We all have at least one bad habit we would like to break, most people probably have more than one. To help break bad habits, start with just one. Pick a habit and focus your intention over the next week on changing that habit. Something that may help you is to replace it with something else. For example, you can replace nail biting with chewing gum or using a fidget item. You can replace eating too many sweets with eating fruit. You can replace spending too much time looking at your phone with reading, drawing, or playing a game. Remember that the more you do this for any habit, the more automatic it will become.
Habit: (1) A settled tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. (2) An automatic reaction to a specific situation.
We all have habits, and practice them every day. Some habits we are quite aware of, while others may have gotten to the point of being so automatic that we don’t even think about them. We have good habits, we have bad habits. We have habits we want to change or improve. And with the start of the new year, many people seek to push the re-set button and focus on resolutions that are often about changing habits.
To help understand how habits affect your daily life, take a moment to consider your routine each day. How many of the things you do come automatically, without you having to think much about it? For many people, there may be a standard morning routine to start the day. This could include coffee, showers, breakfast, getting kids ready for school, driving to work, etc. With a regular morning routine, little thought needs to go into the steps and as a result the routine is not very difficult. But, if someone were to tell you to change one or more elements of this routine, you would have to slow down and think about what you were doing, and become more consciously aware of each step.
The nice thing about habits is that once you develop a set of good habits, you can be very productive without having to think too hard about it. It is interesting to note that while good habits do not take a lot of cognitive effort, is does not mean that engaging in positive habits is especially easy. Take working out as an example. If you have not been working out and you start to focus on it, initially it takes a lot of cognitive effort – talking yourself into it, pushing yourself to do it, finding the time to do it. But if you start working out every day at a certain time, it becomes a habit so that each day at that time you automatically mentally prepare yourself for that activity. This does not make the actual workout easier per se, but it does take the decision and planning out of the equation.
There has been a lot of research on habits, including behavioral research, cognitive research, and neurological research. There has been speculation about how long it takes to break bad habits or develop good habits. One common idea is the 21-days to change a habit, which is based on work done by the plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz in the 1960s about how people adjusted following plastic surgery. However, this was not inclusive of the multitude of habits and behaviors that people generally seek to change. More recent research has identified that habits can take anywhere from 18 – 254 days to acquire, given a wide variety of habits people were seeking to adopt. How long it takes to change a bad habit, or acquire a new habit, will depend on the person and the circumstances.
Habits as automatic behaviors. Habits by definition are routine and automatic. A simple habit, such as biting one’s nails, may occur automatically without the person even thinking about it. A more complex habit, such a working out, may take a little more focus, but if it is part of a daily routine it becomes habitual. Part of changing habits is considering what triggers the habit. For nail-biting, it may be stress or boredom. For working out, it may be the time of day. To stop nail-biting, one needs to heighten awareness of stress or boredom triggers, then develop a better habit to use (a fidget item for example), and practice the new habit until it becomes automatic. For something like working out, it will be more about establishing a habitual routine, so that stopping at the gym after work, or starting your day with a run, becomes the routine and therefore reinforces that habit.
Looking out to the new year and new possibilities for your own habits and routines, consider what you want to change. Do you have one bad habit you would like to eliminate? Is there a new habit you would like to acquire? Over the next few weeks I will go over some tips for changing habits in several areas:
With Christmas right around the corner, it is tempting sometimes to respond to negative behaviors by threatening to cancel presents, or to remind that Santa is watching – so kids better behave. While these types of threats can help with immediate reductions in behavior problems, remember that these are only temporary fixes. For long-term positive behaviors, focus on consistency when it comes to noticing and responding to good behavior.
When you think about building positive behaviors, it is important to have some specifics in mind. What behaviors would you like to see more often? Pick a couple behaviors, such as using a nice tone of voice, being helpful, or completing tasks, and make sure to offer obvious rewards whenever you see those behaviors. Rewards may include something as simple as attention from you, or they may include things that are more tangible such as small tokens or treats, or privileges such as screen time or staying up late. The most important thing is to recognize and emphasize the behaviors you want to see more often.
It is Thanksgiving week – this is a time when many of us take a moment to think about gratitude and all the things we have to be thankful for in our lives. As you consider gratitude this week, look at your kids and pay special attention to the things they do well that you are actually thankful for on any given day. It can be anything at all – from playing nicely with siblings, to cleaning up after themselves, , to simply being cooperative, to helping out on Thanksgiving Day. Any small thing: Take note of it and make sure you tell them how thankful you are for those positive behaviors this week. Happy Thanksgiving!
