Category Archives: Motivation

The Social Media Trap


Stuck in a long line, I whip out my phone to refresh Instagram, waiting for the all too staged “candids” to pop up on my feed that I know took half an hour to edit, filter, and craft. I am no innocent bystander to this societal norm. Every double-tap is a confirmation that my life is one worth living. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat: pick your poison. No one can escape this constant, almost impulsive desire to be seen or heard, the instant gratification of approval and acceptance captured in a little blue thumb. I don’t think this is what they meant when they said to “live your life out loud.”

I struggled enormously with different insecurities throughout my life. I have two sisters, and I am truly grateful that our relationships have only strengthened with time. But in middle school when I was chubby, had acne and braces, wore bifocal glasses, and had frizzy hair, compared to my gorgeous sister who was a cheerleader, it was difficult to look in the mirror and not wish I were someone else. Oh, and I was also in a marching band. I mean, come on! But in all seriousness, I had a tough time accepting how I looked, and much of my difficulty stemmed from my destructive tendency to compare myself to my sister, and to those around me. My self acceptance was linked to the approval of my sister. I can now look back and understand that I had an unhealthy relationship with myself throughout my adolescence because I was so consumed by what other people thought of me. I’m nowhere near perfect, and I still catch myself comparing myself to my sister sometimes, but when I find myself caught up in that, I remind myself of how different we are, that I cannot expect myself to be like her. Without those embarrassingly awkward years to figure myself out, much of who I am now would be lost. I probably wouldn’t be studying psychology, or living in a different country, or writing this.

Social media makes it almost impossible to remove yourself from the toxic trap of comparison. The “mindless” scrolling we engage in silently reinforces the belief that we are not enough as we are. We aren’t tan enough, skinny enough, fit enough. Our lives aren’t exciting enough, or bright enough, or good enough. But for who? At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Are you happy with your body? Do you think you could be having more fun? Is this the life you want to live? Those same people we envy also struggle with insecurities, and their lives are probably not all beaches and sunshine, and candids in the sand. My gorgeous cheerleader sister also struggled with her own personal insecurities. The personas we present online are rarely ever the full picture of who we are. Social media wouldn’t be nearly as popular if people showed the true versions of themselves: the heartbreak and the pain, the insecurities and confusion.

So next time you’re standing in line, scrolling through Instagram, and you see that picture of your acquaintance from high school looking all cute at the beach, remind yourself: that person’s life extends way beyond that silly picture. They are human, and probably compare themselves to others, just like you. We won’t ever know the entirety of someone’s life history, their struggles and failures, from a post on social media. But we carry our own personal history with us, and this is the one that matters. Be your own benchmark. Compare yourself to yourself. Be better than you were yesterday. You are the only person on this planet that can make an accurate judgment of how “good” your life is. So make it the best you can, not for the likes, or the followers, not for the insecure middle school you who has something to prove. But for the you in the mirror today.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination has been around for quite a long time. We are all familiar with this bad habit that causes us stress and anxiety as the deadline approaches. But why do we procrastinate? One of the individual factors that may make you susceptible to procrastination is low self-esteem or self-confidence. This refers to a gap between the demands of the task or of the person who will evaluate your performance and your self-perceived ability, from which anxiety arises. To cope with this negative affect, your mind tries to relocate your attention to other tasks. Another reason we procrastinate is we often hold this irrational belief about what the world expects from us. In other words, we believe that people expect us to go above and beyond our assigned task and when we can’t meet these unrealistic expectations, we find ourselves feeling incompetent, which in turn causes us to procrastinate.

Based on my personal experience, here are some suggestions to help you overcome procrastination:

1. Try being more mindful and monitor your feelings and thoughts when you’re tempted to procrastinate. If it turns out that every time your in a bad mood you tend to procrastinate, then focus your efforts on self-care in order to get out of that head space, before you attempt to complete the task.

2. Start today, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. When people think of completing a task they tend to focus too much on the final product. My suggestion is to focus instead on the minuscule steps that lead to the end goal. Plan out the steps and aim to accomplish ONE at a time. This will make the task feel less overwhelming.

3. Turn off all distracting stimuli and focus on the task for 30 minutes to an hour, followed by a short break. It is better to work in smaller intervals than to work for longer durations of time, such as working for 6 hours straight. Our brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys, so it’s important to follow this rhythm in order to maximize output.

