You’re Not a Fraud: Impostor Syndrome is Telling You That You Are

Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

You’re Not a Fraud: Impostor Syndrome is Telling You That You Are

Posted on: February 6th, 2021 by Kim Koehler, LCPC

“I don’t belong here.” “I am not worthy of this opportunity.”“My thoughts on this are stupid.”“I am an impostor.” These are some of the common trains of thought that come from someone experiencing Impostor Syndrome.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome is a specific type of cognitive self-doubt, whether it be doubting your own intellectual abilities, talents, or worthiness of your position. Impostor Syndrome can make you feel like an outcast, or an outlier in a group. With the state of uncertainties in the current world, I’ve been hearing clients discuss Impostor Syndrome more than ever. So many people in my personal and professional world have discussed the fears of losing a job, but these fears being supplemented by statements such as “I’m not seasoned enough” or “losing me wouldn’t be a great loss.” This is also a common theme amongst students, wondering if the input they provide in their Zoom classes is substantial enough, or if their classmates are more easily retaining information than they are because of how much more intelligent their classmates must be. We can also see Impostor Syndrome in our relationships, when we start comparing ourselves to our partner’s previous partners, or wondering what they see in us compared to some of the other people they have been with. Impostor Syndrome has always been there for many of us, whether we have known how to label it or not, but it does not have to stop us from fulfilling our goals and dreams.

Who develops Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is not exclusive to any group of people. Although it is most commonly found in individuals who grew up with high achievement standards, many very successful people have had to overcome their self-doubt and validate their capabilities.  Some well-knownexamples of these include CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz; Tom Hanks; Maya Angelou; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, Valerie Shears Ashby; David Bowie; Tina Fey; and Serena Williams. All of these individuals can be seen to many as the best at what the do, the most intelligent in their fields, or the most awarded in their sport – yet still they have been outspoken on what it would feel like if everyone were to discover that they were a fraud, or that there were others out there more deserving of the opportunities they have earned. In our everyday lives, feeling like a fraud or finding others to be more deserving can come out in many ways. For many people in the work force, feeling like an impostor can mean that they do not want to accept compliments or praise about their performance, because they are still comparing themselves to others who they perceive are at a higher level. Feeling like an impostor can also create a spiral effect, where those feelings of inferiority or imagining yourself to be a fraud, can cause you to put extra time into perfecting your work or craft, which leads to not participating in enough self-care or recognizing your contributions. I have heard from several individuals who have been passed up for a promotion, that following this they poured their time into work, seeking to be the best in their division, and as a result grew tired, burnt out, resentful, and ignored some of the most important things in life like family, friendships, and hobbies. Even when it comes to hobbies and extracurricular activities, those feelings related to Impostor Syndrome can surface. You may start dictating your goals for improvement by comparing yourself to the work or abilities of others, which becomes de-motivating and causes you to stop your craft. For example, if you start learning to play the piano, and begin to truly enjoy learning and setting goals for yourself to improve, that’s great! However, when you begin to watch videos of other talented pianists, or have friends who are able to play really well, and start to think to yourself things such as ‘I’ll never be as good as my friend,’ ‘I’m not good enough to play in front of other people,’ or ‘I just can’t learn fast enough,’ resulting in you to totally give up on learning, the sting of Impostor Syndrome may start to be getting to you. It is important for you to know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do about yourself, and although the world around you applauds your accomplishments, it is up to you to buy in to the belief about how strong, capable, and intelligent you are as well!

What helps in combating impostor syndrome?

