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A Psychotherapist’s Go-To Tiny Tricks

Four quirky micro-strategies to improve mood, morale, and mental health.

Key points

  • Research shows that resilience happens bit by bit as a process. It isn't an individual trait or a matter of bootstrapping.
  • Micro-strategies can help us improve habits, mindsets, and behaviors.
  • Behavior change doesn’t happen instantaneously, but fun and uplifting actions can go a long way to boost mood, morale, and mental health.
Shutterstock/SewCream
Source: Shutterstock/SewCream

Finding some semblance of sanity in today’s times is like trying to find a wrinkle on a Kardashian. Recovery is much like Rome: it’s not built in a day. Especially with so much at hand.

A common error in thinking is that poetic interventions and grand strategies are the only way to improve our well-being. Yet, research shows that resilience happens bit by bit, as a process, and is not an individual trait or a matter of bootstrapping. Small, strategic actions can help us regain some semblance of stability.

Many of those I’ve served in therapy benefit greatly from a tiny-tweaks approach to behavior change: Micro-strategies work. Specifically, infuse strategic, minuscule habits, mindsets, and behaviors into our routines.

Here are some of my favorite micro-approaches:

1. Do something every day your future self will thank you for.

Doing something every day your future self will thank you for can help ward off procrastination. Actions we take now that will bring us relief and joy later can range from simple to complex. For example, making your bed, tackling a passion project first thing, eating a healthy lunch, putting the work in to learn a new skill, taking time to enjoy fresh air, setting a boundary, or coming up with a plan to leave a toxic job.

2. Take a comedy hiatus.

A comedy hiatus can help ward off the tendency to marinate in seriousness and grievances. Permit yourself to laugh. Levity is vital in times of trial and trauma. Tell a joke, watch a clip, connect with someone you can be irreverent with. Take humor seriously as a mechanism for recalibration. Consider reading books by Allie Brosh, watching Ukelear Meltdown on YouTube, or sketches by comedian Jeff Wright on social media.

3. Reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with.

Losing touch isn’t a moral failing. But it can feel awkward to initiate contact after time has passed. Often our anticipation of a poor reaction can hold us back from doing so, preventing us from rekindling important ties. Daniel Pink’s The Power of Regret emphasizes regrets of lost connection being among the deepest that people experience. It’s worth risking a few moments of awkwardness than losing touch completely.

4. Develop motivational mantras.

All the self-love and self-care hype flooding our feeds can feel cringeworthy. Toxic positivity or trite slogans won’t take us far. Instead, consider your values and strengths, and develop self-talk accordingly.

Some of my favorites from the mouths of those I’ve served in therapy include: This too shall pass, ride the wave, and shine bright. “I am” and framings that acknowledge the paradoxes of our experience, both dark and light, can also be powerful forms of self-coaching. Think Hand in Pocket by Alanis. Try statements like: I'm anxious but indomitable, I'm shaky but grounded, I'm worn out and still resilient, I'm scared but unstoppable, I'm tired and persistent.

Creative micro-strategies can help us build resilience bit by bit. The tiny tricks we infuse into our daily habits and routines can add up and serve as a powerful rebuttal against the constant stressors we face. Behavior change doesn’t happen instantaneously, but taking a chip-away approach that involves fun and uplifting actions can go a long way to boosting our mood, morale, and mental health.

References

Lee, K (2022). Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World. Boulder: Sounds True.

Pink, D. (2022). The Power of Regret: How Looking Backwards Moves us Forward. New York: Random House.

Fogg B. J. (2020). Tiny habits : the small changes that change everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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