9 Ways to Beat Procrastination…Tomorrow.

Langisjor_EN-US2321196967Procrastination is three times as stressful as getting things done right away. First, because tasks that need doing aren’t getting done; second, because it is stressful to think about all that needs to be done…and remains undone. Third, procrastination in itself is a source of stress due to its impact on self-esteem and psychological well-being.

Procrastination is a delay in deciding to start a task or in completing it. Men and women in roughly equal percentage suffer from this debilitating condition. Situational procrastination happens to everyone and simply describes an occasional delay that does not indicate a habitual pattern. Dispositional procrastination applies to people who delay many tasks on a regular basis, including tasks that are important and sometimes even critical to optimal functioning. Among dispositional procrastinators, two major types can be discerned based on their presumed motivation: arousal procrastinators, who (often subconsciously) need to be motivated to act by the adrenaline rush that comes from cutting it close to the deadline, and avoidant procrastinators, who are de-motivated to act by their fear of failure or success and/or by task aversion.

Here are nine ways to beat procrastination that have been proven to work with many people. (Try one or two, if you have some time…perhaps tomorrow?)

1. Learn to Tell Time

lastminuteHabitual procrastinators, even when faced with simple tasks, don’t seem as capable to estimate the time necessary to perform the task as non-procrastinators. They overestimate how much time it will take to finish the task, and are therefore reluctant to begin it; or they underestimate how long it will take to complete it, and are afraid of not being able to finish it. Learning to better estimate time to task completion is a skill that needs to be developed by procrastinators who, for whatever reason, seem to fall short of its mastery.

GTD-cover2. Banish Disorganization

Not being able to plan a task, misplacing some of the things needed to perform a task effectively, or losing track of what has already been done are areas that cause people to delay starting a task or its completion.

Getting rid of the very idea of disorganization is the start of a better strategy for getting things done. The enormously popular book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity may help…

3. Post-It and Read It

Sometimes the simplest things carry the most value. Any procrastinator can benefit from the little yellow notes strategically posted in visible locations that act as silent reminders of tasks that need to be done. If the notes are read and acted upon, procrastination can become a less frequent problem.

4. Make It Easy to Concentrate

Not having a specific, designated place in which to concentrate and focus exclusively on a task introduces the scourge of distraction to the misery of indecision. Being in a place where there are too many other stimuli competing for attention is not a winning strategy. Getting in the zone and achieving flow is key to task completion.

LeoMarvin5. Take Baby Steps

Sometimes even a relatively simple task can appear complex, until it is broken down into smaller chunks. Behavioral psychologists recommend chaining, which is a series of responses needed to perform a particular target end-behavior or, in simpler terms, baby steps. Getting things done one small chunk at a time. Simple. It works.

6. Take Small Time Bites

Complexity of the task can be compounded by the (often incorrect) estimation of the total  time needed to complete it. To take care of this aspect of the problem, it helps to break down the task into small bites of time—say, 5-minute segments—instead of staring at the total time needed and freezing in place.

7. Put the 80-20 Rule to Work

Even the best laid out strategy of eliminating procrastination cannot be accomplished in one day. We simply can’t go from “total procrastination” to “total completion” in one fell swoop. A more realistic and achievable plan may be to apply the 80-20 rule, where success means completing at least 80% of the tasks, instead of aiming for 100%.

8. Seek Role Models

Go with a procrastinator and you’ll learn to procrastinate more. Seek non-procrastinators as role models, get past the negative comparisons, and you will learn useful techniques and approaches that may come natural to them, but can be a godsend on the way to getting things done.

9. Take Responsibility

Everyone knows that there are consequences for delays and for failing to get things done. Procrastinators know that, too. Unfortunately, the habit of making excuses that can be accepted by others simply sharpens the skills for coming up with “reasons” that just sound plausible. A procrastinator who is willing to take responsibility is only a few short steps away from kicking the habit.

Stress, As Seen Through the Eye of Science

Bazille at Stresshacker.comWhen science looks at stress, the focus is on the body/mind interaction or, more precisely, on its psychophysiological mechanisms. Traveling back in time from our present condition to conception, we can see that our genes and the environment in which we grow up (in which our genes are expressed) determine how we respond to stress as adults. Our genetic and environmental differences (the nature or nurture of who we are) help explain how individuals exposed to the same stressful situation can have an entirely different reaction. Some can adapt successfully to the stressor (albeit not without discomfort), while others experience more severe immediate trauma and long-term emotional problems, such as PTSD.