  • Redefine what being successful means: Those with impostor syndrome often fall into the theme of chasing the destination and not enjoying the journey. When we are so focused on achieving milestones that we feel will increase our status or better others perceptions of our capabilities, we don’t recognize the hard work we took to get there. Ask yourself: am I living a life that is dictated by being the best, or am I living a life where I am the best for myself, but thriving to continue learning and growing? Many people also often get caught up in the fears of being a rookie at their craft. Why are you rejecting yourself because you aren’t at the same level as a colleague who has been at your company for ten years? Why do we let the comparison to others successes stop us from doing what we truly love? You are learning and are growing every day! You are writing your story on the ladder of success right now, and if you focus too much on the end product, you ignore all the steps you took and triumphs you have had on the way to getting there.
  • Focus on why you belong and the myths your mind is making up:The job, school, program, group, or organization you belong to, did not select you because you are the worst at what you do. You are an important part of these and you were chosen to be there for a reason! When Impostor Syndrome comes creeping in, it’s helpful to ask yourself about the validity of the claims it’s making against you. A common negative thought, such as ‘I don’t belong here’ can be negated often simply by asking yourself, ‘what’s my evidence for that?’ followed by ‘what’s my evidence against that?’ For example, if you are selected for a promotion at work, the evidence that supports this is that clearly you have excelled at your job, managers and supervisors admire your work, and you have built a good reputation in your company. In the astounding majority of cases, you would not be chosen for a promotion if your company wanted you to fail, if they thought there were better candidates for the position, or if you were not viewed as valuable and knowledgeable in your life of work.
  • Practice mindfulness and self-gratitude:A part of being mindful is not just focusing on your faults or deficits, but giving yourself time to celebrate your successes in the present moment that they are happening. Reflecting on that promotion, high grade on a test or homework, or personal achievement in a hobby or sport can help remind you why you deserve to be where you are. Work on trusting yourself and those around you by remembering why you are at this point in life, and the things you do every day to keep yourself or your organization growing. There are so many ways you can do this; whether it be through daily mind and body scans, meditations, journaling, or repeating a mantra to yourself about how capable you are. The important thing is that you take some time once in a while to appreciate yourself and all the hard work you put into life, without negatively comparing your struggles or successes to those of others.
  • Talk to someone about it: I promise you, you are not alone in feeling like an impostor. Talk to your coworkers or social supports to normalize making mistakes, not knowing the answer to something immediately, or if you just need to build comraderies with others to openly discuss your feelings about your role. Talk to trusted professionals, supervisors, your therapist, or family members about how they built their confidence in their roles and what helped them along the way. We are all trying to give our best every day, and you are doing an awesome job at it!

How Perfectionists Are Punished By the Pandemic

Posted on: May 6th, 2020 by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

The coronavirus pandemic is terrible, causing us all to have to adjust to a completely unprecedented way of living. It is tremendously, dreadfully hard. It is hard on an older generation who might not be used to socializing via Zoom and does not want to spend their retirement limited to social distancing from their peers and the community in which they have invested. It is hard on the extroverts who get energy from engaging and being with others. It is hard for the folks who were already fearful of contamination, as this is now their nightmare realized. It is hard for those who are working full-time and have no work-life balance and those who are now struggling financially because they are not working. It is hard on the single folks who are alone and may feel listless trying to fill their time. It is hard on the people with a full household who are juggling work and fulltime childcare and education. In some way or another, this current state is causing everyone to lose a little. That is what sacrifice is about. However, the group that might feel exceptionally punished by this time is the perfectionists who are used to doing and being it all. Because right now, perfectionism is utterly impossible.

Why perfect is impossible right now
Perfectionism is all about finding control, achieving, and getting results. However, we are not in a result-driven time. We don’t know what life is going to look like in the next few weeks, let alone months or years. Having to settle for less than amazing when you have spent your life doing well is so hard and such a loss. There is a lot of thought likening this time to a grief period. Perfectionists are likely experiencing all the grief states such as denial and anger when they are faced with the loss of what they have been able to achieve in the past versus what can be done now. Now is a time of surviving and maintaining, and improving ourselves—which has been the lifeblood of perfectionists—is getting harder and harder.

To the perfect moms and dads
As a perfectionistic parent, there may have been a push to do all the virtual classes and all the activities in the early weeks. Work full time and be a full-time teacher for the kids? No problem! Bring on the impossible, right?! You basically eat Pinterest boards for breakfast so you can totally do this. But sustained overextension has likely burned you out. You may be fighting with your children or partner because they have their own resistance to your perfectionism, especially now. You may typically be able to move mountains, but now you have little people who may be resistant to rules/listening/bathing/learning/etc. and couldn’t care less about your color-coded schedule board.

