Tag Archives: psychology

Walking on sunshine

Summer finally seems to have arrived in London. Yesterday when I left work, it was so hot and such a beautiful afternoon, I decided to walk home through Hyde Park after catching the train to Victoria Station. As I was walking through the park, I was really starting to overheat, lugging my heavy laptop bag in the sun. I decided to take off my shoes and walk barefoot through the park. I realised when I did that, it was the first time in a long time that I could really remember walking around barefoot in the grass. The last time I can remember doing it for any length of time was when I did a yoga class in Regents Park, as the lock on the studio was broken and we couldn’t get inside. But even then, that was more staying in the confines of one small area.

It’s amazing to me how sometimes little things like this can be so revealing about our nature. While there was a nice sense of freedom I felt wandering around in the grass, I noticed myself looking at the ground constantly to make sure I wouldn’t step on any bees, as there were a few of them about, instead of trusting that they were instinctive creatures and would not want to get stepped on. As I was walking and looking at the ground I noticed more ‘hazards’, like the odd prickle for instance. I noticed that I was hyperaware of these possible risks and was focusing intently on looking out for them, rather than actually just accepting the ‘risk’ (I could get a prickle in my foot or stung by a bee) and moving on and trusting that if it eventuated, it would not be the end of the world. When I finally realised this and looked up, I saw the most amazing view of the sunlight streaming across the pond, with the view stretching to Kensington Palace and beautiful church spires reaching up into the blue sky.

It was a small moment in my dad and they were insignificant risks, but it made me wonder how much else I might be missing out on and might not be seeing in my life because I’m too focused on the risks and what could go wrong. I went to a yoga workshop recently about developing a home practice, and the teacher said it was useful to have an idea or intention to meditate on or to form the basis of your practice, which can change from month to month. I think my intention for the coming month is to practice letting go. While I can acknowledge the risks in life, I don’t need to focus on them. I’m hoping this month I can let go of some of my fears and experience more freedom in all I do, and really open my eyes to the beauty and positivity around me.

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Misery loves company

I’ve been in a bad mood the last few days since I’ve had a headache and just generally been sick and suffering from a lack of sleep. I’m pretty bad at being sick. I feel sorry for myself and wallow and then just feel in a bad mood and bitchy. I felt so wiped out today and just slept most of the day. I just feel in such a funk when I’m sick. And the last few days have seemed worse than usual. It’s like I’m tired and emotional and just on edge all the time. I was eating a toasted sandwich and a baked bean dropped out of it onto my PJs and I almost started crying, Seriously.  I am not a good sick person

I just want to curl up in bed and be looked after and have someone read me Harry Potter. Being read to is one of the greatest pleasures in life, I think, and I find it kind of sad that it’s something that seems to disappear with your childhood. There’s something so soothing about it. My MacBook can read to me, but its voice is so robotic, so it’s not quite the same. I’ve listened to one audio book before, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, and I really enjoyed it. It’s nice to hear an author read their own work as well.

Sadly there was no one there to read to me today and I didn’t have any audio books, so I just slept. But  I had a terrible nightmare in which my iPhone was stolen by a taxi driver, my MacBook was stepped on, (apparently Apple products are deeply important to subconscious) and I was roped into working for the Dancing with the Stars host, who was terribly mean to me in a Devil Wears Prada kind of way. Following all this, people started attacking me by shoving their fingers down my throat. Seriously terrifying. I’m not sure what a dream interpreter would make of all of this, and I’m not sure I even want to know.

Speaking of symbolic dreams, I’ve also been dreaming a bit about cutting my hair off and then regretting it terribly. Apparently it’s all very Samson and Delilah and could mean that I feel like I’m losing power. One dream interpreter suggests that it could mean that you would like to take a risk in some aspect of life but are frightened about what this change could bring.

In one dream I had cut my hair ultra short, Mia Farrow style, which I think I quite liked. I actually had my hair this short a few years ago, and have been growing it out ever since, which has been an incredibly slow process, so I guess the length of my hair is important to me.

In the other dream, I just chopped my hair off in the spur of the moment and it looked dreadful and  I immediately regretted it. I felt so relieved once I woke up and realised it hadn’t happened.

I don’t often think about interpreting my dreams, unless they seem to be one of those well-known ones like all your teeth falling out, of which I’ve had a few. But I think things like dream interpretation or horoscopes can be quite interesting, not for their ability to tell you the future or necessarily unlock your deepest darkest secrets, but sometimes when I read them I find something that speaks to me or makes me question things going on in my life, and any increase in self-awareness is surely a good thing.

With the hair dreams, I don’t really feel much connection to the idea about losing power, as I don’t really consider myself someone who is particularly powerful or interested in power anyway. I don’t have much power to lose. But the fear of taking a risk, and the changes that could result from it, there’s something in that which is cause for contemplation. I am quite risk averse. I don’t know if this contemplation will result in me having a drastic hair cut or moving to Barcelona or, quite possibly, nothing at all, but at least it’s food for thought – and it may have even helped pull me out of my melancholy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delayed gratification: marshmallows and mind control

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One such morning last week I listened to a podcast of Kim Hill’s interview with psychologist Professor Walter Mischel of Columbia University on Radio New Zealand National.

Mischel is a distinguished researcher in the area of personality. In the 1960s he was one of the originators of what is often referred to as ‘the marshmallow test’. Children aged about four years old had one marshmallow (or some similarly delectable confection of their choice) placed in front of them and were told that they could either eat that one marshmallow straight away or they could wait to eat it, usually about 15 minutes, in which case they would be given another marshmallow.

The point of all this was to examine the children’s ability to delay gratification for a bigger reward. Mischel continued to study the children into adulthood, and discovered that those children who could delay gratification, waiting the 15 minutes so they could have two marshmallows, instead of immediately having one, have generally become more successful than those who couldn’t.

