Reflecting on negative habits

We have identified what habits are and how they are formed. We have also identified what is important to us. Now it’s time to look at the habitual actions that are stopping us from getting where we want to be.

Rational behaviours

We know that we are rational people. We know that we are capable of making good decisions. Sometimes though, we make decisions that  aren’t in keeping with our goals.

We also know that we are friendly,  social and caring. But sometimes we just can’t seem to help ourselves from behaving in the opposite way.

This is a sign that there are bad habits, relics from our past, getting in the way.

We now need to identify what these habits are so that we can keep moving in the right direction.

A reflection on  past actions

Past actions influence future plans and actions. Reviewing past actions is a way to ensure we are heading in the right direction. It also allows us to identify our negative behaviours.

Activity 1

Find a quiet place either first thing in the morning or at night. Look back over the day and ask yourself these questions:

  • What actions have I taken that have steered me away from my chosen course?
  • What did I fail to do?
  • What habits are stopping me from achieving my goals?
  • What did I do that was unfriendly or unsocial or uncaring?

These are difficult and confronting questions. Just allow your mind to reflect on these, and when examples arise, write them down. Then look at these examples of behaviours and try to identify the habit that is behind them.

The act of writing these down will prompt your mind to remind you the next time you are in the same or a similar situation.  This will create an opportunity to follow a different course of action.

The prompt will be strengthened by regular update and review.

As an example, here are some of my recent reflections. Maybe you recognise some:

My bad habits

  • I got angry with one of my co-workers again. I have the habit of getting angry when things don’t go as I want them to.
  • I bought some junk food again. I’ve developed the habit of rewarding myself  for doing things that are boring and routine.
  • I lost my temper at home again. I’ve inherited this habit rom my father.

A reflection on progress

Here is a valuable follow-up activity

Activity 2

After you have identified the habits that are hindering you, begin to chart your progress. Regularly ask yourself:

  • What positive actions did I take today?
  • What bad habits was I able to curb today?
  • What examples of compassion did I display today?

What’s next

Don’t expect habits to change quickly. It’s taken a lifetime to develop them and it will take time to change. Don’t get into the habit (like me) of getting angry with yourself when you are not making quick progress. This is another unproductive and hindering habit. Show yourself some compassion.

Mindfulness meditation step 1 – relax the body

This article is an introduction to mindfulness meditation. It covers the most important first step of how to sit in a comfortable way. It concludes with a short guided meditation on observing and relaxing the body.

What it means to practice mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a state of mind where we are open, attentive and actively engaged in the present moment.

The traditional way of practicing mindfulness meditation is to sit quietly,  calm the body and then focus attention on a physical sensation. This could be the feeling of breath as it enters and leaves the nose, or the rising and falling of our abdomen.

When one is engaged in practicing this form of meditation, thoughts and emotions will invariably arise. When they do, they are not judged as being good or bad, right or wrong. Instead they are observed without judgment and allowed to leave our mind.

With practice, the ability to identify and let go of inappropriate habitual responses improves, and their hold on us diminishes. We then have the opportunity to explore other, more appropriate responses. In this way, over time, new habits are formed.

Sitting Position

The first part of the practice is to get comfortable. Sit in a chair with your back straight and both feet resting on the ground. Possibly put a cushion behind you lower back for extra support. Relax your shoulders and place your hands in your lap, one on top of the other with your palms facing up. Gently close your eyes.

Alternatively, if your legs are flexible, you could  sit on a firm cushion on the floor with your legs crossed. Adjust the height of the cushion until you can sit comfortably. Straighten your back. It’s a good idea to place a soft mat under your feet to cushion your ankles.

Mindful of the body

The audio below is a 5 minute guided meditation by Dr Richard Chambers on relaxing our body. This is often done at the beginning of each mindfulness meditation. This is because having a calm and relaxed body helps in observing thoughts. We are in a sense bringing our mind and body together in this meditation.

 

Focus on what matters

It’s a big mistake to focus  our attention and use valuable energy on things that don’t really matter to us, and on things that are outside of our control.

There are many distractions and conflicting pressures on our time, so we need to identify the things that really matter. These are the things which are connected to our life’s purpose and the achieving of our life goals, so we need to focus on these before all else.

Make a list

Creating a list of things that matter and referring to the list often, will help guide us in making  wise choices about what to  get involved in and when to say no. For example, some of the things on my list of things that matter are:

  • daily reflection and meditation
  • regular exercise
  • quality family time
  • providing valuable and timely support for co-workers
  • maintaining contact with friends

Guiding principles

To  strengthen our decision-making skills, we can then go a little further and add some guiding principles to the items on our list of what matters. For example; what is the best time of day and how much time should I spend on reflection and meditation, what types of exercises are more physically beneficial and fit best into my busy routine, what types of family activities would bring the most joy and cohesion, and what types of support would provide the most benefit.

Review often

The items on the list should be looked at and updated frequently so that they take into account our changing circumstances. Check them, revise them, change them, create new ones. In this way we can re-ignite our passion for our chosen path and for the things we have chosen to focus on whenever we choose to.

So  when someone asks you to get involved in things that aren’t on your list, the choice is easy. Gently but insistently say no.

