“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
It is not uncommon for me to run into a potential client who is seeking to change a detrimental habit. The habit can range anywhere from issues with procrastination to substance abuse. In the process of gathering more information from the client. I encounter a pattern of unhealthy thinking and behaving that is prevalent in all areas of the clients’ life.
Upon bringing this to the attention of the client, I receive a response that the only thing he or she wants to work on is changing the specific habit they complained about, and nothing else. Well, this is a problem, because everything about us is interwoven. This means that while we are working on cognitive strategies to change thoughts and behaviors regarding the identified behavior, the client continues to engage in his established pattern of thinking and behaving in other areas of his life, which only reinforces the bad habit he wants to change.
The idea that we can departmentalize our behaviors is a misunderstanding, A misunderstanding because some people experience significant success in some areas of their lives than other areas of their lives. The simple reason for this is because in the areas they have experienced more success, they invested more time. Regardless, if you are experiencing negative consequences due to chronic detrimental behavior you engage in, it is based on your mindset, or simply put, an unhealthy mindset you adhere to. This means that for people who struggle with unhealthy behaviors, while simultaneously experiencing success in another area of their life, then they have experienced that success in spite of their unhealthy mindset. Furthermore, in the absence of the identified unhealthy mindset, they would achieve even more success in the area or areas they are already excelling in.
Ultimately, the ability to identify a need to change, and the preference to cherry pick what type of change will occur, is a primitive instinct. Meaning that we want to experience positive changes in our lives with little cost or sacrifice.
It is also important to note, that for those who embrace focusing on the whole versus the parts, the process of changing your entire life is counter intuitive in that you only focus on your mindset and become cognizant on when and how you practice change in all areas of your life.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
Do you habitually struggle with following through on some tasks and commitments you know you should take on and complete, but can’t? More importantly, do you struggle to understand why you can’t engage in something you know will benefit you but you can’t make sense of it?
You are one of millions of people who struggle with this phenomenon, and the reason for your struggle is low mental energy. Keep in mind that energy comes in all forms, so the energy required to power your coffee maker is radically different from the energy required to power your automobile, with significant overlap. The same situation can be observed with human beings. The energy required to power your physical being is radically different from the energy required for you to engage in cognitive complex tasks that require concentration, specifically tasks that you don’t like doing. This energy is very fragile and for most people exists in low quantities. Ideally, over our lifetime starting from our early life experiences, we learn and employ cognitive strategies towards increasing the resilience and duration of this energy.
This is why people can consume media over long periods of time, engage in physical activities they find satisfying and still come up short when it comes to engaging in needed tasks. The activities they enjoyed required a different type of energy and sometimes a lesser amount of that energy. A concrete example would be someone who spends several minutes a day, typing messages and comments on facebook, but procrastinates when it comes down to typing up a needed report for work. While both activities involved concentration and the physical operation of typing, the first activity stimulated the emotional and social mind, as well as the immediate reward of engagement by social peers online. While the latter stimulated the more analytical mind, with the reward for engagement in this activity being delayed.
The good news is that it is possible to increase your self control, the process involves increasing and improving the sustainability of your energy for self control. In order to accomplish this task, you first have to understand how self control energy is depleted.
Food and Diet.
The food you eat is very important, in these posts, 1, 2, and 3 on anxiety and depression, I discussed how some neurotransmitters are produced in the stomach, primarily serotonin. I also discussed how the quality of these neurotransmitters are influenced by the quality of food we eat. So foods of low quality nutrition, leads to the production of low quality neurotransmitters which leads difficulty in our ability to regulate our moods. Mood swings take up a lot of mental energy, primarily in the areas of concentration. When we experience mood swings we are either constantly focused on maintaining a facade, in order not to damage relationships, or we are focused on recurring conflicts with others, based on how our bad moods influenced us to treat them. Another aspect of food, as it relates to self control energy is that research has shown that people who skip breakfast, were more likely to experience physical and mental exhaustion when compared to those who did not skip breakfast.
Research has suggested that we process the day’s events during our sleep. Specifically, the right and left hemispheres communicate with each other through the corpus callosum in our sleep with each hemisphere sharing with the other their unique perception of the same experiences. Specifically, the right hemisphere processes information from an emotional perspective while the left hemisphere process information from an analytical perspective. Researchers have come to believe that this process promotes learning. I would take it a step further and state that this process is akin to a body builder’s muscle repairing itself after a workout. Suffice to say, lack of sleep or poor sleep reduces learning of daily experiences, which increases the likelihood of the same mistakes being made habitually, which increases stress, which leads to low mental energy.
