Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Grind Part 11 - The Challenging Choices Checklist


As we maneuver and navigate through the daily grind of life, tough decisions and choices are bound to come up. At times, certain choices we face can be very challenging and even life changing. This Challenging Choices Checklist below is a tool for just those situations when the "big decisions" need to be made. Being able to make the difficult choices in life is a much-needed skill. This brief “to do” list offers some really important things to consider:


The Challenging Choices Checklist:


Ask yourself the following questions and be prepared to answer them honestly. Examples in Italics


ð      Am I allowing emotion to cloud my decision making? – Especially early on in a challenging situation, feelings can really disrupt the decision-making process. A strong feeling in one direction can be extremely misleading especially because we may feel quite different later down the road. Tip – If possible, take a break to destress before making a big move


·        “I wish I didn’t let my anger cause me to quit my job. Now I am broke and unemployed, and I feel like if I just talked things out maybe I could have come up with a compromise


·       “I wish I didn’t dump my boyfriend because of my feelings of insecurity and jealousy. I should have taken the time to talk things through when I was calmer first before emotion got the best of me




ð      Am I allowing misguided pride to confuse my thinking? Standing by your values and principles is admirable and necessary in life.  However, in this case “misguided pride” refers to situations when we overestimate our importance, or we overstate how “offended” or “hurt” we are.


·       “I broke off the deal when they tried to renegotiate. I said to myself ‘How dare they question me!’ and I left the deal on the table. Now I am back to square one because I walked away from a good opportunity because of my pride”




ð      Did I weigh this out on the scales of life? It is really important to count the long-term cost of decisions. In the short-term things may seem fine but an unwise decision can lead to regret down the line


·       I dropped out of college to go for the fast money job opportunity that came my way. Things fizzled out pretty quickly with my decision and now, years later I wish I would have thought about how much I would regret leaving school before graduating




ð      Did I get at least one (or more) other objective viewpoints? – This one can help so much as a good friend can see things from a valuable new perspective. A good person to consult with meets these qualifications


·       They care about you and their actions shows that. If a person is not really invested in your wellbeing, then they may steer you wrong, but when someone cares, they should be looking out for your best interest


·       This person will tell you what you need to hear (not just what you want to hear) – Will this person tell it like it is, even if it is a viewpoint, you may not like?


·       Is this person’s own life somewhat stable and do they “practice what they preach? Taking advice from someone whose own life is a train wreck is a risky move. For example, would you be quick to take career advice from a chronically unemployed person or health advice from someone who is completely out of shape? Ideally, the person should have a track record of reliability, loyalty and sensibility




There are no guarantees and sometimes risks are needed to make decisions that count. Still, this checklist can help put the odds in your favor for making a choice you won’t later regret as you successfully navigate the grind of life.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can


Introduction – This quote (the title of this exercise) has always been a favorite of Taking the Escalator because it really defines and outlines how the change process takes place. We need to get started, utilize whatever we have at our disposal and then make an effort to do what we can do, just as it says in the quote. Following this simple plan can really empower and motivate us to achieve our goals with just a little time and effort at first. This exercise breaks down this amazing quote into three phases that can strengthen the change process and help us make progress with substance use and coexisting mental health issues and any other related life goals

*Note for counselor/group leader – There is a lot of material here so depending on the length and depth of discussion you may consider breaking up the sections if there is a lot of discussion

Part 1 – Start Where You Are


Read: Why “Start Where Your Are”? – What’s the point? – The point is that we have to start somewhere and what better place to start than where we are right now. Otherwise, waiting for the perfect opportunity may never come.


Discussion – “Oriented x3”

Did you know that when assessing someone’s “mental status”, one basic clinical assessment is to make sure that the person being assessed is oriented to Time, Place and Person?


Ø Time – The person knows what date and time it is


Ø Place – The person knows where they are right now


Ø Person – The person knows their name and who they are


Using this basic assessment, as a group discuss how to “Start Where You Are”


Discuss the following:


Time – What “time’ is in in your life? In other words, make a statement about what stage you are at chronologically and related to your own self-assessment of maturity level today.