4. Visualize yourself starting the task at the last possible moment and what that would feel like. Likely just the thought of doing something last minute will elicit feelings of panic and anxiety, which will hopefully be motivating enough to start early.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

 

How to Improve Your Mental Health as a Student

As an undergraduate student, I know that the first year of university can be both physically and mentally exhausting. Even though we’re always told to “take care of our health”, “eat properly,” and “sleep well all the times”, sometimes it can be really hard to manage everything. Not sleeping properly, not eating well, and not exercising can result in mental distress. Here are some of my tips to help you take care of your mental health during those stressful times in university:

Do something that relaxes you: Whether it be going for a run or listening to your favourite music, doing something for yourself will help your brain not only relax, but also recharge for later.

Finding a hobby: I know during the semester it can be very hard to find time for anything other than school. But even a 10 min break will help. For example, I like to do henna, so during my study breaks I do henna or draw something to take my mind off of school. Hobbies can also increase your creativity.

Treat yourself once in a while: Go for lunch or dinner alone or with friends. Even a half an hour lunch can improve your mood and mental health.

Do meditation: Meditation is not only good for mental health, but it will also help you focus more in school. A lot of universities have free meditation session, so take advantage of them. I personally found meditation extremely helpful in relaxing me.

Go out with friends: It is extremely important to socialize, even when we feel like we don’t have time. We are social beings and taking a break to socialize with friends can reduce stress.

Get good sleep: I know we have all heard how important sleep is, but sometimes it is hard to get proper sleep when there are billions of things going on. I personally cannot function properly without good sleep and it is really hard to focus when you are sleepy throughout the day. Sleep is extremely important not just for recharging our bodies, but also for consolidating all the things we have learned throughout the day.

Ask for help: This point is the most important one that a lot of students barely pay attention to. There is help available for everything. If you are struggling with something that is causing you distress whether it is a low mark in a course or a personal issue, ask for help on campus.

Create goals that are achievable: Although it is never wrong to aim high, your goals have to be achievable. For example, not studying the whole semester and aiming to get an A+ by just studying the night before is definitely not a realistic goal. It might work for some people, but not for most of us. As long as you are willing to put in the effort required to achieve a goal, it is very likely that you will get it. However, just know if you do not end up getting it, you at least tried your best and there is always a second chance.

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Creativity — Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

Creativity has always been one of those things that people assume you either have it or you don’t. Even though in more recent years people have been advocating for fostering creativity in individuals, creativity still strikes many as a gift that is fixed and born within This may prevent many people from seeking out creative tasks and activities, when in fact they can become creative by furthering their glance on the shoulders of the most creative minds in history.

Although certain personality traits do tend to correlate with elevated creative potentials, creativity may not be as fixed as people believe. We need to stop seeing it as a trait or quality and instead see it as a pattern of thought and behaviour. I am not asserting that I know the way of innovation, but in reading about some of the most creative minds in history, I noticed a pattern in how they achieved some of their glorious triumphs and brilliant ideas.

1. They engage frequently. From the lives of the geniuses I’ve read about, they all immerse themselves in their work on a daily basis. Depending on what area they’re in, they may have different ways of working, but they never stopped thinking about or doing their work. Perhaps this is why they tend to get inspirations from practically everything around them.

2. They utilize history. In reading some of Carl Jung’s writings about artists and their works, I’m convinced that inspiration is only possible with the help of either education or experience or both. The more you know about a topic and the more you think about it, the more connections are being built and the more efficient you are in processing relevant information. This may make it easier for them to draw parallels between daily happenings and their work in progress.

3. They cast an extensive net. Their information comes from a vast range of different sources. This also helps with the fact that they think cross-disciplinarily, so to speak. These creative minds seem to be naturals when it comes to borrowing ideas from other disciplines that don’t seem relevant to their primary work. This is only possible if they have learned about multiple subjects or they have a rich life experience, or both. These ideas manifest themselves in all kinds of forms throughout their creative work.

4. They play around with the problem. One of the most common conceptions of creativity is the ability to find an unusual solution to a problem. Many people get stuck on the solution part of the task and when they can’t find one, give up altogether. However, the most creative minds don’t usually bother too much with finding the right solution. Instead, they seem to be most concerned about the questions they ask, which are often followed with “eureka” moments after being able to redefine a problem. For example, Einstein had the inspiration for his general theory of relativity when he transformed the problem of gravity into a problem of acceleration (in his theory these two are equivalent). So maybe the problem with us not-so-creative people is not to jump outside of the box, but to stop thinking of it as a box.

