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Coming back from the holidays

Published: 02-01-2016

Yipian Yang

After slicing the turkey on Thanksgiving, gathering with families at Christmas, and saying goodbye to the year of 2015, the holiday season has come to an end, and many of us are back to our regular daily routines. It is not easy to get back to work even after a nice, relaxing weekend, not to mention coming back from a series of holidays that rendered some of us the luxury of doing nothing for a few days. If you find yourself still dwelling in the holiday mood, feeling unmotivated, or being gloomy about the end of your vacation, the following tips might be helpful for you to get ready for all that awaits you.

The first tip: don’t force yourself. Being motivated is different from being forced. If we try to force ourselves to work on something, we are more likely to feel repulsed by it and therefore try to avoid it as much as possible. This tip also applies to our thoughts—don’t force yourself to not think about the happy relaxing times you had during the holidays. Some people might believe that thinking about them is distracting and prevents us from being focused and productive. However, let me pose this question: if I ask you to not think about a polar bear, what do you think of? A polar bear! This phenomenon was first discovered by the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky in the late 19th century, and was proven and coined the term “ironic processes” in 1987 by social psychologist Daniel Wegner. According to Wegner, when people try to suppress certain thoughts, the brain ironically keeps the thought present while making sure it is not coming up. Therefore, when you find yourself thinking about the ski trip you went on, or the afternoon spent on the beach, allow yourself to be carried away for a while. You may be glad with the productivity you will have after the little distraction.

Tip two: set goals. This might sound very vague, but it can only be achieved by taking small and concrete steps. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), goal setting is an important technique that helps the clients whose chief complains include difficulty initiating or finishing tasks. When setting your goals, it is critical that these goals are observable, measureable, and achievable. In other words, it is necessary that you can see the outcome of the progress, you can quantify your effort, and it is realistic to achieve your goals. For example, if you’re preparing for a presentation, you can set goals such as making five PowerPoint slides every day, finding five references this afternoon, or writing notes for two hours tonight. In comparison, “be ready by tomorrow” is not a good goal to have. It is important that the goals are specific, concrete, and challenging yet reasonable. It may be a good idea to write down your goals somewhere so that once each goal is achieved, you can cross or check it off the list, which often gives people a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

The next tip is similar to goal setting, which is having an activity diary. An activity diary can be considered as goals for everyday life rather than specific works to be accomplished. Before starting the new week, take some time to write down your daily schedule, and plan out what you want or need to do each day, and even each hour. For example, getting off work at 5 pm, getting home by 6 pm, making dinner from 6:30 to 7 pm, exercise from 8 to 8:45 pm, and going to bed at 11:30 pm. Having a plan ahead of time provides a frame and prompts people to stay on track. In the process of planning the activities, it is also important to leave some hours blank so you can be flexible as things don’t always go as planned. If something happens and you’re behind your schedule, you can also use the extra hours to catch up and not feeling pressured. Once you feel you’re back to your working mood and no longer needs the frame as a reminder, feel free to stop anytime. Or if you think it’s helpful, it’s also not a bad idea to make it a habit.

Editor: Kevin Sprenkle

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