TIME Etiquette

5 Things You Can Do To Avoid Conflict Over the Holidays

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Dr. Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act and behave at work and at home.

These are the five most common bad behaviors people fall for in the heat of an argument

They say it’s the most wonderful time of year. But how about the most stressful?

With all the traveling, visiting relatives, gift-buying and cooking, the holidays are a tense time for many families and couples.

In fact, January sees the highest rate of divorce filings out of the year.

Joyful gatherings can quickly turn into heated exchanges between spouses, in-laws and other family members, especially when underlying tensions already exist. Now’s the time to head off problems and stop everyday arguments from escalating.

To prevent holiday conflict, let’s take a look at the five most common “poisons” people reach for – and you need to steer clear of – in the heat of battle:

  1. Stop assuming.

There’s nothing more annoying than someone assuming he or she has superior knowledge. Think about it: being told how you feel or what you should do is a sure-fire way to get your blood boiling. When you’re tempted to throw out an assumption mid-argument (“You’re over-reacting” or “You need to listen”), remember that there can be different interpretations of someone’s behavior. Unless the other person has shared their feelings, don’t presume to know—or tell them—how they feel in that moment.

Instead, share what you’re observing and give your loved one a chance to correct or explain. This kind of conversation allows you to empathize with him or her, rather than stand in opposition. And if you’re on the receiving end of an assuming statement, be generous in your interpretation. Consider what might really be bothering the other person and recognize that despite the harsh words, this person is still someone you love.

  1. Stop generalizing.

If you start using words like “always, never, every, forever, anything, anyone, everyone, or typical,” you’re probably guilty of generalizing. But in life, there are exceptions to everything. Turn around this toxic behavior by thinking of your interaction like a court of law. The jury makes their judgment based only on the specific offense in question—not prior convictions.

To use this approach yourself, focus on the present. Stick to specific details and resist the urge to bundle together other similar situations. If a family member hurls sweeping statements at you, recognize the words as a single expression of anger. Don’t let them rile you. Instead, calmly steer the conversation back to the particular issue at hand.

  1. Stop attacking.

Name-calling, character assassination and, mudslinging are all common forms of this nasty poison. Attacking someone’s identity hits them hard. Whether you say something outright (“You’re so stupid”) or something more subtle (“A child could do better”), attacks like these are hurtful on a deep level.

If you find yourself labeling your family member in some way, redefine those negative characteristics as positive ones. Instead of calling the other person stubborn, think of him or her as determined. Character judgments are always going to be subjective, so why not make them positive ones? Strengthen your relationship by looking on the bright side. And if you are the target of name-calling, remember that in the heat of the moment, we all say things we don’t mean. Often when we find fault in someone else, we also see that same fault in ourselves. So when other people label you, imagine they are describing themselves. Choose to feel sympathy, not anger.

  1. Stop rejecting.

There are two words that turbo-charge an argument: “no” and “but.” They don’t even have to be verbalized; an eye roll or dismissive laugh can do the same damage. These words and actions shut down the conversation and reject the other person’s point of view.

Make an effort to resist using the word “no.” The alternative? Use the words “yes…and.” This change in language will force you to be more constructive. Instead of rejecting the other person’s idea completely, recognize the good points of their suggestion and then follow up with your concerns. That way, your loved one will feel listened to and you’ll show that you’re open to finding a solution. And whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of this poison, ask questions and offer (genuine!) suggestions to keep the discussion going.

  1. Stop defending.

When we’re attacked, it’s only human to protect ourselves. But going on the defense can easily turn into a total tantrum. Forget the blame game. If you feel yourself getting defensive (hint: you’ll start over-using the word “I’), take a step back and turn your attention elsewhere. Rather than try to find the problem in the argument, focus on finding the solution.

On the flip side, if your words are causing someone else to get defensive, avoid using the word “you.” In this case, it’s okay to use the word “I” to take ownership. Keep your statements positive and draw from your personal experience. If the argument is very heated, the quickest way to cool things off is to stay calm and empathize with the other person.

With awareness of these relationship poisons and knowledge of their antidotes, you can take steps to make positive change—and keep your relationships from going down in flames during this holiday season.

Dr. Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act, and behave at work and at home. His newest book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, was released in September 2014. The book gives readers actionable ways, based on years of research, to change their way of thinking to achieve more, live longer and build better relationships. Connect with Sebastian on Twitter @DrSebBailey.

