Why Self-Help Doesn’t Work

So many of us love self-help. We ravenously consume the latest and greatest, hoping that with every page we read, we will become a better and better person. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably experienced the moment when you realize, “Wait, nothing has changed despite having read all these articles and books”. Now sure, some of you out there will have taken these books and become a better person, which is great. But I can bet that there are many of you out there that have wondered this same thing. 

So what’s happening? Well a few things. Have you ever noticed the content feeling you get after deciding to chase after a goal or how good it feels to make a to-do list for the next day, the decision that tomorrow is the day that everything changes? It feels great! It feels so good to say to yourself this is it, this is the moment that I’m going to be different.

But then you wake up the next day, look at that to-do list and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”. Sometimes we can get started and keep the momentum going through the next day, or maybe even a few days, but for many, the momentum doesn’t carry us very far.

When we read self-help books, they elicit a similar response, we resolve to do better and are inspired to be successful. Many times though, that’s as far as it takes us. What’s happening is a brain response that creates a feeling similar to the one we get when we accomplish something. Essentially, we feel as though we’ve done something and therefore do not need to continue.

What I liken these responses to is a study done by Peter Gollwitzer and colleagues where they examined what happens when we announce our goals and the effect that has on our goal completion ability. 

This study looked at individuals pursuing higher education. The students were given a questionnaire regarding how they felt about their chosen field and their intentions in pursuing this field. There were two groups that answered this questionnaire, one whose intentions were recognized and those whose intentions were ignored. 

The study found that those who had their intentions recognized regarding their field worked less than their ignored counterparts. Those that had been recognized were more likely to end their studying early and feel a sense of completion sooner than the group that had their intentions ignored. Having our goals affirmed by others makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, leading to an internal sense of accomplishment.

I know for myself, I can create this feeling all on my own. Sitting down and reading an inspiring and interesting pop psychology or self-help book honestly makes me feel accomplished. Watching motivational Youtube videos? Yep, same thing. I feel as though I’ve done something, my brain rewards me with a rush of dopamine. All the while, I’ve accomplished nothing. 

This is why it’s easy to get in this self-help, motivational loop. We’re seeking that next hit to make us feel good, make us feel accomplished. We read another book, watch another video, make another list. All the while we’re accomplishing nothing.

What needs to be cultivated is self discipline. Self-help books can provide a framework, but they will not put the work in for you. Sometimes the books we read provide us with really great advice or anecdotal evidence we can take and apply to our own lives. More often than not, we don’t do this. Being able to put into practice all the information we’ve gleaned on how to stop procrastinating or how to save money, would lead to more success than just reading it and hoping it somehow changes your life.

Self-help books won’t help you unless you act on them. We all want a quick fix, a quick change, instant gratification. We are hardwired to find the easiest way to do something. We’re also hardwired to seek out things that make us feel good. Videos, books and articles won’t do the work for you, but they’ll make it feel like you’ve done the work. If you find yourself reading all these motivational, inspirational, how to improve your life books, but you don’t see any change, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Maybe these books actually do nothing for you and that’s fine. Maybe these books could do something for you, if only you put the work in.

Take a step back next time you put on an inspiring video or read an article on how to study better and ask yourself, “What can I take away from this?”. Then work to apply it. See how different things in your life will be once you are able to self-reflect in this way.

Thoughts to New College Students From a Returning Student

When the pandemic first hit the US, it became clear to me that I would need to leave my job due to safety concerns. After a period of time trying to wait things out, I realized this was not going to be over as simply as we initially thought. After a lot of talking, consideration and a promise for financial support from family I decided to go back to school. I had been working as an administrative assistant since I graduated college. I had an academic background in psychology but had decided after graduation that, while I loved the topic of psychology, it was not a field I wanted to pursue directly. On top of that, my degree turned out to be not as lucrative as I imagined it would be.

So I made the decision to pursue a new field and delve into the world of computer science and data science. Now it’s been around six years since I had taken a college level course. Now that I am a year in, I’ve come to realize some things that I didn’t realize my first time around.

