Category: Self-Growth

9 Tips for a Productive School Year

by Yoni Sobin, PsyD

The beginning of the school year brings many challenges for children and parents alike. Perhaps most of all is the challenge of staying on top of all the tasks that need to get done! For some, staying productive may feel overwhelming, for others it may seem impossible – we stay on top of things for a few days, a week or two, maybe close to a month, yet eventually we find ourselves falling behind and overwhelmed once more. These tips can help make this coming school year your most productive one yet:

  1. Consistency

Humans work well with schedules. Wake up, brush teeth, eat, work, come home, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Performing a behavior consistently daily for a month is usually enough to set a habit. One great trick is to make sure you start the day with a consistent routine. For example, make your bed every morning. Starting every day with a small accomplishment sets you up to feel productive and ready to tackle the day’s challenges.

  1. Set one alarm (at most)

Alarms, especially multiple alarms, interfere with our circadian rhythm. So, at most set just one for the (actual) time you need to get up, and try not to snooze it. Even better, set a bedtime 7.5-8.5 hours before you need to get up, and let yourself wake up sans an alarm. If you get to bed on time and live somewhere with natural light in the mornings, let that be your alarm clock. By helping your body to learn to sleep when it’s dark and awaken when it’s light, you’ll maximize your productivity throughout each day.

  1. Delay morning phone/email use

This helps you to focus on priorities – getting kids out of the house, getting to work on time, and eating breakfast. It reduces your level of overall stress. Your most pressing needs in the morning are the immediate proximal stressors in your environment. Check the time, clean yourself up, and eat. Distal stressors can usually wait 20 minutes until you are more alert. No need to add stress the moment you wake up. Relatedly…

  1. Disable push notifications

Even when we quickly check a message notification without responding, it can take up to 10 minutes to reorient to another task. All that distracted time adds up throughout the day. Unless your job requires it, disable notifications for all social media, and any other distractions that are not essential to the day. Then, set aside time each day to allow yourself to govern your social media, instead of letting it govern you.

  1. Buy a planner / notebook

When were you last able to remember everything to do in one day without writing something down? Well, that’s because our brain is not designed to remember lists of tasks. Numerous studies have shown we can hold in mind a maximum of 7±2 units of information at a time. The solution is to get something simple;a weekly planner with a monthly page for long term planning should suffice. Use only one planner and stick to it, and get into the habit (see item 1) of looking at that planner several times daily and adding to it ANYTHING that needs doing. A task that is not completed must carry over to the next day.

  1. One planner only

One planner means one place to look and find out what you need to accomplish. With Google, Outlook, Slack, sticky notes, and more, we get overwhelmed trying to keep it all together. Consolidate everything in one place. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of a handwritten planner over digital tasks. The simple aspect of writing down tasks makes you remember them better. Digital means distraction.

  1. Break it down

It helps to break tasks down into manageable pieces. Manageable goals leave you satisfied and accomplished; overly optimistic goals result in feeling overwhelmed and procrastination, furthering a cycle of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and being unproductive. When you finish a task, cross it off the list, physically, and then smile J The act of removing it from the list and rejoicing in small accomplishments serves to reinforce further completion of tasks.

  1. Ask for help

Do not be afraid to ask for help. If you do not like asking for help from other people, get help from digital aides like StayFocusd and Boomerang for Gmail. StayFocusd lets you choose how much time you will let yourself spend on distraction websites; once you have hit that cap, the application will block further access to your distraction website. Boomerang for Gmail helps keep your inbox clean, allowing you to “boomerang” messages you do not need to deal with now, and schedule them to return days, hours, or even weeks later when they are more important or pressing. You can also schedule messages to send later, helpful for night owls or for dealing with something in advance you worry you might forget about.

  1. Batch tasks to be more productive

When planning your day, batch similar tasks together. For example, don’t make a phone call, then answer an email, then eat lunch, then deal with 2 other phone calls. Plan to make all 3 phone calls together, then deal with emails, then eat lunch as a reward. This will help you stay further focused.

Stress-free living may not be possible, especially in this ever-changing, ever-complicated era of history. But by employing these 9 tips you will certainly find yourself more productive and relaxed. Try it for a month…

How to Conquer Difficult Emotions with Dialectical Behavior Therapy

By Aliza Dinerstein, LMSW

Throughout life individuals encounter a kaleidoscope of experiences,
each one eliciting a specific emotional reaction ranging from joy,
love and hope, to anxiety, anger, or fear. Although one instinctively
strives to increase positive feelings and decrease negative ones, it
is important to remember that, at times, encountering painful emotions
is an inevitable part of life. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a
composite of therapeutic interventions geared toward helping
individuals build a life worth living, focuses on the science of
‘emotion regulation,’ i.e., one’s capacity to work through difficult
emotions in an effective way. DBT provides concrete, empirically based
practices such as building awareness, mindfulness skills, and specific
behavioral change that can be utilized in day to day life, helping
individuals approach challenging emotions in constructive and
rewarding ways.

The first step is to increase emotional awareness. Oftentimes, strong
emotional reactions occur and individuals are unable to identify their
own emotions or recognize their impact on thoughts and actions.
Therefore, one of the most fundamental tools in responding effectively
to difficult feelings is learning to identify and label present
emotions as they arise, while gaining an understanding of how those
feelings work in conjunction with one’s thoughts and behaviors.
Emotional awareness is developed through monitoring five specific
elements: 1) events that trigger emotional responses, 2) one’s
thoughts and cognitive interpretations of these event, 3)
physiological reactions and bodily sensations, 4) behavioral response
(i.e., actions), and 5) most important, the outcome of one’s
emotional, cognitive and behavioral responses – also known as
“effectiveness”. Building emotional awareness is a skill that takes
time and practice to acquire through the use of daily monitoring. But
this is the foundation of DBT, as it enables us to develop emotional
mastery and regulation.

