Parenting can be fraught with worry and frustration, but it also comes with a hefty dose of something many new parents don’t expect: guilt. Whether it’s because a mom isn’t able to keep her home as spotless as she wants, or because she’s questioning her parenting choices when experts say she ‘should’ do something differently, OCD and Anxiety expert Dr. Jenny Yip says there is a way to reclaim sanity and authority.
In her book, Productive, Successful YOU! End Procrastination by Making Anxiety Work For You Rather Than Against You, Yip provides tools to turn anxiety into motivation. It starts with getting realistic about the “thinking traps” people tend to fall into—especially moms, whose preconceived notions about the way they’ll handle motherhood are often unrealistic.
Step 1: Reality Check
“The very first step is to evaluate how realistic your thinking is,” Yip says, indicating that many moms she encounters in her Los Angeles practice think they should be able to keep a clean house while caring for young children at the same time. “You’re going to have to adjust your expectations and find ways to problem-solve so that you can be more productive rather than beating yourself up for some irrational expectation that you’re not meeting.”
Yip says productivity can be stifled with small thoughts and comments such as, “I should have finished the laundry today,” or, “There’s no way to keep up, so why even try?” These “thinking traps” are as varied as the people who think them, and can include unrealistic expectations based on vaguely defined goals. Helping her patients recognize these motivation-killers and change them into positives that foster productivity is a huge part of Yip’s program.
“It takes a lot of work to be able to identify these thinking errors,” she says, adding that it’s something she constantly works on, herself. Sometimes, changing how we perceive ourselves and our abilities can be as simple as changing the words we use.
“We say that we ‘should’ do this, and we ‘should’ do that, and really, the word ‘should’ serves as a negative judgment or criticism,” she explains. “It really has no place in our vocabulary.”
Yip encourages her clients to instead use phrases like, “have to,” or, “need to,” removing the judgment and premature feeling of failure that leads to “why try?” thinking. This tip applies to career, parenting, household chores, and even self-care such as exercising and eating right.
“When we say we ‘should’ eat better or exercise more, it indicates that we’ve already failed, and kills motivation and causes anxiety,” she adds. Instead of falling into those traps, Yip suggests focusing the body’s natural response to anxiety into positive energy that feeds productivity.
Step 2: Use Fight-or-Flight to Accomplish More
The Productive, Successful YOU! process requires that the user recognize the body’s natural responses to fear—sweaty palms, nausea, increased heart rate, and many others—in order to get in front of the thinking traps that come next. Yip’s clients recognize their fight-or-flight response, spot the task that sparks anxiety, then break it down into smaller, more easily achieved goals. If you get queasy thinking about Mt. St. Laundry lurking in the hamper, for example, the enormity of the task may seem overwhelming. Turn that mountain into several molehills: each load of jeans or towels gets you closer to feeling that “mission, accomplished” victory. The same concept can be applied to getting through just one workout today, or cooking just one full meal today. Practice achieving small victories every day, Yip insists, because every one will motivate you to attack the next task and conquer it.
Step 3: Schedule Your Victories, but Be Flexible
Little people have a way of changing your daily plans. Yip says scheduling tasks in a daily planner and then visualizing completing those tasks can actually help moms be more flexible throughout the day.
“This whole approach is…about being able to visualize your schedule so that you feel the sense of completion,” she explains. “You’re mentally rehearsing what you’ve got to do during the day, and it’s almost like your brain already knows what to do next. Then, if you have a curve ball that comes your way in your schedule, it’s much easier for your brain to switch gears.”
Most importantly, at the end of every day, celebrate those little “wins” and plan to do it all over again the next day—one productive step at a time.
Productive, Successful YOU! End Procrastination by Making Anxiety Work For You Rather Than Against You, is available in paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon.com.
Dr. Yip is a nationally recognized OCD and anxiety expert. She is a Licensed Psychologist, and is Board Certified in Cognitive & Behavioral Psychology. She is Executive Director of the Renewed Freedom Center in Los Angeles, and is Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the USC Keck School of Medicine.