Old Habits Die Hard: Identifying and Understanding Procrastination

Now that we have entered the new year, what better time to confront old patterns and habits. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where a looming deadline stays at the front of our minds, yet the task remains untouched. You just can’t bring yourself to do it. Procrastination pulls us into a cycle of delay, leaving us asking ourselves, “Why can’t I seem to take action before the very last minute?” It’s a frustrating dilemma that makes us feel like we are at the mercy of our own brains, unable to complete something we know we must. 

Before we even begin to discuss breaking down and overcoming procrastination, we must first understand it. Let’s first look at one of the biggest misconceptions about procrastination: procrastination is laziness. That statement could not be further from the truth. People often do not simply procrastinate because they are lazy and apathetic. Have you ever found yourself procrastinating on an important work task by completing something else that is more trivial? Essentially, procrastinating overwhelming work with tolerable or even enjoyable work? Many people desperately want to be productive but strongly dislike a specific task. To quench their need for perfectionism and efficiency, they avoid the hard-to-deal-with task by doing other things. Confronting why you feel an aversion to something is hard. Avoidance is much easier, at least for a little while. Eventually, your emotions and due date will catch up to you, leaving you emotionally vulnerable in a time-sensitive situation. Procrastination is not just a surface-level inability to work; it stems from a more deep-rooted place. 

It is essential to give yourself grace when confronting procrastination. Criticizing and being cruel to yourself will only make the problem worse. Try to understand why you might be procrastinating. It may be a fear of failure, a need for perfectionism, or a lack of emotion regulation strategies. Look within yourself and determine what thing(s) may be causing this behavior. The first step to overcoming something is identifying the root cause. You cannot merely start trying to force yourself to do work. The first step must be identifying why you, specifically, find yourself procrastinating. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do I find myself procrastinating the most?
  2. What do I find myself doing instead of my most important work?
  3. What do I feel when assigned an overwhelming task?
  4. When are other situations where I feel those same emotions?
  5. Is there a connection between those two situations (Questions 3 and 4)? Why?

Try writing down the answers to these questions. Many times, writing things down helps us formulate our answers more cohesively. Look within yourself and try to identify the “why.” Maybe even ask a friend how they deal with overwhelming tasks. Talk through it with them. Try talking to a therapist about this issue. Remember that the journey of overcoming procrastination is different for everybody. Start this journey with self-compassion and a commitment to understanding the deepest parts of yourself.

It’s That Time of the Year Again!

3….2….1….HAPPY NEW YEAR! Filled with endless possibilities of where the new year will take us, this time of the year can feel exciting and sort of like a reset for us all. The New Year also calls for many of us to create a new set of New Year Resolutions that reflect our values and where we want the New Year to go. With this being said, I think it is important to review how to build SMART goals so that we can be as successful as possible in attempting to achieve them.

The S stands for specific. Make sure you are not too broad in your resolutions, and focus on the specifics of what you want to achieve and how you plan on achieving it. The M stands for measurable. Numbers will be your best friend. Quantify aspects of your goal so that it will make the overall resolution more clear on what you want to do and how you are going to know when you are showing success. The A stands for achievable. This aspect requires mindfulness and self-honesty to uncover whether or not a resolution you create is plausible. Reflect on your skills, your mindset, and what is happening around you in order to make the most achievable goal you can. When we make goals more achievable, we tend to be happier that we are making progress and feel more motivated to tackle others. The R stands for relevant. This also requires mindfulness and self-honesty, and is one of the most important steps in goal building. Create resolutions that match with your values, interests, and desires. It should be something that means something to you and not something you feel others want for you. This will help motivation levels and overall enjoyment of your progress. The last letter stands for time. Having a “deadline” is crucial because it keeps you honest and motivated to know how much time you have left. Otherwise, you will find it is easy to blow off your resolution farther and farther into the New Year. 

Building SMART goals are a great tool to be on top of your New Year Resolutions, however, remember that mistakes and failure are a part of them too! Do not feel bad if you feel you are slacking, but be proud of yourself for trying. Don’t give up when it gets hard, yet, don’t strain yourself too much! Goals should be a fun way to better yourself mentally or physically, so if you find your goal is doing the adverse, reflect on how you can tweak it to make it more obtainable. 

It’s the Holiday Season!

The holiday season, a time typically filled with joy and celebration, can sometimes leave us overwhelmed and stressed. From the never-ending to-do lists to the pressure to create picture-perfect moments, it’s easy to lose sight of what truly matters during this time. Many of us expect that the holiday season should be a non-stop parade of joy and contentment. We often set high expectations for ourselves and our loved ones, thinking that the perfect holiday exists somewhere beyond the horizon. That’s why it’s essential to reflect on the concept of happiness during this season!