To the perfect workers
As someone who is perfectionistic about your job, perhaps you are taking on all the roles and singlehandedly keeping your business going. Maybe you are starting to feel resentful and question why you are working so hard. Perhaps you are neglecting yourself and sleep. It is possible that you have also burned out and perhaps received negative feedback about your performance, which is a huge gut punch because you so deeply care about work and your legacy. Maybe you have previously plotted the best career steps for you and now your industry or line of work is negatively impacted. There is nothing like a global pandemic to make you shift from having a strong focus and identity tied to work to questioning your purpose.

To the perfect caretakers
As a perfectionistic friend or family member, maybe you have spent a lot of time being there for everyone. Maybe planning celebrations and other ways of being thoughtful are getting cancelled so you have shifted to sending and dropping off all the things you think might cheer others up. Maybe you are making all the Zoom calls despite your exhaustion and checking in with everyone else. Perhaps the pressure you have put on yourself to singlehandedly be attuned to everyone else’s mental health might be having the opposite effect on your own mental state. It is possible you are feeling detached or just empty inside.

To those with perfect aesthetics
As someone who has perfected your appearance or the appearance of your space, it is possible this is starting to get hard to maintain. Perhaps you have relied on others to maintain your appearance, such as hairstylists, and now left to your own devices you have not produced a perfect set of bangs. Maybe you are experiencing fluctuations in your weight right now despite usually having a tight grip on what the scale says. Maybe you are used to having an über-clean and organized home but you can’t keep up with the amount of laundry/dishes/floor cleaning now that everyone is home all the time. Perhaps you have leaned into organizing yet you have run out of things to de-clutter and now feel stuck with nothing more to do with that nervous energy.

How to settle for less
If you have a reaction to the above subtitle, take a breath and don’t stop reading just yet. In a lot of ways, this time is causing us to flex and make changes that will benefit us in the long run. It’s easier said than done to lean into positives right now. However, finding ways to loosen the grip that perfectionism might have on you is a good thing. Right now, perfection has to shift from results to process.

Notice little blips of perfect
If you are not completely ready to let go of perfectionism, there are ways to notice and attribute some of the control you want. Baby steps, right?! Find ways to complete tasks or find small moments of making things perfect. Maybe you can focus on a specific assignment, work conversation, or interaction with others. Perhaps the entire house can’t be perfected, but getting the dishes done each night is possible. Whether it is finishing a project, a puzzle, a book, or organizing a shelf, something—there are ways to have some of that sense of achievement that perfectionists crave. A caveat though: See small moments of completion and perfection as band-aids versus a gateway drug to taking on more and more and then getting burned out once again.

Notice perfect presence
The pull towards perfectionism is often about how it looks versus how hard it is to get there. Embodying the principals of mindfulness, if you can be present right now that is good enough. Instead of getting pulled into the past or future, staying mindful allows us to loosen some of the hold perfectionism can have. Meditation is a huge help with mindfulness. Breathing and taking in a sensory experience is what we can go all in on right now. Use that energy of being a hard worker to turn inward and strive for finding ways to breathe, moments of calm, and focus on acceptance.

You are perfectly human
Embrace failures. Lower expectations. Let go. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and break down. These statements spit in the face of perfectionism. Let others see your flaws? Accept your humanity and allow others to see you are not actually superhuman?! Absolutely not; no thanks. But that is the way through this. We need to ask for support and allow some of our friends, family, and colleagues to succeed and win. This goes against every fiber of our being. But we have to stop swinging from one extreme to another. Not being perfect does not mean failure. We literally cannot do everything now, but we also can’t do nothing. So find moments, even very small ones, where you just try on the idea of agreeing that you are struggling, too. Let yourself admit that you are imperfect during a global pandemic. In a time of restrictions and loss, what you can receive or gain is the freedom to be authentic with yourself and the world around you.