During specific developmental periods, such as infancy, puberty, adolescence, adulthood, or maturity, certain stressors are almost certain to occur and are understood to be typical and appropriate to the process of maturation and change. The earliest such stressor is the effect of caregiving styles, which stems from the parents’ psychological state. An attentive and nurturing style produces vastly different effects on the child’s later adaptation to stress than a harsh, unforgiving or neglectful one. In adolescence, patterns of behavior and emotional reactivity—including the stress reaction—begin to crystallize and become fully set in early adulthood.

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Stresshack #1: The Top 6 Job Stressors

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The top six on-going job conditions, thus excluding exceptional events such as a job loss, that may lead to significant stress are:

6. The structural and environmental conditions in which we must perform our tasks, which can range from mildly unpleasant to physically dangerous. There may also be noise, bad breathable air, overcrowding or constrictive body positions, such as prolonged standing or sitting or heavy lifting, or even too much typing. Degree of control we can have over these stressors: Often none. Perception vs. reality of the stressor: These often are legitimate and objective constraints that would stress anyone under the same circumstances.

5. Career concerns we may harbor over various aspects of the position we occupy, such as the security of the job itself, due to job-specific or industry/general economy threats; rapid changes in the job description or its requirements for which we may feel unprepared; unfulfilled desires of growth opportunities, such as advancement, promotion or change. Degree of control we can have over these stressors: Ranging from limited to significant. Perception vs. reality of the stressor: A fear-induced highly negative perception of the precariousness of the job can be a significant factor, and may not be commensurate to the objective reality of the threat.

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The stress of negative self-talk

There is a constant traveling companion who goes with us everywhere we go. Never leaves our side. Never seems to take a break. Anytime we do something, don’t do something, say something, fail to say something, our traveling companion utters a comment, blurts out a remark, passes judgment on what just happened to us. These comments are whispered directly into our brains, are not heard by anyone else, and come through sometimes subtly, sometimes very loud and clear.

To those of us who are lucky to have had a positive development of our self-esteem, this inseparable traveling companion utters encouraging, fair, balanced, and generally positive comments to our words and actions. Able to discern between a genuine mistake, a shortcoming, and a learning opportunity, our traveling companion offers helpful and positive feedback, helps us recover quickly from upsets and disappointments, and helps us deal effectively with traumatic events. Our traveling companion helps us become and remain better, happier people.

To those of us who had a difficult, traumatic childhood, or have had a series of stressful events in our adolescence or adult life, the traveling companion is a constant source of disparaging, unfair, biased, and generally negative comments about our words and actions. Unable to distinguish between our situational and systemic shortcomings, innocent mistakes, and skill deficits, our traveling companion unleashes a barrage of put-downs, decreasing our ability to face life’s challenges, forcing us to take extreme measures to shut it up (alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs), and does nothing but add to our misery. Our traveling companion can literally undermine, sabotage and bring more ruin to our life.

Interestingly, few of us are aware that the traveling companions exists. The voice we hear in our brains becomes so familiar, so constant, so automatic, that we fail to consciously register its message, fail to really “hear it” except within our subconscious. Even when we become aware of this voice, we often accept it (or endure it) as a given, something we cannot control, something that goes with us naturally, unavoidably, and permanently.

The traveling companion I am talking about is more commonly known by the name of self-talk. Lucky are those whose self-talk is generally positive. For the rest of us, whose self-talk is generally negative, life is a struggle fought with one or both hands tied behind our backs. Stress is our constant companion. Anxiety ambushes us at every opportunity. The world becomes an inherently dangerous place, people are not to be trusted, catastrophe is just around the corner. Often, alcohol (pot or a Xanax or an oxy) helps shut down the negative self-talk, at least for a few hours. Once the effects of the chemical wear out, it’s back, often stronger and louder than before.

What can be done by those unlucky souls who are stuck with negative self-talk as a traveling companion? The three-step approach of cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be very effective in treating this condition and eliminating its deleterious effects. The 3-step approach requires the help of a counselor, especially when the intensity, frequency, and impact of the negative self-talk is affecting our ability to function and increasing our distress to the point of self-medication. The 3 steps are:

1. AWARENESS, which begins with the acknowledgment and acceptance of the negative self-talk existence, facilitates our ability to actually and consciously “listen” to it, and permits us to identify the times and situations when we are most likely to hear it. This is the most important step. This is not yet a fix, it is an essential identification of the problem.

2. SKILL, in developing alternative options through which to see the events and situations that are happening to us, whereby the explanation offered by our negative self-talk is only one of the possibilities, and not the only one. When our negative self-talk suggests a catastrophic outcome, we have the skill necessary to work up alternative, more positive outcomes.