Make Your Learning Efficient

As I mentioned above, I love psychology. I love educational and learning psychology especially. And if you know about these areas, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that there are so many opinions and theories on how we as humans learn. I myself do not have a firm opinion on this matter in regards to people as a whole, but I myself know that I learn differently than those around me. 

Generally, my advice would be to quickly learn what is most efficient for you. Now, this is not always possible and may take a lot of experimentation. My own learning style didn’t become apparent until my junior year of college. Be cognisant of how you’re studying and what the result of that studying is. Take notes if this is helpful, because the faster you figure this out, the faster you can start learning efficiently.

For myself, I know to differentiate subjects and how I will need to learn them. For subjects that require me to remember hard facts, rote memorization and space repetition are the way to go. But if I need to understand a concept such as how DNA replicates itself, or how a computer’s memory works, I instead I work on my understanding of the topic. To do this I oftentimes will create flashcards or study notes that have questions and an explanation/answer to the question. My goal then when going through these questions is to make sure that I can explain in my own words what I believe the answer is. I try to combine this method with spaced repetition as well. 

Essentially, finding something that works for you and can be done efficiently is the best route to take. I recommend the book ‘How to Become a Straight A Student’ by Cal Newport. He writes about learning and efficiency which I recommend all students read.

Manage Your Time, Seriously

I probably won’t go on about this topic as much as the last as it is somewhat self-explanatory. Managing your time is so incredibly important and can make a world of difference in your experience. As someone who is doing all online classes, even after the pandemic ends, I am in full control of my own schedule (for the most part). This means that I have to be careful to make sure that I get everything done on time and manage deadlines efficiently. 

I know though that this is not inherent or easy for most people, especially those who have just graduated from high school. You are most likely going from having your days scheduled and planned out by your school, to having so much free time you might not know how to deal with it. It would be easy to spend most of your time hanging out, exploring, partaking in the wonders of the web, and just generally not doing school work. Let’s face it, the last minute college student stereotype is sometimes more common than we’d like to admit.  

Cultivating the self discipline to start projects, readings, and assignments days to weeks before they are due is something that will make your life so much easier as a college student. It’s been so vitally important for me to maintain my schedule and stay on top of assignments. This habit has even helped me get ahead of my work for times when I had other life events happening.

Check out my planners and time blocking sheets on my Etsy shop below to help keep you organized : here

Respect All Around

This one isn’t so much as a practical tip but more something for you the student to remember. Something I realized when I started school again a year ago was how much I didn’t know what to expect my first time around. I went through every class not questioning anything and being too afraid to speak up. Please know that as a student you still deserve quality education and respectful treatment. If something isn’t clear or a link is missing, whatever it may be, please respectfully speak up to your professor. If they aren’t clear in their instructions, ask them nicely to clarify. 

This might be obvious to some, but for me coming from a situation where I was taught to go along with whatever I got, I never thought to speak up or say anything. Now I make sure to communicate my needs to my professors. 

And I want to make it clear, I am not saying you should be confrontational with your professors. Instead, just remember that at this point in your education, you have a voice and that voice is valuable. But do remember that your professors are people as well, who also deserve respect. Know that they are sometimes juggling a lot, just like you, the student. Many professors are doing research, managing a lab, teaching 2-3 courses, grading for those courses, working on projects outside of those stated, all on top of having a life outside of their career. 

I guess what I am trying to convey is that respect should be valued on both sides, remember you have a say in parts of your education. Reach out, question things, and start a conversation.

Overall, your educational career through college will be an evolving experience. For some, it can be easy to let the ‘learning’ part of your college experience just sort of happen. But instead, try and take stock, learn about yourself. Depending on your future goals, be it graduate school or a career, figuring out these things about yourself will be so important in your success. Take control of this process, don’t let this be something that happens to you and instead use it to your advantage.

Skills to Build While in Quarantine

During quarantine, many of us are going through a whirlwind of emotions, including boredom and the loss of purpose. For those that are laid off, feeling stagnant due to current work from home conditions, and those that were forced to leave their jobs due to unsafe work environments, now is the best time to take advantage of and up your game for when the job market opens back up. It’s also a time to develop skills that are not only useful but will help you out for a lifetime. This list isn’t comprehensive, but the way I see it, these are some of the most important in my opinion. A long list is fun to read, but not always easy to execute. Here are my picks for skills to learn while quarantined.

