Achieving Your Goals: 6 Psychological Hacks

Why are long-term goals so hard to stick to? Why is it so easy to self-sabotage no matter how important the goal is to you? It seems baffling that we can work in such opposition to our own best interest. We all do it, and it leaves us all kicking ourselves, so why do we do it again and again!

Why are long-term goals so hard to stick to? Why is it so easy to self-sabotage no matter how important the goal is to you? It seems baffling that we can work in such opposition to our own best interest. We all do it, and it leaves us all kicking ourselves, so why do we do it again and again!

Here’s the thing, the reason we struggle with long-term goals even when they’re of high value to us, is exactly because they are long-term. They’re distant, so in the ‘now’ we can’t achieve gratification from them, they can’t satisfy us while we wait for them and work for them. Unfortunately, we’re attracted to things that offer instant reward, even when it may be miniscule relative to how rewarding reaching your long-term goal would be.

 

Why Do We Fall Off Track?

It makes sense, we can only experience life in the ‘now’ and the future is intangible. This makes it hard to pick something in the future over something that you can have right on the spot. It’s a psychological phenomena that we all have to try to work around. What causes it is delay discounting and preference reversal.

Delay discounting is where the more distant a reward is, the more it drops in value to us which can lead to preference reversal, which is the tendency to set out for a larger more distant reward, but end up opting for a smaller but sooner reward instead.

This is why we go for the sleep in, the Netflix binge, the party, or the one-too-many pieces of cake, even though it would be rationally expected that passing that test, graduating, lifting that P.B, or reaching a healthy weight would be by far more satisfying and more worthwhile. For some, the perceived value of a reward drops off quickly the more distant it is, while for others the percieved value doesn’t reduce that much at all with distance. This is why some of us have so much willpower and self-control, but others find it incredibly hard to stay on track.

 

 

Strategies for Success:

1. Treat Yo’ Self:

With the knowledge that we prefer and opt for immediate rewards over delayed rewards, it makes further sense that you are more likely to stick with a long-term goal if pursuing it offers immediate rewards – rewards that present either during or following a behaviour.

‘Immediate rewards’ can be natural, such as endorphins or just enjoying an activity, or can be created by you or others, such as receiving praise or a treat. To reward something you don’t do much of, you can also introduce rewards according to the Primack Principle. According to this principle, lower probability behaviours are reinforced by higher probability behaviours. Basically this means that giving yourself the option to engage in an activity you do more of after you complete an activity you do less of acts as a reward and increases how often you do the ‘less often’ activity.

Because evidence shows that immediate rewards predict sticking to long-term goals, why not hack that? If you’re having trouble sticking to a goal because you don’t enjoy the work you have to put in to achieve it, then add in some of your own rewards! It’s a behavioural fact that we are more likely to engage in a behaviour which we are rewarded for, so the more a behaviour is rewarded, the more we do it.

Ideas for Reinforcement:

  •  Make sure you do that work somewhere you enjoy. Ensure that you’re comfortable, warm, fed and your space is clean and pleasant so that it’s a nice, enjoyable environment to be in. It’s proven that having a rewarding environment acts to reward the behaviours performed in that environment.
  • After a set time or after getting a set amount done, allow yourself a treat, or a set amount of time doing something you enjoy.
  • Get someone to join in with you, having social support can be motivating and more fun, therefore more rewarding.
  • Reach out to someone close to you and tell them about the work you just put in for your goal, hearing them be proud and praise you can act as a reward.
  • If there are alternative methods to achieving your goal and you aren’t enjoying the method you’re currently using, try another way! This is very relevant for achieving diet and exercise goals – there is no one-way to be fit, healthy, gain or lose weight. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, change it!

2. Lock it In:

Another strategy to beat preference reversal is to lock ourselves in with a commitment that holds us accountable to take away the option of switching to opt for the immediate reward.

This could be signing up for a competition, a challenge or event, getting a coach or a tutor. Just book yourself into something you can’t get out of! So next first of January before you have the chance to back out of your resolutions, sign up to something straight away.

3. Break it Up:

As the saying goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Long term goals can feel unattainable and huge which can make them hard to stick with. It can be helpful to create some smaller, (challengin enough to be motivating) more attainable seeming goals which will help you progress towards your overall goal.

By breaking your goal down into manageable chunks you will be more motivated to work on them as the completion of each goal is less distant, and less daunting.

Completing smaller goals will fuel you on by rewarding you with a sense of achievement each time, making you feel more capable, and more confident in your abilities, which will in turn motivate you to keep working towards your end goal. Celebrate the small successes!