“Why won’t they just behave?” This is a question I have heard too many times to count, from frustrated parents to talented teachers, about kids of all ages. Indeed it is a great question, and one that may have complex and different answers for different kids. Today we are going to go through some basics on how to build and strengthen positive behaviors at home and at school. As you read, keep in mind that these are general tools and concepts built on years of research and practice in the field. Individualized specific plans with professional guidance and input may be needed at times, and asking for this type of help when necessary may be of great benefit to kids, families, and teachers.
What are “positive behaviors”?
You may be wondering what I mean by building positive behaviors. When people ask about behavior problems, lots of times they are mainly focused on the things that are difficult to manage. This can include disrespectful language, lack of cooperation, backtalk, verbal outbursts, or full-on tantrums. The focus here is the behaviors we do not want to see. When I talk about building positive behaviors, I am talking about the behaviors we want to see more of – using respectful language, cooperating around the house or classroom, using good coping skills to manage frustration. Often, when we see the negative behaviors we respond to those wholeheartedly, but we can tend to let the positive behaviors go by unnoticed at times. Why would we do this? Because sometimes those positive behaviors basically meet our expectations, so we don’t notice them as much. But the negative behaviors? Those are hard to ignore.
So, how to I build positive behaviors?
It would be easy to say just pay attention to the behaviors you like and ignore the ones that you don’t like. But parents and teachers know it is not as easy as it sounds to do something like that. To build positive behaviors, it is important to be intentional about not only giving attention to the behaviors you like to see, but also by helping kids learn what to do when they are upset. For example, instead of talking back to you, what would you want your child or student to do instead? It may depend on the situation. Maybe you would want them to ask if they could finish what they’re doing before they start what is is you’re asking them to do. Maybe you would want them to let you know they want something by asking nicely, but then also using good coping skills if they can’t have what they want. To be intentional, you need to proactively teach what it is they can do during times of conflict.T his should not be done during the conflict, but should be a conversation you have when everyone is calm. It is then possible to prompt these positive behaviors when things are starting to become difficult. Respond to positive behaviors with verbal praise, and with other rewards when possible.
What if I want a reward system to help build positive behaviors?
There are many ways to set up positive reward systems at home and in the classroom. The best reward system is going to be tailored to the needs interests of the children, the parents, and the classroom. Just setting up a star chart and saying “You will get stars when you behave” might not be enough. Here are some suggestions for setting up a successful reward program.
Choose the token you want to use. The token is anything that helps track positive behaviors. This can be stars or stickers on a chart, a penny jar, a marble jar, points, etc. You may want to talk to your children about what they would like – is a child is really into rockets, consider rocket stickers. If a child likes the idea of seeing a jar fill up with something to show progress, consider a marble jar or a penny jar.
Attach the tokens to meaningful rewards. Rewards can be anything from staying up late, to a dish of ice cream, to a trip to a shop with a set amount of pocket money to spend. You can decide how many tokens are needed for different rewards but be sure to set your child up for success. If they need 150 tokens to get a reward they may lose interest, and if it is too easy they will not form better behavioral habits. You will need to find the right balance.
Make sure the child knows what behaviors will earn stars. (Or stickers, or happy faces, or points, or pennies, etc). If you make a list of behaviors that will earn tokens, it will help your child process what the expectations are. If you see wonderful behaviors that are not on the list, you can always give a bonus token.
Try to give positive feedback right away so children connect the reward specifically to what they just did. If you are not close to your star chart or marble jar, you can tell them they just did a great job with something and remind them that they will get a sticker or other token as soon as you get home.
Keep rewards separate from consequences. Once a child has earned a reward (token), don’t take it away if they misbehave. You may want to use that opportunity to remind them of positive behaviors or possible coping skills when they are upset and prompt them to use good coping skills if they want to work towards their rewards.
If you are struggling with significant behavioral challenges or you are overwhelmed with how to set up a good program in your home, consider finding a therapist with a behavioral background to help you get things set up.
What about teenagers?
Teens are probably, for the most part, too old for classic token systems. However, you may benefit from setting up guidelines and expectations for behavior at home. At this stage, you could consider making desired activities contingent on meeting expectations. For example, if your expectations include getting homework done and cleaning up after themselves, you may make weekend activities with friends or access to the car dependent on them having their responsibilities taken care of first.
Stay tuned!Over the next few weeks I will be posting weekly tips on building positive behaviors.
This week’s tip is to help with signs of burnout in the early to middle stages, which are listed in my September burnout article. Some signs in the level of burnout include denial, withdrawal, and behavioral changes such as irritability or even aggression. If you have noticed that your work-life balance is getting out of hand and you are starting to feel and act differently, it is time to seek support from co-workers, supervisors, and other trusted individuals. It may also be helpful at this point to seek outside support or counseling to help you develop a plan to improve your stress management and re-align your expectations for yourself. This could be helpful for improvement with how you are feeling now, and will also help prevent advancing to further stages of burnout or future situations that could lead to burnout. Remember that creating balance every day – between work and home, with your eating and self-care, and with sleep – will help maintain the boundaries needed to prevent and manage burnout.