Ø For example – “Right now I am in my early 30’s, new in recovery, struggling with a lifelong anxiety and a substance use disorder, doing my best to stay employed and take care of my family and resolve my legal issues at this stage of my life”


Follow Up Question – How can the concept of “I’ll start tomorrow” be a trap that can hurt progress? – Why is NOW the best time to get started in changing your life for the better (or if you have already started, why keep going NOW)


Place – Where are you living right now and where do you want to be?


Ø Example – “Right now I am living in a boarding home which I am not too happy about, but I see myself staying away from drugs and eventually getting my own apartment at some point


Follow Up Question – Even if a person is living in a negative environment where change may be challenging, why is it still worth it to try to “start where you are” anyway?



Person – In a one or two sentence statement, try to answer the question: “Who am I today?”


Ø Today, I am….




Follow Up Question 1 – Life is best lived as a constant process of growth for everyone. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with feeling like you are not fully yet the person whom you want to be. Everyone can make improvements. With that said in a sentence or two discuss: Who do I want to be?





Follow Up Question 2 - It is better to start now even if we are not yet the person whom we want to be. Why can waiting be a problem? (For example: Imagine someone with a substance use problem saying – “I’ll stop using drugs once I become employed and learn to manage my anger first, then I’ll quit”)




Part 2 – Use What You Have


Read: For this section everyone will do a self-assessment of what they have. Be open minded about your strengths as just about anything can somehow be useful in the change and recovery process.


For example, someone may identify one of their natural abilities to be having a good sense of humor. Someone may then question: “How can a sense of humor help me in recovery?” The truth is that having a sense of humor can be extremely helpful. For instance, there is solid research shows that laughter lowers stress, improves mood and even helps relieve pain. All of these benefit the recovery and positive change process


Try to identify a few things about yourself for each area below. Examples provided to help



Qualities and Natural Abilities – (For example: I am… Smart, determined, a good listener, patient, friendly, good at carpentry, strong, a good parent, understanding, open-minded, creative, good at guitar, etc.) – List your own:







Learned Skills (Example – “I now know how to manage stress effectively” or “I can manage cravings”) – List your own:







Supports and Resources (Example: “I have a case manager who is helping me” or “My parents live close by, and they are there for me when I need someone” or “I own my own home which is a resource” List your own:







Other (Anything that you have that is helpful that was not already mentioned) – List below:







Closing Question – How can you personally “Use What You Have” to make progress and achieve your goals?




Part 3 – “Do What You Can”


Read – So now you’ve assessed and discussed starting where you are and using what you have but now comes the most important part: Doing what you can. The first two parts of this exercise don’t matter as much if we don’t take action to make positive changes and actively strive toward our goals


Discuss the following: Even if you are not yet where you want to be and who you want to be, what are some things you can start doing today to make positive change happen in your life? Try to list at least five “concrete” things you can do. (What is meant by “concrete” these things are realistic and tangible rather than abstract)




Ø “I can start being a better person today” – Although this sounds great, it is too abstract and difficult to define and measure. A more concrete version of this could be something like:


Ø ‘I am going to work on managing my anger and learn to speak in a calmer, nicer way with other people even when I am annoyed or upset so I will get into fewer fights and arguments” – This is much more specific, personal, realistic, and measurable


To close out this exercise: Come up with some concrete ways that you are going to “Do What You Can” to achieve your goals:






























Thursday, July 14, 2022

Talking Trauma…and Survival



Read first: Below are some “complete the sentence” discussion points for group therapy to get the group to start discussing potentially traumatic and/or challenging memories, situations, and feelings. Due to the sensitive nature of these topics, this activity should only be done if the everyone in the group is prepared to keep things 100% safe and respectful. Also, the group facilitator(s) should also feel prepared and qualified to guide the group in the discussion of some difficult topics and provide support as needed. Otherwise, seek supervision first before using this worksheet

Also: It would be a good idea to have a group discussion prior to starting, making sure the group environment is a safe and respectful for this exercise. Some guidelines to discuss with the group:

Ø Everyone should listen to the person speaking. It can be hurtful when someone shares sensitive personal information while others in the group interrupt or ignore the speaker. Listen respectfully


Ø Laughing, noises or negative comments about another person’s pain also is hurtful and should not be a part of this group in any way.