Six Strategies to Decompress While Sheltering At Home

Posted on: April 15th, 2020 by Gretchen Lewis, LCPC

When we experience stress or internal pressure it becomes even more vital that we take time to emotionally soothe ourselves. We all are aware that stress makes it difficult to maintain a work life balance. During stressful times, we may lose motivation to prioritize daily tasks such as cooking, laundry or cleaning. Some of us are not fully aware that we are slipping into negative patterns which then makes it even more of a struggle to change the behavior. We want to share with you some strategies that may be helpful for you to stay grounded and balanced during this Shelter At Home period.

#1: Schedule Breaks
Be as consistent as possible with the start time and end time throughout the week. This helps to create a work life balance as well as sets a framework for patterns and routine. With some flexibility, consider carving out time for breaks or keeping to a schedule for meals. And when you are taking a break from work, give 100% of your attention to your activity. We promise, your work will still be there after your dedicated break.

#2: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
OK, this oversimplifies things a bit but there is truth to what we can’t see frees up mental space for other activities. This applies to whether you have a dedicated office or are using a common area in your home. Before you leave your work area, try to put away files, papers and anything else work related. Shut down your computer or close out your tablet. Create a ritual for closing the work day and this will keep your space more inviting to enter.

#3: Physical Exercise
Even just 10 minutes of exercise can change our brain chemistry to relax or help us switch gears. Exercise improves mental health through increased blood flow and deep breathing.

#4: Try Meditation or Just Take Three Deep Breaths
There are some great Apps that offer step-by-step directions on meditation and deep breathing such as Headspace, Calm and Ten Percent Happier. If you are new to meditation, start with a short, guided, five-minute exercise.If five minutes seems too lofty right now, sometimes just taking three deep breaths periodically throughout the day can help reduce stress levels.

#5: Write It Out
Perhaps you have personal goals that you have wanted to work on but have not had the time to start. Or, maybe you have been working on multiple goals at once, therefore not giving the appropriate time for each goal. Giving 100% focused attention can help us to honor our goals. One way to do this is through journaling. There are no wrong ways to journal, whether stream of consciousness or writing about a specific topic. Feel free to use bullet points or complete sentences. Spend 10-15 minutes each day diving into your successes and barriers. Let your mind wander to ways to overcome these barriers. Allow new perspectives to form.

#6: Plan Social Time
Give yourself something to look forward to throughout the week. Schedule game time or watch a movie with friends or family. This is a great time to create a new outlet such as a book club or movie club. These types of activities encourage us to schedule leisure time and have the added bonus of staying connected to others on topics that are of interest.

The View from This Side of the Couch

Posted on: November 26th, 2019 by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

“How do you do this job? I’d get so sick of listening to other people’s problems all day.” As a psychotherapist, I have heard this comment numerous times in the 14 years I have been working. Providing counseling is a tough job, sure, but it is interesting and rewarding. We get to be your secret keepers. We get to hear the good stuff: “I am pregnant.” “I am going to propose.” “I just got a promotion.” And we also get to hear the hard stuff: “I am cheating on him.” “I hate her.” “I hate myself.” “Life would be better without me in it.” And as we are guiding, challenging, listening, and supporting our clients, we have the utmost respect for the struggles and challenges that our clients and everyone face. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 43.3% of American adults received treatment for mental health issues in 2018. Thank goodness there is less and less stigma about therapy these days. Companies are supportive of their workers taking time for therapy. Partners can see couples counseling as an opportunity to work on communication and trust versus the last stop on the way to a divorce. Yet despite all the understanding and positive messaging about the benefits of therapy out there, it still can be a bit confusing. Here are some common questions and answers to help you understand the perspective we have sitting across from you.