Beliefs and Values
Our beliefs and values can set us up to either thrive or struggle in our lives. This is because some beliefs help to recharge our mental energies, thereby increasing our ability to exercise self control, while other beliefs deplete our mental energies, thereby decreasing our ability to exercise self control. This is by far the most important variable in regards to self control, because what you believe in and subsequently find value in influences what your priorities, regarding what you choose to focus your mental energies on. So therefore, your beliefs and values can influence your quality for sleep and your diet.
For example, what if you believed that you shouldn’t go through any struggle in life? Or more specifically, you believed that you were not capable or resilient enough to go through any struggle in life and so therefore you shouldn’t go through any struggle in life? If this is a belief you hold unto in any degree, it stands to reason that you will find value in anything that represents an easy life. The end result would be a mindset conditioned to resort to avoidance when challenges present themselves. Which results in chronic under achievement, feelings of low self worth and addictive behaviors to escape such feelings. In the event of addiction, the addiction may overshadow the person’s life, due to low mental energies resulting from lack of discipline in responding to life’s challenges.
Some people may read this and declare that they do not hold unto beliefs and values that are detrimental to their well being. However, ninety percent of the beliefs we act upon are beliefs that exists in our minds beyond our level of consciousness. In most case, a psychotherapist can provide expert help in helping you understand yourself and recognize your true motives.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Are you addicted to chasing chaos? Experiences from our early life experiences have a profound influence on who we become as adults.
In this research paper on childhood trauma published in the journal of infant mental health, the authors discuss the phenomenon of hyper arousal and dissociation as two primary types of symptoms that result from childhood trauma.
Hyper-arousal is a state of heightened awareness as a result of prolong exposure to trauma, where the well being of the person is consistently challenged and threatened. In comparison dissociation is a state of detachment that occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to trauma where the well being of the person is consistently being challenged and threatened. At this point, it is obvious that the symptoms of hyper-arousal and disassociation are based on the personality type of the person exposed to the trauma. I will also add that hyper-arousal and disassociation occur on a spectrum so most people with unresolved trauma will show both types of symptoms
In regards to chasing chaos, people with unresolved childhood trauma will often seek out relationships in their adult years that duplicate the traumatic relationships they experienced in their childhood. Regardless of how well things are going on for them in their personal lives, they will subconsciously seek out high conflict relationships in attempt to solve the problems they have traditionally been unable to solve in previous relationships. This turns out to be a repeat and rinse process where those persons with predominately hyper-arousal symptoms will habitually overreact to conflicts, leading to difficult to manage consequences. Also for those with predominately dissociation symptoms, they will consistently seek out high conflict relationships where they will under react to conflict, leading to difficult to manage consequences.
The solution is to know yourself, and work with a psychotherapist to begin the process of identifying your unhealthy auto pilot thought processes and subsequent behaviors, with the goal of replacing them with healthier alternatives.
In this video, I discuss the process of creating a healthy and realistic narrative that leads to authentic self acceptance.
You have to be at work by 9am in the morning, you are just now waking up at 8:20am. Knowing fully well that it takes you about thirty minutes to get ready for work, you spring out of bed. Regardless of what excuses you give yourself, the reality is that you premeditated this. How? You premeditated your oversleeping because you did not set the intent to wake up at a specific time where you would have had plenty of time to perform your morning routine and arrive at work on time. Prior to going to bed the night before, you knew that you were running into trouble once you did not visualize what your routine in the morning was going to be like and you probably lied to yourself.
If you recall all the times you have successfully followed through with an endeavour, what you will most likely recall is that you visualized it happening before it happened. You knew what you were going to do, you anticipated obstacles in your path and how you were going to get around those obstacles. So what happens when we procrastinate? What happens when we fall short from achieving our desired goals, not because of things not going our way, but due to our failures in following through on certain things?
What happens is fear, and even more specifically our unwillingness to acknowledge our fears. Let’s say for example that you have a fear of speaking in public, and your supervisor recently confided in you about management’s interest in you for a new leadership position. You get excited about the job, then it dawns on you, this leadership position requires a lot of public speaking and presentations. You want the job, for all the perks that come with the job, but you do not want the burden of dealing with your fear of public speaking. So you choose to take the passive route by not making any decisions, and you instead give management the impression that you are interested in the job. Not only to you fail to make a solid decision to yourself, you also fail to visualize yourself thriving in that role.
In the absence of a conscious intention for what you want, your subconsciousness will default to making the best decision on your behalf which is designed to protect you from fears. Hence chronic episodes of procrastination. Using the example given at the start of this post, after several occurrences of tardiness, management will take you less seriously for the new job and you would have successfully sabotaged yourself.