 

 

When You’re Struggling:

1. Don’t Be so Hard On Yourself:

It can be defeating to repeatedly fall off track, it can make you feel incapable, and cause you to just give up altogether. The best thing you can do is accept that this tendency to slip-up is a human thing, it’s not just a ‘you’ thing and it doesn’t make you terrible. Be compassionate with yourself and accept that these things happen. It’s more adaptive to take failure as a lesson that you can apply to getting back on track. Most of the time a single slip up isn’t the be-all and end-all of reaching a goal – but giving up definitely is.

It’s important to have confidence in yourself and your abilities because believing you are capable can make you try harder, which ultimately makes you do better – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. This may sound like empty ‘believe in yourself’ motivational B.S, but it’s a very real thing. High self-efficacy is shown to predict better performance. Self-efficacy is the belief in your own capability to manage and carry out an activity successfully. Having high self-efficacy increases motivation and planning, which leads to improved performance and higher levels of success.

It isn’t always that simple to have a positive mindset, but sometimes there are things that can help. Focus on your good qualities, what you’ve achieved in the past, and the areas of your life you are succeeding in. Take a moment to feel proud of those things, and acknowledge what you’ve got going for yourself. Write it in a journal to refer to when you’re stuck in a spiral of negative self-talk.

Just because progress might be slow or hit a downward curve doesn’t mean it won’t take an upward turn for the better if you keep persisting through the slip-ups. It’s amazing how much we can do if we simply have confidence. Fake it till you make it, it’s ok to give your ego a boost.

2. Have Perspective:

Sometimes we get down on ourselves for not achieving a goal quickly enough. It’s important to remember that often these time-frames we set for ourselves are societally shaped. For example, things like, graduating by 21, having a house by 25, getting married by 30, are societal expectations, but you do not need to fit into that mould to be successful!

Success at any age or stage is just as worthy an achievement. You don’t have to be in a rush to live your life. Go at your own pace, and don’t compare yourself to others – you never know what their experiences have been behind the scenes to get them to where they are, so their experiences are not comparable to your own. You have never missed the boat to do or achieve anything – you dictate your own life.

3. Get Your Priorities Straight:

This also relates to neglecting goals. We can be very aware of the lack of work we put in to a goal even when in reality, we may be doing so because another area of our life is a priority at that time. In these cases neglecting a goal can be necessary, it’s not failure or laziness, it may simply be that you need to be putting your time and energy into another area of your life or another goal which takes precedent.

Take a step back and look at the bigger picture, allow yourself to prioritise. You don’t have to achieve every goal you have for your life ASAP – you aren’t superhuman. Be realistic with the timeframes you set and accept that you have your whole life to achieve your goals. Just because you aren’t working on something or succeeding at something right now doesn’t mean you’re failing or that you won’t ever achieve it.

 

 

Strategise and be sensible in your goal setting – achieving your goals doesn’t have to be a joyless back-and-forth battle. Play it smarter, not harder.

 

 

Need help with a specific goal?

 

 

References:

1. Kirby, K. N., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1995). Preference reversals due to myopic discounting of delayed reward. Psychological science, 6(2), 83-89.

2. Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2017). Immediate rewards predict adherence to long-term goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(2), 151-162.

3. Kurth-Nelson, Z., & Redish, A. D. (2012). Don’t let me do that! – Models of precommitment. Frontiers in neuroscience, 6, 138.

4. Stock, J., & Cervone, D. (1990). Proximal goal-setting and self-regulatory processes. Cognitive Therapy and Research14(5), 483-498.

5. Chemers, M. M., Hu, L. T., & Garcia, B. F. (2001). Academic self-efficacy and first year college student performance and adjustment. Journal of Educational psychology93(1), 55.

6. Wrosch, C., Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Schulz, R. (2003). The importance of goal disengagement in adaptive self-regulation: When giving up is beneficial. Self and Identity, 2(1), 1-20.

Study For Success: Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re wanting to give your grades a boost or ensure that the information you’re studying actually gets learned rather than being forgotten the instant you leave the exam room, you’re in the right place. Here are some methods to ditch, and some to adopt to perform to your potential.

Whatever level you’re at with your education, you want to be putting your best foot forward when it comes to studying. Unfortunately, research has shown that the most commonly used and popular methods of study are actually relatively ineffective for your learning and remembering. Lesser known are the successful, proven methods that actually work.