Next up: Rewards! How to motivate positive behaviors from kindergarten through high school.
This week’s tip is on coping with signs of burnout in the early stages. The signs are listed in my burnout article, and they include things like pushing yourself to work harder, neglecting your own needs, blaming your stress on others, and placing more value on work than on other relationships. If you have been noticing yourself fitting into these stages, it is important to put the brakes on and consider working on improving your work/life balance. To do this, try making a list of activities and relationships outside of work that are meaningful, important and fulfilling to you. Now challenge yourself to take a bit of time every day to nurture these relationships or engage in fulfilling activities that you enjoy. As you become more intentional about creating time and space for people and things outside of work, you will be able to shift the balance and (hopefully) guide yourself back on course and away from possible burnout.
This week’s tip is to help focus on preventing burnout. If you are aware of warning signs, some of which I posted in the burnout article, take some time to re-evaluate how you are spending your time and how you are managing stress. If you have started to feel more stressed about work, look for ways to improve the balance between work and life outside work. Make sure you are taking some time every day to completely remove yourself from work-related tasks AND work-related thoughts. Be intentional about using your time away from work to actually be away from work.
Have you ever described yourself as feeling burned out? Have you heard others describe themselves that way? Chances are, you or someone you know has experienced a sense of being burned out at some point. This feeling can arise from stress related to parenting, work, studying, or any number of things that place demands on you over a long period of time.
While the term burnout is casually used, the concept of actual burnout is well studied. In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger coined the term after conducting research on a set of symptoms shown by people in high-stress work environments. Since that time a great deal has been done to better understand the concept. By definition, burnout is basically a reaction to chronic job-related stress.
What causes burnout? Actual burnout is generally thought to be caused by 5 factors. These are (1) Unreasonable time pressure; (2) Lack of communication and support from a manager; (3) Lack of clarity for your role; (4) An unmanageable work load; and (5) Unfair treatment.
What are the other risk factors? There are a lot of things that can set someone up to become burned out. Some of the biggest risk factors seem to be:
Lack of work-life balance High workload/overtime Working in helping professions Trying to be everything to everyone Having little control over your work Monotonous work Having Type A personalities Perfectionism/pessimism Parents can experience burnout
So, while anyone can experience burnout, there are certain conditions or characteristics that can increase the chances of becoming burned out. Often, people who are described as workaholics tend to fit a lot of the characteristics that put them at higher risk for burnout.
What are the signs of burnout? The signs and symptoms of burnout are similar to other signs of stress, but more closely related to work. Some of these signs include:
Feeling alienated from work-related activities – finding job increasingly stressful, feeling cynical about work and co-workers, emotionally distancing from work. Physical symptoms– having chronic headaches, stomach problems. Emotional exhaustion – feeling drained, having poor coping ability, feeling reduced energy. Reduced performance – having negativity about work tasks, having difficulty concentrating, showing diminished creativity. Escape fantasies – having thoughts about leaving for a different, more perfect job.
How does burnout start? According to Freudenberger, there are 12 stages of burnout, starting with mild burnout. Many people experience some of the milder stages of burnout throughout their careers. But, fortunately, it is more rare to experience debilitating burnout. The 12 stages typically are:
The Compulsion to Prove Oneself– early in career or new job.
Pushing yourself to work harder – ambition.
Neglecting your own needs – sacrificing self-care.
Displacement of conflict – blaming your stress on others or on the job.
Revision of Values – friends and family are no longer as important as work.
Denial – impatience with others, seeing them as incompetent.
Withdrawal – avoiding or dreading social interaction, using alcohol or drugs.
Behavioral changes – changes in behavior such as impatience, aggression, snapping at friends and family.
Depersonalization – feeling detached – seeing neither yourself nor others as valuable.
Inner emptiness – feeling empty inside and to overcome this, looking for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs.
Depression – feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak.
Burnout Syndrome – can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.
You can see that progressing through the stages of burnout is different from normal daily stress. The primary focus here is the emphasis on work, with a drive that becomes less about job satisfaction and success, and more about moving away from any work-life balance in favor of continuous focus on work and associated stresses.
Because burnout has risk factors, warning signs, and somewhat distinct phases, the good news is that it is preventable. Some of the more obvious preventions include self-care, self-awareness, and seeking balance between work and life outside of work. Stay tuned in the next month for some tips on how to prevent burnout, and how to cope with burnout when it does occur.
Freudenberger, H.J. (1974), Staff Burn-Out. Journal of Social Issues, 30: 159-165.
