Making lifestyle changes can be difficult. How many times have you thought, “I am going to stop eating junk food,” and the next thing you know, you’re shoving cake in your face while the shame and guilt slowly starts to creep in! You were so well intentioned; what happened? There are many things that can go wrong when you are trying to achieve a goal. CBT skills can help you create a thorough plan to stay on track with all of your goals, whether related to substance use or not.
A good first step for changing a behavior is to clearly define your goal. A clearly defined goal should be specific, concrete, and achievable. Some questions that might help you create a clear goal are, “What specifically am I trying to achieve?,” “What will things look like after I have made changes; what will I be doing?”, or “How will life be better if I make these changes?”. An example of a vague goal is, “I will eat healthier.” A more specific version of this goal is, "I will eat healthier by including vegetables into every meal and limiting the number of baked goods I eat each week to 2". Here, we've considered what we will be doing in our life when we are achieving our goal. This goal is specific and concrete and we will know very quickly if we are achieving it.
After you’ve defined the goal, it’s time to create a plan of action. Look at your goal and create a plan that makes sense and that is, again, specific. What are the logical steps that will help you achieve your goal? For the goal mentioned above, a good plan of action could be to look up healthy vegetable side dishes, purchase vegetables at the grocery store, and to not keep the house stocked with baked goods
Next, examine the barriers that could get in the way of achieving your goal. Good questions to ask yourself are, “What is going to get in the way or prevent me from achieving my goal?” and “What has gotten in the way in the past?”. Once you've identified barriers, you can plan how you will overcome them. A possible barrier for our goal might be that eating healthy can be expensive and that we don’t have too much time to prepare side dishes. A solution to our barriers could be to purchase frozen vegetables that tend to be cheaper and quick to prepare.
Some goals are more straightforward and easier to create a plan of action, while other goals are more difficult. Let's look at our second goal: to cut down on sweets. This goal may be more difficult to plan for because we cannot anticipate every time we will be triggered to eat a baked good. Let's start by considering what might prevent us from putting down cookies (or drugs, cigarettes, etc.). What would help us remember our goals and motivations for cutting down when we are in the moment when its harder to think clearly? These types of questions may be harder to answer, but will be helpful for achieving your goals. It might also be helpful to think about what is typically happening (both inside you and in your environment) when you are triggered to eat a baked good. If you are going to use a skill to avoid eating cookies, the trigger to eat a baked good could become a trigger to use the skill! For our example, a big trigger for wanting to eat sweets might be the cookie aisle in the grocery store. When we hit the cookie aisle and notice we are triggered to buy/eat cookies, we can pull out a list of all our motivations to quit eating junk.
In a nutshell, we’ve talked about some ways to go about making changes in your life, whether these are related to substance use or not. When it comes to making changes, it’s important to define your goals specifically, create a specific plan of action, and anticipate barriers and plan for them. If you would like to learn more about changing your behaviors, send an email and we will lead you through problem solving skills and functional analyses.
Corey Campbell is a clinician/trainer with the Human Service Center of Peoria, IL. All thoughts on this blog are representative of only Corey and do not reflect the Human Service Center.