Now, Generation Y tends to be all about instant gratification. We don’t expect to have to wait for anything, be it a reply to an email, a promotion at work, or a new dress. We want it all and we want it now.

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So this idea of waiting for something, of not taking that instant gratification that is right in front of you, is something that is quite foreign for many of us.

It’s a skill I think that I was never particularly good at. I always remember as a child being given I would eat all my Easter eggs in one day. It would often shock me when I would go to a friend’s house and in, say, June, she would still have a half-eaten Easter egg in the fridge.

Or when I was flatting at university, one of my flatmates would buy a packet of Toffee Pops and it would last her weeks. She would just have one occasionally. I would sometimes try to imitate her, and it would go well for maybe a day, or maybe an hour, and then I would mow through half the packet.

That these examples are to do with food is pertinent, but it’s certainly not the only area in which I have sometimes showed a lack of self-control. Some things I like to chalk up to experience, such as with my student loan – you could get a maximum of $1000 to spend on books or study accessories, and I would always get the maximum as a boost to my spending money, as $1000 right now was far more appealing than that delayed gratification of smaller loan in a few years’ time.

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Self-control, will power, self-discipline, delayed gratification, whatever moniker you like to give it, is something I have been working hard at trying to develop, and over the past year I have definitely managed to become better in regard to both money and food.

In August last year, around the time of my uncle’s funeral, I had something of a watershed moment and realised that I really needed to get serious about losing weight. I have struggled with my weight my entire life, and I’m only now fully comprehending that I always will – it’s a lifelong battle for me in the way that sobriety is for an alcoholic. I had spent many months indulging in home baking and pastries from the caff at work, and this, combined with a very sedentary job, resulted in me packing even more kilos on to my already well-endowed frame.

It is now over a year since that time, and I have lost 16 kilos (it was 17, but through a lack of that much vaunted self-control, I’m now back up one kilo). While there are many elements that go into weight loss – just as there are many for weight gain – there is a necessarily strong emphasis on delayed gratification.

I always think of my auntie’s mantra of ‘minutes on the lips, months on the hips’. You can either have that instant gratification of eating that brownie, or those hot chips or that Danish pastry, or you can resist it for the bigger reward, some time in the future, of losing weight, fitting into your skinny jeans, being healthier, living longer, feeling better about yourself.

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I’ve also managed to develop some self-control with regard to my spending. I’ve always been someone who loves shopping, loves spending, loves the finer things in life. Saving was something I only did for a very specific, short-term goal, like going on holiday

When I decided to move to London, I knew I would need to save for a considerable length of time, and that required further developing of that self-control. In the end, I didn’t end up moving to London, but I have continued saving. The original reason for saving may have disappeared or changed, but that self-control I developed hasn’t.

In the National Radio interview, Prof Mischel explains that delayed gratification is something that can be learned or developed with the right strategies and help.

Mischel used the example of retesting some children who had initially been bad at delayed gratification, but that if those same children were given a strategy to help them – such as the researcher suggesting that they visualise the marshmallow inside a picture frame – they would often be far better at delaying. When asked why they didn’t eat the marshmallow in the retest, the children would say, ‘Well, you can’t eat a picture.’ Mischel explains that those people who manage to delay gratification in the marshmallow test did so by the simple art of distraction.

I think there’s a lot to take from this for my own struggles with self-control. So much of it is about trying to strategise, to visualise, to keep yourself distracted from temptation.

And it’s also something that, like most things, the more you do it, the better you get. It’s like with saving – when you first start, it’s so difficult, because you’re used to getting that instant gratification. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. In fact, it can even get to the point where it becomes difficult to spend money, even when you need to. I now weigh-up decisions a lot more carefully before I spend money or before I eat something indulgent, this has benefits, but it can become mentally taxing.

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There are some days when I decide that I’m going to get a piece of cake or something from the caff, but when I get there, I think about it so long that the desire passes – the moment for instant gratification has been and gone. Although I think the caff ladies must thing I’m slightly nutty, standing in front of the food cabinet silently deliberating the merits of a chocolate croissant.

I think developing my ability to delay gratification is definitely something that will help me with all aspects of my life. It just makes me slightly more contemplative about what my reasons are for doing something, for indulging, in whatever it may be. And that’s not to say I don’t indulge when it’s right (and sometimes when it’s wrong) like today I bought a $200 swimsuit. Gosh, writing that does make it seem indulgent. But I figured I deserved it. And I resisted buying a whole lot of other stuff, so we’ll call it even.

While I think the difference between how my weight loss in particular has gone is that other times I’ve tried to lose weight, it’s always been something that I’ve thought about being done over a short period of time – I just need an iron will for a few weeks or months and then I would get to where I want to be.

But that’s not really effecting change within my personality as I have done now. By doing it over a long period of time, I have actually changed my desires, changed my essential make-up, I think. So today when I decided that I should buy a chocolate bar, I ended up going into the dairy and looking at them, but really thought about whether I needed it, how I would feel without it, and I realised that I was fine without it. And so I walked home and tried on my bathing suit instead.

I’ve still got five kilos to lose to get to my goal weight, and still I think, ‘If I’m just really disciplined for the next few weeks or months, it will happen’ but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know if I’ll find that discipline to really make it, as the last few kilos are the hardest, but I do feel like I have changed my relationship with food, and with money, and that I have more faith in my ability to ensure a better future for myself, because being able to practise delayed gratification has wide ramifications.

In fact, in an article on the marshmallow test in the New Yorker, Mischel explains, “What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control. It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

The value of that goes beyond the ability to lose weight, to save money – it’s really about giving you control over your own reality.

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