If you’re wanting to give your grades a boost or ensure that the information you’re studying actually gets learned rather than being forgotten the instant you leave the exam room, you’re in the right place. Here are some methods to ditch, and some to adopt to perform to your potential.

 

Common Mistakes:

Learning Styles:

There is a commonly believed and promoted myth that studying in accordance with ones preferred mode of learning is the most effective study strategy. This is the myth of ‘learning styles.’ Just because it’s plausible, doesn’t mean it’s true. The vast majority of individuals do not fit perfectly into tidy boxes, we are more complex than that. As with most things, we all lie somewhere on a spectrum, not entirely one thing, and not quite another, often somewhere in between.

In one study, students who were instructed to use their self-prescribed learning style to study either performed equally as well as, or worse, than the control group who studied without this instruction. Moral of the story: don’t confine yourself to a ‘learning style’ when there are more successful and evidence backed methods out there.

Highlighting:

Highlighting is a trusty go-to for most students. It’s easy to do, makes you feel like you’re actively engaging with material, and adds some aesthetic points to your notes. It seems like a win-win, but unfortunately, it’s basically useless, (sorry). Highlighting has been shown to have no impact on learning. Basically, studying with highlighting does nothing to improve your performance, so you’d be better off-putting your effort into a study method that’s actually going to do you some good.

The issue that’s been found with highlighting is that it tends to be misused. It can be an effective method if used properly, because highlighted information stands out more than unhighlighted text, helping you to remember it. We tend to, however, either over highlight or under highlight. Over highlighting stops the highlighted text from standing out anymore rendering it pointless, while under highlighting misses important information. It’s also been shown that performance suffers when you are tested on the information you missed out of your highlighting.

Essentially, highlighting as a study technique on its own is unhelpful. I would advise that you use highlighting to complement other techniques, to allow you to go back and identify the information you want to cover.

Rereading:

This again is a super common method, and while it does improve performance above if you hadn’t studied, it’s one of the less effective methods. If you are pressed for time or don’t have time to learn how to properly use one of the highly effective techniques shown here, rereading is worthwhile. On the occasions when you’ve left yourself enough time to not have to cram, you’re better off using your time doing something else.

Often, we mistake the improved ease in reading a text for having learned the material. This is called the ‘illusion of competency,’ and is just the result of familiarity with the writing improving fluency. The benefits of rereading are actually, unfortunately for all of us who do this, not very significant.

Summarisation:

Once again, summarising information seems like a good idea, which is why a lot of us do it. It can be a good idea too, but only if you know how to do so effectively, which it turns out a lot of us actually don’t. If you’ve been taught how to summarise, go for it, it’s a good way of further processing information you want to learn, but otherwise, it’s not going to be much help to you, so you’re better off skipping it. If you want to keep using this method but you’ve never learned how to summarize, it’d be a good idea to look into how it’s done for it to be of use to you.

Cramming:

Need I say more? If you use this type of study, you likely know it’s not the best. Leaving it to the last-minute doesn’t allow you to learn properly, you will likely forget the material quickly afterward, miss some crucial information, and you will not perform as well as if you had adequately prepared over time. However, if you really have to, cramming is the only option, and it does improve your performance above if you’d done nothing, so better to give it a shot if you’ve left it too late.

 

Effective Methods:

Practice testing:

Practice testing can be done in many different ways and is a highly effective method of studying, time and time again shown to outperform other common methods. Practicing retrieving information from your memory makes it easier to do so in the future. The benefits of testing withstand time, as it improves how long you retain the learned material. To use practice testing to your advantage, repeat testing until your responses are correct, from there, any further testing will further boost your performance higher still.

Some ideas for this method could be, testing yourself with flashcards, answering textbook questions, using past test papers if you can get your hands on some, or using Cornell note-taking (leave a column blank next to where you’re taking notes and later create questions based on the material in the column for yourself to answer when you go to study). My personal favourite technique is to test my memory by covering my notes, writing out what I remember and elaborating on it as much as I can, checking my notes, and repeat this until I can recollect more, and more accurately. Whatever practice test style you wish to use, you will see benefits from it, although more in-depth, elaborative methods show better performance in tests than do more basic ones.

Distributed practice:

We tend to leave our study for later, closer to a test or exam. While that seems logical, evidence actually shows that spreading your study out is a much more successful strategy. Distributed learning is the act of breaking up your study into separated sessions, with longer breaks proving more successful than shorter breaks. More forgetting between study sessions facilitates learning and improves performance, who’d’ve thunk it?