-Coding

This is the hottest skill for new and old hires right now. So many jobs are starting to need some skill in coding. If your field does not require it, it still looks great on a resume, showing your resourcefulness, that you work to continue learning and it can make you look accomplished. There are so many free or low-cost options to learning to code out there. I myself have dabbled in coding and would love to expand on my base during this time. Some of you out there might think, “I’m not smart enough to learn how to code”. But that’s far from the truth! Learning code is a skill like learning how to juggle. It may be tougher for us non-analytic types, but it’s still possible. Find materials that suite you and be easy on yourself. I highly recommend you give this a shot.

-Graphic Design

Maybe coding just doesn’t interest you but you’d still love to break into tech. Graphic design is a good place to start then. Like coding, there are tons of classes, books and tutorials out there to learn the basics of graphic design. You can also play and experiment in order to learn. There are many different avenues for you to go down such as user interface design, 3D modeling, online illustration, video graphics. Even if you don’t feel like you are artistically inclined, go for it! Like coding, it is a skill that must be built up. Most people can’t do a handstand right away, you need the muscle, balance, and coordination to do one. But you can work on these and eventually you will be able to do a handstand. The same is with tech.

-Baking and Cooking

Everyone should learn to cook to some degree at some point in their lives. I’m not saying you have to learn to make some complicated French dish or bake some intricate desert. Learning the basics is the first thing. From there, a whole world of possibilities opens up. You can cook dishes as complicated or simple as you like. Maybe you enjoy bread baking over all other types of baking and cooking, or you take a liking to recreating Japanese dishes you see online. The best cooking skill to learn right now, is to learn how to make delicious dishes with whatever you have lying around. It’ll give you the confidence you need to continue growing and learning to cook and bake. Whatever you find most interesting, try and build up your cooking skills while cooped up.

-Writing and Reading

Writing and reading aren’t for everyone, but they are important skills to every aspect of life in my opinion. Being able to write a grammatically correct and concise email is invaluable. Being able to put your words down on paper so they make sense when you read them back later is an amazing feeling. Something as simple as writing in a journal every day, whether you write out your feelings, take notes on your day, or use writing prompts, are great ways to start. I believe it’s a great skill to start working on and developing. There are so many parts of life that call for an ability to write. Reading, which I believe goes hand in hand with writing, is also invaluable. You can learn so much about yourself, others and the world, just by reading a couple books a year.  Look for books online, try everything if you just can’t seem to decide on something. Take five to ten minutes out of your day to read something and write something. Starting off with five to ten minutes allows you to not feel bogged down by the task, and permits you to continue on if you please.

-Investing and Budgeting

Learning to budget your money or keep track of your accounts will give you a great picture of your spending habits and your future that you may not have already thought about. There are free courses, books, and videos on the topic and are usually pretty accessible. Finding a budgeting system that works for you is part of the whole learning process. There are apps as well that track money, goals and teach you about spending all at the same time. But maybe you want to learn a bit more than just basic budgeting. For some, delving into the world of investing could not only help them in their life but also in their future. Finding courses on investing may be the best next step if you’re looking to go beyond budgeting. There are also apps and courses that are available online for you to take part in, all about investing for beginners.

-Foreign Language

This is another skill that looks great on a resume, adding a huge boost to your hireability depending on the language. And again, there are so many resources out there for you to use! Off and on since high school, I’ve tried learning German. I still remember a few words here and there, but I’ve always wanted to make it a true skill of mine. Finding music and tv shows to watch has been so much easier than it was when I was sixteen. Finding books, courses or apps online and jumping into a new language is great during this time. Immerse yourself if you can and put yourself through a language bootcamp. Or if you are living with someone, make it a group activity. Either way, take this time to start developing this new skill that you can easily take into the future.