“What is a psychotherapist versus a psychologist versus a psychiatrist?”
It can be really confusing with all these titles and letters after our names. At Tobin Counseling Group, we are all considered psychotherapists and none of us prescribe medication. Some of us have master’s degrees in psychology or social work. We may have a LCSW or LCPC or LMFT after our names, which means we are licensed in Illinois as (respectively) a clinical social worker, professional counselor, or a marriage and family therapist. Other psychotherapists here have a doctorate in psychology or a PsyD, which means they are psychologists. A PhD or a PsyD in psychology confers the title of psychologist, which equates to being able to do psychological testing as well as psychotherapy. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who prescribes medication. A psychiatrist can also provide psychotherapy.

“What are you writing?”
Don’t worry, we aren’t writing down our grocery list or working on the Times’ Saturday crossword over here (plus let’s be real, we’d need more than your session to tackle that). When we sit across from you, especially in the first session, we are writing down notes and your answers to assessment questions. We want to make sure we have a good understanding of your symptoms, history, and goals so we write down things you say or themes or patterns we are hearing. After that initial session, some therapists take notes and some do not. These are our process notes and often include key words to help us remember things you have said or themes we want to come back to later in the session. Some therapists write down names of family members they want to remember or other important things you reference. If we are asking you to do homework assignments, we may also jot this down to make sure to check in with you later.

“Why do I always cry when I sit down on the couch?”
Well, let’s be honest, you don’t always cry. But yes, there is a fair amount of crying that we see happening on our couch. But guess what, the therapy couch is the absolute best place to do it. We are always fully stocked on Kleenex. And here’s the thing: Crying is not a bad thing. We are so programmed to avoid negative emotions—there are few places where it feels safe to cry, especially in front of another person. So crying happens because it is okay to allow yourself to cry and we are often talking about difficult issues, sometimes sad issues. It is also okay to laugh and feel good during therapy. We get to feel the whole range of emotions and that happens during therapy sessions. Which is a good, positive thing, tears included.

“Why does therapy work?”
Therapy is a different way of talking. We are listening in a way that is likely different than what typically happens for you in your everyday life. A lot of times people reference feeling heard in therapy or feeling much lighter after going. There are few interruptions in our room. We are not staring at our devices or distracted by other people when you are speaking. Our main job is to show up for you in a therapeutic way to listen to what you are saying and help you. We are nonjudgmental and are in your lives only in the therapy room. So we are safe. With some exceptions to confidentiality, what happens in the therapy room stays in the therapy room. (There is a reason that was such a good advertising slogan for Vegas!) It feels good to know you can express a thought or feeling and it doesn’t leave our office. Keep in mind, we can’t tell you what to do (this is another question we often get!). But we can challenge your thoughts or help change your behaviors. We try to validate and encourage your emotional expression. We also explore ways to cope better than perhaps the current choices you are making. We are also not “just listening.” We are trained professionals who are using skills and techniques, like cognitive behavioral therapy, to help you.

“Can we be friends?”
Our relationship might feel pretty intimate; as we said before, we get to hear all your deepest secrets and inner thoughts. But therapy—and specifically this therapeutic relationship—works because of boundaries. We are professionals and this is a service we are providing to you that you are paying for. It is different than a personal relationship. We aren’t nor can we be friends with you, but at the same time, we do like you and care about you. We see your strengths and likely have a far more balanced perspective of you and your circumstances than you do of yourself. We cannot be friends with you on social media or connect with you on LinkedIn. We don’t Google you or try to find out more about you and you should do the same with your therapist. Our relationship has to exist in a professional way for therapy to work and feel safe for you and us as your provider. If we see you in public, we will wait for you to acknowledge us first. This is not a harsh social move or a matter of us snubbing you. We simply want to protect your confidentiality; if you wave or say hello to us, we will respond, but it is up to you to make the first move. Chicago is a small world so it is possible we will run into each other, but just as we have agreed to keep your secrets, how we know each other stays between us.

“What do you really think of me?”
We are all clients. Any therapist should have been in therapy during their training or may currently be in therapy. Remember that part above about this being a hard job? We couldn’t help and support you if we did not have support ourselves. So we can relate to and understand you. What we really think of you is that you are a dynamic, interesting person who we are invested in learning about and understanding as deeply as we can. We may get frustrated with you sometimes and we have to be patient. You probably make us laugh sometimes in session as well as cry along with you. We have so much respect for you and your story and we are trying to help you in the ways we know how to help. We want to do right by you.