It’s important to remember that happiness is not a destination; it’s a journey. Instead of chasing a vision of what the holidays should be, consider redefining your perspective on happiness. Embrace the idea that happiness can be found in the present moment amidst the imperfections and unpredictability of life. One way to find happiness during the holiday season is through mindfulness. Instead of dwelling on what’s missing or what could be better, focus on appreciating the now. Take a moment to savor the laughter of loved ones, the warmth of your surroundings, and the simple joys of the season.

The holiday season is an excellent time to practice gratitude. Reflect on the things you’re grateful for, both big and small. It can be as simple as the warmth of a cozy blanket or the taste of a delicious meal. Practicing gratitude can shift your focus from what’s lacking to what’s abundant in your life. Additionally, don’t forget to prioritize self-care during the holidays. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the season’s demands, so take time for yourself. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, or simply going for a walk, self-care is an essential part of staying balanced and happy during this busy time.

As you navigate the holiday season, remember that true happiness isn’t about perfection or extravagant gifts. It’s about embracing the imperfections, finding joy in the present moment, and cultivating meaningful connections with loved ones. By practicing mindfulness, expressing gratitude, and caring for yourself, you can make this holiday season truly special and full of happiness. So, as you ponder your own holiday experience, consider how these ideas can help you find the happiness you deserve during this festive time of year.

Avoid Negative Self Talk

Being negative towards ourselves comes in many different forms, making it easy to fall in this dangerous trap. From thinking you cannot do something, to thinking you did something wrong, negative self talk can be detrimental to our relationships, physical health, and mental health. This is why it is important to recognize and limit your negative self-talk so that you can be more positive toward yourself! The first step of limiting negative self talk is to be more aware of when you do it and how you do it. If you can take another step and identify the possible reasons you do it, that is even better! For example, do you do it more in the morning or at night? Do you discourage yourself from doing things or do you more so comment on your appearance? Are you tired or hungry when you implement negative self-talk? By recognizing these attributes of your own negative self-talk, you are being more in tune with your thoughts and therefore allowing yourself to catch the negative ones. 

To work on limiting negative self-talk, you can challenge them through small tricks. For one, write or think about a list of your positive attributes that you like about yourself. Find ones that you sometimes take for granted or the ones that make you unique! On the topic of uniqueness, another way to limit negative self-talk is to let go of ideas of perfection and not compare yourself to others. Everyone has their own lives, attributes, and ideas! Each of these things make everyone who they are. With this being said, focus on not letting other people’s lives and ideas get in the way of your own thinking and life. Recognize that perfection is so ambiguous and that everyone can be perfect in their own way! Lastly, praise the smaller things you do in your everyday life. This trick is a great way to not only limit negative self-talk but to increase positive ones. Practicing with small things such as not hitting snooze on your alarm, or getting to work on time can be great ways to tap yourself on the shoulder and practice positive interactions with your own self! 

Reframing Self-Criticism

We all have that voice in our heads that perpetually highlights our flaws, mistakes, and inadequacies. While self-reflection is crucial for self-improvement, excessive self-criticism can be emotionally taxing. We must change this narrative.

Self-compassion, the counterforce to relentless self-criticism, is an essential skill to learn. Instead of harsh self-judgment, self-compassion urges us to treat ourselves with the same kindness we show to loved ones. It’s about acknowledging our humanness, complete with imperfections. Try speaking to yourself like you would a friend. Picture a dear friend sharing a mistake they’ve made. Would you condemn them or offer understanding and support? Self-compassion demands that we extend that empathy to ourselves.

One key to self-compassion is granting ourselves grace. Understand that mistakes are part of the human experience. Rather than seeing them as failures, view them as stepping stones toward personal growth. When you stumble, focus on what you can learn from it. Every setback has a lesson about your limitations, values, or life path. Giving yourself grace opens doors to self-improvement and development.

Reframing self-criticism also means learning constructively from your mistakes. Examine what went wrong, why it occurred, and how you can make positive changes. Take responsibility without dwelling in self-blame. Constructive learning from mistakes empowers you to make informed decisions, set achievable goals, and build resilience. It’s a vital skill that boosts confidence and self-assurance.

The path from self-criticism to is transformative. By offering yourself grace and learning constructively from mistakes, you enhance self-esteem and nurture personal growth. Next time your inner critic surfaces, remember that you deserve the same compassion you readily extend to others. Embrace self-compassion, and witness your life’s positive transformation. You are your greatest ally on this self-discovery journey.

Happiness Rules by Manuel Astruc: Changing How We Think About Success and Happiness

The book Happiness Rules by Manuel Astruc, a board-certified psychiatrist from New York, discusses the relationship between success, burnout, and happiness. As an entrepreneur, Astruc knew about the devastating effects of burnout all too well. He uses stories about his life and struggles with burnout, addiction, and mental health to curate real but inspirational advice to the readers. 

