Healthy "U" Spring Newsletter
How Are Your New Year's Goals Working for You?
by Mary Beth Curry, LCPC, ACC Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Hood College Counseling Center
According to History.com, for at least the last four millennia, New Year's Resolutions are a common attempt for "getting on track", "refocusing" or "finally getting around to...". We're reminded by the calendar that a fresh, new start is upon us, whahoooo! Another chance to "do what I should have been doing all along!"
The most common, well-meaning prompts at a better life we give ourselves are weight loss, quitting smoking, and exercise with a success rate of only 6%, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. It seems, deep down, we really know our chances are slim to none to keep the hope alive after the first few months of our resolution, but the allure of another chance, a newer, brighter day is hard to resist, so why not brush up on motivation strategies!?
I'm sure there are millions of creative and awesome ways to stay motivated, all located on Google for your review. So, instead of trying to encapsulate those here, today, I want to focus on how to make a good goal in the first place: "S.M.A.R.T. ly" of course!
S.M.A.R.T. goals really work! Their origin is attributed to Peter Drucker's management principles (1981) and have been applied in, and retrofitted for, various disciplines, including behavioral psychology and executive leadership coaching, the areas in which I practice.
The simple template below is incredibly helpful to organize intention, create focus and have measureable outcome...gotta love data!
* Specific - target a specific area for improvement.
* Measurable - quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
* Appropriate - does it support your personal mission and vision?
* Realistic - can it be achieved with your available resources?
* Time-based - specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
Next steps: Take a coffee break and connect with the resolutions, ahem, goals you made for yourself this past January, with the intention of a non-judgmental review. Use the lens of S.M.A.R.T. goals as you reflect, taking stock of your progress to expose where the barriers to your success may be. Readjusting your goals "S.M.A.R.T.ly" as you go along is the key!
I wish you good luck on your journey. Remember, the ability to assess, let go, rework and make another attempt is a major hallmark of resiliency! Ahhh, staying resilient in stressful times...maybe that's the next article. Have a wonderful spring!
Tougher Than a Marshmallow
by Dr. Ingrid G. Farreras, Associate Professor of Pschology
Leonardo DiCaprio just won the Best Actor Oscar for his leading role in The Revenant. The inescapable essence of the film is the "toughness" of DiCaprio's character, as he battled and overcame near-lethal physical injuries, starvation, and exposure to harsh elements. What does this toughness consist of and are we born with it or can it be acquired? Although toughness of this magnitude is not required in our daily lives, it is something that allows us to bounce back from failures, to perform under stressful conditions, and to resist temptations. For over a century, psychologists have studied this toughness under various guises: ego strength, willpower, resilience, grit, self-control, self-regulation, and delay gratification.1
Walter Mischel's "Marshmallow Test" is among the best known of such research.2 He had preschoolers sit at a table facing either one or two marshmallows, and had them choose between eating one marshmallow immediately or waiting 20 minutes to eat two. Surprisingly, those preschoolers who had greater willpower or the ability to delay gratification during these studies, when followed over time, showed greater psychological, behavioral, social, physical, and financial wellbeing through adulthood than those who had low self-control. Specifically, the ability to resist temptations is related to less mental illness and physical and verbal aggression, lower body mass indeces, greater emotional and social coping, and higher SAT scores (over 200 points) in middle and high school students. It is also related to greater educational and long-term goal achievement, self-worth and ability to handle stress, better physical health, and less drug use in young adults, and mid-life adult brain scans also show greater activation of the prefrontal cortex (responsible for problem-solving and creativity) than of the limbic system (associated with addictions and obesity).3
Most people generally believe that traits such as this ability to delay gratification or willpower or self-control (or talent or personality) are innate or fixed, the unchangeable product of our genetic makeup that we are either born having or not, or having much of or little of. In this pessimistic view of human nature, there is not much we can do about these traits (nor can we be held responsible for them). A more optimistic - and research-supported - view is that such skills are malleable, largely shaped by what we do (or not) to change them. Children, after all, are taught to focus their attention, regulate their emotions, exercise self-restraint, and self-distract from distress, hunger, or pain. That these skills can be learned and enhanced is illustrated in psychologist Carol Dweck's recent Mindset book on fixed vs. growth mindsets.4 Her classic study of middle school students found that students with a fixed mindset who believed ability or intelligence was innate ("I’m good at sports," "I'm good at math"), performed more poorly the more they were challenged because they attributed poor performance to their lack of ability/talent (or blamed teachers/coaches), while students with a growth mindset earned higher grades because they attributed poor performance to a lack of sufficient effort and simply worked harder and persisted through the challenges instead of giving up. In the controversial yet humorous book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,5 author Amy Chua exemplifies a parenting approach that emphasizes this growth mindset, where hard work and discipline - not innate intelligence or talent - is responsible for superior academic (and musical) performance. Educational interventions that emphasize high expectations and praise hard work over ability or right answers have also been highly successful.