Whether you are new to therapy or not, it is okay to have questions. It is even more okay to ask your therapist your questions. We will uphold boundaries and yet do our best to give you answers. A good fit matters when it comes to relationships but especially in the therapy office. If you don’t feel like your therapist understands you or your expectations are not being met, talk about it. And know there are a lot of sources of support out there so you don’t need to feel stuck if the relationship with your therapist is not working for you. The biggest question to ask yourself when you go to therapy is if you feel heard and understood. If we are doing that, we can make progress. And with that, we will look forward to seeing you at your next session.

‘Tis the Season of Gratitude

Posted on: November 26th, 2019 by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

Fall and winter can be a difficult time of year. There is a lot of pressure to feel joyful, and when the cheery décor surrounding our workplaces, homes, and city is a direct mismatch to how we are feeling, it can foster an even deeper sense of sadness. Thoughts like, “It’s the holidays and I still can’t be happy?!” can overwhelm us and trigger feelings of guilt and shame. Finding joy and happiness can feel like an insurmountable task. But a powerful step in the direction of positivity is gratitude. Psychologist Robert Emmons, PhD is an expert in gratitude and defines it as “a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” Dr. Emmons divides gratitude into two parts: (1) acknowledging the good in our lives; and (2) acknowledging that the source of that goodness is outside of ourselves. It may sound tough to think about giving when you feel empty, but tapping into feeling grateful or thankful allows us those pinpricks of light to change your otherwise gloomy perspective.

How An Attitude of Gratitude Works
Depression and negative emotions turn us inward. It is hard to consider others or anything outside of ourselves and how bad we feel. Our perspective is skewed to a catastrophizing state of what is terrible and how life is going to get worse. When we feel this way, it is common to think that the curated version on social media is actually true and everyone else is having a great time during the holidays. Feeling bad can make us think, “Look at that! Everyone in Chicago is at the Christkindlmarket enjoying all sorts of holiday fun with their significant others but me!” Yikes, that sounds super gloomy. But those are irrational and definitely unhelpful thoughts. Implementing gratitude can allow us to have a bigger perspective and shift away from negativity. If you are feeling thankful, you are glad something happened or even happy something is over. If you narrowly miss getting sideswiped on your commute, you likely take a beat and think, “Wow, that could have been bad.” Depressive thoughts would keep you stuck. Those thoughts might include, “I am so careless,” or, “Why are bad things always happening to me?” Taking on an attitude of gratitude, however, allows you to zoom out from your own experience to see the bigger picture, like changing the screen resolution on your thoughts. There is that sense of “Whew, I survived that!” That feeling is gratitude. We are able to affirm what is good in our lives or in the moment instead of getting stuck with negativity.

How to Get Started on Thankfulness
This time of year, there are likely plenty of school-aged children tracing their hand and then turning their handprints into turkeys. Joining the ranks with the hand turkey might also be the practice of going around the table at Thanksgiving dinner and saying what you are thankful for. If you have been part of this table scene, how many times have you said pumpkin pie? Or the Bears? Maybe those aren’t profound moments of gratitude for humanity but they’re a great start. A way to expand past the amazing stuffing or the scoreboard on Thanksgiving is to first find some time that you can collect your thoughts. Start by taking out a journal or a blank document on your computer screen. Try to start a list of things for which you are grateful. This can be a feeling or an actual event. It can be a person, place, or thing. You can experience gratitude for something very tiny or something huge. Maybe you structure your thoughts around what you are grateful for at a certain time of day or time of year. Maybe you consider who you are grateful for and think a little more deeply about why. You can write bullet points or a list. You can write a letter to express your thankfulness to someone and you don’t even have to send it. Journaling is a great practice but there is no one-size-fits-all, right-or-wrong way when it comes to gratitude. And these are your own thoughts so be honest. No one gets to tell you that you aren’t actually experiencing gratitude.

