self help

All posts tagged self help

Self-help for when things go terribly, horribly wrong

Published November 20, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Hey, how’s it going? The reason I ask is that I know a lot of my fellow Americans are feeling pretty downtrodden now that their worst fears have been realized. The news keeps stoking the fire, reminding us of the catastrophic events that are sure to come now that a villain and a slew of goons are running our country.

These days, self-care is of utmost importance–and I’m not talking about a day at the spa (though that does sound quite nice). I’m talking about consciously taking care of your state of mind, your balance, your chi. I know that Facebook feed is calling your name. All those memes and horrrifying headlines are beckoning your time and attention. Don’t give in. Unplug, step away from your news app, detach yourself from the grim reality that is the Trumpacolypse…at least for a little while.

13793210I’m not saying you should stick your head in the sand and be blissfully uninformed for the next four years. Just be kind to yourself and lay down some boundaries. Consider time-blocking. This simple yet ingenious strategy got me through college. Here’s a fun piece of advice from It Takes an Egg Timer: Only visit the time vampire that is social media for 20 minutes, four times a day. It sounds impossible, but trust me, that’s more than enough time…maybe a little too much.

j-pdlxmld7wcAnother useful book for those of us who are already imagining World War III is Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong. I picked this up during a cancer scare (false alarm, thank God) and it really put my mind at ease. Lots of great techniques for tampering that insatiable beast called anxiety. If you’re unable to step away from the train wreck that’s unfolding on TV screens and news feeds, please do yourself a favor and download this book. If you’re not a reader, maybe practice some guided meditation and deep-breathing exercises. Or–and here’s the best advice–start becoming a reader! Books are my sanctuary from the storm. Even on my worst days, my soul gets restored when I step into Barnes & Noble and peruse all the many adventures atop the shelves. If I can’t talk you into reading, there’s always yoga, if you’re into that kind of thing. Hell, I might even give it a try–but I draw the line a kale smoothies and power cleanses! Let’s not get crazy now.

41g91rygxfl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The topic of yoga is the perfect segway for my next recommendation: Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. I don’t know about y’all, but isn’t it a little disconcerting that everywhere we look, people are completely glued to a five-inch screen. Whatever happened to daydreaming? Flipping through trashy gossip rags at the checkout aisle? Waiting 20 seconds at the elevator without a digital distraction? I’m not big on cell phones, but I could use some help in the mindfulness department, mainly to put a stop to that dang hamster wheel of gloom and doom in my head.  When I started pouring creamer into my tumbler instead of coffee–and wearing my clothes inside out–I realized that it’s time to find my balance again.

331879My best piece of advice: Get silly. That’s right – I’m talking about channeling your inner 10-year-old and doing things that make people laugh (mostly at you, not with you). Meditation is all well and good for experienced zen-masters, but my go-to strategy is silliness. I found some great pointers from this random book that I picked up at a work retreat. The author gave a fabulous tutorial on “making magic out of the mundane.” For instance, when a co-worker pisses her off, she Xeroxes that person’s photo until it shrinks into an oblivion. Then she takes delight in shredding the paper and watching it turn into pulp. Oh how I love her! And when she’s having a bad day, she goes out in public in her best formal dress and happily accepts every compliment that comes her way. While watching her speak, I noticed a lot of my surly co-workers were smirking and muttering sarcastic comments. If she heard their mutterings, I doubt she’d care. Neither do I for that matter because I fully embrace pure zaniness, like singing badly in the shower–or drunken Karaoke!–and dancing like a fool while walking the dogs (something I do on a nightly basis). Trust me, it really works!

170548And, of course, I must recommend my No. 1 go-to self-help book: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff. Broken into little vignettes, this book is great for those of us who only have time to read small chunks at a time. I keep a copy by desk for those things when it seems like I just can’ t get anything right! I have a tendency to lump all my problems into one big, ugly blob that hangs over my head all day long. I have to remind myself that in the broad scheme of things, IT’S NO BIG DEAL! I think it’s funny when critics say this book is too simple. They don’t realize that the genius of the book is its simplicity.

Whether you’re in a post-election fog, or just need some help finding your balance, I highly recommend visiting the self-help aisle. Yes, most of these books have a lot of useless filler, and some of the pointers are just common sense–but I’ve found some truly great nuggets of wisdom that come in handy when times get tough. Got a self-help book recommendation?  Post a comment and tell me all about it!