Over to you

What are the things that matter to you?

Start making your list and keep it somewhere close so you can review it often.

Feel free to make a comment and share your ideas below:

Identify what we can control

During our daily lives, there are many situations which, on the surface seem to be requiring us to make decisions and take some kind of action. Many of us have a tendency to act first and ask questions later, but there is a question we need to ask before making any commitment to act. This is “is this within my control?”.

A question of control

Before rushing in and getting involved, we need to pause for a moment and ask ourselves whether we actually have any control over the situation or any power to actually make a change.

Ask the question: Is this within my control?

Another way of asking this is: Am I able to make a change in this area? or Do I have any influence over this situation?

If the answer is ‘No’, then just accept it as it is,  let it go and then move on to situations that are within our control.

Make two lists

As a guide, it might be helpful to develop a list of some things that we don’t have any control over. For example:

  • the past
  • other peoples thoughts and actions
  • other peoples bad driving
  • the weather
  • sickness and aging

and then to make a list of some things we do have control over. For example:

  • my opinions
  • the choices I make and the actions I take
  • setting my own goals
  • making decisions to achieve my goals
  • ignoring distractions that are keeping me from focusing on what I have chosen as being  important

Accept and let go

If we can develop the habit of accepting and letting go of what is outside our control and focusing our effort on what we do have control over, we will be significantly less stressed and also more productive.

Remember – we may not control a situation but we can control what we think about it and through this, we can choose how to act

What’s next

Now it’s your turn to begin writing your lists. Start with what you don’t have control over and then move to what you do.

Feel free to leave a comment or share your list below.

Listening Skills

This post introduces a video on the topic of listening skills. The presenter argues that we are losing our listening skills and identifies ways to improve.

Activity

Listen to Julian Treasure discuss 5 ways to improve listening skills.

Take notes as you listen.

[WpProQuiz 5]


A call to action

How did you go?

Reflect on the suggestions the presenter made. How can you apply some of these to:

  • your personal life
  • your working life
  • your learning?

Feel free to leave a comment below:

Impulsive behaviours hinder learning

This post explores the reasons why many people in their teens and early 20’s find it difficult to focus on their studies. We will examine some of the forces that are acting on the teenager’s brain and show how this is a normal and necessary process. We will then begin to examine strategies to manage impulsive behaviours.

Introduction

Educational success depends on many factors. Intelligence is one factor that is seen by many to play a part (see previous post), although exactly how big a part is open to debate.

Also important is the ability to remain focused in a learning situation for extended periods of time. Science now shows us that during the teenage years, there are changes taking place in the brain that will have a large impact on a teenager’s ability to stay focused.

The incentive system

In the developing brain, there is an incentive processing system that drives young people to become more sensation seeking, more emotionally reactive and also more attentive to information coming from their social groups.

This system has been found to exist across cultures and even species, and may have evolved to encourage exploration of the environment in order to help prepare adolescents with the necessary skills for later independence.

While these attention-seeking, emotional actions are quite natural, they can lead a student to making irrational and impulsive decisions and behaving in disruptive ways. Typical behaviours could include skipping classes, being disruptive and not completing assessment tasks. These behaviours of course result in falling grades, conflict with teachers and administrators and possibly dropping out completely.

 The control system

In the adult brain however, there are cognitive systems used to control these types of impulses and to resist irrational behaviour. They are called the executive functions and they act to control harmful, irrational urges. These systems however, do not reach full maturity until the mid to late twenties (Geier & Luna 2009).

There is therefore a time period during which adolescents and students in their early to mid twenties will find it difficult to control their impulses and will be, at the same time, driven by nature to sensational, attention-seeking and emotional behaviour.

Activity

In the podcast below, cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore gives an informative introduction to the workings of the teenage mind. This talk was presented as a part of Ted Global in June 2012.

In the talk, Sarah identifies the pre-frontal cortex as the area of the brain largely responsible for:

  • Decision-making
  • Planning
  • Inhibiting inappropriate behaviour
  • Social interaction and
  • Self-awareness

She then demonstrates that this part of the brain is not fully developed in young people.

She then goes on to identify the limbic system as the part of the brain that handles emotion and reward processing, and she points out that it is hypersensitive in the adolescent brain.

These two areas of the brain will appear often in discussions on behaviours that can be strengthened to assist learning and life-development.

In summary

So we can see that there are sound biological reasons behind teenage impulsive behaviours and we can also see that these are a necessary part of the teenager later being in a position to make valuable contributions to their society.

On the negative side however, these behaviours may reduce educational outcomes and indeed are seen to lead to injuries (for example motor vehicle accidents resulting from speeding) higher mortality rates (including suicides) and substance abuse.

A call to action

If you are a parent, a teacher, or a teenager yourself, this understanding of what is happening inside the mind of a young person is the starting point towards moderating impulsive behaviours.

You can for example encourage the practice of identifying strong impulses when they first surface and then asking them to question whether these impulses are appropriate to the situation. Creating this space between the emotion and the reaction can be very effective in reducing inappropriate behaviours.

Coming soon

There are other ways to strengthen the executive functions and bring impulse behaviours under control and these will be covered in future posts.