As people, we often measure our worth based on our professional success. This constant pressure to be “better” can cause people to fall into burnout, defined by the World Health Organization as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Some symptoms of burnout are exhaustion (physical and mental), being detached from work, growing cynical, and losing effectiveness. While burnout from work can seem only directly to affect your professional life, the catastrophic effects from continuous burnout seep their way into every aspect of your life. It affects your friends, family, mood, and outlook. The widespread effects of burnout can cause many people’s worlds to flip upside down. Does not work lead to success, which leads to happiness? Well, according to Astruc, no. He believes we must reverse this mindset, thinking that happiness leads to success. Astruc defines happiness as “the feeling of joy as you strive to achieve your potential.” If we change our goal to happiness rather than success, we will focus on things that truly matter to us. We will essentially be using happiness to fuel us and, therefore, our success. 

But how do we truly embrace happiness? Thankfully, Astruc gives us some guidelines: 

  • Embrace the suck: Happiness is not always happy. You are not going to be perfectly content all the time. Along with life being generally difficult, changing how you function in the world is hard, even if it is for your benefit. Shifting your mindset is hard. It might be challenging to focus more on yourself and your needs. Breaking bad practices and maintaining a work-life balance is hard work. You must consciously tell yourself to focus on your well-being and break the cycle. But while this might be stressful, focusing on yourself and your happiness will ultimately improve your life. 
  • Make your future bigger than the past: Complacency and stagnancy mixed is not a beneficial recipe. While you may feel comfortable in your ways, that does not make them good for you. Change is tough, especially when you feel like there is so much to do and you do not even know where to start. The best thing you can do is stop looking at the past. Do not wonder what you could have or should have done earlier. That will not do any good. Embrace where you are now. And think about what you have control of right now. Make your future bigger than the past. Make goals for yourself (see January 2023’s Something to Ponder for tips on SMART goals!). Goals create hope for the future and let you know that you are in control in the now. You have the power to make changes for the better. 
  • Connection with others: Maintaining and improving your relationships with those around you is essential. Being so focused on work can often make us lose sight of those around us. Evaluate your relationships: Are they healthy or unhealthy? Why? What can I do to maintain my connection with this person? As humans, we need connections with others to thrive. 
  • Blaze your own trail: Evaluate what makes you you. What makes you unique? What are your strongest abilities? What is your purpose? What are you curious about? What do you want to pursue? We can often get caught up in what people say is valuable without actually evaluating it for ourselves. That is why it is so important to explore different things. And with the rise of the internet, online courses and resources are more available now than ever! Truly explore what makes you happy and fulfilled. If you focus on that, success will come. 
  • Commit to enjoying the ride no matter what: Improving yourself is not linear. It is hard work to change anything in your routine, let alone how you view success and, more broadly, life. Do not expect to stay on course the whole time. Being off course is part of the ride of improvement. Do not get discouraged if you mess up. If anything, be excited! You are doing the work! As long as you understand what went wrong and how to fix it moving forward, that is great! Be proud of yourself for trying, failing, and then getting back up. That is the hardest part. 

I know that is a lot of information to think about, but if you want to hear more directly from Manuel Astruc, I strongly encourage you to read his book Happiness Rules. There are even a few videos of him on Youtube if you are a more visual person!

Put Down Your Phone!

Phones have become an intricate part of our lives. Now that we can access seemingly everything we want to with just a couple taps and swipes, it can almost feel impossible to not want to scroll on social media apps, text, call, take photos, browse google or do anything else virtually we want when we want to. This, however, can be emotionally draining and exhausting, as well as impact our mental health in a variety of ways. For one, constant messaging and emailing through our phones throughout the day can cause more stress in our lives, making it seem that we are not the ones in control. In other words, with notifications popping up, it can feel like we are living in a continuous to-do list that keeps adding things to our agenda. Furthermore, it can taint our sense of gratification. Our phones are an electronic dopamine loop, meaning we can scroll online to gain instant gratification and fulfillment. With this constantly occurring, we can become too engulfed in our phones to realize the happiness that surrounds all of us in our lives. Now, I am not saying phones are always bad. Sometimes we do receive important text messages or phone calls that we need to respond to immediately, however, because constant usage of our phones does have implications on lowering our mental wellness, try this little mindfulness experiment to see how much your phone may be impacting your mood:

First, pick a day to monitor your phone usage. Carry on throughout the day like any normal day, and use your phone the same amount. What I will ask you to do though is to be mindful about how scrolling, answering texts, answering phone calls, going online, etc. makes you feel before and after you do so. Jot down some notes about what emotions you have and have what you are engaging with on your phone, as well as how your overall mood is throughout the day. Now, pick a day to set your phone down. Try going throughout your day without checking your phone. If you feel you need to, ask yourself why you need to, what will that benefit, and what would happen if you did not. Jot down notes on how you feel without your phone. Do you feel like you are missing something or uncomfortable? Do you feel more in the moment and present? How have you been feeling throughout the day? Next, compare the notes over the course of the two days and reflect on the way your phone usage is interacting with your mental wellness and behaviors. You may just find something out about yourself and your phone usage that you may want to change!