This Year I Will Make Smart Changes! A Q&A with Cognitive Psychologist Art Markman

Published January 1, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

unnamedThe New Year has reared its ugly head and now it’s time to start jotting down all our ambitious plans to tap into our inner rock stars and become happier, slimmer, richer and more organized! Of course, we can always start anew anytime of the year, but there’s something about January 1st  that evokes a dawn of reckoning. Hey, who am I to judge? I’ve got my own little pink notebook filled a laundry list of lofty ambitions to rock it out in 2014. If it takes the New Year to finally ditch those cancer sticks, or to start volunteering at the local animal shelter – you go with your bad self!

9780399164118In his brand new book Smart Change, UT Psychology Prof Art Markman will show you the way. I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy  (job perk!), so I can tell you that it definitely contains some pearls of wisdom – especially for those who need some help in the self-control department. Read on for more details about the book, which will drop on Jan. 7. If you’re an Austinite, be sure to catch his book signing event at BookPeople on Jan. 9!

Briefly describe Smart Change. 

Smart Change starts with the observation that many people want to change their behavior, but few people really know why their brains make them continue to repeat the same behaviors they have had in the past. The more you understand about how the brain motivates you to act, the more effectively you can help yourself to act in new ways. After exploring the motivational mechanisms in the brain, Smart Change presents five sets of tools that you can use to change even the most persistent behaviors.

Why is it so hard to break a bad habit, such as late night snacking in front of the TV?

Your brain is optimized to continue doing what you did last time without having to think about it. So, when you decide you want to change a behavior, you are fighting against millions of years of evolution that have created mechanisms that want you to maintain your behaviors. The hardest part about these behaviors is that they are habits, and so they are done mindlessly. You are often unaware of when and why you are performing the behaviors.

One of the hardest parts about changing a behavior like snacking is that your first reaction is going to be to replace the behavior with nothing (that is, not eating). But, your brain cannot learn to do nothing. So, you need to start the process by trying to replace an existing habit with a new one. If you typically snack while watching TV, maybe you should take up knitting or do a jigsaw puzzle while you watch. That will keep your hands busy.

You provide a free Smart Change journal online, which includes a 14-Day Habit Diary. Could you share some insight into how journaling helps people change their behavior? 

Much of what you do on a daily basis is mindless. It is hard to figure out the situations in which you are carrying out the behaviors you want to change until you can become more aware of when and where you are doing them. Spending two weeks just observing your behavior gives you a lot of insight into why you do what you do now. Those insights will be helpful when you start generating a plan to change your behavior.

In this age of instant communication, people often feel the pressure of being “always on.” How can this book help us adjust a balance between technology and our daily lives?

If you feel like one of your habits is to carry your work home with you, then you can use Smart Change to find new habits that will create a separation between work and home. In the book, I talk about how I took up the saxophone as an adult. I had to clear time and space in my life to add a new routine. Thirteen years later, though, my life is richer for it (and I even play in a blues band on Sunday nights).

In addition to productivity and time management, how can this book help people with their personal struggles?  

Your motivational system does not care whether the behaviors you are changing are ones you do at work or at home. Your brain helps you live your whole life. The principles you use to help you to be more productive at work are the same ones that engage to give you a meaningful life at home. The book draws on examples of behavior change at work and at home.

In your book, one of the five steps is to engage with people. Why is this important?

Human beings are social creatures. We are wired to adopt the goals of the people around us. If you spend time with people who have the habits you want to develop, it will naturally lead you to adopt the same goals. One important thing you can do is to find a mentor—someone who has the aspects of your life that you want. Then, spend time with that person and get to know how that person succeeds. Use their wisdom to help you make changes in your own life.

Once your readers follow the steps and successfully change their behavior, how can they pay it forward to others? 

After you have your own success changing your behavior, it is time to be one of those people in the community who has the life that other people want. When you become a mentor for other people who are trying to change their behavior, it also helps you to recognize aspects of your own behavior that you still want to improve. Being a mentor can give you added motivation to continue to move forward in your own life.

What sets this book apart from other behavior modification self-help books?  There are a lot of books out there on habits and behavior change. Some of the books describe how people form habits, but they don’t provide specific tools to help you change. Other books present a model of behavior change that is presented as a one-size-fits-all approach to developing new behaviors.

Smart Change is different, because it roots everything in the science of psychology. The first two chapters help you to understand the aspects of your brain that influence your behavior. Only then do I introduce tools to help you to change your behavior. Each of those tools has an evidence base behind it. In addition, each tool requires some work. It isn’t enough just to read about changing your behavior. You have to be active in your own change. The book comes along with a Smart Change Journal that you can use to take a comprehensive approach to changing behavior.

Finally, the book ends by pointing out that all of the tools that you use to change your own behavior can also be used to influence the behavior of the people around you. Real persuasion does not involve constructing arguments to convince people that a particular course of action is the right one. Instead, it requires the development of a plan that will ultimately change people’s behavior.