Freudenberger, H.J. & North, G. Women’s Burnout: How to Spot it, How to Reverse It, and How to Prevent It. (1985). New York: Doubleday.
As kids grow into their teens, they start to show signs of increasing independence in many areas of life. It is tempting at this time to pull back from a parenting role if you see your teens showing a lot of independence and responsibility. But, try not to let yourself become too complacent – teens still need parenting support and guidance. One major barrier to this can be our dependence on screens and devices. To help maintain close relationships during the teen years, try taking time regularly to put all the devices away (yours also!) and do something with your teen. This may include a game, going out for coffee, having dinner together with no phones at the table, watching a movie or a series together, going for walks … there are endless possibilities of ways to spend time together without the interference of phones or tablets. By setting aside this time daily (if possible) or at least weekly, you will help foster opportunities for conversation while demonstrating that we can all get by without a device for a period of time to do other things without distraction.
The school years can feel overwhelming: Getting kids out of the door in the morning, keeping up with homework, juggling after school activities and sports, and basically helping your kids get everywhere they need to be. To help manage this time in a healthy and balanced way, one very important tip is to prioritize a little bit of time every day to spend with your child. This can be anything that gives you time together: Reading together at night, playing a quick game, or just taking some time to chat about the day. When interacting with your child, remember to ask questions that spark conversation, going beyond the generic “How was your day?” or “What happened at school?”. Focus on specific topics that you know have meaning for your child. Showing your child consistent interest in his or her life, and prioritizing daily shared time together, will help provide consistency and lay the groundwork for positive interaction in the years to come.
Anyone who is a parent can tell you that it’s not as easy as you thought it would be. And every parent has journeys and stories to tell, starting from the day their children were born and extending into a lifetime of parenting ups and downs. For parents, often some of the most rewarding and inspirational moments of their lives can come from their children, while at the same time some of the biggest challenges and heartbreaks are related to their children. How does one navigate the parenting journey?
The absolute joy of welcoming a new baby into your life is too great for words. New parents often experience an overwhelming sense of love and commitment that permanently takes root. As we explore the parenting journey, our focus is going to be on some of the challenges, and this upcoming series of posts will offer tips for parents over the next month. However, please note that it is the love, joy and commitment that most new parents experience is the strongest component of parenting and provides the inspiration to strive to do the best you can for your children.
Raising the little ones: The early years.
During the youngest years, parents are faced with small but significant decisions every day. Naptimes, feeding schedules, doctor visits, day care, preschool. In these early childhood days there are so many things to think about and many decisions do not seem easy. This can also be a time of high stress for new parents: Is my child meeting all the developmental milestones? Is my child forming positive attachments? Is my child healthy and safe? Am I doing everything right? When will I ever have time to myself again?
Not only do parents worry about milestones and basic care, there are also demands on parents to support and encourage social development and growth. In the early years, parents may find that they are spending time organizing play dates, joining interactive classes (library programs, Gymboree classes, Kindermusik, etc.), and enrolling young children in preschool or other structured early childhood educational experiences.
Unfortunately, parents who experience stress do not seek support, even from friends and family. While new parents do experience stress quite regularly, a recent survey found that 71% of new parents don’t want to ask for help, primarily because they are worried about being judged.
Parenting stress for new parents is quite normal. However, for some parents this does even further. In a 2015 poll found that 2 out of 5 new parents report issues such as depression or anxiety. Despite this, only 46% of parents who experience these actually seek professional support.
It is important and helpful to use published resources to help guide you during the parenting journey. As you seek these resources, though, it is also very important to reach out for help, support, and encouragement from other people during these early years.
The School Years
The next phase of the journey for parents involves making choices about school. In some areas, there is the option for “School of Choice”, where students can go to any number of public schools within their area. Many locales also have charter schools, which are free for families but may offer more appealing programs. Private or religious schools may also be an option for some families. And in some cases, homeschooling may be the top choice.
In addition to the choices about education and schooling, there are other parenting updates during these years. Parent-supported play dates start to fade as children want to spend time with their friends with increasing levels of independence. With the gradual moves towards social independence, parents may have mixed feelings. On one hand, it allows parents more time for themselves and their other responsibilities. On the other hand, there may be some reluctance to step back, or some stress about safety (for example, wondering of your child will be safe going over to a friend’s house without you there to keep an eye on things).
During the school years, parents are also faced with increasingly complicated decisions about discipline and instilling responsibility and values. How do you encourage and reward positive behaviors, and how you discourage and consequence negative ones? How do you promote responsibility and strong values? And finally, how do you navigate the world of technology? Video game content, screen time limits, when to let your child have an smartphone and what controls will you place on the device? Each of these decisions will impact your child’s cognitive, emotional and social development. So. while the stress has changed form, it is still there.