2. COGNITIVE RESTRUCTURING, which leads to a transformation of the negative self-talk in either a positive self-talk or, at least, a more neutral and balanced self-talk. This last step requires time and sustained effort, to counter what is perhaps a lifetime of negative self-talk and turn it into a new, habitual, and permanent way of thinking.

The John Lennon Syndrome

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. John Lennon

I love this quote from John Lennon and often share it with clients when they’re feeling frustrated because things haven’t gone the way they planned; they haven’t made as much progress as they’d hoped; or perhaps a goal that was important to them hasn’t been achieved. Quite often this is due to the fact that ‘life’ simply got in the way.

Life Happens and sometimes it can throw up unwanted and unexpected challenges. I’ve experienced this myself in the past couple of months and have found myself having to deal with some very stressful situations. As a Life Coach I try to walk my talk and most of the time I feel I live a fulfilling and balanced life.  But I don’t always get it right and there are times when everything is knocked for six.  And I know that I’m not alone — this happens to everyone from time to time.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the past few months:

Firstly, when we find ourselves in a stressful or challenging situation it’s really important to find ways to shore ourselves up and take care of ourselves. Take the pressure off — take it easy — don’t force yourself to do more than absolutely necessary.  Try to eat well, take some exercise, perhaps book in for a massage or healing or reflexology — whatever you find to be therapeutic. If you’re feeling anxious, find something that will act as a distraction, be it listening to music, going to a movie, doing a hobby or taking a walk — whatever works for you.

Secondly, if you have limited emotional and physical energy and resources, it’s crucial to make smart choices and concentrate only on those things that are of the highest priority.  What’s most important?  Each morning ask yourself what are the three areas I need to focus on today?  Forget everything else — just give yourself those three things to focus your attention on.  If you can get more done then great, but don’t ask or expect too much of yourself.

Thirdly, reach out for support.  It’s important not to try to soldier on and shoulder everything on your own.  Seek out family and friends who you can talk to — share your concerns — spend time with people who care for, and will support, you.  If you don’t have anyone to confide in, and your concerns are going round and round in your head, it can really help to get them out of your head and down on paper.

Finally, choose a positive image or mantra which you can use whenever you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed — or if you’re finding it hard to sleep. Think of something that embodies strength or calmness, or whatever emotional state you feel you need.

Mine is taken from this beautiful stone carving:  All shall be well.

No doubt many of you will have experienced what I call the John Lennon Syndrome in your own lives.  Don’t be too hard on yourself when life gets in the way and you don’t achieve as much as you’d hoped. ‘Life’ happens. Be easy on yourself and go with the flow. That’s what I’m learning to do.

Annabel Sutton

ICF Professional Certified Coach
Author of 52 Ways to Change Your Life

Connect with Annabel on LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/annabelsutton. Book a FREE Coaching Consultation with Annabel. Find out more about Life Coaching.

3 Good Ways of Responding To a Panic Attack

OBriensTower_EN-US194301618A panic attack ambushes the mind, the body, and the soul. Its targets are self-esteem, a balanced self-assessment and the ability to analyze situations and expected outcomes. When panic strikes, the present becomes a bleak landscape of dangers and the future includes a (seemingly) real possibility of annihilation. In the presence of a real (or perceived) significant stressor, one’s abilities to respond to the challenging situation becomes severely impaired. For the span of the panic attack, chest pains, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating, and even nausea and vomiting can give the sensations of impeding death. Can something be done to prepare for a panic attack with any degree of success?

One: Know Thyself

A first important tool is the ability to anticipate one’s own reactions, by getting to know them well enough so that they do not become stressors in themselves. Knowing the likelihood (and thus anticipating the possibility) of the physical sensations that go with feelings of panic (chest constriction, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and sweating) may help avoid the distress that these symptoms can cause. The very fact of knowing that these physiological reactions will take place, and allowing them to happen as a natural and understandable reaction to a threat to our well-being, can be beneficial.

Two: Know About Panic

Panic attacks are about as close to feeling imminent death as one can get, as anyone who has experienced them in all their severity will attest. A panic attack occurs without anyone else’s intervention (usually no one else is present). It can be extremely frightening even when no real physical danger exists (it can strike a person comfortably seated in his or her favorite recliner). A panic attack, by definition, occurs without any clinical danger of death and cannot by itself cause death or serious injury. A the most, when it reaches a certain level, a panic attack may trigger a loss of consciousness through hyperventilation (prolonged shallow breathing). This usually resolves the physical symptoms by momentarily taking the brain out of the picture, whereby the body can returns to homeostasis. When the person comes to, usually the panic attack is gone just as suddenly as it came. Exhaustion is not infrequent at this stage, as a panic attack can be a real workout for the heart and muscles.

