How to use your personal conflict as an opportunity for growth

If you’ve recently experienced anger, torment or hurt, here’s an exercise I recommend:

Think of the recent conflict that brought you these emotions.

Now, think hard about one way either:

  1. You previously behaved in a way somewhat similar to how the other person did, or
  2. Your own behaviour in the situation was not perfect (maybe you also did something slightly insensitive or hurtful, even if you meant well, or can justify exactly why you did it).

When you look for and find a fault in your own behaviour, it often hurts. But if you are brave enough to acknowledge it, you are rewarded with a sense of pleasure, pride, acceptance and growth.

Shifting our perspective of conflict from being externally caused, to (at least partially) internally caused, is a useful practice. It can help us become:

  • less biased,
  • less judgmental,
  • less argumentative,
  • less inclined to complain,
  • less likely to react with further conflict, and
  • more forgiving.

Happiness doesn’t come from insisting we are always right.

But it does require us to open minded enough to see that, very often, our initial perspective has room to improve.

How you can think your way to better health

Consider the following:

  • Perceiving your daily activities as exercise can result in significant drops in weight, waist circumference and blood pressure, without any actual changes to your reported eating or exercise.
  • Having a make-over decreases your blood pressure, but only if you perceive that it makes you look younger.
  • Pretending to be a pilot improves your vision by around 40%.
  • Your blood sugar level (if you are diabetic) will rise and fall based more on your perception of time, than the actual time.
  • Imagining yourself getting the cold makes you 4 times more likely to actually get it.
  • Viewing your cancer (if you are a cancer survivor) as ‘cured’, as opposed to ‘in remission’, correlates to you being physically healthier, more energetic and less depressed.
  • You have about a 1 in 3 chance of healing yourself from virtually any disorder if you are given a placebo (an effect that remains even if you know it is a placebo).
  • Pretending you have travelled back in time (if you are elderly) significantly improves your strength, flexibility, posture, height, weight, hearing, vision, arthritis, and makes you look physically younger (!!) when judged by people blinded to the study.

Each of these scientific findings makes good sense when we see our mind and body as deeply connected, and understand that our beliefs are far more important than we give them credit for.

If you have a health problem that you can’t overcome, I think it is at least worth asking: is it because I actually can’t, or because I have been living in a society that has made me think that I actually can’t?

Why you should take a new approach to your New Years resolutions

Here’s an exercise well worth doing:

Think about your life at a specific time in the future. Imagine everything has gone as well as it possibly could.

You have worked hard, used your strengths and succeeded at accomplishing each of your life goals at that point in time.

This moment is the realisation of your life dreams.

Now, for 15-20 minutes, on 4 separate occasions, write continuously about what you imagined.

When we take the time to write about ourself accomplishing our long-term goals, we benefit. These benefits are substantial and numerous, and include:

  • improved mood and well-being,
  • more optimistic thinking,
  • greater clarity about our motivations, priorities and long-term goals,
  • improved confidence,
  • integration of our emotions and life experiences in a more meaningful way,
  • enhanced physical health, and
  • a lower chance of getting ill.

When done right, the process of writing our New Years resolutions can not only benefit us one day in the future.

It can also benefit us today.

What to do when change is hard

Why is changing a behaviour or emotional response so difficult?

Research shows that it’s often because we value the very part of us that causes it.

Some examples.

Those who struggle to change:

  • impulsive behaviour, value being spontaneous.
  • being perfectionist, value having drive and ambition.
  • feeling depressed, value self-reflection.
  • worrying or anxiety, value showing responsibility.
  • looking for faults, value being serious.
  • being dependant on others, value being caring.

2 thoughts on this research.

First, when change is hard, start by looking inside yourself. Changing a behaviour or emotional response requires both:

  1. An understanding of your current way of thinking. What thoughts are causing this resistance to change?
  2. The development of an alternative worldview. One that supports the change you seek.

