But there are ways of remaining positive, even during periods of difficulty. So, what could I have done differently? Some of my online reading has suggested that optimism doesn’t require you to brush aside anxious and negative feelings, but rather to accept them whilst being hopeful about what the future will bring. Obviously, this is easier said than done when you are consumed with difficult emotions, but the idea is that you work super hard to acknowledge that things are difficult right now, but try to hold on to the belief that things won’t always be like this. Here’s some ideas of ways that this can be made easier (not easy of course, but having an I can get through this attitude is a big part of it):

  • try to practise self compassion – accept that things are a struggle right now, but also remind yourself that you’ve got through difficulties before and you can do so again
  • disrupt the negative thought cycle – focus on the breath, change your environment (go for a walk in nature), confide in someone you trust about how you are feeling and seek a fresh perspective
  • jot down some coping statements e.g. I can take this one day at a time, this is frightening and I can handle it, I am a resilient person and I can get through this etc.
  • practise gratitude – even when things are hard, there’s always small things to be grateful for – the friend who texted to say she’s thinking of you, the tranquillity as you sit drinking your coffee in your sunny garden, your warm coat on a chilly day etc. At certain times, it might be difficult to focus on the positives, but it’s not completely impossible and taking the time to be grateful has been shown to really help.

Final words…

I hope today’s Monday Matters has been helpful in some way and that you will give at least one of the ideas a go. Lockdown is beginning to ease now but there is still a little uncertainty around about the future making things difficult. As I type this, I’m feeling positive and optimistic, yet whilst I was unwell, things looked bleak. So, it just goes to show that things can and will get better.

Take care until next time,

Posted in lifestyle, mental health, productivity, psychology, wellbeing

Monday Matters: The power of positive affirmations and how to create your own

Today’s Monday Matters blog post is all about the helpfulness of positive affirmations and how you can write your own tailor made statements to re-wire your brain and start working towards the life you want. It discusses different types of affirmations which can help develop your body confidence, increase your self belief, encourage you to reach your goals, enable you to accept yourself and others and be grateful for what you have whilst working towards what you want. It also answers questions about how to choose specific affirmations, how to get them to work, how to word them for maximum effectiveness and how to use affirmations when you are struggling with your mental health. Finally, towards the end of the article, I include some of my current affirmations and why I chose them so you can see for yourself how powerful they are for me and can be for you.

What are positive affirmations and how do they work?

Affirmations are phrases which we repeat to ourselves either out loud or in our thoughts. They can be absolutely anything, sometimes good, for example I am great at my job, I can do this etc. but quite often can be bad, unhelpful or completely self-critical, for example, I’m so stupid, I always get things wrong etc. Positive affirmations, though, have the aim of over-riding negative beliefs and negative self-talk and creating positivity and a much better mind set. When said regularly, they can change your thoughts, your way of thinking and how you feel about yourself and life in general. They work by re-wiring your brain to think good things about the world and your place in it.

Different types of affirmations

There are lots of different types of affirmations to choose from and it all depends what you want to focus on. For example, you might want to improve your body confidence, become more successful, increase your happiness levels, be more accepting of yourself or others, combat fear, anxieties or insecurities, lose weight, be more resilient, celebrate your good points etc. Whatever you want in your life or for yourself, there are positive statements to help you.

So, how do I go about creating my own positive affirmations that work?

First of all, you need to think about what you want to see in your life right now. Maybe you want to be more confident and assertive at work. Perhaps you are keen to be more grateful or more positive. Or, you might want to practise self love and kindness. Jot down what’s important to you at the moment or create some goals that you want to work on and start to think about the kind of affirmations that would reflect these ideas.

Key features of good affirmations:

  1. Present tense e.g. I am relaxed and calm, I am worthy of self care and compassion, I take things one step at a time. This makes sure that they are powerful as they are about the here and now.
  2. Short and to the point. This makes them easier to say and easier to remember as you go about your day.
  3. Full of positivity. Try to avoid using negative vocabulary. E.g. rather than ‘I am not anxious’, you could write ‘I am calm and relaxed’. Instead of writing ‘I don’t eat junk food’ you might go for ‘I eat a balanced and healthy diet’.
  4. Powerful and emotional words. Try to use the best emotive vocabulary to can think of e.g. Everything in my life is wonderful, I am an amazing writer, I am incredibly proud of all that I achieve in my life etc.
  5. Make use of your own voice. You can find a wide array of affirmations online e.g. on Pinterest and Instagram. Some of them, you will be immediately attracted to the idea of but if you do use or adapt them, make sure that the vocabulary used is the kind of thing that you would like to say to yourself and that the words within the statement are part of your personal vocabulary e.g. It’s no good saying ‘I am a highly motivated person’ if you would usually use the term ‘hard worker’.
  6. Believability. If you want your affirmations to work, you need to create statements that you can readily believe in. For example, it’s no good writing one that says ‘I am super fit’ if you are only just beginning your fitness journey. It’s better to create something that says where you are at right now or where you can feasibly be soon if you improve your confidence levels e.g. ‘I am getting stronger and fitter every day’ or ‘My fitness levels are improving each day’. Rather than ‘I am always confident at speaking to an audience’ you could try ‘My confidence in presenting my ideas to others is getting so much better.’

Consistency is key with getting your affirmations to manifest positive change in your life so make sure you say them regularly. Add them to your morning routine and assess the effect that they are having as part of a reflection process in the evening. You might even do some journalling on them in your bullet journal or other planner.

How to use positive affirmations to get you through a mental health bad patch

As some of my regular readers will know, I have suffered from episodes of anxiety and depression throughout my adult life and know how easy it is to get into a very negative mindset when you are struggling. I also know that that at times of really low mood, it is super hard to find anything positive to think let alone say out loud. However, if you at least try to treat yourself with kindness and compassion and accept where you are right now, you can find ways to come out of your mental health blip. In the past, I’ve used a small number of positive affirmations, chosen and written with the help of my wonderfully supportive husband, which have helped me and kept my mind focused on resilience and recovery. Below is the page which I produced in my bullet journal at a time in the past when I was having a hard time.

As you can see, they generally focus on accepting myself for who I am, recognising that I have it within me to get better and knowing that I am loved by others. Now, I know at the time, I found it difficult to say these affirmations and I remember tears forming as I read through them the first few times, but it did get easier after a while and I can confirm that I was strong enough, the bad patch did pass and I did get through it and come out of the other side. I’m not saying that the affirmations were the main reason that I got better but they certainly helped with the recovery process, a lot!

Some tips for creating positive affirmations when life is hard:

  • Think about the negative thoughts that enter your mind or negative self talk that you find yourself saying and try to turn it around e.g. ‘I’m so weak and pathetic’ could become ‘I am brave and strong’, ‘I’m never going to get better’ could be re-written as ‘This feeling will pass’. ‘I can’t do this any more’ can be changed to ‘I have the ability to cope’.
  • Check out Pinterest and look for affirmations which suit your current situation e.g. search affirmations for self love and kindness if you find yourself saying nasty things about yourself, look for confidence building affirmations if you find yourself lacking in this area right now.
  • Think about how unique you are and what is special about you. Ask for help on this if you need to from family members or friends. Write down your qualities in first person e.g. I am creative, I am kind to others, I always try my best etc.

Some of my current positive affirmations and why I chose them

  • I run a successful Etsy shop and customers love my products and personalised service. This one was chosen because I regularly have moments of self doubt when I haven’t had many orders, when my visitor count in low or I don’t get any feedback for a while.
  • Readers enjoy my blog posts and find them interesting and insightful. One to remind me that people like the content on my blog and I should keep going with it because I love writing it and I’m really passionate about making it a success.
  • I accept myself. Although I’m always working on self development stuff and new ways to manage my mental health, it’s really important that as I do this, I accept the way I am right now, just as others do.
  • My body is getting stronger and more toned every day. I’ve got a few affirmations related to fitness on my list right now and this is because I’ve recently be getting myself a little upset and disheartened about the fact that I haven’t really lost any weight despite working really hard. Both my husband and I have noticed my body changing and really toning up so this is a little reminder to myself to keep going.

I hope you have found today’s post useful and it has provided you with the encouragement needed to have a go at creating your own positive affirmations. Let me know in the comments what you want to work on right now and maybe share a couple of affirmations that you think you should add to your list.

Posted in compassion, life hacks, psychology, wellbeing

Monday matters: Procrastination and 10 ways to minimise it

The second instalment of my Monday Matters series is focused on procrastination, something which effects most, if not all of us on a fairly regular basis. In fact, studies have shown that around 20% of the population are chronic procrastinators! In this post, I will consider what procrastination is and why we procrastinate, the forms it takes, and most importantly, steps we can take to minimise it in a bid to become more productive and achieve our goals.

