Category: <span>Self-improvement</span>

5 common beliefs of procrastinators

Procrastination is a very familiar problem. If you often feel that you struggle to self-motivate, you may be prone to procrastinating. As negative beliefs are at the root of our most common psychological vulnerabilities, it is helpful to become aware of the attitudes, rules and assumptions that are stopping you from getting things done.

Here are 5 common beliefs of procrastinators:

1- “If I can’t do my best, it’s not worth doing it”

Perfectionism is not a skill, but a self-confidence killer. A perfectionist wastes precious time on unproductive thinking while life passes him by. You can learn how to embrace your humanity by accepting the idea of trial and error and celebrating your efforts. Ten thousand “good enough” actions are much more rewarding in the long term than carrying out a single perfect one.

2- “No risk, no disappointment”

5 common beliefs of procrastinators
Procrastination is a very familiar problem

If you value your efforts – and not only perfect results – you are not afraid of taking risks. Self-confidence is nurtured from the inside out. Practice self-compassion whenever you are brave enough to get out of your comfort zone. Tell yourself that trying is as good as winning and act as your own best friend. Praise yourself even when it feels like no one else seems to be taking notice of you. Do not wait for outside recognition to build an inner sense of self-esteem, but let unconditional self-love guide you through your endeavours.

3- “Nothing ever works out for me anyway”

In CBT, such statements/automatic thoughts are classified as cognitive errors due to their unrealistic perspective. To tell yourself that absolutely nothing works out for you is too global and simplistic a statement to be reflective of objective truth. Aren’t you failing to recognise some of the good things that you have managed to achieve? It sounds as if you were allowing perfectionism to undermine your self-confidence.

4- “If I don’t feel like it doing it, it means I shouldn’t”

You would be surprised by how untrue such belief actually is. When you manage to overcome that initial resistance, you usually find that you can carry on doing what you have set yourself to do with reasonable ease. Motivate yourself by developing a higher tolerance to discomfort, little by little. Make it your thing to challenge thinking that seems to be working against you. Question negative and unproductive cognitions through raising self-awareness. After all, who is in control of you, your self or your thoughts?

5- “I don’t have time for this”

Really? Or isn’t that just another excuse not to dedicate yourself to something new or make some positive changes in your life? If you genuinely feel that time is against you, it may be a good idea to work out what you are actually doing with it. Take a few minutes during the next week to write down what you do on an hourly basis, every day of the week from Monday to Sunday. Then analyse your findings and assess how you have been managing your time. What are your priority tasks? What activities could be excluded, shortened or extended in order to allow you to attain your self-improvement goals? Actively structuring your daily routine is a self-empowering initiative that gives you a renewed sense of control and responsibility over your own life.

To win the battle against procrastination and become more productive, be attentive to errors in your thinking. Thoughts that are too general or send out a message of rigidity, perfectionism or bias towards the negative, for instance, are renowned for resulting in personal conflict and feelings of inadequacy. Targeting dysfunctional thinking requires little effort and dedication from your part, while it helps you realise your potential in a healthy and independent way.

Self-esteem in practical terms

While we have an intuitive knowledge of what it means to love and accept oneself, it is sometimes a challenge to define self-esteem in practical terms. Naturally, it is a tough concept to pin down without sounding too abstract, to the point that some psychologists, such as Albert Ellis (2005) – also writer and founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy – have questioned its relevance. Even if we do not agree on the power of self-esteem, we are still able to recognize the behaviours that make us “feel good”, confident and in harmony with ourselves.

As it is not my intention to add to the debate or bore you with a long list of synonyms, I have gathered 5 concepts that I consider the pillars of a healthy self-esteem. My goal is to explain self-esteem in practical terms, so that you are able to develop a clearer map of what it entails.

Here is self-esteem in practical terms:

IDENTITY: my self-esteem is high when I know who I am and what I want, my likes and dislikes. Good self-esteem is reflective of my ability to identify with whom I am. My sense of identity allows me to live in accordance with what enhances my character and personality. It also connects me to the here and now and guides me where I genuinely want to be. It makes me feel whole and congruent.

Strengths associated with a good sense of identity: confidence, self-assurance, congruence, autonomy, integrity

BOUNDARIES: my personal boundaries, when safe and active, give me a sense of control and autonomy over myself. When I am able to say “no” to what does not suit me, I prioritise my well-being against harmful interference. My limits also protect my integrity and preserve my wholeness. By honouring my feelings and respecting my boundaries, I confirm myself through my own actions and behaviours.

Strengths associated with healthy personal boundaries: assertiveness, self-respect, independence, reliability

FLEXIBLE VALUES: good self-esteem also relies on my ability to restructure my beliefs to suit my identity. Healthy values adjust to my needs and personal circumstances. When what I believe in is line with whom I am and the choices I make, I am at one with myself. My value are not stagnant or meant to transcend time, but develop along with my own process of change and personal growth.