Second, also well worth asking: should I change here?

If it is actually my strengths that are causing my unhappiness, what’s stopping me from choosing to wholeheartedly accept myself, exactly as I am?

Remember, change starts from within.

And sometimes, the change required isn’t about avoiding or fixing. It’s about accepting, and embracing, all of you.

How to create a healthy habit

Step 1: Decide on a health goal that you would like to achieve.

Step 2: Choose 1 small and simple behaviour that will get you towards your goal. Make sure it is something that you are confident you can do on a daily basis.

Step 3: Plan when and where you will do this action. Be specific and choose both a time and a place that you will come across every day of the week.

Step 4: Each day you encounter that time and place, do the action. If it helps, keep a daily record you can mark off whilst you are forming the new habit.

Step 5: Continue until you are doing this new behaviour without even having to think about it. Research suggests that for most us of, it will be no more than 10 weeks.

The important thing to note is that getting healthier doesn’t require huge amounts of time, attention or motivation.

But it does require a desire to change, and a plan to actually make it happen.

The 12 steps to setting (and achieving) your New Year’s resolutions

Step 1. Brainstorm your dream list. Write a list of everything you may possibly want to achieve this year. Think big, without limits.

Step 2: Link each goal to your core life values. For each goal, ask yourself: Why is this important to me? What is it (exactly) that will make the sacrifice, discomfort and effort that’s required to achieve this goal truly worthwhile? If you don’t have a good answer, cross it off your list.

Step 3. Re-frame your remaining goals to capture your motivation. For example, the goals “Go to the gym” or “Lose weight” might become “A strategy to improve my fitness in an enjoyable and sustainable manner, which will be evidenced by having more energy and being able to enjoy playing with the kids when I get home from work.

Step 4: Decide on what’s most important to you. You can’t be an Olympic marathon runner and our Prime Minister at the same time. Of the goals you have left, decide which are most important. I suggest choosing your top 4, that you truly believe can be achieved together over the course of 1 year.

Step 5: Ensure there is a balance. If all 4 goals are about climbing the corporate ladder, is that really how you want to spend your year? Research shows our well-being is highest when we find a balance between relationships, religion/spirituality, work and generosity/focusing beyond ourselves.

Step 6: Re-check before you commit. Ask yourself: are these goals really, truly how I want to invest much of my time this year? (Hint: If you’re not screaming out yes, the answer is probably no.)

Step 7: For each goal, write a (very) specific action plan to get you there. Decide on the small and simple behaviours you will commit to regularly that will get you to your goal. They should be things to do (go to the cycle class on Saturday mornings) as opposed to things not to do (stop eating chocolate). Consider also any extra skills, knowledge and support you’ll need, as well as the potential barriers that may come up.

Step 8: Create a clear timeline for your action plan. Divide your behaviours into steps you can do on a daily (or at least weekly) basis.

[Important: if you’re not extremely confident that you can do the action plan, read this post, or change it so that you are.]

Step 9: Plan exactly when and where you will do the actions. Choose both a time and a place that you will come across every day (or week).

Step 10: Each day (or week) you encounter that time and place, do the action. I highly recommend creating a chart that you can mark off every night before bed so that you can see your progress.

Step 11: Put a monthly reminder in your calendar to review your progress. Don’t wait until the end of the year to realise that what you have been doing hasn’t worked. If you find that at the end of the month you are not making consistent progress towards your yearly goal, revise your action plan (and double check that it’s truly an achievable goal).

If the problem is that you are not doing your action plan, either i) make the action plan easier, ii) understand and question your thoughts that are holding you back, or iii) make changes to your environment to better support your desired behaviour. (Note: Don’t beat yourself up here. It’s normal to fail – the trick is to learn from it and change accordingly.)

Step 12. Celebrate! Decades of research shows that when you do this process, it works.

That is, if you have the courage to face the possibility of failure, you also have the ability to make your dreams come true.

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