Obviously, the amount of time you have before a test needs to be taken into consideration, because clearly, you cannot space your study sessions so far apart that you sacrifice the number of study sessions you are able to fit in. To use this method to your advantage, you’d ideally not wait until a test or exam is coming up, but study periodically throughout the whole term or semester. Maybe set aside a day each week, right from the start, to go over what you’ve learned, you’ll be happy you did.

One research paper found that a group assigned to six study sessions, each separated by 30 days, performed better in a test than a group assigned to the six study sessions performed only one day apart. The one day apart study group was found to outperform the group who did the six study sessions back-to-back on a single day (cramming). In addition to this, as would be expected, distributed practice testing performs better still than distributed study.

Teaching others:

Join a study group to discuss and help one another understand the content of your class, or bug your family and friends by teaching them about what you’re learning. Teaching other people is a performance boosting study tactic. Explaining to others can help you understand what you’re learning better, and also help you identify holes in your knowledge.

A study showed this to be effective, by comparing the test results of three different groups. One group studied as they normally would, another prepared a lesson on the topic, and the third taught the information as a study method. The group that prepared a lesson out-performed the normal study group and the group who taught a lesson outperformed them both.

Environment:

Location, location, location! Its been found helpful for your ability to recall information to study it in an environment similar to that in which you will be required to recall it. So basically, if you will be in a silent classroom test condition, then you should study in an environment as close to this as you can get. If your tests are held in the same place as your lectures, attending your lectures will help in your tests because being in the environment in which you learned material can help to trigger memories of it.

Studying in the same space, and not using that space for any other activities, helps you build an association with that location and studying, making it easier to concentrate. It can be tricky to concentrate in a spot you’re used to doing something else in.

Sleep:

I’ve said I before, but I will say it again. Sleep is so important! Make sure you get some good sleep after your study sessions and before your test. While sleep is not a study method in its own right, it’s included here because it will help all your hard work pay off.

Consolidation occurs during Short Wave Sleep, transferring memories from temporary storage in your hippocampus, to long-term storage in your neocortex, stabilising them. During sleep, your brain processes information which is useful for your future plans, and transfers the information you learned but weren’t conscious of, into consciously known information.

 

If you’re gonna do it, you may as well do it right. Ditch your old study methods and give your performance a boost with these well researched and evidence-based study hacks. You have the resources you need right here to help you smash your goals.

 

For more advice for students, see my post: 7 Tips From a Bad Uni Student to New Uni Students

 

 

 

References:

1. Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education106, 166-171.

2. Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2015). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 64-78.

3. Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest14(1), 4-58.

4. Born, J., & Wilhelm, I. (2012). System consolidation of memory during sleep. Psychological research76(2), 192-203.

5. Nadel, L., & Willner, J. (1980). Context and conditioning: A place for space. Physiological Psychology, 8(2), 218-228.

6. Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2013). The relative benefits of learning by teaching and teaching expectancy. Contemporary Educational Psychology38(4), 281-288.

The Food Bible

Whatever your health and body goals may be, this right here is a compact summarisation of the ‘need to knows’ on what you put into your body. Welcome to Wellth’s Food Bible. Let’s make some miracles happen.

Here it is! Welcome to my wellthy take on healthy eating. Nutrition may not be my area of expertise, however, as nutrition plays a big role in health which is what Wellth is all about, I have done my research so that along with my own two cents, I may lay down some science-based wisdom on the topic and not be talking to you out of my ass.

Whatever your health and body goals may be, this right here is a compact summarisation of the ‘need to knows’ on what you put into your body.

Weight Control:

Everywhere you look, there is someone weighing in on different diets and quick fixes. No skinny tea is going to cause you to lose fat. What does lead to fat loss, is the consumption of fewer calories than you are expending. Simple as that. Reach a caloric deficit and your body has no choice but to dip into pre-stored energy resources (i.e. fat) in order to keep you up and running. Alternatively, if you are trying to gain weight, eating an excess of calories will do just that.

While reaching and maintaining a caloric deficit is simple in theory, many of us know that these things are easier said than done. To reach a deficit you may think you have to eat boring foods and next to nothing, leaving you starving and lured away by temptation until you fall off the wagon entirely, landing right back where you started. But this does not have to be the case. There are ways you can make it easier to maintain a deficit.