This is the story of how procrastination usually occurs, there is fear or reluctance to engage in something, but due to social pressure you go along with it. However you make no plans in your head, nor do you set any intention to follow through, it’s as if you have decided that you will go along with the flow of things and whatever happens will simple happen.
The reality is that as human beings we all have power, specifically the power to influence the world around us. It is important to note that the feats we have achieved in our lives, were achieved because we wanted to achieve them, no one can bring us happiness in our lives but ourselves. This is why it is important to honest with ourselves regarding what we desire and do not desire.
So how do you overcome procrastination? You overcome procrastination by fearlessly setting your intention for what you want to accomplish. If you are having difficulty visualizing it in your mind then write it down as a narrative. In this post, I discussed the importance of using narratives in creating the futures we desire. Writing down your intention as a narrative allows you to play out potential obstacles you are most likely to encounter in a virtual world, which gives you leverage in predicting and developing plans for how to overcome certain obstacles prior to experiencing them.
Once your fears have been acknowledged and you have planned accordingly using the narrative technique, you will find that it becomes easier to set your intentions visually.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Which came first the chicken or the egg? This is a question that plagues us in all facets of our lives, and all fields of study notwithstanding. Take for example, the field of psychology. It is not uncommon to read about most medical professionals and biologist identify dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain as a primary determinant for how motivated a person is. There is truth to this, for example if you used a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to identify and measure dopamine production in the brain of a healthy person, you will find increased dopamine production and activity in response to the anticipation of a reward.
This then raises the question, is motivation based on genetic factors that predispose people to a certain type of chemical disposition, or does experience in a person’s natural environment, or environment of origin influence the chemical disposition of a person’s brain? Consider this study by Vanderbilt University, where researchers using a PET scan, determined that a person’s willingness to work hard was determined by his or her dopamine levels. The problem I have with this study is that the researchers did not go in depth into why the differences in dopamine levels existed in the first place, they simply measured dopamine activity on certain tasks, drew their conclusions and called it a day.
As a clinician who believes in neuroplasticity, (the brains’s ability to rewire itself based on stimuli), I suggest that the brain’s ability to produce certain levels of dopamine is influenced by the beliefs of the participants. For example, people who believe that they are capable of completing a hard task and earning a reward, are probably most likely to have increased dopamine activity as opposed to people who view themselves as incompetent when it comes to completing difficult tasks. Proof of the brain’s ability to rewire itself can be found in this study where, cocaine addiction, followed by chronic relapses was determined to have been caused by cocaine-induced neuroplasticity changes in the brain. Where chronic abuse of cocaine led to the brain to rewire itself to become dependent on cocaine for motivation.
So if neuroplasticity is true, (which it is) how does one increase their level of dopamine production naturally without resorting to unhealthy habits? One technique would be to visualize the outcome of your goals and embrace the process towards realizing these outcomes. Life in the modern world is more complicated than life in the wilderness, which humans beings originally evolved to thrive in. The reason for this is that the process of stalking and hunting game, foraging for food or cultivating food is more linear and straightforward than finding employment in a high salary paying job. With the latter, not only do you have to be qualified for the job, but you also have to have a good relationship with someone high up in the hierarchy in the industry, not to mention experience. So while hunting for game in the wilderness might require patience, it would be fueled by certainty if you have an understanding of the game you are hunting, such as knowing where to find them. With finding a high paying job, despite your qualifications, you may become intimidated if you were not raised in the same socio-economic background as the people you would need to apply to for the job, and this level of intimidation might reduce your dopamine levels, thus reducing your level of motivation in applying for said high salary job.
Personally, I think motivation is relative, which leads me to suggest that dopamine levels are also relative. For example, for experiences in which I have excelled at, my dopamine levels become increased when faced with a goal to accomplish, versus experiences in which I have had little success at, in which my brain responds by producing reduced levels of dopamine. In following through with the technique mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you are faced with a need to follow through on a goal in which you have little experience in, it becomes a matter of recollecting the best of your previous achievements, regardless of how different that goal was, applying the work ethic you used towards your visualization of success with the new and foreign goal, and following through with faith in yourself.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
One thing about chronic procrastinators is that they are extremely thoughtful. So thoughtful that if you ever find yourself discussing with any of them why why they have yet to initiate a task, they tell you in some detail how they believe their partaking in the task is going to turn out. Usually the story transitions into how the process would turn out to be a waste of their time due to circumstances they are certain that they wouldn’t overcome.