These were some of the common patterns I observed among the most creative minds. Of course there are other traits that underlie each of these behaviours and thinking patterns, but the above points help paint a rough sketch of a creative mind. Becoming more creative is certainly feasible. By taking a glance on the shoulders of creative giants, let’s hope we now all have the courage to stride as one ourselves.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

Depression Among Students

Last week I read a news article that devastated me. Robert Chu, a 25-year-old medical school graduate, took his life on September 2016 after failing to land a residency spot twice. Being an undergraduate student myself, who wants to apply to medical school afterwards, this news devastated me. The path to medical school is such a long and exhausting one that it can often cause you to lose sight of your self-care and wellbeing. The application process is extremely competitive and requires both a combination of exceptional grades and valuable experience. Furthermore, once medical school students complete their program, it is not guaranteed that they will land a residency spot. This can cause someone to feel defeated, as if all their hard work and money did not amount to anything.

What surprises me the most is the lack of awareness about the depression that students in medical/graduate schools experience. According to research done by Dr. Douglas Mata, 27 % of medical school students go through depression, compared to 8 to 9 % of the general population. Only about 16 % of students who suffered from depression actually went to see a doctor about it. Unfortunately, if this depression is left untreated, any trigger can result in a fatal choice, as observed in the case of Chu. Chu’s case is just one example of how schools are failing to recognize and address the mental health issues that students often experience. Schools should start prioritizing the wellbeing of their students by ensuring that there is enough access to mental health services.

Students are under enormous pressures and everyone expects them to figure everything out on their own. Even though medical students are taught to take care of others and the importance of good physical and mental health, a lot of students fail to realize that their mental and physical health should come first. As someone who did not use to care about health and focused solely on school, I can totally understand the pressure. However, at the end of the day, your physical and mental health should always come first. If you are not feeling well, you cannot function at your full potential. So please make sure that you are taking care of you health and no that you are not alone!

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Eating Healthy For a Healthy Mind


Over the past decade scientists have been delving deeper into how our stomachs and our brains are connected. Asking questions such as: What types of food can help healing? What should we eat to help our brain function better? Why are some foods better than others? Scientists have yet to pinpoint exactly how eating unhealthy affects our ability to function, but the link between eating unhealthy and the health of our mind has been seen time and time again. In fact, scientists have discovered that with the presence of an unhealthy diet, symptoms of depression and anxiety increase dramatically. On the contrary, when we fill our bodies with healthy, nutritious food, studies have shown a positive increase in mood and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

One hypothesis assumes that the bacteria found in your stomach after eating relays messages to various areas within our brain through our vagus nerve. The body then reacts to these messages by activating or suppressing specific neurotransmitters within our brain. Depending on the reaction that this bacteria elicits, we can either be helping our bodies function or hindering it. That being said, this is only one hypothesis!

I encourage you to spend some time researching ways you can regulate your gut and find foods that will make you feel good from the inside out! Below I have included a few tips to help kick-start your way into a healthier lifestyle that will make your mind, your gut, and your heart feel good!

  1. Make a list of all your favourite fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Many people associate eating healthy with tasteless food that is hard to enjoy. But eating healthy doesn’t have to mean cutting everything you enjoy out of your diet. It’s all about moderation. Start by making a list of your favorite foods and then looking up the health benefits of each one. If you find that it’s good for you, look up some recipes that include those foods. If you like the taste of what you’re eating, you’ll be much more inclined to eat it from day to day, so pick your favourites!

  1. Start your day with a glass of water.

Someone gave me this tip about a year ago, and nothing has ever made me feel better! Drinking water when you first wake up helps wake up your organs and helps their functioning throughout the day! Try drinking a gallon of water a day and I promise you will start to feel the benefits!

  1. Skip the sugary desserts.

Like most people, skipping out on desserts can be the hardest thing to change. But the recommended daily intake for sugar is 6 teaspoons because increased sugar intake has been linked to depression, anxiety, fatigue, difficulty thinking, and compromised cognitive abilities! At first it will be hard to cut out that sugar, but eventually your body will stop craving sugary foods. A tip to help with your sugar craving is to eat fruit, since fruit contains natural sugars. 