It is important again to look to reputable published resources for guidance during the school years. It is also important to focus on your family values and building a strong relationship with open communication and respect between yourself and your children.
The Teen Years
Many parents look to the teen years with some trepidation. This is a phase of development when your children are ready to test the waters of independence, and also to test the limits at home. This is an age where the influence of peers exceeds the influence of parents, which can lead to conflict. This is also a time when oversight becomes more complicated, especially with the dawn of social media, online gaming, and online influencers who capture the attention of youth and literally influence them. This is also the time when dating becomes more of a topic, and parents have to carefully navigate the role of setting boundaries while keeping the lines of communication open.
At this stage there are also opportunities to strengthen parent-child relationships. There seem to be some people who think parenting support can fade during the teen years, but this is a time when secure, supportive and stable relationships with parents are critical. This is a good time to spend time with your teenager doing things they enjoy, finding out more about what they are learning and what interests they have, attending sporting events or performances, and providing opportunities for them to have friends over. These will all help foster positive relationships and trust.
Parents should also look to resources to help with navigating boundaries for teens when it comes to screens. One such resource is Children and Screens, which offers events, newsletters and tips on how to help children and teens navigate the digital world safely.
As challenging as parenting is for all parents, it is also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling roles one can experience. Over the next few weeks, watch for posts with tips for each of these phases!
Last but not least, the 8th dimension of wellness is Occupational Wellness. This area focuses on finding satisfaction and enrichment from your daily work. With our occupations taking so much of our time, this is an important area for focus. It is also a challenging area as daily occupations can be stressful – from homemakers to rocket scientists, there is no shortage of stress. To help you with finding occupational wellness, try keeping an open mind about your work. What was one thing you found satisfying today? What is one thing you could try to do more effectively tomorrow? What is something in your work that sparked inspiration or joy? Take a moment to reflect on these things each day.
Our seventh dimension for wellness is spiritual wellness. This realm helps us find meaning and purpose in our own lives. It can be found through faith, beliefs, values, or ethical principles that generally guide our actions and decisions in daily life. This week, to help build a sense of spiritual wellness, try a daily meditation or mindfulness exercise, or if you are religious, focus on daily prayer. The practices may take only a few minutes per day, or you can choose to go a little deeper and devote more significant time during the week to engage in these focused and intentional activities to improve your spiritual wellness.
Intellectual wellness is all about engaging your mind intentionally, seeking creative and stimulating avenues for thought and discourse. This may include anything from reading a good book to having conversations with interesting people. To stay intellectually well, it may also be important to challenge your own mind, either by listening to new perspectives or trying something new. This week, try to stretch your mind by doing one thing to expand your knowledge in one area – look up and make note of something you have been curious about, have a good conversation with someone who has a different perspective on a topic than you do, or read and article on a topic that you normally wouldn’t take the time to explore.
Financial wellness sounds like a term that would describe having wealth. In reality, financial wellness refers to having a healthy relationship with your own finances. This would include effective ways to earn money, to save money and to manage a budget. To help with your own financial wellness, try challenging yourself to reduce your spending in one simple area this month (reduce the number of times you eat out or get takeout food each week, reduce the number of coffee drinks you buy for yourself, etc.) Take the money you normally would have spent on those things and put it in a jar or move it to your savings account to help you see how much you saved.
Our third area of wellness is Emotional Wellness. With this dimension of wellness, the focus is on our awareness of our own feelings as well as the feelings of others. Our goal here is to work on learning how to cope effectively with stress and other powerful emotions, while fostering positive and fulfilling relationships with others through emotional awareness and understanding. This week, try this exercise to help enhance your emotional wellness. During the day, if you experience a situation that causes you to have an emotional reaction (good or bad!), pause to think about how you can best process this experience in a healthy way. Also, consider situations during the day where others around you may be experiencing emotional reactions, and think about what you can do to respond in a positive way to others (share their happiness or provide support for stress or difficulties).
Our second dimension of wellness is social wellness. This is a large concept, generally including a feeling of connection with others, and a sense of having a good social support network. When things get busy, it can be difficult to prioritize socialization. This week, try reaching out to one friend or family member and carve out some time to connect with that person. This could be a video chat with someone far away, or meeting a local friend for lunch, coffee, or a walk. No matter how small the activity, it will help you foster your sense of social wellness.
This area of wellness is often the one most associated with the term Wellness. Physical wellness includes self-care, healthy eating, physical exercise, and sleep. This week, choose one thing that you would like to work on to improve your physical wellness:
• If you need more sleep, try going to bed a half an hour earlier.
• If you need better eating habits, give up one thing that is not good for you and add one thing that is good for you to your daily diet.