What is procrastination?

The act or habit of procrastinating is where we put off or delay doing something, in particular a task which is unpleasant or burdensome, but which really requires our immediate attention. It can take on many forms such as not tackling the pile of ironing you’ve been meaning to do for the past week, leaving a bill payment until the last minute, avoiding a difficult conversation with someone at work or telling yourself you’ll start developing a more healthy lifestyle starting next week. Whatever it looks like, procrastinating can pre-occupy our thoughts and be a cause of stress, anxiety and even depression. It can even take over our lives and have a huge negative impact on our future.

Signs of procrastination include filling your day with low priority tasks, leaving a high priority item on your ‘to do’ list for a long time (for example, if you use the bullet journal system, you may repeatedly migrate a particular item to the next day or following week), making endless cups of tea, coffee or snacks, reading emails lots of times but not actually actioning any of them, or waiting for the right time or the right mood to get started with something.

So, why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is a voluntary and unnecessary delay in undertaking something, but most people struggle to control it. There can be different reasons for not undertaking a task and these generally relate to poor time management, fear of failure (or sometimes even success), lack of motivation related to low mood or an unrealistic view of the self.

For some of us, as we think about starting a task, we can develop feelings of anxiety about getting it done. This can then cause us to become overwhelmed and then avoidance starts. Not getting the task done then becomes a source of guilt and shame and these negative feelings create a never ending vicious cycle.

Perfectionists are also frequent procrastinators. Because they hold such high standards, they often fear being unable to complete a task perfectly, so end up put it off for as long as they possibly can. This performance related anxiety causes them to seek out much less threatening or ‘safer’ options.

How can we minimise the effects of procrastination?

The first step to minimise procrastination is to begin to be more self compassionate. Forgive yourself for procrastinating and try not to feel guilty about it. Accept that everyone procrastinates at times and it’s okay to do so. Also, remember that it is particularly common in people who suffer from issues with anxiety or low mood.

When you have developed more understanding towards yourself, you can then work on your ability to take responsibility for your actions (or inaction!) and begin to believe in your ability to make small changes to enable yourself to be more productive. Here are some ideas I’ve collected from my compassion group work and from my reading:

  1. Ignore your mood and just get started – it doesn’t matter if you feel like doing it or if it seems like the right time, some tasks just have to be done. And besides, it might take you less time than you expected or you might feel a whole lot better when you get it out of the way!
  2. Break a project down into small manageable steps that can be accomplished – just a little bit of progress towards a goal will help us to feel better about the task and increase our self esteem and motivation to continue.
  3. Do some planning – at the start of each day, create a timeline of how you intend to spend each hour and try to stick to it as best you can, for longer projects, set deadlines for each task. That way, if you don’t finish what you had planned for today or this week it will affect your future plans.
  4. Get the worst or hardest bit done first – as Mark Twain once said ‘If it is your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’ By completing your most important task first you’ll have the satisfaction of this achievement which will hopefully provide you with the motivation to get even more done.
  5. Think about your use of language – use positive affirmations as a way forward e.g. I can eat healthily, rather than I need to go on a diet, I am someone who exercises rather than I want to do some exercise. This helps to change the distance between yourself and your behaviour.
  6. Set time limits and then reward yourself for sticking with it e.g. 40 minutes of work and then I’ll have coffee, a biscuit and 10 minutes catch up on Facebook, when I’ve tidied and cleaned the living room, I’ll sit back and watch my favourite TV show.
  7. Minimise distractions – put your phone in another room, turn off your notifications, close all of your social media and email tabs, work in a clean and clutter free environment. Choose a place where you are most likely to be productive. This could be your home, the library or a quiet café.
  8. Change your internal dialogue – instead of fixating on how much you dread a given task and forcing yourself to do it, try changing your mindset, deciding in advance that its completion will make you happy. Also, rather than using phrases such as “I need to…” and “I have to…” try changing to “I chose to…” or “I would like to…” as these imply that you have a choice and help you to feel empowered in making a decision to act.
  9. Let others know what your goals are – telling family and friends what you want to achieve can help in several ways. Firstly, it can hold you accountable, and secondly, they can offer you support and encouragement along the way.
  10. Remember, done is better than perfect – focus on just completing a task rather than getting hung up on minute details. Then you can celebrate the fact that it is finished. You can always go back to it to make improvements another time.

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post helpful in terms of developing your understanding of procrastination and how we can minimise its effects. If you have any more tips, please do share them in the comments.