Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Motivation, Determination, & Habit in Recovery - Guest Blogger: Cassie Jewell, LPC

Motivation, Determination, & Habit in Recovery

Have you ever been envious of a highly motivated person (i.e., the fit guy who gets up at 4:30 every morning to hit the gym or the single mom who works full time and attends college classes at night)? Consider that in life there are times when you are inclined to do something, not because you want to, but because of the payoff. The fit guy and the single mother may actually be lacking in motivation but possess drive or habit. 

Drive is doing something you do not want to, despite how you feel. Habit is doing something time after time because it has become a routine. Motivation, meanwhile, is fickle. It is a moment of inspiration and/or desire. 

When it comes to making big changes, including the decision to stop using alcohol and drugs, motivation is less of an underlying trait and more of an emotion. Like all feelings, it can be powerful, but ebbs and flows.

Motivation as the Spark, Not the Fuel

At times, motivation is the perfect spark to start the fire. It provides a compelling nudge or push in the right direction. Strong emotions are influential. People are motivated to get clean because of how badly they feel (as both a direct consequence of their drug use and about the consequences of their addiction).

In early recovery, motivation is a powerful driving force, but is not sustainable. Motivation is not going to keep you sober. When you get clean, the consequences of addiction may become less severe. Without consequences, motivation dwindles. This ultimately leads you back to substance use. Once motivation fizzles out, there must be something else to keep you going.

For example, if you are motivated to stop using cocaine because you are sick of the aftermath of a binge — shakiness, anxiety, depression, and self-loathing — you lose sight of that initial motivation the longer you are sober. When you feel good, consequences become a distant memory, especially when the boredom of reality kicks in. You can either find a new motivator (i.e., "I want to work at Home Depot, but they do random drug tests") or you can rely on the power of determination or habit. While it may be enough to get clean, a spark of motivation is not enough to stay clean.

Multiple Motivators

One strategy for harnessing the power of motivation in recovery is to have multiple motivators instead of relying on a single motivating factor (i.e., to save a marriage or keep a job). When one motivator wanes, focus on the next. 

Furthermore, the goal is to develop intrinsic motivation (vs. extrinsic). Intrinsic motivation takes place in the absence of external rewards because it brings about a sense of personal satisfaction. 

Examples of motivators, both intrinsic and extrinsic, include:

·  Feeling less anxious or depressed

·  Not missing work

·  Landing a promotion

·  Better concentration and focus

·  Increased self-respect

·  Improved sleep

·  Not fighting with significant other

·  Not missing out on family events

·  More spending money

·  Feeling a sense of accomplishment

·  No hangovers

·  Increased energy

·  No DUI's

·  Closer relationship with God

Create your own list of motivators. Be as specific as possible and be thorough. Include motivators from different life areas: 

·  Emotional (mood, mental health, etc.)

·  Physical

·  Spiritual

·  Financial

·  Intellectual (education/career)

·  Legal

·  Relationships

·  Personal growth (values, ideals, contributing to the world, etc.)

In developing multiple motivators, always keep in mind that while powerful, motivation lacks staying power. Even intrinsic motivation may not be enough to combat a strong craving. (The very nature of addiction, after all, is to hijack and destroy the brain's reward center, which directly affects motivation and decision-making.) 

Take advantage of motivation when you can and be pragmatic when you cannot by improving determination, forming new healthy habits, and seeking out connections and support.


Determination & Habit Formation

By developing determination (in contrast to motivation), you remove the need to rely on emotion to stay on track in recovery. Determination (or drive) is a skill that you can practice and improve. Drive involves grit and resolve (vs. feeling).

You can be determined to stay sober even (or especially) when you don't feel like it. When you make a conscious decision to not use, you're rewiring your brain. This process takes time and is difficult due to brain changes that occurred in active addiction, but the payoffs (your recovery and your life!) are worth it. Other ways to heal your brain include taking medication, consuming a healthy diet, exercising, and practicing meditation/mindfulness.

As you develop determination, establish new healthy habits to replace old behaviors. Get up at a set time each morning, meditate for 30 minutes per day, talk a daily walk during your lunch break, etc. Habit may hold more power than motivation or determination.



In sum, while motivation in recovery is important, it's not as powerful as determination or habit. By focusing on multiple motivators, you are more likely to develop intrinsic motivation, which can lead to personal grit and habit formation. Focus on the payoffs of sobriety. Practice determination and follow routines in other areas of your life as well as your recovery to sharpen your skills and rewire your brain.


Author Bio: Cassie Jewell is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in substance use treatment in Northern Virginia. She is also the author of Mind ReMake Project, a blog where she shares mental health information and free resources for consumers and other clinicians. 



Monday, June 21, 2021

An Interview with your Past and Future Self


Directions: For this activity, you will need to use your imagination to go backward and forward in time. First, you will answer some interview questions as your past self, followed by answering some more questions as “you” in the future (your future self). This may be challenging for some but try to do the best you can as this exercise can help with building insight and motivation for making positive lifestyle changes.

Part 1 – An Interview with my Past Self


Choose a time in your life when you were younger and less experienced. If you are attending this group for help with a substance use or mental health issues (or both) you may choose to think about a time when you were in the earlier stages of those conditions.