• If you need to improve physical activity, start with 15 minutes, 3 times per week. Go for a walk, try some yoga at home, find an exercise class on YouTube. You can always add more exercise once you get in the habit.
• If you need to improve self-care, try working on one area of self-care this week. This might be something like flossing more regularly, giving yourself a cleansing facial, or taking some time for mindfulness meditation.
This is a busy time of year, between holiday gatherings, final exams and time off from school, overtime hours for busy workers, shopping, and travel. It is a lot to fit into the last month of an already challenging year! So during this time, it is important to take that time for yourself, to hit the pause button. Remember that during this season it is not supposed to be about stress but about sharing quality time with the people you care about.
Sounds good! But how do we accomplish this, with to-do lists that seem to be miles long? It is important to remember that one of the priorities right now is for you to enjoy yourself, and enjoy the season of giving and sharing. Look at your to-do list and add time for yourself. Be intentional about it, as much as you would for the other things on your list – even taking 10-20 minutes to rejuvenate will go a long way.
Focusing on your own Wellness
When we think about overall wellness, often people just think about physical well-being. There are actually multiple dimensions of wellness, with a general consensus in the field that there are 8 dimensions of wellness. For today, let’s look at each of those area briefly.
Intellectual Wellness: Ways to expand knowledge and skills.
Career Wellness: Ways to find satisfaction in your work.
Physical: Ways to take care of your physical health.
Social: Ways to stay connected with social supports.
Existential/Spiritual: Ways to expand your purpose and meaning.
Emotional: Ways to cope effectively.
Environmental: Surrounding yourself in a clean, pleasant and healthy environment.
Financial: Ways to feel satisfied with your finances both now and in planning for the future.
It is challenging to look at all these areas and consider how to improve your overall wellness, especially during this busy time of year. Instead, maybe pick one area to focus on for the rest of this month, something that will help you with creating some balance for yourself to help you maintain your energy enough to enjoy yourself and your loved ones.
Stay tuned! Over the next 8 weeks we will spend some time with tips for improving wellness in each of the 8 areas listed above. Meanwhile, remember to gift yourself with some balance, right now, and into the new year.
While some people may feel compelled to make a difference for people with unique needs in our communities, not everyone has time to give to become involved with various organizations and initiatives. If you are one of these people, consider adding a group who supports people with different needs to your annual charitable giving list. As with any charity donation, look into which ones do the best job of putting your donation to good use to directly support the cause.
Community inclusion has long been a goal for people with different needs and those who support them. An overview of disabilities by the CDC shows that 26% of the adult population in the United States has some form of disability. That is 61 million people in all. Of these, 13.7% have a mobility impairment, 10.8% have cognitive impairments, 5.9% have hearing impairments and 4.6% have vision impairments. 6.8% have difficulty with independent living and 3.7% have difficulty with basic self-care skills.
Over the past several decades, there has been a great deal of progress within our systems to promote inclusion, such as less reliance on segregated classrooms in the school, better workplace opportunities for people who don’t fit into a certain employment box, and better accessibility features in public spaces. All of the work that has been done by people with different needs along with those who support them has been fantastic, and our world today is a much better place for inclusion than it was 30 years ago.
In addition to increased opportunities, we have seen significant changes in community awareness and acceptance for individuals with different needs. Across the country we have organizations whose focus is to promote awareness and inclusion, such as Autism Speaks, The National Down Syndrome Society, and The Arc. There are movies and television series that showcase life with different needs, including Love on the Spectrum, Born This Way, Raising Tourette’s, and Atypical. Placing these shows in the mainstream helps to create awareness and acceptance in our communities.
Despite these improvements and increased awareness, people with diverse abilities often continue to struggle to fit into the world comfortably. What are some things that we, as members of our communities, can be doing to help improve opportunities for inclusion?
Start by looking at the gifts you have in your own life – gifts of time, gifts of talent, gifts of financial resources. How do you use these gifts? For the most part, people use these gifts regularly to help themselves and their families, prioritizing the people closest to themselves. For example, if you have a gift of some free time, you will likely use that time to do something you enjoy, with family, friends, or time to yourself. Enjoying and appreciating what you have in the way of time, talent, and money is vital to your well-being and to help you stay connected to those who are important to you in your life. While I strongly encourage everyone to do more to use their gifts to improve their own lives and the lives of those close to them, I would also challenge people to look at some ways they can give back for the sake of others in the community.
With so many people in need and so many causes, each of us has a multitude of ways to give back to our communities. I could easily go through the attributes of a number of causes, but today our focus is inclusion for people with different needs, specifically, those with intellectual disability or neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. These individuals are often left out socially, and have a much higher rate of unemployment than the general population. In addition, social isolation is a chronic problem. 24% of adults who have intellectual and neurodevelopmental differences state that they do not feel that they have people they can confide in comfortably.