  1. Never skip breakfast.

Breakfast is SO important! I remember when I first started learning about our brain and its caloric intake. One of my professors noted that most people think they are eating enough in the morning to sustain their bodies, but they don’t realize that only specific parts of the brain get fed! The last part of our brain to receive nutrient is our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, thought processes, and social behavior. So you’re compromising all of these functions when you skip your breakfast! But you want to make sure that your eating a nutritious breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat a nutritious breakfast show a significantly more active prefrontal cortex! 

  1. Stop snacking 2 hours before bed.

Eating close to your bedtime throws your bodies’ natural rhythms off! It affects your hormones, your quality of sleep, and studies have shown that you may actually be hungrier the next day!

  1. Cut the caffeine in half.

The last and likely most difficult tip of them all is cutting your caffeine intake. Adjusting to lower levels of caffeine WILL be hard, but it will ALSO be rewarding! Quitting coffee or at least reducing the amount you have little by little will eventually decrease anxiety, increase your mood, increase your quality of sleep, increase productivity, and lower blood pressure! This takes time, but I have to say that this is one of the most noticeable differences I have felt when I made this change in my own life. I no longer feel as if I need coffee to get through my day, and have finally slept soundly during the night! A feeling I haven’t felt in a very long time!

By: Eliza Watts

Eliza graduated with a degree in Psychology and a specialization in research from Wilfrid Laurier University. She is a passionate mental health advocate whose goal is to help others through her own personal experience.

Exercise and Mental Health

Bad days. Depending on who you are, this could entail something as small as feeling moody and grumpy when you first wake up to something much bigger such as the beginnings of a depressive episode, or a spiral into anxiety.

Recently I found myself re-experiencing symptoms of my anxiety. My chest will tighten, my breathing will become rapid, and my throat will feel like its closing. Having dealt with anxiety for many years, I know these are the warning signs of a miserable day. My anxiety seems to grow stronger when I begin to experience physiological changes, as I become acutely aware of its presence. Although I have found that deep breathing techniques do help, the thing that completely shifts my mental state and shakes me out of my anxious funk is exercise.

I have never been someone who could easily just lace up my shoes and go for a run. Exercising came with its own set of mental obstacles, among them the insecurities that I wasn’t fit enough to work out. My legs weren’t toned enough to run, and my arms weren’t strong enough to lift weights. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but in the past it was a major obstacle that prevented me from even trying. I was deterred from even attempting to better myself for fear of what other people would think of me. When I was finally able to ignore these inner voices that constantly shamed me, I began to start working out, and it felt amazing.

If you are anything like me, you too have experienced these nagging insecurities that pop into your head every so often. These are the voices that tell you that you aren’t good enough, or that you’ll do something wrong and look stupid or weird. But if you can shut out these voices, even if its just for the short time it takes you to walk out the door and go for run, or walk into the gym for a small workout, you might be able to reap some of the amazing benefits that exercising can have on your mental health.

Here are some the things that exercise can help you with:

1. Block out the Mental Noise. When you are focusing on, for example, trying to stand on one leg, while lifting a dumbbell and trying to keep your balance, it’s pretty difficult to ruminate on your negative thoughts. Exercising requires mental focus, and this focus can allow you to leave behind the negative energy dragging you down.

2. Endorphins. When you exercise, endorphin hormones are released, which make you feel really good! Endorphins are similar to morphine in the sense that they can diminish your perception of pain, and increase feelings of euphoria. They might be enough to shake you out of your bad mood.

3. Embracing your Strength. In motivating yourself to take action, you will come to see how strong your body can be, which will help you see how mentally strong you really are. It takes a lot of courage to silence the negative voices and fears and challenge your body to try something new. Observing how many reps you can do or how far you can walk or run without stopping, can restore some self-confidence and pride in yourself. This is something I think everyone could benefit from, especially those of us who experience many bad days filled with self-deprecating thoughts.