-Crafty Skills

This is more a set of skills. Learning what I would call “crafty skills”, can be useful through out your life, much like cooking and baking. Repairing a rip in your favorite pair of pants, making some cheap durable dishcloths, canning your own salsa, theses are just a few of the things you could learn right now. How to install a light fixture, make candles or sew up a last-minute outfit are skills our parents and grandparents learned and now is a great time for you to learn as well. Search the internet for tutorials (again, lots out there), or call up those that have done these things for years and get your own personal lesson from family and friends.

I hope this list was helpful and got you thinking about developing some practical skills during this time. It’s also a great reminder of all the resources we have available at our fingertips. Utilize them to the best of your ability right now and learn as much as you can!

Stay healthy and stay safe.

Staying Productive During Quarantine

I don’t know about you but I’ve been having a bit of a rough time staying productive. I know I should allow myself time to relax and do things that keep my calm, but I also know that part of some of my anxiety are all the things that are piling up that I want to get done. Maybe you are feeling similar too. So below are some of the things I plan on doing while on quarantine in order to stay productive and stay on track with my goals. Feel free to check them out and hopefully they can help you a bit too.

-Pomodoro Technique

During the pandemic, I’ve noticed it’s so easy for me to become distracted. I am currently without regular work and have been trying to find gig work. But during these last few weeks, I’ve noticed that I easily become distracted by everything. Looking for a new show on Netflix to watch, checking if anyone’s uploaded an interesting video, looking at what’s on my social media. There’s an endless supply of things to take in and it makes it hard to focus on one task at a time. I’ve decided to go back to basics and do my pomodoro technique. You can use the regular pomodoro but I really enjoy and work better if I modify it to allow longer breaks, or longer work times. This way, I know that a break is coming but for the time being I’m going to work and focus on the task at hand.

-Reduction of Consumption

Related to my reintroduction of serious “pomodoroing” into my life, is to reduce the amount that I consume. I’m not talking food, although I’ve been watching that consumption as well. What I plan on reducing is the amount of media I consume. Right now, we’re all being overloaded with movies, tv shows, podcasts, audiobooks, and videos. I’ve always been someone who needs a bit of noise in the background, mostly for tasks like cleaning or cooking. But I’ve found myself drawn to listening to videos that I’ve either seen a million times already or don’t really have a real interest in watching. These videos make it really difficult for me to concentrate. I’m also finding myself just sitting and letting TV shows and Youtube videos just play one right after another. In order to combat this, I plan on listening to different soundscapes and ambient noise while I work. I will allow myself to continue listening while cleaning the floor and cooking a meal but while I write, study, or work, I plan on providing something soothing and calming in the background. This will help free up more of my mind to the task I want to complete.

-Learning to meditate

My significant other and I have taken to learning to meditate while in quarantine. I’ve meditated in various ways in my past while he has never meditated before. It’s a great time to start if you want to learn how to train you brain. I plan on using it not only for the mental health aspects of relaxing, reduction of anxiety and stress, but also to learn how to focus for longer periods of time. You can take this back to the use of the pomodoro method with me. I have a hard time concentrating on something for long periods of time if it’s not wholly engulfing to me. If it’s something like learning a new fun hobby or playing a fun new game, I can go on for hours. Transferring that skill to other more important aspects of my life, like getting work done, has been more difficult. Currently I am using an app to help guide me back into meditation, but I hope to get back into unguided movement meditation which are my favorite.

-Having a dedicated workspace(s)

You could call me a working nomad. Whenever I have had the opportunity to work and study from home, I’ve had a hard time staying in one spot. I usually like to drift from one place to another. I just enjoy mixing it up every now and then, even if it’s in my own house. This means I’ve never really had a dedicated work place in my home, ever. I’ve always kept my stuff packed up and just moved it along with me from room to room or spot to spot. Right now, I’m taking advantage of having the extra room to set up a work spot. My significant other surprised me while I was out a couple months ago and set up a cute little office space. I plan on utilizing this so that I start to associate a productive working mindset whenever I enter it. That way, it becomes more likely that I will work on things I need to get done, and not just hang out or drift from the room to another spot.

