Using Systems + Goals to increase success

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.  Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there.” James Clear (6)

Many people start the new year by setting goals but less than 10 % of people keep their New Year’s resolutions each year (1, 2).

Is there a better way?

First, to set effective goals, consider the following:

  • For goal setting, consider S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound) (4).
  • A goal card (5) may also be helpful.

After effective goal setting, focus on the system:

In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear suggests the following strategies to think of systems (6):

  • Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making sustained progress (6).
  • For example, you might ahave a goal to clean up a messy room (6). But if you maintain the same sloppy, pack-rat habits (system) that led to a messy room in the first place, soon you’ll be looking at a new pile of clutter and hoping for another burst of motivation (6).
  • If you’re a student, instead of getting an A, a better goal could be to become a better student (a system).  This would shift your focus to the daily process:
    • How often and how much you study
    • Improve your study skills
    • With whom and where you study
    • How you address difficult topics
    • Your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.
    • Your method for tracking progress before grades/exam. This could be in terms of quizzing or testing yourself, etc.

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

 

References:

  1. https://www.iflscience.com/brain/psychology-new-year-s-resolutions/
  2. Norcross, John & Mrykalo, Marci & Blagys, Matthew. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of clinical psychology. 58. 397-405. 10.1002/jclp.1151.
  3. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/goal-setting#:~:text=Setting%20goals%20is%20an%20effective,the%20recovery%20from%20mental%20illness.
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/evaluation_resources/guides/writing-smart-objectives.htm
  5. Goal card: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5954583/figure/fig1-2055102918774674/
  6. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear

Technology, Electronics, and Mental Health

With online classes, distance learning, homework time, and remote work; people are increasingly spending more time with electronic devices and technology than in the past.  This increased screen time for work, school may cause previously used screen time for leisure activities not as restorative; as this may increase total screen time and sedentary behavior.

Zhai and colleague’s review of 24 studies shows that too much screen time (> 6 hours per day) can impact depression (1).  Similar, a review of 31 studies concluded that sedentary behavior may also impact anxiety (2).

More devices are now available than ever before: computers, televisions, tablet pcs, smartphones, smart watches, etc.

While healthy technology use can have benefits of productivity, social connection, entertainment,  and improved health; unhealthy technology use can worsen our distraction,  isolate us socially, increase stress, expose us negative social influences; and negatively impact our health.

The American Psychological Association (3) offers the following strategies to use technology in healthy ways:

  1. Avoid distracted driving (3): APA advises us to turn off notifications and place your phone out of reach when driving.
  2. Avoid electronic devices before bedtime (3). Previous research showed blue light from electronic devices used at bedtime can impact sleep (4), stressful material on electronic devices can also interfere with our ability to fall asleep (3).
  3. When smartphone users turned off smartphone notifications, they reported lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity than they did during weeks when their notifications were turned on (3, 5).  Frequent notifications were also associated with lower levels of productivity, social connectedness and psychological well-being (3,5).
  4. Schedule time for email, when possible. People who checked email continuously reported more stress than those who checked email only three times per day (3, 6).
  5. Manage expectations (3). If possible, schedule time to check messages, email, notifications etc and if possible, let others (family members, boss, etc) know how often you do this, to help manage their expectations.
  6. While social media can help us connect with others, it can also impact feelings of sadness or depression (3, 7), other people may find it helpful. Consider how social media use makes you feel and adjust your use accordingly.
  7. Face to face interactions are important for mental health. The 2017 Stress in America survey found 44 percent of people who check email, texts and social media often or constantly report feeling disconnected from their family, even when they’re together (3). When you’re with friends and family, make an effort to unplug: consider silencing your phone and put it out of reach at dinnertime or during family outings (3).
  8. Disconnect: Instead of grabbing your phone during spare time, disconnect from electronics to reflect, recharge, relax; and collect yourself (3).

To counteract excessive screen time, sedentary behavior from remote work/learning, consider the following:

  • Periodic breaks away from the screen, even a few minutes per hour may help.
  • Stretching, walking during these breaks may be helpful.
  • Instead of mindless “infinite” scrolling, consider your goal before starting a device or program.
  • Consider time outside, in nature and other leisure activities for mental health.
  • Exercise, playing sports can also help address the negative mental health effects of excessive sedentary behavior and screen time.
  • Check out mindful technology use by OSU Digital Flagship

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. Zhai L, Zhang Y, Zhang D. Sedentary behaviour and the risk of depression: a meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Jun;49(11):705-9. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-093613. Epub 2014 Sep 2. PMID: 25183627.
  2. Stanczykiewicz B, Banik A, Knoll N, Keller J, Hohl DH, Rosińczuk J, Luszczynska A. Sedentary behaviors and anxiety among children, adolescents and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 2019 Apr 30;19(1):459. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-6715-3. PMID: 31039760; PMCID: PMC6492316.
  3. Ballard D. Connected and content: Managing healthy technology use. American Psychological Association.  https://www.apa.org/topics/healthy-technology-use
  4. https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2015/07/17/blue-blockers-and-other-ways-to-reduce-electronics-induced-sleep-disruption-and-daytime-tiredness/
  5. Kostadin Kushlev, Jason Proulx, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. 2016. “Silence Your Phones”: Smartphone Notifications Increase Inattention and Hyperactivity Symptoms. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’16). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1011–1020. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/2858036.2858359
  6. Kostadin Kushlev, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Checking email less frequently reduces stress, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 43, 2015, Pages 220-228, ISSN 0747-5632, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.11.005.