Another core concept in DBT is to grant yourself the freedom to feel.
Usually, people try to avoid painful feelings such as anger, sadness,
fear and anxiety. However, inhibiting these emotions does not make
them disappear and in fact it usually makes them worse. Thus, DBT
emphasizes the importance of “mindfulness” which involves truly
experiencing emotions instead of blocking, suppressing, or avoiding
them. In mindfulness practice, emotions are understood as waves that
naturally rise and fall. When we allow our emotions to operate
naturally, the intensity of the feelings are minimized and we can move
through strong emotional responses in a more healthy and integrative
way. A related DBT concept is that one should aim to radically accept
each emotion without judgement. Mindful awareness is a key element for
truly allowing one’s self to feel, and mindfulness practice enables
us to work through emotions with mindfulness, presence, and
acceptance.

A third key DBT principal is learning to take care of the body in
order to take of the mind. Our capacity to cope with challenges in
moments of adversity is impacted not only by one’s emotional health,
but also by the condition of one’s physical wellbeing. DBT’s  emotion
regulation ‘PLEASE’ skill encapsulates these very dimensions of
physiology, which include 1) treating any existing Physical iLlness,
2) maintaining balanced Eating, 3) avoiding mood Altering drugs, 4)
creating healthy Sleep habits, and 5) engaging in regular Exercise.
Although these targets may seem simplistic, research shows that the
more one decreases physical and environmental stressors, the less
prone to emotional reactivity one becomes.

Although experiencing painful emotions is unavoidable over the course
of life, it does not mean that anyone must suffer through them. These
and other principals of DBT explain that one can change maladaptive
behavioral, emotional, and cognitive responses while mindfully
experiencing life in the present and accepting reality as it is. This
understanding, coupled with the skills that DBT provides, can help us
cultivate awareness, acceptance, resilience, and growth.

Making New Years Resolutions Work

Written by Ariel Campbell

For many of us, entering into the New Year can bring about thoughts of change. It can be a time of retrospection when we reflect on our life choices and consider improvements we would like to make. It’s probably the case that most of us, at one time or another, have set a New Year’s resolution aimed at bettering ourselves in some way. However, it’s probably also the case that most of us have experienced that initial sense of eager excitement and commitment gradually fizzle out into something more like a faint suggestion.

Despite our best intentions, making lasting changes in behavior can be hard. Luckily there are a number of strategies that can help us increase the likelihood of staying on track and achieving our goals. Whether it’s losing weight, improving an important relationship, or finally getting around to writing that novel these tips can help you make positive changes that last through 2017 and beyond.

The first step towards change is choosing appropriate goals. While we likely all have various areas of self-improvement that we could target, attempting to work on multiple areas simultaneously can be an overly ambitious undertaking. Focusing all of your energy for change towards one goal at a time will boost the odds in your favor. Additionally, aim to choose positive rather than negative goals. Positive goals are new patterns that you would like to see whereas negative goals involve current habits that you want to stop. It’s much easier to learn new habits than to unlearn old ones.

When setting goals, remember the acronym SMART to increase your chances of meeting your objectives. Setting Specific goals means being very clear and precise about what you want to achieve. If you’re working towards a long-term goal, breaking it down into smaller, clearly defined steps will help you to get started and stay on track more easily. Choose Measurable goals in order to track your progress. For example, if you want to find a new job choose to send out five applications per week. Make sure to set goals that are Achievable, or in other words goals that are in line with your abilities. Additionally, it is important to be sure that your goals are Realistic. Select a goal that is not only in line with your resources, but also with your larger life priorities and obligations. And finally, set Timely goals, meaning goals with a clear time frame and end date.

Now that you’ve set attainable goals, you’re ready to start working towards them. Making real changes in behavior is hard but following a few principles can help tip the scales in your direction. As you set out on each new step, consider any obstacles that may get in the way of reaching your goal. It’s impossible to anticipate all possible challenges, but predicting the most likely obstacles you might face and making a plan for how to manage them ahead of time will help to keep you on track. Repeating new behaviors is also key to achieving lasting change. With repetition, new patterns will begin to feel habitual. Once they do, you can tack on the next step in your plan and promote continued progress.

Another important tip to keep you moving in the right direction is to approach setbacks with the right mindset. It’s inevitable that old habits will creep in from time throughout the change process. Therefore, expecting setbacks and being kind to yourself when they do occur will help you to reflect on the things you could have done differently so that you’re better equipped to deal with future challenges. While being armed with the tools discussed so far will maximize your chances of making meaningful and sustainable changes, incorporating a few additional strategies that target your environment should make you unstoppable on the path towards achieving your goals.

One of the main reasons that it’s so hard to change our behavior is the fact that our surroundings are filled with cues that signal old habits. Embedding environmental cues that prompt new behaviors, like visible reminders or attention-drawing changes, can be extremely helpful in promoting change. Including significant others in efforts to change is also a valuable tool. Involving others can mean sharing your goals and progress with friends and family, paring up with someone who’s pursuing similar goals and can help to keep you motivated and on track, or joining a support group where you can share your struggles and successes and find encouragement. Whatever your goals may be, these strategies can help you to achieve them. Equipping yourself with these powerful tools will help you to effect and maintain the positive changes you want to see.