Strengths associated with flexible values: flexibility, tolerance, kindness, empathy, spontaneity, creativity, open-mindedness, compassion

POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES & VULNERABILITIES: those with a healthy self-esteem are able to recognize their qualities and live at peace with their weaknesses. They display a high level of self-awareness by taking into consideration every single aspect that makes them unique. Above all, they do so without exaggerations and in an unbiased manner.

Strengths associated with positive attributes and vulnerabilities: objectivity, impartiality, maturity, honesty, levelheadedness, self-acceptance

BALANCED JUDGEMENT: the ability to separate from my own thoughts and behaviours and analyse them from a realistic perspective is one of the best ways to show love and respect for myself. Your self-esteem receives a lasting boost when you are able not to equate your worth solely to the quality of your actions, but value yourself regardless of the outcome.

Strengths associated with a balanced judgment: sensibility, clarity, intelligence, rationality, precision, reliability

Depending on your upbringing and cognitive profile, you may struggle to keep the above pillars erect. If you are in need of some support, check my recommended reading on the topic of self-esteem. For professional help, you can contact me to find out how I can help you raise self-esteem with CBT.

Self-esteem in practical terms

Reference:

Ellis, Albert (2005). The Myth of Self-esteem: How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Can Change Your Life Forever. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

10 tips for better emotional and psychological health

It is definitely worth striving for better emotional and psychological health.

Everyone knows the benefits of exercising and a healthy diet for maintaining well-being.  Connecting good health solely to our physical condition is a common behaviour in Western culture. Looking after oneself from a psychological and emotional perspective tends to be overlooked or completely ignored. Until something more dramatic happens, as an episode of depression or intense anxiety, we act as if our cognitive and emotional health did not require much of our attention and care.

The facts contradict the merit of such attitude, however. Depression has recently been found to be the second major cause of disability worldwide. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the cost of anxiety disorders comes close to one-third of the country’s total expenditure on mental health related issues. Even though the statistics are quite alarming, most people only recognise the value of looking after one’s mind and emotions when already affected by a mental health problem.

Thankfully, it is never too late to invest in your well-being. If you believe to have been neglecting you mental and emotional health, here are 10 tips for better emotional and psychological health:

  1. Stimulate your intellect: when was the last time you challenged your brain? You can activate those grey cells with some inspirational reading. Diversify your knowledge reading about topics you have never read before. Put down those crime novels and get out of your comfort zone with some highbrow books.
  2. Keep sound relationships: as social beings, we tend to live healthier and longer lives when socially active. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation have been linked to depression and late onset dementia. As we grow older, however, we tend to prioritise other areas to the detriment of our social lives. Dedicating time and effort to keep your
    better emotional and psychological health
    Small changes in behaviour can improve your mental and emotional health.

    relationships going does not only brighten your mood, but it also stimulates your cognition.

  3. Practice self-acceptance: a high level of self-esteem relies on your ability to love yourself unconditionally. When you accept yourself the way you are and leave at peace with your weaknesses, you are less likely to develop a problem with self-criticism, perfectionism, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
  4. Relax body and mind: progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, you name it. There is so much out there for you to try. Take some minutes of your day to unwind, restore your energy levels and feel in tune with your body.
  5. Appreciate stillness: stop for a moment and allow yourself to just be. You are a ‘being’ after all, so do your thing. There is nothing wrong in just enjoying the moment. Nothingdoism is the new ‘me-time’. Resist the temptation to get distracted by excess doism and learn how to appreciate an undisturbed and serene existence. Does the idea of being able to enjoy life’s small pleasures sound appealing to you? If you would like to apply that wonderful concept into your own life, take some time to notice the here and now. Look around you. Open your eyes to that multi-coloured sky and take some minutes to process what you see and feel.
  6. Learn how to let go: feeling too attached to an idea or thought can get you stuck on rumination mode. If your thinking is not leading you to any productive solutions, it is time to let those thoughts go. If you find it hard to get distracted or focus on something else, write your worry on a piece of paper and throw it away.
  7. Rely on your creative potential: you do not have to be a born artistic talent to unleash your creative potential. Personal creativity goes beyond the artistic realm. You can use your own resourcefulness to think of new ways of approaching life. What about taking a new direction, or investing in a different lifestyle? When existence becomes a repetitive re-enactment of a series of long-standing habits, a little imagination can help you make positive changes happen. Even if you do not feel comfortable with the idea of adopting an unfamiliar line of action, acting ‘as if’ you feel confident can give you a taste of what you are truly capable.
  8. Invest in personal growth: doing volunteer work, extending your qualifications, taking an active role in your community, spending more time with friends and family, getting motivated to do what you truly love, getting rid of bad habits, introducing healthy habits, the list goes on. Embrace your humanity and reconnect with yourself, others and the world around you.
  9. Keep a mood journal: keeping a daily record of your moods is an excellent way of gaining greater insight into your feelings. Connecting good and bad feelings to certain thoughts and behaviours will allow you to understand your motivations and control your moods more effectively.
  10. Do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: there are times that finding professional help is the best choice to implement some healthy changes into your own life. CBT is renowned for its excellent results in the treatment of a wide variety of problems. As you go away from CBT with a new set of problem solving skills, you are better equipped to deal with future challenges.