How to Expand on Gratefulness
Gratitude is about seeing the good in life, but ironically focusing on your challenges or hard times can also be a good place to start. Remember when we were talking about feeling depressed? Making a leap to feeling thankful during the holidays may be too much. But if you are struggling or have been challenged in the past, examining how you got through it or what you learned from it can be a great way to tap into gratitude. You don’t have to fully jump into joy and reverence. But acknowledging in even a small way how now is slightly better than then or how you have grown and learned since that previous bad time is a great way to change your perspective.

Volunteer work and contributing in a philanthropic way can help foster a sense of gratitude. You can acknowledge how others need your help and you can see how others in need feel grateful. You can see how thankful someone feels when they are in need and you give them something they need. Helping others can trigger you to think about how others have aided you or currently support you. In this way, you are giving back and getting all at once. What a great deal!

How to Manage Roadblocks with Giving Thanks
Sometimes, gratitude is hard to come by, such as when you find that you are getting stuck on journaling or find yourself feeling bored. If you are starting to check out and you find yourself wanting to say something like “blah, blah, blah,” then put down your gratitude journal. Because here’s the thing: Gratitude does not work if you are going through the motions. You may need to change it up. If writing down grateful thoughts does not trigger positive feelings, perhaps you need to say those thoughts aloud to yourself or mediate on those thoughts. Another way to freshen up your practice is to change your expectations—maybe daily gratitude practice feels thankless but taking time to journal once a month works much better for you. Gratitude can be a personal practice but you can also share your feelings with others. You can communicate to friends, family, strangers that you appreciate them. They’d probably appreciate your gratitude, too. And do not worry, you won’t run out of gratitude. This is an emotion that can replenish itself so there is plenty to go around.

An important trap to avoid with gratitude is judgment. If you are journaling and those nasty “shoulds” start appearing, do your best to reset yourself and challenge those unhelpful thoughts. When thoughts like, “Well, I should really be grateful for this nice house but I actually hate it” or anything that makes you feel stuck creep in, put away this exercise and try again another time. Or try to counter that thought with something like, “But I do really feel grateful for my neighbors.” Your feelings are valid and you get to appreciate and value and express gratitude for what matters to you. There are ways to expand or grow. You can work on being more mindful and changing what you notice around you. But gratitude is about you feeling what you feel and you are the expert when it comes to that. No pressure to be grateful for anything. First try to examine what you are grateful for and if you want that to expand, keep asking yourself how you feel until you locate the pieces that trigger gratitude in you.

Gratitude, like cooking a perfect turkey, takes practice and the right conditions. Use this time of year to start thinking about and noticing things you are grateful for and see this as an opportunity to change your perspective and your brain. You will be supporting yourself and the world around you, which is goodness you can get on board with regardless the time of year.

Why does Later feel so much more appealing than Now?

Posted on: April 11th, 2017 by Justin Tobin

Written by: Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

It is known as “The Thief of Time” or “The Assassin of Opportunity.” These are not glowing descriptions. So why does something that is so bad for us in the long-term feel so good in the moment? Whether it is something small or a major life decision with real consequences, it is easy to fall victim to the alluring idea of “not now, but later.” We may have learned the art of procrastination early on in childhood with putting off homework assignments, or it may be a newfound mode of not doing what we are supposed to be doing at work or at home. Regardless of when it started or how great we are about reconciling it, procrastination is a tricky mix of a mental concept that can create real problems for ourselves and for those around us. Luckily, there are ways to kick the habit or at least to consider alternatives to the seemingly appealing idea of delaying the inevitable.