Our mindset of what or how much we can control or change thus greatly influences what we can achieve; it shapes how we evaluate ourselves and our behavior. Our expectations for success or failure affect how we approach future tasks, with every success increasing the chances for the next and thus our willingness to persist in the face of obstacles, failures, and temptations toward the pursuit of our long-term goals.
So how do we learn to resist the marshmallow? In the cute and seemingly simple Marshmallow test studies, psychologists were not only interested in the individual or group differences in ability to resist temptation (e.g., girls, on the whole, can hold out longer than boys), but they were also interested in the many strategies the preschoolers devised to resist. There seems to be two key components to being able to resist immediate temptations in favor of long-term goals: attention redirection and cognitive reappraisal. Attention redirection simply involves self-distraction, such as avoiding visual contact with the temptation ("out of sight, out of mind"), or talking to oneself or giving oneself instructions (such as if-then statements like "if I feel a sweet craving, then I will go brush my teeth"). Cognitive reappraisal refers to changing the way we perceive the temptation, as that determines how we respond to it cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. Focusing on the appealing characteristic of a temptation (e.g., yummy, mouth-watering, sweet) makes it much harder to resist than focusing on its more descriptive or abstract characteristics (e.g., white, cylindrical, soft). As a result, practicing cognitive strategies that create psychological distance between us and the temptation facilitates resisting or overcoming it. With continued practice, these strategies become automatic habits that require little effort.
The good news then, is that self-control and the ability to delay gratification is not only linked to positive mental and physical outcomes, but that this skill is under our control if we are motivated enough to persevere through setbacks and failures along the way. The bad news is that in our present world, temptations are ubiquitous and we are losing the battle against delayed gratification. When is the last time we turned off our phone during a meal with friends and family or when we went to bed at night? Turned down that decadent dessert? Resisted that cigarette? Studied for that exam instead of checked our Facebook account? Deposited money toward our retirement instead of purchasing the latest iPhone? Instant interactions, information, purchases, food…all encourage us to indulge in immediate gratification, not the DiCaprio-style grit that would more likely lead us to our desired goals.
1 Baumeister, R. F., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Books. 2 Mischel, W. (2014). The Marshmallow test: Why self-control is the engine of success. New York: Little, Brown, & Co. 3c 3 3 Mischel, W. (1974). Processes in delay of gratification. In L. Berkowitz (Ed)), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 7 (pp. 249-292). New York: Academic Press; Mischel, W., Ayduk, O., Berman, M. G., Casey, B. J., Gotlib, I. H., Jonides, J., & …Shoda, Y. (2011). "Willpower" over the life span: Decomposing self-regulation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6(2), 252-256. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq081; Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., Rodriguez, M.L. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244, 933–938.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Chua, A. (2011). Battle hymn of the tiger mother. New York: Penguin Books. Chua’s latest book also speaks to self-control as one of the three traits explaining the (primarily educational and economic) success of the most successful cultural groups in the United States (Chua, A., & Rubenfeld, J. (2014). The triple package: How three unlikely traits explain the rise and fall of cultural groups in America. New York: Penguin Books.)
Attention Faculty and Staff:
Beginning in late summer, a group will meet to explore contemplative practices for personal and professional growth using Parker Palmer's book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. Interested faculty and staff members are invited to contact Beth O'Malley.
Healthy "U" Yoga Announcement
As we approach the end of the semester, schedules are extremely busy. Therefore, the Healthy "U" yoga classes sponsored by Sol Yoga will be suspended until the fall semester.
Mindfulness Meditation and Relaxation
Mindfulness Meditation and Relaxation is held Monday and Thursday afternoons 12:15-12:45 pm in the Meditation and Prayer Room, Chapel basement.
Weekly Chapel Services
All are welcome, Wednesday afternoons, 12:30-12:55 pm.