Maintaining a Caloric Deficit:

Although you can reduce portion sizes of energy-rich food to create a deficit, this can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied. Studies have shown that weight loss is more successful when small portions of energy-dense foods are exchanged for larger, satiating portions of low-energy-dense foods. Basically, load up your meals with lots of low-calorie foods. This will leave you satisfied, and still put you into a calorie deficit. If you don’t know how many calories you should be eating, or the caloric content of different foods, then there are resources that can help you such as MyPlate by LIVESTRONG.COM and the MyFitnessPal app by Under Armour, or just hit up good old Google. You may want to consider consulting a nutritionist to ensure you’re doing what is healthy and right for you.

Burning Calories:

It is important to take into consideration the amount of exercise you do in relation to your calorie intake. If you are trying to reach a calorie deficit but you do no exercise, you will need to consume fewer calories than you would if you did exercise, because you will be burning fewer calories. This applies if your goals are weight maintenance or weight gain also: the more exercise you do, the more calories will be required to reach your goals. Exercise is important for all health and body goals. Muscle growth is essential for healthy weight gain, and to gain muscle, you need to be exerting those muscles. For the goal of fat loss, exercise is helpful both for allowing you to stay in a calorie deficit through burning calories and for increasing your muscle mass. Muscle requires energy to move, and a higher muscle mass requires more energy from your body to use them even in everyday life as well as during a workout, meaning your calorie burn will be higher. So if you aren’t already, it’s definitely worth getting into fitness. There are bonuses all around.

Protein:

Increasing the amount of protein in your diet (in accordance with your calories, be it calorie deficit, calories for weight maintenance, or calorie excess for weight gain), has many benefits. Diets with elevated protein aid in muscle maintenance or gain (dependent on your goals) and loss of fat. Along with this, protein helps improve satiety, helping you stay fuller for longer, so it’s helpful in the maintenance of a calorie deficit. Another bonus of a higher protein diet is that it increases thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is a metabolic process in which your body uses energy to keep itself warm. This means that increased thermogenesis helps keep you in a calorie deficit because it increases your calories burned.

‘Bad’ Foods:

You do not need to entirely remove carbohydrates or fats from your diet. Carbs and fats have been labeled ‘bad’. (Let me just say this about fats real quick: fats are not evil. In fact, there are structures in your brain which are made of fats, in which fats improve function). We’ve been told eating carbs and fats will cause weight gain, but as I explained above, specific foods don’t cause weight gain, an excess of calories causes weight gain. Sure, high fat and high carb foods are high calories, but you can eat these foods and lose weight if you are still in a calorie deficit overall. The whole ‘bad’ food label is no help, it’s better to consider that foods are either high or low calorie and high or low nutrient. In order to be healthy, you need to find balance: provide your body with sufficient energy to function, but not excess energy, and provide your body with the nutrients to support your bodies functions, but not get down on yourself when you eat something low nutrient because you like the taste.

Variety:

From a mental health standpoint, eating a variety of different foods is important for allowing your brain to function optimally. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to a whole load of issues you may not have even known about. Here I’ve compiled a basic run-down, courtesy of my university study notes.

  • Deficiencies in vitamin B6 (found in: meats, whole-grains, vegetables, nuts) can result in depression, cognitive decilne, dementia, and autonomic dysfunction.
  • Deficiencies in vitamin B9 (found in: eggs, green veggies, chickpeas, almonds, orange juice) can result in cognitive function impairment.
  • Vitamin B12  (found in: meat, shellfish, eggs, dairy) is required by every cell for metabolic functions, fatty acid synthesis, and energy production. Deficiencies can result in fatigue, depression, memory issues, and neuropathy.
  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant (found in: dairy, eggs, fish, pumpkin, carrots, oranges) and is required for visual perception, gene expression, and neuronal differentiation during development. Deficiencies can result in impaired night vision, blindness, and altered gene expression.
  • Iron (found in meat, shellfish, lentils, spinach) is the oxygen carrier in our blood. Deficiencies can cause fatigue, depression, memory impairment, decreased attention, and irritability.
  • Zinc (found in: oysters, meat, whole-grains, pumpkin seeds, legumes) is required for the perception of taste and smell, as well as the facilitation of DNA production. Deficiencies can result in neuropsychological impairments.
  • Iodine (found in: iodised salt, seaweed, mussels, eggs, sea fish) is used by the thyroid gland to make thyroxine, deficiencies of which can result in cognitive impairment, fatigue, and depression.
  • Magnesium (found in: walnuts, beans, mussels, dark leafy vegetables, sails (if that’s your thing)) is required for the synthesis of energy by all cells. Deficiencies in magnesium can result in depression, insomnia, muscle twitches, and migraines.

