I’ve seen a couple of different psychologists over the years. They helped me work through my anxiety and develop a more fulfilling life for myself. Inadvertently, they also shared some psychological tricks that I’ve since implemented into my own life.
Here are four tricks you can use to improve your life just the same. Two are from my psychologists, two are from others I’ve come across in my research.
1. To fall asleep easier
I was sitting with my psychologist. Describing my worries, fears, and concerns, he told me about a simple tactic to regain peace. Something that I could do to calm my brain down. To reduce some of my anxieties and in turn relax. Furthermore, the technique could also be used for sleep if I ever had trouble getting it. I was intrigued.
Here’s what to do:
Close your eyes. Lay your hands flat on your lap. Breathe in a slow, elongated breath. As you inhale, raise your left index finger. Lift it at the rate of your inhale. Then, fully inhaled and finger raised, exhale. Release your breath at the same slow, steady rate. As you exhale, lower your finger until it lays flat once again. Now repeat that process, but this time, raise and lower your right index finger instead of your left.
Go back and forth. Inhale and raise your left index finger. Exhale and lower your left index finger. Inhale and raise your right index finger. Exhale and lower your right index finger.
It’s been years and I still use this tactic. After all, it’s incredibly simple. You can do it in nearly any sleeping position. You can do it any time. Plus, no headphones are required, no apps need to be downloaded, and it’s entirely free (no copay necessary).
I use it for naps as well as a night’s sleep. I use it when having a hard time drifting off and when I don’t have a lot of time to wind down.
2. To better accept reality
The head of the company was in a tough spot. He had been touting the health benefits of radium for years. So naturally, when he began to receive reports detailing the dangers of radium, he refused to accept them. He tried to ignore them. He tried to cover them up. And he tried to fight them.
In the true story of The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, the company head’s ideal reality no longer matched the true reality of the situation.
This difference is known psychologically as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the feeling when reality doesn’t match what you want it to be. As explained by Healthline, “This incompatibility (dissonance) could happen when you do something that goes against a value that’s important to you. Or maybe you learn a new piece of information that disagrees with a long-standing belief or opinion.”
What happens is that the person pretends nothing is wrong. They ignore the truth.
If you find yourself holding onto an idea when reality is clearly showing you otherwise, it might be time to reevaluate. Leave the building. Go for a walk. Take some deep breaths. Then consider if maybe, just maybe, what you believe to be true isn’t.
3. To give better advice
I sat across from my psychologist. Me, resting on a neutral-colored couch. Her, on a similarly colored armchair. My session was coming to a close. I only had a few minutes remaining and I wanted to make them count.
I spoke up.
“Whenever I ask people if they want my advice, they always say ‘yes.’ Not because they necessarily want to, but because there is an obligation to. And so I give them my advice. But often I’m not sure if they actually want it or if they’re just following social norms. It’s confusing. I don’t want to preach to them if they’re just being polite. How do you handle situations like that?”
She didn’t take long to answer. Her response was clear and easy to implement. She suggested that instead of asking – “Can I give you some advice?” or “Do you want some advice?” – I say, “If you ever want advice about that, let me know.”
This adjustment doesn’t trap the other person into saying “yes.” Instead, it gives them control of the situation. If they genuinely want to hear what you have to say, they can ask for it. And if they don’t, they can simply say, “Sounds good,” and go about their day.
4. To stop procrastinating
In this article from the American Psychological Association, Joseph Ferrari, PhD mentions that, “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.’ We all put tasks off, but my research has found that 20 percent of U.S. men and women are chronic procrastinators. They delay at home, work, school and in relationships.”
We all procrastinate to varying extents. If you’re of the occasional sort, an hour wasted on the couch isn’t a big deal. However, an hour each day spent on the couch will result in a tremendous amount of life lost.
I believe boredom lies beneath procrastination. Whether that means you’re bored in your work, your exercise routine, or the people you spend time with, boredom is the true culprit. When you solve that, procrastination dissipates.
That said, if procrastination is a regular companion, consider what a fulfilling life looks like to you. Then measure your current life against that. Notice the areas that could use adjusting. Then let the excitement of that better future pull you forward. Let it motivate you to make a change. Procrastination has deeper roots than simply putting off a task. In reality, you are bored. Bored with your career, health, or home. Possibly all three and then some.
Spend time considering what a fulfilling life for you looks like. Plan it out. Begin to take action on it.
Move forward with the tactics
Regardless of what you struggle with, the field of psychology is rife with simple hacks you can use to build a better life for yourself. For your reference once again, here are four that resonate with me:
- For better sleep, apply the breathing practice described above.
- When you find yourself holding too firm to a position, question its validity.
- Say “If you ever want advice about that, let me know.” – not “Can I give you some advice?”
- Fill your life with meaningful pursuits. This reduces boredom and, in turn, procrastination.