Relationships are the one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of our life. There are types of personal development that we are unable to do unless we are in relationship and there are ways that relationships push us to do work that we would not be otherwise motivated to do.
One of the greatest challenges in relationship can be our boundaries –maintaining a connection to our self, being open with another, and caring for the relationship that exists between us. We can run into challenges like losing our self in the relationship, over-caretaking, shutting down, passive aggressiveness, or saying things that are hurtful and can’t be taken back. Any of these sound familiar?
In the 1980’s Melody Beattie wrote about co-dependence. This is the pattern of behavior that a person develops when relating to a loved-one who has an addiction. However, Beattie’s writing hit a chord with most people whether they were in a partnership with an addict or not. Chiefly, she focuses on understanding what is ours to deal with and what is another person’s. This level of clarity is essential for other relational skills to develop. It is impossible to create healthy connectedness if we lack the ability to hold onto our self.
Holding onto our self is the ability to stay connected to what we think, feel and want while being in a relationship with another person. This is particularly important when that person is under stress or in a crisis. In intense situations, it is easier to get consumed by another person’s experience. Even sexual intimacy, as positive as it might be, requires not only that we can deeply connect and even merge with another but that we can come back to ourselves as well.
The truth of the matter is, when we do not know or understand something, our ability to be in relationship to it is limited. This means we need to be able to see our self ,or in other words be aware, to “hold onto our self.” The less we are aware of ourselves, the harder it is for us to know when something is us and when it is not. So, this is one of the many ways that personal development work serves you. The more that you know the easier it is to navigate relationships.
It is necessary to know our self to be open to a relationship in a healthy way. Being open in a relationship is both about the ability to connect and to disconnect. However, primarily it is about being able to choose when we want to connect and disconnect. This allows us to be consciously open or to consciously choose not put up a boundary when something is not healthy.
However, what I often hear people struggle with is determining what is healthy or not healthy for them. I have said that self care is anything and everything that is affirming of the entirety of who you are. It comes up here again because determining what is healthy or not healthy is guided by the same concept. Does it affirm or support who you are? If it does then it is healthy for you even if it is difficult. If it is does not, then it is not healthy for you.
Of course, the greatest gift that we can give in a relationship is our willingness to be as respectful with that other person as we have learned to be with our self. This desire to support another person in honoring and caring for themselves and learning and growing in their capacity to know themselves is a beautiful gift of a relationship.
The relationship is the third part of the equation. Relationships take care and time to be able to flourish. It is not enough for people to just invest in their own awareness and growth they also need to invest in the relationship. It becomes another member of the relationship and requires selflessness as much as anything else. What can you give to the relationship? How do you give to the relationship?
Developmentally, we are not able to give to the relationship until we have learned how to take care of ourselves. We are simply too immature to really be able to give what is required. That is why we need to start by doing our own work and understand what it is that supports us as we go through life. When we have done this work, the act of giving selflessly to a relationship is an additional joy rather than something that creates imbalance.
If you find yourself in a relationship and you are questioning your knowledge of your own needs or understanding of the different aspects of who you are, don’t worry too much about it. We are all in a continual process of growth. As you move forward in your relationship you will be called to focus on different aspects of the relationship: you, the other person, and the relationship itself. This process, if you choose to engage in it will be both challenging and deeply rewarding –ultimately offering you one of the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer.
In our day-to-day lives, habits can often be tough to build, as there are plenty of distractions that can lead us off the “straight and narrow” and right back to our old ways. To alleviate some of those troubles we can examine some academic research on motivation, discipline, and habit building, and break down their findings into actionable steps that any aspiring habit-builder can put into place.
1. Make “micro quotas” and “macro goals”
In a fascinating study on motivation, researchers found abstract thinking to be an effective method to help with discipline. In the most basic sense, “dreaming big” is pretty good advice after all. And since a variety of research around the self-determination theory shows us that creating intrinsic motivators (being motivated to do things internally, not through punishments or rewards) is an essential process of building habits that stick, you need to find a way to balance this desire to dream big with your day-to-day activities, which often do not result in quick, dramatic changes.