The following is a technique that was inspired by my transition into using Linux as my primary operating software. Given the the number of issues I kept encountering with my windows software in spite of spending good money on anti virus software, I debated going over to Mac, but was reluctant to ditch my computer all together. So I explored the idea of Linux Ubuntu. Before I installed Ubuntu on my pc, I installed Ubuntu virtually into my windows environment, so I could compare the pros and cons before making my final decision. Needless to say I was so impressed, that Ubuntu became my primary operating system.
The virtual installation of Ubuntu in my Windows program was enabled by a software called the virtual box, which pretty much enabled me to test run any software before properly installing it on the computer. I found this process to be ingenuis because in the event issues with the software were to be detected, my computer would not be compromised.
So that what’s this anti procrastination technique is based on, you pretty much create a narrative of what you are specifically going to do accomplish any long term or short term goal. Without experiencing any unpleasant consequences, until you actual implement the narrative.
So let’s say that you are planning to write a short novel, and you are procrastinating on starting the project. What most procrastinators would do in regards to their thoughts about this project would be to think through to the completion of the novel, and determine how difficult it would be for them to get published and then never start the project.
With the virtual narrative technique, instead of worrying about rejection letters you are going to receive from agents and publishers, you instead focus on the story you are going to write. So you begin with some research by asking by asking yourself and answering a few questions. Such as, why will you be writing this story? For whom will you be writing this story for and what evidence you have that they will be willing to spend money on reading this story?
This would be the first phase of your narrative creation, which you will document. The next phase of your narrative creation would to determine the actual process you will use to write the story and how long the process will take. For example, you could start by dedicating forty-five minutes of your time every day to writing your story, with the intention of sticking to this writing schedule for twenty-one consecutive days. The twenty-one days is actually the meat of the plan, because most people would look at forty-five minutes for twenty-one days as a small sacrifice. Heck, that’s sacrificing some television time, particularly those mind numbing reality shows.
After the twenty-one days, anything is possible, meaning that you will become more proficient at writing that you will probably develop the discipline to write longer, write more in forty-five minutes or more than likely, a combination of both. I have found that the combination of researching into the how and why a goal is going to be accomplished, coupled with the twenty-one day commitment, is enough to motivate most people into taking action.
Why? Probably because they realise on a deeper level that regardless of whether or not they set out to accomplish what they intended in the long run, that they will inevitably accomplish something about themselves in the twenty-one days. A big part of the reason is that the twenty-one day period becomes somewhat of a mystery to them. They know that they are going to experience some cognitive changes from the commitment of practicing a skill everyday for the next twenty-one days, but to what extent?
I have also found that for clients who have properly honored their twenty-one commitment, close to the end of the twenty-one day trial they usually will come to the appointment with clearer definitions regarding what they are going to be specifically doing for the next thirty to two sixty days. In short, they learn to embrace the process.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
On any given day, if you visit any of the popular social networking sites, you will find that pictures of cuteness gets the most views, likes and shares. The question is, why do people like cute things?
The popular opinion has always been that we are hardwired to respond favorably to cuteness. This makes sense on a surface value, as it’s probably a good reason why most parents are willing to put up with sleep loss and dirty diapers.
One study suggests that the faces of babies elicit motivation for care taking by humans. The study, conducted with a sample size of a 122 college students, had the students rate the level of cuteness in several baby photographs. The results indicated that the more cute the students found the babies to be, the more motivation they reported in wanting to take care of the babies.
In another study, the researchers indicated that when people viewed pictures they considered cute, it boosted their productivity level. The study consisted of three experiments, in which productivity levels where measured on fine motor tasks, non motor-visual tasks and in the third experiments participants where asked to locate numbers and letters from an arrangement of random and non random numbers and letters. The results of all three experiments showed that participants improved their scores on all three experiments shortly after viewing photographs of cute baby animals.
Perhaps like the first study indicated, that we are hard wired to take care of our young. Given that taking care of another human being full time, is tasking and sometimes emotionally draining, perhaps there are some hormones that get released in the brain when we stare at cute things, which make us become more focused and productive? Does this explain, why I suddenly decided to get into private practice after my son was born? Or why I unintentionally ran seven miles instead of my standard three in the morning, six hours after my daughter was born?
I do know this, the next time I find myself playing the role of a mediator in a custody battle between two parents with small children, I will inform both parents about these studies. It would probably help a protective mother to know that the father of her children is more likely to become more productive in providing for the children, if he spends equal time in co parenting them.
So perhaps if at work you ever get accused of being unproductive for looking at cute pictures on the Internet, you can tell them that you are recharging yourself.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.