Prior to answering the questions for this part, tell the rest of the group what age you chose for your past self. You can give a (very brief) description of your self at that time. Consider an example:


My Past Self: “I am choosing me when I was 18, when I was fresh out of high school, and I was first starting to get more involved with harder drugs. This was a year before my father died”


Now answer the following interview questions (to the best of your ability, using your memory and imagination) but give the answer as your past self:


My Past Self:


How does it feel to be you?


How did get to this point in your life?


What are you focused on right now in your life? (Values and priorities)


What are you struggling with?


What are you doing well?


What else is going on that is important and relevant in your life right now?


How will things turn out for you? (How would you answer this THEN, not knowing what you know now)



Part 2 – An Interview with my Future Self

Now answer these as your future self.  Pick a time in the future when you think that things will be better. Tell the group what time in your life you choose for these questions as your future self and use your imagination to answer the following interview questions:

My Future Self:


How do you feel at this point in life?


What did you need to change to get where you are?


What are some specific things that you needed to do to get where you are?


What helped you along your path?


What is going right in your life right now?


What are your values and priorities in life right now?


In summary, how did you get here? (What did it take for you to succeed?)



Part 3 – Closing Discussion: The Present


Closing group discussion: What are 2 or 3 things that you can draw from this exercise that can help you to move forward in life in a positive direction to successfully achieve your goals?



Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Cravings Planning

The focus of the following group activity is to get the group thinking about relapse triggers and coping skills for cravings.

The chart below has two lists of titles for potential discussion topics. The list on the left (Negative/Struggles) are topics about how various triggers, cravings and negative situations can cause setbacks and relapse. The list on the right (Positive/Strength Builders) are topics about skills, supports, and inspirational situations that can help someone to succeed and pull through even when faced with a craving or relapse trigger.

So, with this in mind, the group leader should display these lists below so that everyone in the group can see them. As a group, go through the lists in any order and discuss personal stories about relapse prevention using the topics on the lists, selecting topics that apply personally based on experience. There are no right or wrong answers, rather as stated earlier the purpose of this discussion is to get everyone talking about strengths and weakness when it comes to triggers and cravings. Two examples are provided here:

·        “Toxic Relationship” – Whenever my cousin is in town, he calls me to get together and on the phone, he always says he isn’t using but sooner or later it seems like by the end of the night after he comes over, I find myself in some bar drunk late at night with the two of us calling dealers looking for cocaine.


·        “Old Reliable” – “In an interesting way, my bicycle has been “Old Reliable” in my life. So many times, when I was feeling down or craving to get high, I went for a long ride on my bike, and it really took my mind off of things. I need to get back into biking now that the weather is nicer now that I am not using.



Monday, June 7, 2021

The Randomizer


The Randomizer

Directions – The Randomizer is an easy and fun group activity that will help get people talking about a creative array of topics. A device with internet is needed such as a phone, laptop or tablet. Click the link marked “Click Here for Spinner Link” at the end of these directions to access the spinner used for this activity. (Or another option is just open “Google” and search “spinner”) Set the wheel size on the spinner to “20”

Once the spinner is all set up, using the Randomizer is easy. Group members should take turns. When it is someone’s turn, the spinner should be spun twice, coming up with two numbers. Match the two numbers from the two spins with the list below to come up with a two-word random phrase such as “Happy Dream”, “Amazing Advice” or “Intense Relationship” – Then the person whose is having their turn, should do their best to tell a story based on this two-word phrase. Group members are encouraged to do their best to share something when it is their turn even if that may seem challenging. Then continue with the next person who has a turn and so on

Keep in mind, some two-word phrases are easier than others. The counselor may have to help elaborate on some word combinations for group members who find this difficult. If someone is truly stuck, they can re-spin for another word combination. Choices #20 on both spin lists are free choice selections and the person who is having their turn can come up with their own word when a 20 is spun

Click Here for Spinner Link

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Retelling the Story


Warning: This activity is not an introductory group therapy activity or an ice breaker. Rather, this activity should be done in a group that is a safe environment for all group members and the group should be prepared to be supportive and open with one another as sensitive topics will be discussed

Background: Sometimes group therapy is used to share, discuss, and process various personal stories and experiences that may have been traumatic or hurtful. However, for this exercise, the purpose is to retell some challenging personal experiences however doing so while ending on a positive note by emphasizing gains made in spite of these adversities.

Directions: Group members should take turns selecting a topic from the list below and then tell a story of a personal challenge based on that topic. However before telling the story, make sure of the following:

Make sure that you are comfortable enough to share this story right now in this group. If you are not ready to share an experience, then there is no pressure to do so right now. Choose a topic and a story that you are mentally and emotionally prepared to share at this time.  

Be prepared to end your telling of the story with the positive ending including gains you have made in spite of your struggles.

Further points to review as a group before starting this activity and discussion:

Everyone should agree to listen, pay attention, support one another without criticism or judgement. It is critically important that people listen to one another when discussing sensitive topics


The point of this exercise is not to tell war stories “I had it worse that you did” – Everyone’s experience is unique and there should be no comparison or ranking of who had it the hardest. No one should feel afraid to be judged by their story


The point of this exercise is not to say it was a “good thing” that certain experiences happened. Rather, the point is to focus on good things that are now being experienced in life today, in spite of these past negative experiences.