-Movement breaks

I’ve been working out while on quarantine, but I’ve noticed that even that does not seem like it is enough. When I was working outside the home, I was occasionally getting up and going to a meeting, walking from one place to another in order to talk with colleagues or drop off paperwork, and then the movement of going to and from work. Even with exercise, I feel myself getting stagnant throughout the day. I’ve been trying to take movement breaks and plan to do more structuring to those breaks in the coming days. Things like going for a walk, doing some yoga in another room, or just getting some cleaning done between tasks have so far been tremendously helpful in keeping my mind fresh and sanity in check.

-First things first

And funny enough, the last thing I plan to do, is try and get the most important, pressing or significant tasks done right away. I’ve let myself get slide out of my usual getting important things done right away in the morning slide to a more relaxed morning. But they keep me on a somewhat unmotivated, sluggish schedule where when I finally get my day started, it’s almost starting to wind down. I plan on jumping straight into important work and tasks as well as trying to exercise right away in the morning. I used to exercise straight away in the morning, but since moving have not had the schedule or the gusto to do so. The plan is hopefully to jump back into some semblance of those habits while the opportunity for change during this time exists.

This was my list of things I plan to do in order to stay productive during quarantine. I hope that you found it helpful. What are things you plan to do or are currently doing that help you stay productive? I would love to know.

Stay healthy and stay safe.

Beat Procrastination With These 5 Tips

Some articles will state that only about 20 percent of the US population procrastinates. But let’s be real, it has to be larger than that.In a day and age of instant gratification and constant mind numbing entertainment, it would be shocking to imagine that only 1/5th of the US procrastinates.  While not everyone will procrastinate to the level of some of us, everyone from time to time puts off those important tasks they know they need to get done. As a procrastinator in recovery myself, I am constantly looking for new and interesting strategies to work on my bad habits of delaying tasks and not getting important things done. It’s an ongoing process and I am constantly working to be better every single day. This is a list of things that I personally find helps me battle the big monster that is procrastination. These tips and tricks have personally helped me as I work on my bad habit of excessive procrastination so that I can get things done and accomplish more of my goals.  

  1. Figure Out the “Why”

If you look into the science of why we procrastinate, it often times is an emotional response. We are avoiding that which we do not want to do and the feelings we think it will make us feel. Every activity we avoid has some emotion and reason attached to it. It’s going to take some internal digging in order to figure out your reasons for procrastinating but once you do it’s going to help combat the desire to delay important tasks. Maybe we don’t want to go to the dentist because we’re worried the dentist will tell us our teeth are terrible, or we don’t run those boring errands because they’re, well, boring. It helps to take some time to think about the task you keep avoiding, and thinking about why you might be avoiding it. Often times we know exactly what’s preventing us. It’s boring, it’ll take so much time, it’ll stress me out. Other times, it may take a bit more digging. You don’t want to call home because you don’t want to feel bad about not being able to see your family more often, or you don’t want to go to the doctor because you’re worried that you might be given some bad news. Sometimes we are even worried about failure, that what we do won’t be perfect, so we won’t even start. Identifying the underlying reasons for avoiding these things is one of the first steps to getting yourself on track.

2. Learning to Regulate Emotions

Realizing the emotional response behind your procrastination is only one step of learning to regulate your emotions in regards to delaying important tasks. The other step, is building up the actual skill of learning to regulate your emotions. Essentially learning to embrace the suck. Part of this is recognizing your feelings, dealing with, and tolerating those bad emotions. There are many ways to build up this skill, some of which you might already practice. Journaling your emotions in general, or in regards to procrastination, can be incredibly helpful. This can help you realize the reason behind why you put things off, how to make it easier for you, and how to tolerate these emotions. Think of it like a brainstorming session, but you’ll also be getting things off your chest. Other ways may be meditation or a form of meditation,such as mindfulness. These activities, over time, can help you learn to recognize thought patterns and how to reorient yourself emotionally. Mood and emotion tracking is also a helpful way to learn to regulate your emotions. I find it helpful as it helps me stop and assess how I am doing at various points in the day. There are many apps out there that can help streamline this and even have reminders for you so you don’t have to remember on your own. Personally I like to track how I’m feeling in a notebook or a bullet journal. I work better tactically and find that writing down my emotions is a much better way of processing what’s going on with me. All of these activities can help you recognize negative emotions which can help you with the process of identifying and handling those emotions.