(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214005810)

  1. Lin LY, Sidani JE, Shensa A, Radovic A, Miller E, Colditz JB, Hoffman BL, Giles LM, Primack BA. ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS. Depress Anxiety. 2016 Apr;33(4):323-31. doi: 10.1002/da.22466. Epub 2016 Jan 19. PMID: 26783723; PMCID: PMC4853817.

 

Self care strategies for graduate students

Graduate students face a variety of stressors, such as increased time spent on schoolwork, financial stress, graduate/teaching assistantships, career planning, and family issues (1,2,3).

Other stresssors include increased time spent on research and often starting at a new school, both of which can increase isolation; graduate school often requires shifting work style that goes from semester to semester to projects that can take months to years, with limited breaks in between.  Graduate students also have to manage work style, personality, and other relationship dynamics with their labmates and advisors; whom they may not have known when entering their program. These and other factors can impact graduate student mental health.

What are some mental health concerns among graduate students?

According to the American College Health Association, graduate students experienced the following mental health concerns in the previous 12 months (4):

  •        63% of students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety.
  •        58% of students reported feeling very lonely.
  •        46% of students reported that academics had been traumatic or very difficult to handle.
  •        41% of students felt so depressed it was difficult to function.
  •        24% of students reported that stress had negatively influenced their academics.

What factors could improve graduate student wellbeing?

One study found that top 10 predictors of graduate student wellbeing include overall health, living conditions, social support, sleep, academic preparation, career prospects, feeling valued and included, advisor relationship, academic engagement, financial confidence (5).

What is a potential self care plan for graduate students?

Daly and colleagues suggest a self care strategies unique to graduate students (6). Graduate students could consider customizing a self care plan based on these domains and example strategies (6).

Physical/body (6) 

Mind/mental (6)

  • Allow for internet and video game breaks
  • Engage in ‘brain breaks’: reading novel, doodling
  • Maintain realistic goals and expectations regarding school and grades
  • Break down large tasks into small tasks

Social/relationships (6)   

  • Spend time doing something active with <significant other> on weekend
  • Spend 1 day a week with cohort friends (no school work, actual fun)
  • Schedule facetime with partner

Emotional (6)

  • Make note of daily gratitude
  • CRY and deep breath
  • Listen to music to calm down/ release whatever you are feeling
  • Write for fun

Spiritual (6)     

  • Spend weekends in nature
  • Practice mindful positivity: look for the best in a situation
  • Sing during class breaks
  • Go to church (Sundays) or read several Bible verses

Work/professional (6)   

  • Schedule breaks to avoid burnout (90-min on, 10-min off, etc.)
  • Ask cohort members for advice
  • Make lists and stick to them with due dates
  • Celebrate task accomplishment
  • Adjust plan, time management, seeking out counseling support.

Other strategies to consider:

  • Daily routines, and short term hobbies and goals outside of work ( fitness/nutrition goals, cooking/recipes, arts and crafts, sports, etc) can help create a sense of control which can help balance some of the stress from uncertainties associated with graduate school.
  • Work on creating smaller tasks out of bigger projects.
  • Regularly meeting via support groups with other graduate students or students in your field.
  • Setting up a regularly scheduled meetings with your advisor can help establish structure, accountability, and increase focus.
  • Identify people you find supportive or enjoy being around and set up regularly scheduled times to meet up either in person or electronically (friends, family, colleagues, etc).
  • Avoidance of drugs, excessive alcohol, excessive caffeine.

Additional resources:

By R. Ryan Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. Mazzola JJ, Walker EJ, Shockley KM, Spector PE. (2011). Examining stress in graduate assistants: Combining qualitative and quantitative survey methods. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 5(3), 198-211.
  2. Oswalt SB, Riddock CC. (2007). What to do about being overwhelmed: graduate students, stress, and university services. College Student Affairs Journal, 2007, 27 (l), 24-44.
  3. Fox JA. (2008). The troubled student and campus violence: new approaches. Chronicles of Higher Education, 55(12), A42-A43.
  4. ACHA grad student survey data: (from January 22, 2020 Michael J. Stebleton Lisa Kaler. Promoting Graduate Student Mental Health: The Role of Student Affairs Professionals and Faculty. JCC Connexions, Vol. 6, No. 1. Feb. 2020  https://www.naspa.org/blog/promoting-graduate-student-mental-health-the-role-of-student-affairs-professionals-and-faculty
  5. University of California Berkeley. Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report 2014. http://ga.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/wellbeingreport_2014.pdf   Page 128. Accessed November 2020.
  6. Self care strategies in grad school. Daly BD, Gardner RA. A Case Study Exploration into the Benefits of Teaching Self-Care to School Psychology Graduate Students [published online ahead of print, 2020 Oct 23]. Contemp Sch Psychol. 2020;1-12. doi:10.1007/s40688-020-00328-3