In my previous blogs, I spoke about making and keeping positive habits, improving self-control, and increasing grit and resilience. For this month’s blog, I will be focusing on three key strategies that I have found incredibly helpful. The three strategies have in common that they 1) cool hot, immediate, and impulsive thinking 2) activate more long-term and thoughtful thinking, and 3) ultimately, allow you to be the person you truly want to be.
1. Make an Advantage Card
I first heard the idea of an “Advantage Card” when I attended Dr. Judith Beck’s Workshop on Cognitive Behavioral Strategies for Weight Loss. She recommended making an Advantage Card to help people lose weight. The idea behind the Advantage Card is to put in writing the advantages for your new, positive habit and to read it each day. An Advantage Card does not only have to be about losing weight. It can be used for any new habit you want to create. I have done Advantage Cards with children that focused on the advantages for calling out less, decreasing procrastination, or being less anxious. The Advantage Card is an effective tool because it places in the forefront what you want to accomplish in the long-term. However, it is not enough to have an Advantage Card. You need to pre-commit to where and when you will look at the card.
Take a minute now and make an Advantage Card for a habit you want to change. Or, encourage your child to make an Advantage Card for what he/she wants to change. You can’t change others so you can’t write an advantage card for another person (e.g., my child will pick up his dirty laundry). Once you have written your card, pick a time and place to read it. Many people choose to read their card first thing in the morning and to leave it on their night stand or in the bathroom. It only takes a minute to read, but it is well worth it.
2. WOOP It Out
Huh? Dr. Gabrielle Oettingen, the originator of WOOP, discusses this principle in her recent book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. She has done numerous studies and has found that the WOOP technique has helped both children and adults change challenging, negative habits. So how does WOOP work?
W = Wish; O = Outcome; O = Obstacles; P = Plan (if-then)
The idea is that when one tries to increase self-control and/or develop a new habit, one should first imagine what it would feel like to have this wish (w) and outcome (o) occur. But then, just as important, one should imagine what the obstacles (o) are that prevent one’s wish and outcome from occurring. Lastly, one needs to make an if-then plan (p) for this obstacle.
For example, if I wanted to yell less at my children that would be my wish (wish). If I yelled less, I would be happier, my kids would be happier, and I would be a good role model (outcome). However, I don’t do this because the need to be right and getting my frustration off my chest takes over (obstacle). My plan then would be if I find myself yelling then I will remind myself that this is counterproductive and take a step back rather than a step forward (plan).
I used WOOP with a student who wanted to procrastinate less (wish). He imagined that if he procrastinated less, he would be less stressed, happier, and his parents would nag him less (outcome). However, he often procrastinated because he did not want to face the annoyance of the work (obstacle). His plan then was if I find myself procrastinating then I will remind myself of the WHOLE PICTURE and that although I may feel good in the moment, this lifestyle makes me stressed in the long-term (plan).
Dr. Mischel discusses in his book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, that the beauty of an if-then plan is that it gives you time to consider your options and be better able to activate the cool, goal-oriented part of the brain, instead of acting based on what the hot, immediate gratification part of the brain wants.
3. Wait 10
I have a bracelet that says, “Wait 10.” The bracelet (an if-then plan) reminds me to wait 10 minutes before making any decision that my immediate gratification brain thinks is a good idea (e.g., eating carbohydrates after 9 PM). By waiting ten, I have found that I often, although not always, make better choices (drinking tea, instead of eating donuts).
I have made similar bracelets with the kids I work with (e.g., wait 10 before calling out or acting silly). By having a cooling down period, the children have been more successful in tapping into their long-term as opposed to their short-term selves. In addition, to the wait 10 bracelets, I have also made other bracelets with different saying (e.g., “the power of yet,” “breathe,” and “stop and think”) that serve to inspire our best selves.
My point in sharing these strategies with you is not to promote becoming a robot who never engages in fun activities, but rather to inspire adults and children to take charge of their fate, instead of submitting to the short-term, hedonistic part of the brain. Wishing you much success with the strategies :) Caren Baruch-Feldman
I will be giving a free workshop on this topic (Got Grit? Got Growth? Got Marshmallows? Increasing Self-Control and Resilience in Our Lives and the Lives of Our Children) at the Scarsdale library on Friday, March 6, 2015 from 12:30-1:45. Register with the library by going to https://calendar.scarsdalelibrary.org/event.php?id=894795. If you like these ideas, I encourage you to read Dr. Mischel’s, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control and Dr. Oettingen’s, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. Dr. Oettingen’s has a WOOP app and website (/www.woopmylife.org). In addition, you can get WOOP worksheets at https://characterlab.org/goal-setting.
Please check out my website at drbaruchfeldman.com for additional blogs and articles.