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TIME psychology

5 Fool-Proof Ways to End Procrastination Today

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Understanding what causes us to put things off helps tame the beast

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow,” quipped Mark Twain. Waiting until later is one of life’s guilty secrets, but chronic procrastination is linked to poorer health, work and relationship outcomes. Thankfully there are some straightforward ways to put off putting-off, and the way you think about a task can impact your desire to get it done.

In one psychological study, participants were given a 15-minute head start on a math test, during which time they could choose to practice for the test, play a video game or work on a puzzle. When the math test was introduced as an important measurement of cognitive ability, those with a propensity to procrastinate spent more time playing video games or doing the puzzle than others. But when the math test was described as a fun game, there was no difference in the amount of time procrastinators and non-procrastinators spent playing the video game or puzzle.

Understanding what’s causing us to procrastinate helps tame the beast. Research has shown there are five main reasons people leave things until later:

  1. Complacency, which comes from an overly strong sense of self-confidence. It can appear as laziness or general lack of concern. This is when you tell yourself, “It’s easy to do so I’ll fit it in later.”
  1. Avoiding discomfort, a type of procrastination that focuses on the unpleasantness of an activity, particularly compared to a more favorable activity. When you’re avoiding discomfort you tell yourself, “I’d much rather do something easier instead.”
  1. Fear of failure, when the fear of not succeeding inhibits you from moving forward. This is when you don’t step forward for a promotion or avoid asking someone on a date because you’re afraid you’ll be turned down.
  1. Emotional state, when you’re too tired, too hungry, too stressed to get anything productive done. Think about when you tell yourself, “I’m just not in the mood to do this right now.”
  1. Action illusion, where you feel like you’re doing all the right things, but no real progress has been made. For example, if you are a keen project planner, this could mean that every time the project gets behind, the plan gets updated, but no progress is actually made.

Next time you recognize yourself procrastinating in one of these ways, think again. There are times when the way an activity is set up can make a big difference to your approach. In those instances, it is even more useful to have some general tactics to try to remedy procrastination. Here are five:

  1. Strive for five – the five-minute start

Five minutes is nothing—it’s just three hundred seconds. It’s the length of a song or a TV commercial. Pick up a project you’ve been putting off and give it just 300 seconds of your time. Once the five minutes is up, stop and reassess. After awhile, the momentum of beginning the task will carry you forward.

  1. Home run – set goals and rewards

During the day, set goals and rewards. Each time you hit a goal, you earn the reward: a short break, a hilarious YouTube video, or some other incentive. It’s important the goals are realistic and the rewards are in proportion. Make sure you select a time to review your progress and adjust your targets accordingly.

  1. Be good to yourself – me today versus me tomorrow

Sometimes, when you find yourself buried with work, you feel upset with yourself for not having started earlier. Imagine a conversation between ‘you today’ and ‘you tomorrow’. If ‘you tomorrow’ could chat with ‘you today,’ what would he have to say?

  1. Set creative punishments – negative consequences

Make the consequences of inaction so unbearable that you have no choice but to get busy now. You could write a check to someone or something you really dislike: a rival team, if you’re a sports fan, or to the opposing political party. Give the check to a friend with strict instructions to mail the check if you do not achieve your goal. The more you dislike the other party, the stronger the incentive to get the task done.

  1. I was there – witnessing accountability

Going public with a goal increases your support and accountability. Consider going on a diet: Is there more pressure if you don’t tell a soul, or if you announce it to all your friends, with strict instructions to refuse if you ask for a chip? It may seem an obvious way of making yourself feel guilty, but it can also be highly effective. Be careful with this tactic, as some research has found that making intentions public gives us a false sense of progress and thereby reduces the likelihood of success – it’s the action-illusion issue I mentioned earlier. So here’s the trick: ask for support, but don’t kid yourself that support equals progress.

Procrastination is the silent killer of dreams. Everyone suffers from it. By seeking to understand and fix your procrastination, you’ll discover you jumpstart many areas of your life.

Dr. Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act and behave at work and at home. His next book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, will be out on September 9, 2014. The book gives readers actionable ways, based on years of research, to change their way of thinking to achieve more, live longer and build better relationships. Connect with Sebastian on Twitter @DrSebBailey.

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