Three: Manage Your Response

BearAttackA useful tool in preventing the recurrence of panic attack is stress management. Allowing the body to react, in concert with the mind, to a situation that may objectively warrant fear, sadness or worry is not only strategically sound, it is also physiologically healthier. Just as courage is not the absence of fear but simply good fear management, allowing a naturally-occurring biopsychic reaction to a stressor is simply good stress management.

Thus, the key to successful panic attack management is not in denying or attempting to prevent the stress reaction, but in what to do next (our chosen response). After the initial physical reaction ebbs and subsides and the heart rate naturally returns to near-normal levels, the real stress management response has a chance to begin. This response should first and foremost consist of addressing the stressor that is causing the panic attack to occur.

3 Good Ways of Addressing Serious Stressors

Three options usually exists in addressing significant stressors:

  1. Eliminating the stressor that caused the panic attack to occur.
  2. Removing oneself from the stressful situation, if option 1 is not available.
  3. Reducing the impact of the stressor through relaxation techniques or good coping mechanisms, when options 1 and 2 are not available.

How Do I Feel About It? Emotion As Information

oropa_sanct Emotion is information. Almost without exception, humans use their feelings to make judgments and decisions. Decisions are often made simply by asking ourselves, “How do I feel about it?” Most individuals do this feeling-based evaluation of significant aspects of their environment almost automatically. It is not infrequent that someone will rely almost entirely on emotion in making even very significant decisions.

Before discussing whether this is good or bad, it is undeniable that the information provided by emotions is about value—that is, about whether something or someone can be appraised in a positive or negative way.

Emotion as information can be illustrated as the means by which such positive or negative value is conveyed internally to ourselves, just in the same way as facial expressions of emotion convey the same type of information to others. Additionally, emotional appraisal is generally much more immediate, i.e. faster, than cognitive (reasoned) appraisal. In other words, we are capable of “feeling” positive or negative about something or someone much faster and earlier than we can “understand” or “evaluate cognitively” their real worth. This innate capability is well known to all of us as having a gut feeling, feeling it in one’s stomach, having a sixth sense, and many other such metaphors in every human language.

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My Role As a Clinically-Trained Coach

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One of the most important goals of coaching, and  one that perhaps is most likely to pay off quickly, is to maximize the effectiveness of  top performers.

Many of the top performing executives I see  may be functioning perfectly well on the technical side, but often not so well on their intrapersonal and interpersonal sides.

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Expectant Mother Stress and the Unborn Child

JapaneseGarden_EN-US1668112966Stress during pregnancy is usually discussed in negative terms and fear and anxiety seem to be the rule in explaining its possible consequences. A recent and soon to be published study by Janet Di­Pietro suggests that, at least in part, the contrary may be true. DiPietro, an internationally recognized leader in the field of child development, is credited with having described for the first time the ontogeny of human fetal brain–behavior relations throughout gestation, the associations of maternal and fetal characteristics with the neurobehavioral maturation of the fetus, and the fetal neurobehavioral origins of individual differences in infant physiology and behavior. Her latest study shows that 2-week-old infants of women who experience relatively more stress during pregnancy showed faster neural conduction, “evidence of a more mature brain.” Thus, maternal stress during pregnancy may actually stimulate the unborn child’s brain development, suggesting that the dreaded nefarious effects of stress on the child may be simply a matter of degree.

In her other studies, DiPietro outlined evidence to support the notion that the effects of maternal stress on the unborn child are actually quite modest in magnitude, pointing out that the placenta breaks down the stress hormone cortisol in the woman’s blood, preventing most of it from reaching the fetus. However, she is also careful to note that maternal stress may directly influence the developing fetal nervous system; that these effects on brain development may be aggravated over time by various characteristics of postnatal development; and that existing research on the effects of maternal prenatal/perinatal stress on child development lacks conceptual and methodological consistency and scientific rigor.

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Science writer Anne Murphy, author of the recently published new book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, classifies prenatal stress as belonging to the “profoundly unsatisfying” category of “it depends.” While describing her second pregnancy, Paul traces the developing literature on fetal origins, which has been called the staging ground for well-being and disease in later life. In her chapter on stress, she cites the existence of 200 industrial chemicals that can be found in babies’ umbilical cords, the link between low birth weight and later cardiovascular disease, and raises the possibility that a dietary supplement might one day protect future children from cancer.

