Monday, December 6, 2010

December 5th - 12th, 2010: Skill of the Week

The behavior in which you would like to reduce, or the behavior that you have decided is ineffective for your life that is worth living will be referred to as your "Target Behavior". This target behavior does not come out of nowhere. It is always triggered by something in your environment. This trigger or prompting event will elicit problem thinking and problem emotions, which will in-turn produce your target behavior. Do not be alarmed, you will no doubt have several target behaviors.

Your hope is to learn mindfulness well enough that you will give yourself a moment between the prompting event (because you cannot stop these from happening, you can reduce them, but you cannot stop them) and your problem thoughts and emotions. If that fails, which it will at times, your mindfulness has a second chance to give you that moment, but it would surface between the problem thinking and emotions and your target behavior. This moment, at whichever place you are able to make it for yourself, will afford you the opportunity to insert a skill. This skill will either A) prevent the target behavior altogether or B) reduce the damage in the target behavior. Of course, ideally you are looking to prevent the target behavior altogether. Be kind to yourself, when you are able to prevent that target behavior for the first time, be very aware that this does not mean you will miraculously be able to do it from that point on. It doesn't work that way.

Imagine if you will a rural road that is only traveled by you. You have taken the same path on this road with your rugged truck day-in and day-out. Through the many months of varying weather. At times the rain and storms have made this dirt road very muddy and messy. Yet, you relentlessly truck through the mud making the ruts in the road deeper and deeper. One day you decide that your traveling destination is no longer effective and you need to veer to the left or to the right before you come to the end of your deeply rutted road. How easy will this task be? Not very easy at all! Your first few attempts will only be met with the ruts in the road keeping your truck on the same path as it has traveled so many times before. With hard work and persistence you will eventually be able to flatten some of those ruts in various places along the roadway. Eventually you will succeed on crossing over those ruts and carrying yourself off to the left or to the right. Now what do you have? You have one path that you have created spurring off of your deeply entrenched path. To make this new path usable on a regular basis without much resistance you will need to reinforce it by use. Repetitive use. Regular use, just as you had done to create the road with the deep ruts. Since it would be impossible to predict every trigger in your environment ever, your spurs that you have created, to the left or to the right, will need to be made in various places along your dirt road. The only way this will happen is by practice and diligence. Each time you successfully take those spurs you should celebrate your efforts. Fuel yourself to keep up the fight and before you know it, you will be taking the spurs more and more often and taking the old rutted road will be more of a rarity than the norm.

Understanding this is very important. This self-improvement will take a lot of work and in order for you to keep a positive and motivated attitude about your work you need to take care of yourself. Be gentle and kind to yourself, reinforce positive experiences by applauding yourself often. There is always something throughout your day that you can give yourself credit for, it may be that the only accomplishment you had that day was getting out of bed, but being kind to yourself about it would mean that you would applaud yourself for that.

Analysis is paramount to this recovery process. You will be analyzing everything about your life. Obviously, not all at once. But eventually you will have taken a detectives approach to all of the parts of your life. A detective gets to the end result by questioning and observing his environment for the clues to what he is trying to solve. He doesn't judge the conclusions that he makes, he simply uses what he learns to work through to the goal. The analysis for understanding the process that you take during your prompting event down through to your target behavior will be to look intently at the consequences that come from your target behavior. There are both long term and short term consequences for your target behavior. In reality, there are long term and short term consequences for everything we do, but with our target behavior these consequences are ineffective and work counter-productive to your goals in life.

Because most of us do have several target behaviors that we are working on, these consequences will help you decide which behaviors need to be addressed first. It is like triage on the battle-field. Let's say some target behaviors you are working on is drug abuse and cutting. In the short-term both of these are highly effective. They reduce the suffering virtually immediately. But the long-term consequences are devastating. They tear down your ability to live a life that is worth living. It may seem overwhelming to think that you will attack both of these behaviors simultaneously. While you will, in-affect be doing that, you will be putting more focus on one over the other. Which to put more attention on? This can be really difficult to decide. There are so many dangers in not throwing everything you have into the drinking behavior. Whereas in reality it is more important to reduce the cutting. This seems off the mark, I know. But the danger in cutting isn't so much about committing suicide. Although you may have many ideations of suicide, cutting doesn't really get you there. However, long term use of cutting increases your commitment to suicide. This does not at all mean that you let the drinking behavior just go for the time being, there are skills that will help you to focus on both. You will just be setting priority.

OK, so this is where chain analysis comes in. You may know what the target behavior is and you may know what the long term consequences are, but what you may not know is what the prompting events were and what the short term consequences may be. Use the forms to be sure and look deeply at what the events that set off the sequences of steps that led up to the target behavior. Often times you will find that there were several prompting events along the way, and the original may surprise you. Understanding the vulnerabilities that played in this is also very important. Knowing what those vulnerabilities are will help you to reduce those same ones in the future. You will want to give excruciating details when you chain this, use as many forms as you need. Then ask yourself, did I get something positive or negative in the short-term? The long-term?

You may find this difficult to do at first, don't give up. It will get easier. Let's hear how this process works for everyone! Successes or failures with this, please share.



  1. Thanks for this, MJ. The link to the chain handout is really useful, especially the filled in example! Some really helpful prompts to make sure I've covered everything. I've never really brought body sensations into chains, but will start this as I think it will be helpful.

    Something I'd like to hear your opinion on MJ is whether you fine tune your target behaviours, or even change them altogether, over time. The 'big' risky ones seem to have died out for me, so I'm filling in a diary card each week which is mainly 0 urges and no behaviour. Should I be starting to think of more specific things I'd like to work on e.g. specific patterns in IP relationships?

  2. Oops, MJ, I didn't mean to be anonymous! I have real problems commenting on blogger blogs with a wordpress profile...

    Improving xx


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