Balance:

I’m an advocate for healthy relationships with food. There are many ways in which you can have a negative relationship with food. Eating an excess of food low in nutrients is detrimental to your physical and mental health. Fearing food groups and being excessively strict and restrictive on yourself indicates an unhealthy mentality towards food. Eating food you deem ‘bad’ and punishing yourself for it, or feeling down on yourself and guilty is unhelpful and detrimental to your wellbeing. Studies show that in restrictive eaters with the tendency to guilt and binge eating after breaking their diets, mindfully considering a diet break with self-compassion reduces guilt and prevents binging. It is important that you fuel your body with love.  Put into your body foods that will help it do its job. Treat it well. But also treat you well – eating foods you love that aren’t of much health value, is not going to make you unhealthy if you otherwise treat your body well. Eating foods you love is you allowing yourself to experience life fully and get all the enjoyment out of life you can. This is why you will find recipes for foods on Wellth that are not so nutritious, but definitely delicious. You should be able to let yourself enjoy these foods too. A balanced relationship with food is a healthy relationship with food.

Don’t Judge:

I’m going to leave this here as a reminder to let others live. If a specific style of diet is working for someone, great. There is more than one method to reach the same goal. Just because someone’s method is different, doesn’t make the method wrong. (Of course, some methods aren’t as healthy as others or are total BS, but I’m not talking about those here). Veganism, paleo, keto, or whatever floats your boat is great! If you find a diet you enjoy and that makes you feel good, and whats more, that works for you, that’s awesome. You do you.

 

Eating well can be hard, but your health is worth it. Treat your body right, and don’t be afraid to treat your tastebuds sometimes too. Follow this bible and you may achieve some miracles for your body and mind.

Stay wellthy, and happy eating!

 

 

 

References:

1. Julia A Ello-Martin, Jenny H Ledikwe, Barbara J Rolls; The influence of food portion size and energy density on energy intake: implications for weight management, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 82, Issue 1, 1 July 2005, Pages 236S–241S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/82.1.236S

2. Douglas Paddon-Jones, Eric Westman, Richard D Mattes, Robert R Wolfe, Arne Astrup, Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga; Protein, weight management, and satiety, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 5, 1 May 2008, Pages 1558S–1561S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S

3. Claire E. Adams and Mark R. Leary (2007). Promoting Self–Compassionate Attitudes Toward Eating Among Restrictive and Guilty Eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 10, pp. 1120-1144. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2007.26.10.1120

The Wellth Self-Care Guide

Stress can be helpful in certain situations, it doesn’t exist without purpose. Stress can, however, become a bit too much and begin to feel overwhelming, so here are four proven strategies you can and should employ to keep yourself well.

Let’s begin this guide with a trusty cliche: life isn’t fair. From time to time, life throws you a curve-ball, no matter how hard you work or how good you’ve been, and it really is not fair. But it happens anyway. When you’re stressed, looking after yourself can fall to the bottom of your to-do list so it’s important to remember to keep your wellbeing a high priority, you’ll probably find that in doing so, your stressors will become easier to tackle.

Stress is the activation of your brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism. We need stress to help us react quickly to danger, and it can even be helpful to motivate you to complete your work to a deadline. However, stress can get too much and begin to feel overwhelming, so here are four proven strategies you can and should employ to keep yourself well.

1. Mindfulness

A lot of scientific research has gone into mindfulness and its ability to reduce stress through learning to calm your mind and body, similar to meditation. Its a technique taught to people suffering from chronic diseases, nurses, psychotherapists, councilors and health professionals who frequently deal with high volumes of work that can be distressing or emotionally taxing in nature. So don’t dismiss ‘mindfulness’ as mumbo-jumbo, it has been proven to reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Keep in mind this is a strategy that’s best if you get some experience doing it and make it a regular thing. If you try it once and you don’t think it works don’t give up on it altogether. Heres how you can practice mindfulness yourself:

•    Take some time out to focus your mind on one thing. Here are some ideas to help you get the hang of it, focus on: how the sun feels on your skin,  the taste and smell of your food, your breathing, the tension in your muscles and relaxing them methodically, all the sounds in your environment. Direct all your attention to whatever it is, don’t try to multi-task, all you should be doing is relaxing and focusing your mind on the task at hand.

•    If you’re having trouble and find that your mind is wandering, that’s ok, don’t dwell on it, acknowledge it and direct your mind back to the target of your focus.