Her focus on how expectant mothers can minimize harm to their unborn child during pregnancy makes Paul’s book a fascinating read that will help understand and put into perspective the opportunities and dangers of this fascinating period. It is the Stresshacker Recommended book for this week.

When Stress Hits You On the Nose

Stress-induced upper respiratory symptoms are not unusual. Stress has a powerful effect on the immune system, as the circulation of high levels of the excitatory hormones that accompany stress undermines its defense mechanisms, often producing symptoms such as those of the common cold.

How Does It Work?

sneeze.article Stress suppresses the activity of the immune system, principally due to the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. When under the impact of a significant stressor, the immune system is “flooded” by cortisol and other hormones and its functioning is, at least temporarily, greatly reduced. Thus, pathogens, such as those producing the common cold, have a relatively easier time entering and proliferating in the upper respiratory system.

This is the most prevalent theory of why people get sick while under stress. It does not affect everyone in the same way, however. For some people, it is not until the stressor is removed that adverse symptoms begin to manifest. In this case, it is almost as if the relaxation produced by the removal of the stressor had the effect of making the individual more vulnerable.

What Can Be Done?

A doctor once was asked how long it would take to cure a cold. His answer was, “Oh, about seven days if you take this prescription, or about a week if you decide not to take anything.”  Beside the joke, there is truth in the fact that there is no cure for the common cold, either stress-induced or otherwise. It will generally resolve itself, with or without medication, in about a week or so.

Something can be done however to reduce the effects of stress on the immune system. Some people find help in ingesting large quantities of vitamin C at the onset of their respiratory symptoms. Others find that remedies such as hot baths, hot drinks with honey, breathing exercises, yoga or meditation all have beneficial effects on the effects of stress, and thereby, on the immune system.

Female Soldiers At Greater Risk for PTSD

US_Flag_Flying_1Results of a 3-year longitudinal study of 2665 female National Guard soldiers began in 2008 of their mental health status before and after their deployment to Iraq provides new evidence that women have more than twice the risk of developing combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than their male counterparts, 18.7% vs. 8.7%. Women soldiers, with the same level of combat exposure, are also much less likely than men to feel prepared for combat (14.3% vs. 32.2%) or to take advantage of unit cohesion, which are the two most important protective factors against PTSD.

When we investigated the reasons for this we found men felt much more prepared for combat than women, and they were also much more likely to feel they had the support of their unit than women.—Anna Kline, Ph.D. Principal Investigator, Department of Veterans Affairs–New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange

The results of this study, presented May 17 at the American Psychiatric Association 2011 Annual Meeting, confirm previous studies among the general population, which have shown a higher prevalence of PTSD from all causes among women compared with men. What made this study among servicewomen possible was the higher percentage of female soldiers in combat zones, which in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom reached a high of 14% of total deployed forces.

According to the researchers, these findings may be more accurate because the study was conducted in anonymity. This factor alone may have improved the reliability of findings, as asking sensitive questions about mental health and substance use among identifiable servicemen and women has been shown to produce less that candid responses.

"The military now has integrated gender-based basic training so men and women do prepare together. However, it is possible that even if they get exactly the same training, their perceptions [of training] could be very different. It is also possible that training is geared more towards the strengths of men, so they feel more prepared to handle the rigors of combat. These are areas that need further investigation," said Dr. Kline.

Sugary Drinks Linked to Higher Blood Pressure

aaMatisse_1948_PlumBlossomsSoft drinks, sweetened fruit juices, and sugar-loaded sports drinks raise blood pressure, according to a International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP). The researchers measured the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, sugars, and diet beverages (which contain high quantities of glucose and fructose) over the course of four days, administered two 24-hour urine collections and eight blood-pressure recordings, and asked questions about the patients’ lifestyle and medical history. Results show that there is a direct correlation between fructose and glucose intake and increases in blood pressure and that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with a 1.1-mm-Hg increase in systolic and 0.4-mm-Hg increase in diastolic blood pressure after adjustment for weight and height.

Sugar-sweetened beverages have been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart-disease risk, and this is one more piece of evidence showing that if individuals want to drink these drinks, they should do so in moderation. Also, one of our interesting findings was that the association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and blood pressure was stronger in people who are consuming more sodium. We already know that salt is bad for blood pressure, but what we’re finding is that if you’re consuming more sodium, you appear to be, at least in this study, exacerbating the effects of these sugar-sweetened beverages.—Lead investigator Dr. Ian Brown (Imperial College London, UK)