So, what can you do?
Start with your gifts of time and talent. If you were to carve out even one hour a week to either spend time with someone who has different needs, or to volunteer at a local organization who supports people with different needs, you could make a big difference. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at larger events also, including fundraisers, social events and other activities. Some examples include Night to Shine, a red-carpet event that takes place once a year in towns and cities around the world for people with different needs, and Els for Autism events that take place throughout the year. Consider also how some of your own skills and talents may be used to help – are you good at organization? If so, helping with fundraisers may the the thing for you. Are you confident with your social skills and could you help someone with issues related to friendship? Maybe spending time with people who are socially isolated is where you can best use your talent to help with inclusion.
Now, think about your gifts of financial and material resources. With this, the most obvious thing is to find a good organization or foundation who supports community inclusion and opportunities for people with unique needs. There are hundreds of these organizations in our country to choose from – some with a national focus and others that have more impact on local experiences. Other ways to use financial and material gifts to help with inclusion may include investing resources into providing more opportunities for people. For example, if you own or manage a business, perhaps you could consider committing to hiring one or more people with different needs to help out in your business. Not only do you help by providing a chance for gainful employment, but you also provide opportunities for social engagement and interaction that can be severely lacking for many people with different needs.
So if you are looking to make a difference in our ever-changing and complex world, take some time to consider making a difference for some people who still need our help and support to be meaningfully included in our communities. You may find yourself amazed at the impact you can have for the benefit of others.
Our last two weekly tips gave some ideas for how to intentionally and meaningfully take time for yourself an others. This week, try to shift gears and think about how to make the best use of your time for focus and productivity. Once you set yourself up for some kind of task or project, apply yourself to that project fully by reducing distractions (put your phone away!), setting yourself up in a space that helps you focus, and allowing yourself (short) regular breaks to help you re-set and re-energize for your task.
When we think about time, often one of our thoughts is that there is never enough time in a day to do everything you want to do. One way to give yourself a gift of extra time is to wake up 15-20 minutes earlier than usual and use that time for something you enjoy. Have a relaxing cup of coffee (not in your car on the way to work), go for a walk, meditate, do some stretches. There are a huge number of things you can do for yourself with just a little extra time in the morning to get your day off to a perfect start!
It is a time of transition for so many of us. It’s the end of summer and for many people this signals a start to a new school year. For a lot of people, it is a time of lifted restrictions and resuming more normal social activities. For other people, it is time to go back to restricted activities because of new outbreaks and variants. As we look at out own transitions this September, think about taking time for what is important to you and your family, no matter what else is going on in the world.
So, what fun activities is it time for in your life this month? Will you go apple picking with your kids? Will you read a good book? How about meeting a friend for coffee on a Saturday morning? Starting a new month and a new season is a good time to make a list of what you hope to make time for this month in the way of activities and events.
What goals can you set for your family this month? With a new season, it may be time for looking at your responsibilities and how you will handle any changes that are coming with autumn. Sending kids back to school is one of the big transitions people are thinking abut right now. Teachers, professors, academic professionals everywhere are gearing up for an unpredictable year. Students of all ages are jumping back into school with continued covid-related issues affecting their experiences. Parents of students are faced now with helping their kids navigate unpredictable waters with school while they themselves work on coping with ever-changing circumstances in the world. For everyone who is looking at changes in schedules and responsibilities this fall, this is a good time to take stock of what will be new and different for you in the coming months and make some plans on how to tackle these changes.
Is it time for anything else as you head into a new season? Maybe you have been thinking about some personal goals, like improving your health habits. Maybe it’s a good time to take on daily meditations and mindfulness practices to build your overall wellness. With the weather cooling off a bit, maybe this is a good time to think about spending more time outdoors in comfortable temperatures.
It is always time for something – work, activities, family, relaxation. Take a few minutes to think about how to frame the next few months, making time for what is important to you.
New! Look for my tip of the week every Monday for tips and tricks that build on my latest blog.
Finding Beauty in Others
It can be hard to find beauty in others when you’re having a bad day. Try to focus your attention on someone’s smile. A smile conveys thoughtful reflection and spreads joy. It’s a great step forward in finding the beauty in others!
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am sure that this is true. After all, there are things that are beautiful to some people but not to others. We all have basic preferences for color, shapes and design. We also have preferences for beauty in the form of landscapes, animals, and other people. In many cases, we may come to appreciate beauty where we had not seen it before.
When it comes to other people, there can be tendencies as part of human nature to make judgments based on appearances. Sometimes these judgments are purely about attraction – do I like how that person looks as a potential romantic partner? Other times these judgments are more complex, looking at someone and thinking you may know them because of the outward appearance you see. Clothing, hairstyle, skin color – these are all things that can affect our judgment, often leading to inaccurate representations or poor outcomes.
