Imagine if you sought to lose a significant amount of weight, and you decided to pursue the traditional route of adhering to strict diet and exercising. How long do you think it will take you to lose the weight? Well, consider this, the average person who rigorously pursues this type of change is going to experience noticeable results in three months, from there on it takes an additional six to nine months before he gets closer to his goal.
This is an analogy for transitioning from an undesired state to a desired state. Now that the public has begun to catch up with new knowledge attained in neuroscience, regarding positive thinking and feeling being an effective conduit for achieving positive change in a person’s life, there seems a new cliché regarding the importance of positivity. Specifically regarding, thinking, feeling and doing. There just seems to be this message that if you think positively everything is going to be alright.
To be fair, the proponents of positivity and optimistic thinking are fundamentally right. However, change takes time. Just like someone who has been over weight for a long time, it becomes unrealistic for anyone to expect them to drop pounds overnight, likewise people who have struggled with anxiety and depressive symptoms are going to have a difficult time adopting a new mindset overnight.
The information out there on the power of our beliefs and feelings is optimistic, and inspirational, but the process of change is a gradual one. It must be, otherwise the person is going to become frustrated, and wonder why they keep reverting to old patterns of thinking, feeling and doing, then give up. This is especially true for people whose behavioral issues are neurologically based, such as persons diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or Asperger syndrome.
Change take time, even for those who experience a faster process, it is still a significant amount of time. In the nearly sixteen years I have practiced psychotherapy I have come to learn that there are five stages a person goes through the process of change to successfully achieve the change they desire.
These stages are as follows:
In the stage of shock, the person who has lived in ignorant bliss for quite some time experiences a rude awakening regarding the true state of his or her situation. From the student who has procrastinated all semester, who finally sees his grades, to the addict who comes to the realization that he has burned several bridges through his addiction, the moment of realization can be a traumatic experience for some people.
It is at this stage; the person finds himself at a cross road. On one hand, he could take a path that leads to more despair and suffering, or he could take another path that leads to the change that he desires. The path he takes, depends on how he has processed his initial shock. Albeit, the better he has processed the shock, the easier it is for him to transition to the next stage.
Serendipitously, those who transition out of the stage of initial shock, often, (if not always) find the information they are looking for. They are excited, they are full of energy and they are inspired about the idea of changing their lives for the better. At this stage, they soak in stories about others who have been in a predicament like theirs and how they changed for the better. At this stage, they take in all the information they can, to begin their journey of change.
Resistance is the most difficult stage in the journey of change. This is where people begin practicing the actionable steps for achieving their desired goal. Often, these actionable steps require them to let go of behaviors they engaged in, in which they found comfort in. A significant amount of people will find it too much of an inconvenience to change their lifestyle and quit. For those who quit, depending on the severity of their situation, they will often restart the process from the inspirational stage. For those who do move on to the next stage, this is the slowest and most difficult path of the journey for them.
For this who reach this stage, after the difficult time they experienced with resisting the changes they needed to make, they make bargains with themselves. To control factors beyond their control, they tell themselves that they will continue to engage in their newly learned behaviors under specific circumstances, so long as things go their way.
Usually at the bargaining stage, the person has experienced mixed results, with the changes they have practiced to date. Naturally, they are looking for guarantees for the happiness they seek, as motivation to give it their all. For this who are successful with this stage, they realize that the mixed results they are experiencing come from not fully practicing the change of thinking, feeling and doing for the healthier. For those who are not successful with this stage, they slowly revert into their old life style.
This is the final stage of the process of change. It is at this stage that the person commits to fully practicing his newly adopted ways of thinking, feeling and doing, regardless of the outcome. People at this stage have usually come to a second awakening, regarding how much is beyond their control. They have decided not to fight the process any longer, but take things slowly, one day at a time, while striving to be a better person. Most importantly, they have decided that their practice of change is more important than their desired goal.
The irony about the stage of surrendering is that it is at this stage where people experience the most success in achieving their desires. The very stage when they care the least about their desires.
While most people follow this path towards change, there are a fee who skip stages and transition straight into surrendering. These people are few and far between. Regardless, people change for the better faster, when they move at a slow and steady pace.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
There is an NBA player, who I believe is on the spectrum. For people who are not knowledgeable with spectrum related issues, this guy may appear to be an all or nothing kind of player. One minute he is making and following through with picture perfect plays, the next minute he has unintentionally made himself the butt of a meme joke. I can tell that he is on the spectrum, because he works hard to hide his social oddities during interviews. A skill he will most likely perfect as time goes on. This is common among people on the spectrum, due to a marked difficulty in a being able to read and interpret nonverbal cues. “It’s hard for you to mimic something you don’t notice.”
One common issue people with Asperger or ASD diagnosis struggle with is perfectionism. This becomes an issue because of years of experience in trying to learn set of rules to compensate for the lack of intuitive rapport neurotypical people have in reading nonverbal cues. An unintended consequence of this is developing a subconscious tendency to be perfect. This is because the person on the spectrum has become accustomed and resistant towards critical feedback from others regarding how he isn’t doing most things to standard. So, to prevent any more critical feedback, the person takes an all or nothing approach to life. They are either doing it to perfection or not at all.
As you can imagine, perfectionism kills motivation, as the perfectionist becomes easily overwhelmed by the nuts and bolts of the intended activity he is required or desires to perform. So, in the absence of clarity, nothing gets done.
Overcoming perfectionism, is a process of coming to peace with rejection, real or perceived. Specifically, it is about coming to peace with rejection from yourself. You see, rejection from others is an illusion, as we are often not privy to the intents fueling the actions or words of others. So, if someone rejects you, you really don’t know why, unless that person is tells you and you believe them. It boils down to if you are at peace with the rejection in of itself. Being at peace with rejection, means that you often regard yourself unconditionally in a positive light. So, if the rejection is real and warranted, you don’t come to see yourself as a bad person but instead you see the situation as a learning experience.
Developing this mindset, requires a lot of effort and practice, but will help you move past the stuck mindset perfectionism creates in people. For clients I have worked with, who have made steady progress in overcoming their issues with perfectionism, they find themselves more motivated to get things done, and they find themselves doing things more quickly. It is not to suggest that minimum standards for activities be ignored, but is more to highlight the joy of liberation people experience when they allow others to be themselves towards them.
“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.