•    Since you’re doing this because you’re stressed, you may have some intrusive thoughts or feelings about the stressor. That’s ok too, acknowledge the feelings, allow yourself to feel the sensations of emotion, but guide your mind away from engaging in actual memories or thinking through the problem. If you notice this happening, you don’t need to get frustrated, just relax, acknowledge it, don’t judge your thoughts, and direct your mind back to your focus.

•    If you’re new to this, it’d be better to start with short periods to allow yourself to get the hang of it before increasing the amount of time you do it for. But remember that you can do this any time, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at your work desk.

•    Another mindfulness strategy is the ‘body-scan.’ From your toes to your head, pay attention to and notice how your whole body feels.

•    If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or frequent worry, give yourself a moment where you allow these thoughts to go through your mind, and try to acknowledge them and not engage with them or feel anything about them.

2. Exercise

Exercise as a stress reliever is a more well-known strategy, but I’d like to push the importance of it. Engage in a level of activity that challenges you and makes you feel good. Not only does a good workout release endorphins in your brain, you have also achieved something to be proud of which is a mood booster in itself. If the stressor you’re facing is a problem that needs fixing, exercise can help you think more clearly as it improves your cognition and increases your energy. Try just going for a walk, or practicing yoga in your room. If you need some motivation or inspiration head over to the Beginners Guide to Loving Fitness.

While getting active when you’re stressed will help you, regular exercise is important to help keep you in good spirits the rest of the time as well. Exercise is especially important and recommended by health professionals for those with anxiety and depression.

3. Social Support

A problem shared is a problem halved. Confide in someone you love, get some good advice and reassurance, allow someone to help you. Don’t bottle it up, nothing good ever comes from that. Sometimes someone else has a different perspective that will make you view your problem in a different way, or they may help you come up with a plan that helps you feel like you’ve regained control.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing whatever it is that’s getting you down or stressed, then even just reaching out to someone for some quality time can do you some good. Get your cuddle on, hugs reduce the stress hormone cortisol, so get amongst. Getting someone to give you a massage can be a good stress reliever as well. Stress leads to muscle tension, and massages release muscle tension and feel-good endorphins! So relax, and let your partner or bestie put in some elbow grease to work the stress out of you.

4. Time for Yourself

A good stress reliever can simply be doing something just for yourself. Treat yourself to some quality ‘me-time.’ A bit of a pamper or even just getting yourself organised can make you feel refreshed and set to take on the world again. Time for yourself can be anything you enjoy doing, here’s a quick list of self-care ideas straight from my own personal journal:

  • take a bath
  • listen to music
  • paint your nails
  • put on a face mask
  • light some candles and get some mood lighting going
  • watch a movie
  • bake your favourite treats
  • snuggle into fresh sheets
  • write a to-do list
  • clean your room
  • write in a journal
  • go outdoors
  • treat your body to some fruit and veggies
  • stay hydrated

 

When life gets you down or gets overwhelming, just remember, it’s not a bad life, just a bad moment. How many bad moments have you had that you completely forgot about because it got resolved or seems insignificant now? Remember that this too shall pass, and you will be able to say you conquered it. If bad things didn’t happen you wouldn’t appreciate the good. Feel the emotion and appreciate you’re experiencing the full human experience, you get to experience all the feelings that come with being alive, and that’s beautiful.

 

 

 

References:

  1. WebMD, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – Topic Overview
  2. Anxiety and Depression Association America, Physical Activity Reduces Stress 
  3. Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010), Exploring self‐compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26: 359-371. doi:10.1002/smi.1305
  4. Khoury, Bassam & Sharma, Manoj & Rush, Sarah & Fournier, Claude. (2015). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Healthy Individuals: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009.
  5. Chiesa A, Serretti A (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5): 593-600.

 

7 Tips From a Bad Uni Student to New Uni Students

Hindsight. It is a beautiful thing. As the end of my studies are drawing near I have the pleasure of looking back and wondering what on earth I was doing half the time over the past three years. Lots of missed opportunities and sub-par decision making. So like a wise older sister I shall now impart to you some worldly knowledge in the hopes that your uni experience is a successful and healthy one.

Tip One: Be thrifty

Whether you are getting a student loan, paying your way, or getting support from your parents, uni is expensive. I have spent a week or two in the last few years eating cereal with water because I ran out of milk and couldn’t afford to get more. Do not let that be you. That’s gross. Make sure you have money for necessities before you go out for lunch or go out drinking, even though its tempting.

