Friday, October 22, 2021

Personal Behavioral Goals

Changing habits is not easy. We set up our environments to support our behaviors in ways that make it difficult to “escape temptation” without careful planning. When we decide we want to change—whether to start something new or to stop something we’ve been doing for a while—the change won’t be successful without some mindful attention to what’s around us (including people!).

A quick google search for creating habits yields dozens of articles, mostly centered on diet and exercise, but not all of our less-than- stellar habits are about food. We might want to create better sleeping habits for insomniacs, better time management for the chronically late, better spending habits for the impulse buyers, and so on. Stopping a bad habit is often much easier than amending a behavior we have to keep in some form. We may find it far easier to stop drinking soda by not buying it, but it’s harder to stop biting our nails, because we can’t get rid of our fingers!

So, where do we start?

First, figure out what you do. Take stock of ALL your habits. Follow yourself through both a work day and a weekend day, and look at how you spend your time. How much time do you spend doing things that are unproductive? Why? What behaviors do you notice that you didn’t realize before? How are your work days different from your days off? All of this information will help you do an informal root cause analysis for the issue you want to address. Using cellphones as an example, our amount of screen time and frequency of use may be factors in time management. When we lose track of time, we are at greater risk for being late.

Once you have a handle on what you do and for how long you do it, think about how those behaviors were supported by your surroundings. When we identify what leads us to behave in a certain way, we can help ourselves by removing those barriers.

Then, set a goal for yourself and keep track of it. Spoiler alert: the goal is not the most important part! You know all those motivational posters that tell you the journey is more important than the goal? Well, they were right. If we can break our goal into smaller, actionable items, we are more likely to succeed. If your goal is to stop being late, you can’t simply stop being late. You can, however, not pick up your cellphone in the half-hour prior to your scheduled departure time, check traffic details to ensure your scheduled departure time is adequate, and resolve not to make unplanned stops along the way. Reward yourself for those successes, too. Rewards reinforce behaviors!

Finally, the most successful goals are the ones we share. Whether you want to work on a goal together or you just want someone to check in with you for accountability, there is power in who (not just what) surrounds us. It’s easier to make good choices when someone is watching! 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Let’s talk about doomscrolling.

If you’re old, like me, you might not be familiar with the term, or you’ve heard it but don’t quite know what it means. Doomscrolling, or doomsurfing, is the tendency to continually scroll or surf through bad news. Even though the information makes you feel sad or angry or afraid, you just keep reading article after article full of doom and gloom. Common topics that will land you in a doomspiral include current news about COVID, statistics about poverty or the job market, the housing crisis, and climate change. No matter how much the doom consumes you, you just keep scrolling.

In case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t great for you. Doomscrolling can lead to some pretty significant psychological impacts, including depression and anxiety. In the very least, it will darken our moods and leave us wondering why we even bother.

The issue is complex, because so many of the social media and news outlets we consume are designed to keep showing us articles and memes (single-box web cartoons, old man) that are similarly themed to what we are currently seeing, leaving us very little diversity in content.

AND, our brains are hardwired to go with the flow. Once upon a time, our lizard-brains were set up to always handle negative stimuli first, because, you know, it just might kill you. Now that we live in a lower-stakes world where we are pretty sure the internet

won’t eat us (are we, though?), our brain chemistry still wants to examine and understand the intellectual and theoretical “threats” around us, just in case. So, the negative articles suck us in, and we have to keep reading until we understand the nature of the threat and the likelihood of it affecting us directly. We can’t not look at it!

It doesn’t help that we are surrounded by others who are doomscrolling through the same topics, sharing links to similar information, and even discussing them with us at home, at work, in the grocery store, and anywhere else they find a willing conversationalist.

If you’re like me and you’re also tired of the weight of negativity resting on your chest, I can only offer you some tips that have helped me.

First, surrounding yourself with more good news will take the edge off. I joined a group on Facebook called, “Heck, This is Wholesome,” that only allows stories and videos of people and animals being awesome.

Second, surrounding yourself with people who help you feel better about the world will make a difference in the long-run. Who brings you hope?

Finally, turn off your dang phone, or at least put it down. Find a feel-good movie or a good book where the good guys win, or just take a walk outside. Your brain, and your heart, will thank you.