Taking care of yourself also involves monitoring your psychological and emotional health. You can increase quality of life by raising your awareness about the importance of a sound relationship between body and mind. Prioritising one over the other or dismissing the value of your own feelings altogether can have a profound impact on your general well-being. To prevent finding out about this simple truth the hard way, be proactive. Practice self-love by taking care of the whole of you, from head to toe.

Constructive x destructive criticism

Destructive criticism is the language of low self-esteem.

Giving or receiving criticism with dignity and compassion can at times come as a challenge. Everyone is able to recognise the benefits of seeing through a different perspective. Criticism fosters learning and self-improvement, be it in our personal or professional lives. When the moment of sharing a different opinion presents itself, however, criticism may feel difficult to handle gracefully.

As criticism has the potential to hurt and influence others in a powerful way, the responsibility of the giver remains the greatest. Our real intentions often get lost in the murky pool of human relationships. What may feel as a will to ‘help others’ can in true fact emerge from a deep, long-standing desire to control and manipulate. Even in cases when we are motivated by nothing than genuinely good intentions, communicating criticism with respect and consideration remains a fine skill.

Unfortunately, we are unable to mind read or predict someone else’s reaction to what we have to say. Our individual experiences with criticism have their unique way of shaping our perception. What may be OK for some may be damaging to somebody else. The best way to approach criticism is to see it as a double-sided coin. On one side it is constructive (good, productive and compassionate), while the other carries destructive features (it is ineffective, unproductive and selfish).

Constructive criticism is raised in a calm and collected manner. When you are exposed to constructive criticism, it feels like you are just hearing an added piece of information. Constructive criticism does not change the flow of conversation dramatically. It sounds like an offer of help that is too tempting to be refused. It feels like an invitation to become part of something good:

A: I know of some excellent books to help you write that piece, would you like me to show them to you?

B: Are you OK with making that pie? Do you think you could do with some help?

C: I’ve got some practical tips to improve your time-management skills, would you like to hear about them?

Destructive criticism sounds like a personal attack. It is emotionally charged and coloured with terms and expressions of negative connotation that make you feel inadequate and out of place. It changes the harmonious flow of conversation into something unnerving and unpredictable. Feeling cornered, you immediately switch to defensive mood without even realising it.

A: That has been poorly written. It doesn’t make any sense! It looks as if you haven’t either read or understand anything about the subject.

B: You don’t have a clue what you’re doing, do you? Without my help that is going to fall apart!

C: I can’t believe you’re late on that project. Why is it so hard for you to respect a deadline?

destructive criticism
There are two basic types of criticism: destructive and constructive.

As it is raised in order to genuinely help the receiver, constructive criticism is given with tact and respect, acknowledging the person’s skills and abilities that are already in place. It is rich in detail, clear and specific, so you know exactly what you have done wrong or could do with improvement. It is practical and straightforward; contributing positively towards enhancing the receiver’s learning experience:

A: I see what you mean by raising that point there; it is worth exploring it in greater depth. What about adding some examples to make it clearer to the reader? You could start with something like…

B: You mixed your ingredients well, you just need to butter that tin otherwise the base is going to stick on the bottom. You can still do it before putting it into the oven, but you will have to move the dough into another bowl first.

C: I like the fact that you have managed to get everyone motivated to work on our priorities. Since we are quite tight on time with this particular client, it would speed things up even further if you…

Destructive criticism, conversely, is exaggerated and vague. As its aim is to intimidate, belittle or even humiliate, destructive criticism lacks information that may be of learning value to the receiver. Instead of its focus being on specific behaviours, destructive criticism works as to discredit the entire person:

A: That’s absolutely awful. How can you expect anyone to understand that? You will have to do it all again!

B: That’s a disaster! It’s not going to cook properly! Baking is really not your thing!

C: I’d have expected so much more from someone in your position. Anyone would think you could have done much better than that by now!