Practice Creativity Mindfulness

Just like any type of skill, people vary in their level of expertise in creativity, however, regardless of how well you think you are, creativity is a great source for practicing mindfulness. Well first, what is creativity? Creativity can come in various forms from working on a garden, to painting, to even planning a party for a friend. Creativity is just using your imagination and engaging your time, effort, and feelings into a goal. Findings suggest having these creative goals can increase one’s happiness, optimism, and excitement. With this being said, finding what allows you to be creative can serve as a great tool to release any negative thoughts and feelings onto a canvas, paper, or whatever outlet of creativity you decide to indulge in.  One of the main reasons why we find ourselves relieving our stress, anxieties, anger, and other negative emotions through creative goals is the ability for creativity to engage one into a “flow.” This flow is what can create a euphoric feeling that allows us to stay focused, engaged, mindful, present, and when it is all done, accomplished. Because of this, it is important to find your creative goal that you will be able to be excited about and enjoy doing. It is also important to note to not get frustrated at first. Creativity is a skill that needs to be developed, so by continuing to use your imagination and engage your senses into what you decide your creative goal is, you are already getting better! Try drawing, painting, dancing, or even going outside and cloud watching to start on your creative goal, and become more creatively mindful!

Hobbie Happiness

With platforms like Netflix and Hulu, it can be difficult to refrain from sitting on the couch, putting on our favorite show, and watching it for a while as a form of relaxation. Research, however, shows that binge watching as a form of relaxation and a break from our busy lives, may not be the best option. Binge-watching has even been linked to sleep problems, social deterioration, and sedentary behaviors due to being isolated and gaining stimuli straight from the comfort of your own couch. Now, I am not saying that occasional watching is bad, however, instead of using precious free-time to watch a series or surf the wonders of Netflix, it may be more beneficial to find a hobby that you find interesting and exciting! Diverting attention to something that you want to get better at or experience more in the form of a hobby has been linked to increases in general mood, increases in interest, increases in problem solving and other cognitive functions, as well as decreases in stress. In other words, hobbies promote happiness and a general sense of well-being! Hobbies also give you a chance to connect with others that have similar interests. It gives the opportunity to work on something with a group or talk about it in a way that is both social and exciting for all. Because all of us are unique and have various curiosities and ways of enjoying ourselves, hobbies can widely range from crafting to skiing to even juggling! It is important to find something that truly excites you so that you can invest your time into something that you will want to. So, write a list of some things you would be interested in and dive in to experience the happiness that surrounds hobbies!

Stress’s Sweet Spot 

Some stress can be good! That is something we don’t often hear, however, it is true. The trick is to find your stress’s sweet spot that allows you to function optimally and efficiently, without letting it get too out of control to a point where too much energy is spent worrying and feeling anxious. On one end of the spectrum, extremely low levels of stress can cause insufficient amounts of daily arousal to give you the necessary oomph to work efficiently. It may make you feel bored or lazy, and can even lead to some incidences of depression. At this end of the spectrum, too low levels of stress can decrease attention and interest which can be dangerous as we take on our busy and action-ready lives. If this is the case, it may be beneficial to take on some more responsibilities, projects, hobbies, or skills to build up the necessary stress required for you to feel productive.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, where extremely high levels of stress are present, too high of stress hormone levels can cause cognitive issues such as memory complications, altered concentration and constant worrying, emotional issues such as irritability, moodiness and loneliness, and can even cause physical complications as well such as headaches, digestive problems and heart diseases. At this end of the spectrum, too high of stress can create a lot more havoc in our already busy lives than we need! If this is the case, it is important to get a healthy nights rest, find time to do something you enjoy, talk with friends and family about what is causing you worry and anxiety, and to practice engaging your mind on the things you can control instead of all the things we wish we could.

Back to the main idea: some stress can be good! Research conducted at UC Berkeley shows that with just the right amount of healthy stress in our lives, this can give us the ability to work efficiently and optimally without being too worried and anxious. They found that with this healthy middle ground, cognitive functions such as attention and memory can increase, allowing us to perform the best. With this being said, this middle ground is different for everyone, and it is important to recognize your emotions and feelings when trying to figure out your stress’s sweet spot!


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