I know it’s much easier to talk about how great exercising can be for you, but I do want to acknowledge that it is not something that is easy for many people to just jump into. Some people may not be in the mental space where this is even a plausible suggestion. I was one of those people a few years ago. But for those of you who feel more ready and think this might be something you can benefit from, try paying attention to your mental state, both before and after you exercise, in order to see if you notice any shift in your focus and your self-talk. You don’t have to go to the gym for two hours or go on a 10-mile run to reap the benefits. It can be something as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood, or doing a few sit ups. Something that lets you take a step away from your negative mood to focus your attention on how strong you can be.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

No Apologies – Why we need to stop Apologizing for Mental Health Experiences

“What words would you use to describe yourself?” This seemingly harmless question always left me drawing the same conclusions about myself: I was shy, quiet, reserved, and introverted. I was the girl on the sidelines, occupying the same seat in the last row, doing everything and anything to ensure that no unnecessary attention was drawn towards me.

When I was younger, I was never bothered by my shyness. I would just tell myself that it just took me longer to warm up to people and to jump into conversations. However, as I entered into adolescence, these definitive aspects of my personality began to warp into something bigger than I wanted to acknowledge.

After experiencing a loss in my early adolescence, I did everything in my power to remain myself. I tried to ignore my sadness and the gnawing feeling that I was different than my peers. This worked for a few years, but eventually the feelings I tried to suppress caught up to me. I was 15 years old when I experienced my first panic attack, which marked the beginning of my continual struggle with anxiety. The shyness I felt in social situations morphed into full-body panic, being called out in class resulted in shortness of breath, and class presentations left my heart racing and my throat closing in on the words I tried to speak.

My situation only worsened as my family failed to understand what I was dealing with, mocking my anxiety, preying on my insecurities. I no longer felt safe voicing my opinions and so I withdrew further into myself.

Living in an extroverted world, where class clowns and social butterflies are looked up to, I felt ostracized by my new anxiety. Stuck inside the confines of my own mind, I believed that I would be forced to resign myself to a life of constant fear and embarrassment, fighting a losing battle with the voices inside my head. However, with medication and therapy, I learned how to effectively deal with my mental health experience. It was not until this year, five years later, that I was finally able to acknowledge my experience as a social anxiety disorder.

I believe much of my shame surrounding this experience was due in part to the sense of illegitimacy I felt. I could not understand why something as trivial as a conversation posed such a challenge for me. I felt as if I had missed some secret lesson that everyone else had been taught, never able to catch up.

As I continue to grow and understand myself, I am now able to acknowledge that my mental health experience is not something I should ever feel shameful towards. My unique history has made me who I am. It may be that I always feel slightly apprehensive when I meet new people, taking longer than others to learn to fully trust a new person in my life, but that is perfectly okay.

The stigma surrounding mental health has yet to be broken. I am now able to understand that I had internalized the societal stigma which proclaims that mental health experiences are illegitimate, treating my suffering as something to be suppressed or ignored. This kind of internalization is dangerous, as it not only reinforces the stigma, but discourages those who are suffering from reaching out for help. I can only hope that as more and more individuals come forward to share their stories, our society will begin to recognize these lived experiences for what they are. My struggle with social anxiety is nothing I should ever apologize for. I will not apologize for the person I have become. Yes, I may still be quiet, shy, and reserved, but I am also courageous, empathetic and stronger than I ever believed I could be. I am done with the shame, and I am done apologizing.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

Talking to Loved Ones about Unhealthy Lifestyles

When someone has an unhealthy lifestyle, their habits don’t just affect them personally, but can affect the people around them as well. It’s not only hard to tell someone that they are hurting themselves, but it’s also hard to be the one hearing it.

Habits that seemed acceptable a few decades ago – smoking, consuming cholesterol heavy foods, failing to regularly hit the gym – have been openly denounced by medicine and public health. When the Surgeon General reported on the negative effects of smoking in 1964, it took the world by storm. People realized for the first time that with every match they struck against their cigarettes, they were making their lives a little bit shorter. As research on cholesterol gained traction in the 1950s and 1960s, people realized that their dietary choices might not be ideal for increasing their lifespans. The 21st century then brought with it the adage “sitting is the new smoking” – a sedentary lifestyle is doing us no good.

With science bringing forth these new and well-publicized findings regarding just how unhealthy our lifestyles really are, it may come as a surprise just how few people are willing to change. It’s difficult to plead ignorance with the dawn of social media, so it seems to hurt us more when we see that our loved ones are reluctant to make changes. How then can we, as individuals, call out our loved ones on their self-destructive tendencies without causing offence?