Be it at home with your spouse or children, at work with your colleagues or employees or out with friends or extended family, sharing your views with respect and compassion can do wonders to everyone involved. Productive criticism helps people connect and grow. Taking time and patience to elaborate on your assessments always pays off in the end. Even if the concept of productive criticism has never had real application in your own life, you can start a new trend by using it with the people around you. It is never too late to incorporate positive changes into your behaviour. You can take over the rules of the game and turn criticism into a win-win experience.

Understanding assumptions

assumptions
Assumptions – or intermediate beliefs, in cognitive terms – derive from our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people.

Assumptions have a high power of influence over human behaviour. As firm believers in the Law of Cause and Effect, we act according to what we believe. If I assume I am not qualified enough for a certain position and for that reason will not be offered a job, chances are I will not fill in that application. Assumptions are of a general nature and tend to follow a common sense approach. They come as deceivingly relatable sweeping statements, that when inspected with objectivity fail to address the complexity of individual contexts, chance or random factors. I may have qualities other than qualifications that might be more appealing to the needs of a particular interviewer at a given moment in time. As I have no way of objectively knowing what the future holds, my choice is ultimately based on an assumption.

Assumptions – or intermediate beliefs, in cognitive terms – derive from our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people. Core beliefs are, predominantly, product of our education and upbringing.  These beliefs are reinforced through rewards on personal behaviour and tend to reflect cultural values held by a group’s majority. As young children, we learn how to use our core beliefs as personal frames of reference for thoughts and behaviours that are widely accepted by others, such as our parents, teachers and friends. Throughout development, we bond with people who identify (consciously or not) with those same core beliefs, and that are able to relate to the assumptions from which they originate. To go against what everyone else thinks – not to act in accordance with the beliefs of others – makes us stand out as unconventional. Not being considered normal may result in emotional discomfort.

The human experience is so rich that makes the credibility of absolutes somewhat wobbly. Assumptions tend to bypass this very richness, failing to make us justice. We are multi-layered individuals who are constantly adapting to the demands of a new tomorrow. What I thought was right 10 years ago might not be the way to go today, even though I felt so intensively inclined to believing it back then. Those who adopt a flexible attitude towards core beliefs and the assumptions from which they arise are more likely to experience satisfying levels of self-realisation and growth.

Here are two examples of assumptions that are not doing you any favours:

‘If I treat others with respect I can expect to be treated equally’

A golden rule introduced by your mum and dad to justify you being nice to others. It may have taught you good manners back when you were 5, but now it is affecting your mood in a negative way.

Having fixed expectations about people’s responses to you is unrealistic. As individuals we respond to only one agent: our own selves. Even for those who lack real selves, the choice to follow somebody else’s mind is still their choice. We cannot help but be. Beings also includes feeling unfriendly, arrogant, anxious, impatient, cranky, depressed, restless, distressed, upset, distracted and self-absorbed. In essence, feelings are not guided by a sense of fairness. They also precede social conventions or personal intent. There is so much involved in just being, that to take it personally when someone’s behaviour does not correspond to your expectation is a waste of emotional energy. You can save some precious emotional juice by stopping to evaluate everyone’s behaviour in relation to you. Become an observer, make a mental note of what you see and feel without attaching further meaning to it. This is a simple attitude that is bound to contribute to your sense of self-mastery over your moods.

‘If I put great effort into achieving something that means I will succeed’

Another assumption that is frequently at the heart of so many feelings of disappointment. Our focus is so often centred on ourselves that we tend to ignore everything else that plays a part at our life’s developments. So many factors can contribute (or not) to your success in whatever you do. Be it in your personal or professional life, you are not the sole influence on either things or people. You are limited to the extent that you are able to shape your entire reality. Working your hardest may not be all it takes to secure that promotion. Making sure you always look and act your best may not be enough to keep that relationship going. Just because you have quality time with your child doesn’t mean you will end up sharing the same interests.

As cause and effect, the relationship between quantity and quality cannot be defined accurately by absolutes. Hardly anything is 100% certain when it comes to the human experience, only that there is birth and usually a while later, death. Even though you can observe certain trends between your degree of dedication and performance, that still does not mean that your results will always be the same in every single attempt. Opening your perception to the uncertainty of life is as relevant a skill as any other. Knowledge may lead you to power, but it can also make your mind a prisoner of self-reliance. Freedom also comes with acceptance and the courage to just let it be.

Assumptions are not an entirely irrational thing to have, as long as we stick to their denotative meaning. A healthy attitude towards assumptions is to bear in mind that a belief remains a belief in spite of how strongly I feel in relation to it. Assumptions are not facts, but widespread subjective notions that do not require proof to be validated. Time may be an indication of how tightly connected an assumption has become to a group’s sense of identity, but that is all. Because an assumption has been held for a long time still does not make it true. How comfortable would you currently be with the idea that the earth is flat? The belief was held for over 200 years and it still did not change the shape of our planet.