Getting there, flexibly

Getting there, flexibly
Photo by Jose Rago / Unsplash

WorkLifePsych News 006

Hi there,

It's finally February! I'm hoping you had a good January, which for so many of us, seemed exceedingly long this year. I don't know if it's the lack of holidays, the darkness or the cold, (or the combination of all three!) but it can be a tough time to get through.

Personally, I'm feeling boosted by the fact that sunset is that little bit later now and my morning commute no long takes place in the dark.

What next?

The inexorable progress of the year also brings to mind what we want to do with 2024. You've probably heard enough about setting goals and making 2024 your 'best year yet', but I do want to remind you that goal-setting isn't the panacea that some people seem to think it is.

In Ep 152 of 'My Pocket Psych', Dr. Rachael Skews and I took a critical look at goals, goal-setting and change, and explored some of the many ways it can all go wrong. So if February means you're wondering why you're not making progress towards that goal, this conversation may shed some light. You can watch the episode on YouTube below.

A flexible approach to change

🫴🏻 Holding goals lightly

One of the points we explore in this discussion is the importance of holding our goals lightly and being open to change them if circumstances dictate it. This could mean adjusting our timing or even the target we're aiming for. It could even mean dropping the goal completely, if events mean it's no long practical or even valued.

Without this built-in flexibility, goals can quickly become a millstone around our necks and no longer feel like a motivating and exciting destination to reach. And who needs that?!

If you have set yourself some goals for 2024 and you're still not satisfied with the progress you've made, check out this blog post to learn about some of the most common reasons for this experience.

✔️ Change through tiny habits

Even if you haven't set any goals this year, you may still be interested in making changes in your life. I want to remind everyone that goals aren't essential and should only be set if you honestly believe they're going to be helpful.

Without goals, what's the alternative?

Well, you could start with cultivating small habits. In a week, they don't make much difference. Over a year, consistently putting the habits into practice can make an astounding difference.

As James Clear puts it in his book, Atomic Habits, "Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement." In other words, the cumulative impact is often more significant than we could have imagined when we start.

A short post-lunch walk completed each day will have an impressive impact on your psychological and physical wellbeing. Check out Prof. Shane O'Mara's 'In Praise of Walking' to find out more about the science of walking and how good it is for us. And yet this walk needs no equipment, no gym membership and no prior experience. You can just start walking.

I discussed this very topic with Shane way back in Ep 052 of the podcast.

🔬 Let's see...

One concept I love when it comes to habits - which can really lower the emotional temperature around them - is to commit to doing them for a short period of time. Imagine you're just renting the habit, to see how it works out for you. You're just trying it on for size. Your only commitment is to complete the habit daily for say a month, and then review it.

If you feel it's made a positive contribution to your life, you can keep going with it - and the trial period was well worth it. If you don't think it's for you, either because it was impractical or a poor fit for your lifestyle, then it's cost you very little and you've learnt a lot. Now you can simply identify another habit to 'try on' for a month.

You can combine this with another perspective that's invaluable when it comes to behaviour change. An experimental mindset. This means approaching your habits like experiments. There's no guaranteed success. You'll review progress and results periodically, keeping an open mind - rather than feeling certainty. This really helps us move from a pass/fail mentality or being prevented from even making a start by fear of failure.

Taking these two perspectives together gives you what I call the 'Let's see...' approach to behaviour change. No life-long commitments, no binary thinking about success or failure. Just a thirty-day plan and some time to review how it all worked out.

⚠️ Why make it difficult?

If you were to read nothing but missives from the 'tech bros' on Twitter (RIP), you might believe that making change in your life must involve hardship, pain and sacrifice.

(You'd also possibly start setting your morning alarm for 4am and begin your day with a startling variety of mysterious supplements in pill form.)

I'd like to suggest that change needn't be painful or difficult. Change can come through the adoption of small habits and an intentional and flexible path towards a goal. In my latest YouTube video I explore how having a theme for the year can put our options into context and allow us to to notice the opportunities to move towards what's important to us on a daily basis.

My personal theme is to have a 'Year of Less', but yours could be anything at all - anything that represents the kind of year you'd like to look back on. When making decisions or reviewing my options, I simply ask myself which option moves me towards 'less'. Check out the video below.

🧠 What am I feeling? And why?!

This month's online community meet-up is scheduled for Thursday 29th, at 12pm UK. As with all our community meet-ups, it's completely free and is recorded for viewing by those who can't make it on the day.

This month, we're going to take a look at a very important topic: Emotional Literacy. This is the skill of understanding what you're feeling, why you're feeling it and what that means for you. When we build our emotional literacy, we're able to better distinguish emotions from each other (moving beyond a simplistic 'mad, sad or glad' model), notice the root cause of the emotion, and better understand what to do with it.

We'll look at the benefits for developing increased emotional literacy and some simple ways you can put this into practice. If you've ever looked back with regret at how you lost your temper or let your fear take over your decision-making, this is the meet-up for you.

If you're a community member (it's free to join) you can RSVP via this link. If you've yet to join, you can sign up here.

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