  1. Pomodoro Technique (Making it your own)

The pomodoro technique is a tried and true method of fighting procrastination that you’ve probably already heard of. I’m here to suggest changing it up to fit your personal productivity style. Personally, I find that the 25 minute work, 5 minute break format doesn’t exactly work for me. When I do use the pomodoro, there’s a couple of different ways I mix it up. You can make the breaks longer, instead of 5 or 10 minutes, make them equal to the amount of time that you spent on the previous work session. If you worked for 30 minutes, take a 30 minute break. I find this especially helpful for those times when I’ve fallen off the productivity train and need to slowly get my brain back into the swing of things. Usually I don’t stay in this format for long before I start working longer and taking shorter breaks. This is also dependent on the type of task you are doing. If you are studying something intense, take a longer or equal break in order to give your brain the ability to check out for a bit. Your brain will fatigue much more quickly if you don’t give it proper rest. Another thing is to mix up your breaks. If you want to be able to get more done, try mixing in household tasks like folding laundry or learning something creative like practicing drawing or guitar. By mixing it up like this, you give the more focused part of your brain a break that can help refresh you for later intense focus sessions. Experiment with the pomodoro technique until you find something you really like.

  1. Combining Passive and Active Tasks

Combining passive tasks isn’t a groundbreaking idea but when I first learned the concept I was very excited to implement it. Take tasks that do not require full attention, such as washing the dishes, cooking, folding laundry, washing the floors, and combine it with another task. Cook with your family/significant other to get some good socializing time, call a friend or listen to that audio book you’ve been putting off while you wash the floors or wash the dishes. I’m not saying to multitask though! Instead, there are tasks out there that only require so much of your focus in order to complete the task. These are the types of things you can take advantage of to get a few other things done. Not only that, but sometimes, combining things like listening to books or talking with someone while cleaning or cooking, can make the activity easier to complete and a bit more fun in the end.

  1. Creating Rituals 

You hear people say that they can’t get their day started until they have their coffee or until they have a shower. While there are many reasons these things work, one of the reasons is because it creates a bit of a habit loop. By creating an association between your coffee and getting work done, your brain will then be able to shift gears more efficiently, even to the point where some habits become automatic. The same thing happens when you get home from work. If the first thing you do is watch TV or videos online when you get home, your brain starts to associate the end of the work day with entering into relaxation or procrastination mode. Think of something you would like to do, something that will act as an enjoyable leadup to being productive. If you can do this ritual and then get to work soon after, your brain will start to associate that ritual with getting down to work. It could be going for a run, taking a cold shower, or just having a cup of coffee while watching an episode of your favorite show. As long as you follow it up with something productive, you’ll soon be associating that run or whatever with getting things done.

  1. Break it Down and Just Get Started

Another thing I find incredibly helpful is breaking tasks down into bite size chunks. It’s so helpful to write down all the things you want to have done, simply because sometimes we just forget that we have to do it. But other times a task can be overwhelming, which is why we avoid it. To reduce how oversized a goal or task might feel, breaking it down into smaller tasks will make it less intimidating. The smaller the better. If you are looking to write an essay, break it down into every imaginable step. Brainstorm 5 ideas. Pick 1 idea. Write a 10 point outline. Write for 2 hours. Writing down every task is also helpful. For me, it helps solidify in my mind what I need to do, but I also get the satisfaction of crossing every little thing off my to do list. I find that by breaking tasks down to very small pieces not only helps make a task less overwhelming but it also helps create motion. Many times, it’s as easy as getting started. Tell yourself that you’ll do just one small task from your breakdown. That’s it, just that one task. Usually you will end up doing more than just that one task. Once you get started, it’s much easier to keep going. Half the battle is always just getting the wheels turning. 

Those are my tips that I use currently to help me battle procrastination. I hope these were helpful tricks that spur you into action today. Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips and tricks for getting yourself to get things done. I’d love to hear what everyone else does to be productive.