It isn’t easy to get a smoker to quit. The last time I tried, I didn’t get the results I was looking for. It’s far less easy to tell someone they are gaining an unhealthy amount of weight. How do we tackle this then? Here are a couple of tips to help you talk to your loved ones:

  1. DO wait for the right moment: Chances are that your loved one has already been exposed to the negative consequences of their unhealthy lifestyle. If they bring these up, there is no better opportunity to start a dialogue.
  2. DON’T shame them: The more you criticize and degrade your loved one, the more likely they are to get defensive and not listen to you.
  3. DO use empathy: Acknowledge how difficult it can be to change. Remind them that you are not perfect. You can use personal stories of a difficult adjustment you may have made in your own life. The concept of reciprocity can go a long way.
  4. DON’T monitor them: No one likes to be constantly watched. Instead, help your loved one make a plan of action and keep providing support and encouragement.
  5. DO exploit the media: Tread with caution when you do this. You want to use comprehensive and helpful resources to help your loved one move in the right direction. Make use of documentaries, self-help articles, and YouTube videos, but only after vetting them to make sure they are appropriate for your loved one’s needs.
  6. DON’T give up: Chances are the changes you want to see will not be immediate and your loved one is bound to slip up every so often. The key is to suppress your urge to express disappointment and frustration, as these are the moments they will need the most encouragement.
  7. DO provide incentives: People love incentives and prizes. Reward your loved one for their efforts, but don’t punish them for their transgressions.
  8. DON’T be a hypocrite: If you are committed to helping your loved ones, now is the time for introspection. You may have unhealthy habits that are different from (or the same as!) theirs, so you can work on them side by side. Seeing you make the effort can help mobilize them. If you love them enough to help them change, they probably want to do the same for you!

By: Sumayya Saleem

Sumayya graduated from the University of Toronto in Psychology. She is about to begin her Masters in Education in Developmental Psychology and Education at OISE. She is interested in counselling and increasing access to mental health services in third-world countries.

How to Have a Hard Conversation…With Yourself?

I initially started college as a physics major, but during my first semester of my final year of university, I decided to switch my career path to clinical psychology. The process of realizing that psychology was the best path for me took a lot of thought and I want to share with you the steps that I took to make this huge decision.

I like to think of the process that I endured as a hard conversation with myself. I believe we’ve all had this talk at some point in our lives, whether it was conscious or not. Feeling uncertain about selecting the best decision often feels scary, overwhelming, and confusing. On top of these negative emotions, people often fear the idea of change. Sure, getting a new haircut post-breakup is one category of change, but moving across the country to obtain your dream job is definitely a bigger and riskier change. For these reasons, many of us choose to continue with our current life path, as it’s routine and not uncertain. However, I challenge you to have this difficult conversation with yourself, as the rewards can greatly outweigh the challenge. Here are some steps I personally took when deciding on whether or not to switch my career paths:

  1. List out all the rewards (be it material, intellectual, spiritual, etc.) that the current goal engenders that are appealing to you.
  2. Articulate in detail why those rewards are personally appealing.
  3. Contemplate whether this change of heart is permanent. Specifically, is this change following a recent event that had an impact on you? For example, if you recently went through a breakup and decided to move across the country, there may be other reasons for this decision. Take time with carrying out your ideas and try to acknowledge if there are any hidden motives for your decision.
  4. List out the possible unpleasant or unwanted consequences of your goal and describe why those components are personally displeasing.

Essentially this list is an in-depth pros and cons list to help you determine the benefits and struggles that you may encounter from obtaining this goal or making a drastic change in lifestyle. However, making a pros and cons list may not be enough in assisting you with your decision on whether or not to pursue this change. You might also want to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the worst that could happen if I pursue this goal or change? Am I willing to experience this outcome and grow from it?
  2. What is the best thing that could happen if I pursue this goal or change? Will I be happy if I do not meet this outcome?
  3. What do those closest to me think about this choice? If they don’t support my decision, would I be able to accept it?
  4. How committed am I with to this decision and completing the required steps to achieve this goal?
  5. Will I be proud of myself if I make this choice? Does this choice align with my personal values and beliefs?
  6. What is the impact of this decision financially? Am I financially capable to do this?

Although these questions may be difficult to answer, they will help you determine if your reasoning is rational and provide you with insight into whether or not this change would be the best fit for you. Remember, you have the power to change your life at any given moment!

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.