Saturday, October 12, 2013

Halfway There

“Give it everything you got!”

“It’s all or nothing”

“Don’t go anything less than 110%”

These and other similar phrases are well meaning and can be very motivational when the listener is able to make application. We all love stories of how someone left it all on the line and gave it their all in some kind of struggle which ended up with overcoming great odds or some other success story. Going for it full force is awesome if you have what it takes to make it happen. Still, does that mean less enthusiastic, less energetic efforts are a waste of time?

If you look up the phrase “half measure” it is associated with being “inadequate”. That may be the case, as half-hearted efforts can end up in failure because they don’t have the momentum needed for success. In competitive areas like sports, academics and in many careers, if someone doesn’t give it their all, then success is unlikely so half measures are frowned upon. Nevertheless, in many other arenas of life a half-measure can still be a very positive thing for one simple reason: a half-hearted effort is still better than NO EFFORT.

Take for example, exercise. Isn’t it better that someone do a lousy workout than no work out at all? At least, he or she got up and went to the gym which is worthwhile in itself. Another example would be if you asked an oppositional teenager to clean his or her room and he or she responds by doing a subpar job. At least he listened and did some cleaning! These types of efforts are clearly at a minimum a step in the right direction. There is at least something to work with in both scenarios.

The same is true for substance abuse. If someone is willing to “just give it a try” when it comes to addressing their substance use, it is still better than someone who refuses to do anything about it. Do people need to “hit bottom” and does it then need to be viewed as “life or death” in order for positive change to happen? Surely it can be helpful when someone feels desperate for change but it is not a requirement for a successful outcome. In reality, many people come into substance abuse treatment with a “half-hearted” or ambivalent attitude still end up doing extremely well in the long term. By contrast, sometimes the people who come in “gung ho” about recovery in the beginning actually start strong but end up burning out when the “fire” inside them runs out. Whether it is just a half measure or not, when someone finally makes their way into treatment there is always some hope for improvement. Going back to the fire analogy, if there is at least a spark, then the rest of us (counselors, family members, friends, and other helpers) can figuratively blow on and then feed that tiny spark of motivation to help then build up a fire inside for change.

What is important to remember when it comes to substance abuse and other similar areas, is that some change is better than no change. Many of us need to walk before we can run as the saying goes. Therefore, it is so critical that any of us in a role as “helper” remember the importance of being a cheerleader, motivator, supporter, etc. for those who unsure or ambivalent about change that may be just starting with a half-measure. Or if you are a person struggling with something right now, it is worth it make an effort, no matter how limited that may be because it is a step in the right direction. Change has to start somewhere, so whether you are ready to give it your all, or just go half way, if you can just get up and get out the door then there is hope. 


  1. While all of these are valid points, I find through my own experience and through sponsoring others that if individuals do not enter into a 12 step program with willingness and a "gift of desperation", rarely do they make life saving progress. Yes, any effort, no matter how small, is better than zero effort, but this game is seriously life and death, and you may go along half assing it for a while with some minor rewards but building very little foundation, and that next "little relapse" may be the one that kills you. So i can see what you are saying, and agree with some of it, but you don't defuse a bomb with less than 100% effort, why should this be any different?

  2. Thanks for your comment Travis. I agree with you that at some point a huge commitment and amount of effort and perserverance is definitely needed when it comes to addiction recovery. I respect and appreciate the hard work and commitment it sounds like you are putting in to help others with their struggle. My point is just that we have to start somewhere and if someone shows even a little desire to change then that is at least something to build on. As helpers it is so important that we encourage, empower, and strive to help motivate those who are just getting started and help them from there. If you look at any treatment program, they are all filled with people who dont want to be there yet we as counselors do this process every day by helping those who are struggling and ambivalent learn to increase their motivation and effort for positive change.

  3. My thoughts on this are....1. is not an attempt better than giving up before beginning? If nothing else something can be learned about what did not work and have that out of the way to try a new approach. 2. I think it is better to go about a thing slowly and see it to completion rather than going at it 110% but giving up because of burn out and not being able to keep that pace up. Just my 2 cents. Interesting article thank you for posting it, well written.

  4. Thank you for this post. I am in the middle of a day where I really want to give up. I have come a ways in my detox/recovery, but somehow it never seems enough. People think I am not tryying hard enough. U reminded me not everyone hates and judges addicts. Please let me know if you have any advice on things that might help me succeed other than what I am doing.