In the field of psychology, we strive to understand and predict human behavior to help build better success for people with regard to personal interactions. It is often disappointing to see negative patterns of behavior repeat themselves – with individual people we know, with ourselves, and with society. In my specific experience, spending my entire career working with and advocating for the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens – those with autism, developmental needs and diverse abilities – I have challenged others to look for beauty and strength in people where it might not be as obvious to society. We have come a long way in the past 20 years towards increased acceptance and community inclusion, but we still have a long way to go. It doesn’t seem like we can fix things in any easy fashion, but looking at where we are today, it seems that one thing we can all do is look for and find beauty.
In others. In ourselves. In our communities.
How good are you at looking for an finding beauty in others? Not just physical beauty, but inner beauty, positive qualities and attributes? Do you look for the best in others, or do you focus on the things you don’t like, or the things that make you uncomfortable?
We often see the negatives more than the positives. In doing this, I can promise you that if you look for a negative quality in another person, or look for fault in what that person says or does, you will find it. This also holds true for the opposite – if you really apply yourself to looking for the best quality in another person you will find it. I believe that there is beauty somewhere inside all people, with very few exceptions.
In addition, it is important for us all to remember that we have each only really walked in our own shoes. Do any of us really know what it feels like to be someone else? Someone who was rude to you at the store? Someone who has a different skin color than your own, or who comes from a different culture? Someone who has been born with a disability that affects every day life in ways you might not be able to imagine?
Try to imagine – only just imagine – that each person you come into contact with today is honestly just doing the best they can with what they have in that moment. If you can even imagine that, your outlook may become more balanced. This may also result in more positive interactions and less frustrations throughout your day.
While I do think that in general, we tend to be too hard on other people, I also think that we tend to be hard on ourselves. It is so easy to slip into negative thinking about ourselves, our skills, our looks, our interactions. Have you ever second-guessed a conversation after it happened and thought about what you could have or should have said differently or better? Have you ever looked in the mirror or at a picture of yourself and really focused in on the things you don’t like about your looks? Have you ever talked yourself out of trying something because you think you won’t be good enough?
Simone Biles, bright, beautiful, and possibly the best female gymnast of all time, just stepped down from the Olympic team competition to let her team compete without her because she wasn’t sure she had it in her to live up to the world’s expectations in that moment. She, who from an outsider’s perspective with her incredible talent and should have every reason to believe in herself, was wrought with doubt this week. The world was shocked. We look at her as someone who is flawless, perfect in her sport, the epitome of strength and perseverance. But even Simone Biles has her moments of self-doubt, and if she does, it is no wonder that we all do. Simone Biles had the courage to say to the world that she needed a break for herself, and I hope that in doing so she is able to search and find that strength, beauty and brightness once again.
How can we face our doubts and not lose sight of our own beauty and brightness? Maybe it means sometimes hitting the pause button to give yourself some grace for a time. Maybe it also means looking at yourself in a more balanced way – you may challenge yourself constantly to overcome weaknesses and things that get in your way, but it is important to not let this dominate your thoughts about yourself. For every weakness or challenge you seek to improve within yourself, look for one thing you are proud of, one thing you like about yourself, one thing you know other people like about you. Balance yourself with positive thoughts about yourself while you strive for self-improvement.
In our communities.
Boy oh boy, is it easy to find fault in our communities, isn’t it? Do they do enough of this, that or the other thing that we think is important? Probably not. But like the balanced perspectives we can strive for regarding others and ourselves, we have to do this with our communities as well. Like people, communities are not perfect. How could they be? They are made up of imperfect people, after all. That is the nature of life. This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t advocate for our communities to do better in things that could be improved, but it is to say let’s think about them in a more balanced way.
When you consider your own community, including our collective state and national community, do you see more things that you like or more things that you don’t like? Is it easy to criticize local, state or federal organizations and governing agencies for everything they do wrong? It is, I think, very easy to find fault with organizations and systems. And there are things that need to be improved, without a doubt. This is true for things that affect lives of people in a multitude of ways. Does your community do enough to support people in financial need? Does it do enough to support and include people with different needs and abilities? Does it do enough to provide opportunities for positive interaction and productive debate? Does it do enough overall to support diversity and inclusion for all people?
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But, I would venture to say that all our communities have qualities and strengths that we may take for granted. While you consider the things you wish would be better within your own community – or even on a broader scale with state and federal organizations or governments – also consider the things you value in these area. What does your community do well? Look for the beauty.
If we start from a place with a focus on what is bright and beautiful, it will make it easier to tackle the challenges that we face with others, with ourselves, and with our communities.