The first step in loosening the hold that procrastination has on your life is to take a hard look at the origin of the issue. Ask yourself (or if you aren’t great at remembering, ask people like family members who may have more accurate recall) what you were like as a child. Were you the kid who never did his homework on time? Did you wait until the last minute to put your shoes on to get out the door? Maybe you grew up in a household of procrastinators and this behavior became normalized. Did your parents forget to pay bills on time or always seem to owe a library fine for overdue books? Maybe the idea of due dates and time boundaries were more flexible when you were learning about the ways of the world. Or if you were the only one dragging your feet to complete tasks and it was a big problem, your parents probably had to give you more attention or help. Maybe you not following through with tasks on time on your own meant someone else picked up the slack for you. Learned helplessness is a real thing. And not to jump on the bandwagon of blaming our parents for all our problems as adults, but it is possible that a message got communicated to you early on that procrastination was no big deal or someone else’s problem. Luckily, you can figure out a new way of thinking about this regardless of what you understood in your early years. But it can be helpful to look at how long this behavior has been going on to determine the right ways to challenge it.

People who are experts at procrastination have likely been doing it for a while. You may be one or know one of those people who say, “I do my best under pressure. I always leave things to the last minute, but that’s when I do my best work.” But whether you came out of the womb not following through on timelines or it is a little something you picked up in your post-collegiate years, it is also important to think about how much being a procrastinator is part of your identity. Does thumbing your nose in the face of deadlines make you feel powerful in a way? Probably not in the long run. What may seem thrilling in the moment might have long-term consequences that would classify you as lazy or irresponsible (which doesn’t seem quite so thrilling). The important thing to remember is that we are capable of change. However deeply engrained our patterns are, there is always hope to be able to do, act, and be different.

Another piece of the procrastination puzzle is what this behavior has achieved or continues to achieve for you. What do you get out of this habit? The anxiety that builds when you have something to do but put it off can be thrilling and exciting. Does the idea of living on the edge give you more motivation? Another psychological gem that procrastination can produce is avoidance. If a task like contributing to your 401K or getting that full body scan done at the dermatologist’s office sounds like the worst thing ever, it makes sense to employ the tactic that allows us to avoid those tasks. We don’t have to deal with all the feelings or reality of hard things if we just put them off. Yay for the fun of now!

Yet another wonderful aspect of procrastination is that is can also allow us to live in a world of all-or-nothing thinking. If we are perfectionists, procrastination can be our cherished friend. If we expect our actions, life, selves, etc. to be perfect and yet we can’t achieve that, it can make a lot of sense to put things off. If we can’t do everything perfectly right now, why even try? And finally, another check mark in the procrastination column is that it can keep us feeling really terrible about ourselves. Rarely do people act productive and then think, “Wow, I am the worst. I cannot believe I did everything I needed to do! Argh, this just feels awful.” Nope, failing to follow through on things is more what leaves us feeling that way. But if you have a self-concept that is all about feeling chaotic and that you are terrible at life, well, yes, procrastination is going to be right up your alley. It can allow you to live in a space where you feel justified in feeling bad about yourself and your lack of accomplishments.

But let’s be real. The upsides to procrastination are actually pretty unfulfilling when you think about it.

Once you understand the beast, you can conquer it. If you know when and how it started and what it looks like, you can feel a little more in control. The all-or-nothing thinking that feeds a mental concept like procrastination is really important to challenge in these moments. Here is the thing: You absolutely can’t do everything, but you also can’t do nothing. So just try to do something. Start addressing procrastination by getting yourself organized. What is the task and what are your roadblocks? How can you strategize to avoid those distractions? If the task is preparing a presentation for work, maybe you need to log some time at a coffee house or a quiet workspace versus trying to knock that out when Netflix is on. Notice the times when you are most productive or the tasks that come to you most naturally. Then schedule yourself to be proactive during that part of the day or the week. There are probably millions of day-to-day responsibilities you have to do that you take on mindlessly and don’t delay, like making coffee or opening emails. Figure out what you already do and build on that. And try to stay away from extreme thinking; you won’t just change this overnight. Be realistic with yourself but also give yourself that push to do things a little differently. If all else fails, take a breath and try to visualize how it would feel to do the task at hand ahead of time or on time. You will feel powerful, strong, capable, and proud. You already know what it feels like when the excitement of procrastination wears off and you are stuck with the reality of some seriously awful consequences to your lack of action. Try something a little different. Move towards the now and I bet later will eventually feel a lot less appealing.

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