Tip Two: Prioritise

Because Uni is so expensive, don’t take it for granted. If you have a loan, you’ll be paying for it later, and if you fail a course and have to re-sit it, you’re adding to the cost for future-you. If you don’t do the work for your classes in favour of your social calendar or your new Netflix subscription, you are wasting your own time and money. That being said, having a good social life is a huge part of your uni experience.  But you do need to make sure you strike a balance between work and play so you form a good work ethic and set yourself up for the rest of your studies.

Tip Three: The ‘Fresher Five’ won’t kill you

If you haven’t heard of the ‘Fresher Five,’ it’s a common phenomenon where you gain five kgs plus in your first year. I’m telling you now, this is a real thing. Obviously, the metabolically blessed among us escape gain-free, but for the rest of us mere mortals, it is brutal and sneaky.

It’s easy to get caught up in the bad habits that are fostered in the first year, especially if you just moved out of home. But first-year and uni, in general, isn’t some alternate ultra-fat-storing universe where weight gain is unavoidable, obviously the usual still applies. You know the drill: eat your fruit and veggies, eat your protein, manage your portion sizes, don’t go ham on the higher calorie treats, and keep active. The major traps in first-year revolve around making new friends and wanting to involve yourself in every social opportunity on offer, and social eating and social drinking are a big part of that. Remember that you can still hang out with people and have fun without over indulging. Sometimes a sugar-free energy drink at a party is just as fun, or choosing the smaller option at lunch and skipping the added cake or fries (or in my case, milkshakes).

Stress eating is another catch, so keep the healthy snacks stocked up so you can turn to those when you need to. Keeping on top of your health is worth it, and as an added bonus it’ll help keep you mentally sharp for your studies.

However! If the fresher five befalls you, do not fret! At different times in life we have different priorities, and if in uni you find that socialising and keeping on top of your workload is what is most important to you, that is perfectly fine. For me, I was well and truly acquainted with the Fresher Five by the end of my first year, but my lifestyle now is a far cry from what it was then and the fresher five is a distant memory. Do your best, but don’t beat yourself up. You have the rest of your life to follow your fitspo dreams.

Tip Four: Don’t procrastinate

Do not do this. I myself used to be terrible at it. Worst of all its been proven that procrastination isn’t some kind of trait, or brought on by anything out of your control. Nothing is making you procrastinate. Procrastination is a choice. I hate this fact, but it is, none the less, a fact. Do not choose to leave your work to the last possible moment.

While you’re putting off your work, yes, life is good, but that it sets you up for a very, very not good time ahead. Often you underestimate how long an assignment is going to take, or you run into some unforeseen issues that you haven’t left yourself the time to sort out. Issues like this make doing your uni work suck way more than it needs to. Its no fun and wreaks havoc on your stress levels.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘diamonds are formed under pressure,’ because while you may somehow pull an A+ out of your ass the night before the deadline, that does not mean you will manage that miracle every time. Don’t be lazy. Make like Shia LaBeouf and just do it.

Tip Five: Sleep

Partying and late night cram studying can absolutely ruin your sleeping pattern, and leave you sleep-deprived. This is bad for you, more so than you may think as sleep plays a role in keeping your cognition on point, your mental health, and your weight regulation. Go to sleep at a regular hour like a regular person as often as you can. Enough said. Go to bed.

Tip Six: Use successful study methods

I study psychology, and one thing they drill into us is that in order to consolidate your learning, to really get it to stick, you need to engage with the material. The more involved your processing of information, the better you will learn it. For a start, don’t skip lectures. Second of all, take notes. When it comes to note taking though, not every method is equal. You’re better off going old school and taking notes by hand, not on a laptop because writing by hand has been shown to improve learning as it requires more processing than typing. On top of that, if you have readings to do, take notes by hand for that too because reading often isn’t enough. In fact, its been shown that when you re-read material and it becomes easier to read, that isn’t necessarily because you learned the content, it can mean that you have simply become familiar with the writing allowing the act of reading to flow more smoothly.

Tip Seven: Take opportunities

Get involved in Uni life. There are so many clubs and study groups and extracurricular opportunities that can help your learning, forge valuable connections, and give you the boost you need to make things easier when it comes to getting a job at the other end. I wish now that I took what opportunities I could early on, and I’m kicking myself for it now. You have the chance to give yourself an advantage, so why wouldn’t you?

Take these tips and let my learnings through trial and many errors be a lesson to you. Even though I have managed to be successful in my studies (please don’t think I’m a total loser I promise I’m doing fine), it could have been a hell of a lot smoother, and I could have done myself much prouder had I adhered to this advice. You have been warned. My conscience is now clear. Go forth and kick some academic ass.