The answer is to create what I call “micro quotas” and ”macro goals.” Your goals should be the big picture items that you wish to someday accomplish, but your quotas, are the minimum amounts of work that you must get done every single day to make the bigger goal a reality. Quotas make each day approachable, and your goals become achievable because of this.
Writer/developer Nathan Barry has made for a great case study of the use of these quotas as someone who forced himself to write 1000 words per day come hell or high-water. The result was three self-published books resulting in thousands of dollars in sales.
2. Create behavior chains
Creating sticky habits is far easier when we make use of our current routines, instead of trying to fight them. The concept of if-then planning is built around environmental “triggers” that we can use to let us know that it’s time to act on our habit. Also known implementation intentions, this tactic involves picking a regular part of your schedule and then building another “link in the chain” by adding a new habit.
For instance, instead of “I will keep a cleaner house,” you could aim for, “When I come home, I’ll change my clothes and then clean my room/office/kitchen.” Multiple studies confirm this to be a successful method to rely on contextual cues over willpower. So the next time you decide to “eat healthier,” instead try “If it is lunch time, Then I will only eat meat and vegetables.”
3. Eliminate excessive options
According to a variety of research on self-control —and expounded upon in books like The Willpower Effect — there is great power in being boring. Take, for instance, Barack Obama’s insistence on never wearing anything but blue and gray suits. According to the president, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make too many decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
The president’s belief is well supported by the research—Kathleen Vohs and her colleagues’ study on self-control found that making repeated choices depleted the mental energy of their subjects, even if those choices were mundane and relatively pleasant. According to the Harvard Business Review, if you want to maintain long term discipline, it’s best to “Identify the aspects of your life that you consider mundane — and then ‘routinize’ those aspects as much as possible. In short, make fewer decisions.”
For lasting change, the steps you take must ultimately change your environment and schedule. Stop buying snacks if you want to stop snacking (no willpower needed), pack a very similar lunch every day of the week, and embrace the power of routine to get the necessary done each day.
4. Process plan (but don’t fantasize)
The step that many people skip when they fantasize about building a certain habit is they never clearly answer why they want the change to occur. It may seem like a small detail, but it plays a huge role in keeping our motivation up over time. A variety of research shows us that excessive fantasizing about results can be extremely detrimental to the stickiness of any habit.
According to this study from UCLA, the mistake is in what we visualize. Researchers found that those participants who engaged in visualizations that included the process of what needed to be done to achieve the goal (ex: fantasizing about learning another language, by visualizing themselves practicing every day after work) were more likely to stay consistent than their peers (that visualized themselves speaking French on a trip to Paris). The visualization process worked for two reasons:
Planning: visualizing the process helped focus attention on the steps needed to reach the goal.
Emotion: visualization of individual steps led to reduced anxiety.
5. Eliminate “ah-screw-its”
New habits are often very fragile, and it is for this reason that we must eliminate any source of friction that may lead us astray. These “ah-screw-it” moments (hat tip to blogger Derek Halpern) are the specific moments where you find yourself saying, “Screw this, it’s not worth the effort!” A more scientific take on this phenomenon is called the What the Hell Effect, which explains why we are so likely to abandon ship with a new habit at the first slip-up.
The solution? Examine your habit and find exactly where things start to break down. In a great example of putting this in action, Author and 99U speaker Ramit Sethi has explained how he improved his gym attendance by finding where things would slip:
When I sat down to analyze why I wasn’t going to the gym, I realized: my closet was in another room. That meant I had to walk out in the cold [to] put on my clothes. It was easier to just stay in bed. Once I realized this, I folded my clothes and shoes the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I would roll over and see my gym clothes sitting on the floor. The result? My gym attendance soared by over 300%.
You can even incorporate an “if-then” scenario once you find the culprit. For instance, if fatigue is stopping you from playing guitar after work, you could set up a system of “If I’m feeling tired after work, then I will take a 20-minute nap and listen to music for five minutes to get myself motivated.”
What about you? How do you create new regular habits?
Originally published on 99U
is the author of Sparring Mind, where he takes a fresh look at human behavior, productivity, habits, and creative work. (more…)