Ø When listening, focus on two things:


o   Empathy – Try to understand what the person sharing went through (or is going through) and:


o   No Judgement – We all have done things we may feel ashamed of. It is important that people in the group can share some of these things without fear of being judged by others in the group


Ø Finally, due to the potentially triggering nature of some of the discussions that may arise about trauma, hurt, emotional pain, etc., everyone should have some coping skills prepared. Some basic considerations:


o   If someone sharing looks like they are getting upset or overly anxious it may be a good idea to pause the sharing and check in with that person to see if they feel okay to continue, otherwise it is okay to stop


o   If any topic feels too sensitive to discuss it is okay to pass or share an alternate answer that is less triggering or upsetting. There are some questions that may not apply to certain individuals


o   If one of the points on the list does not seem appropriate to discuss at this time, the group leader should skip that point. Be selective when choosing which points to discuss and which to skip. You do not need to cover all of the material provided for this exercise as it may be too much. There are also strength building talking points on the discussion list to focus on. These are colored blue. Make sure to try to discuss these positive points


o   At strategic points in the group, as well as at the end of the group, it is a good idea to check in with the group as a whole to see how everyone is doing before continuing. Also, when closing the session make sure to debrief the group and allow everyone to check in about how they are feeling before closing the session


o   Finally, it can be important to keep watch on the “pulse” of the group. There can easily be a point when the group has had enough so it is OK to stop talking about difficult memories and situations and just focus on coping and moving forward in a positive manner.


When prepared, the “Talking Trauma and Survival” discussion points are:

Taking Trauma and Survival – Complete the Sentence:

Something I have a tough time getting over is…

One thing I am proud to say that I successfully endured and rebounded from is…

An emotion that I find to be challenging is…

One thing that I know helps me to cope with my feelings is…

A memory that I have that still hurts to think about is…

I am now more resilient because I have learned….

I feel regret about…

A skill I have developed for self-care in times of stress is…

A painful lesson I have learned from my past is…

I am so much stronger today because….

I could have died or have been severely injured when….

In times of trouble, I know that I can rely on…

One difficult thing that I witnessed was….

I can help others who have had similar experiences by…

I was treated hurtfully by…

When I need support or a listening ear, I know that I can turn to…

One thing I would describe as “unresolved” is….

If a life situation ever feels like “too much” or “I am struggling,” I know that I can…

One experience that I had with “disaster” is….

One reason that I know that I am a survivor is…

Something harsh that was said to me in my life was….

I know for sure, one good thing about “me” today is….

A situation that I still struggle sometimes to deal with is…

I know that I will never give up because…

What helps me the most today is… (list three things)

1 -

2 -

3 –

One positive thing I will take away from today’s group is….


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Positive Self-Statements Coping Collection


Positive Self-Statements Coping Collection

The way we speak to ourselves has a significant impact on the way we cope with emotions and stressors. Positive self-talk involves actively making self-soothing, encouraging statements when we need them, especially when under pressure. For a positive self-statement to be effective, it should meet two qualifications:


1)   We need to believe it – A self-statement may sound nice or make a good social media post but that does not matter. If we do not believe what we are telling ourselves it isn’t going to work


2)   It should not be too complicated. A positive self-statement should be simple but practical and useful


The following exercise will help everyone come up with a collection of positive self-statements for a variety of emotions and situations. As a group discuss each one. If someone has an answer, they should share it. If someone in the group does not have their own positive self-statement, you can use one that you hear from others in the group. This way the group can help each other. If you want this to be useful later, write down your favorite answers. Also, the counselor/group leader may want to use this session to also take note of topics that may be useful for future groups.


Discuss the following by filling in the blank in this statement with each item below:


A positive self-statement that I can use when I feel _______ is…




·       Example: A positive self-statement that I can use when I feel frustrated is… “What I want to happen is not happening right now, but I will still be okay”


Sad or depressed


Anxious or worried


Like using (cravings)


Pain (emotional) or hurt




Stressed or overwhelmed




Ashamed or like I am not good enough


Like quitting or giving up on my goals


Aggressive (Like I want to lash out)


Jealous or insecure


Disappointed or discouraged


Optional: Are there any personal situations in the group that anyone wants to try developing a positive self-statement for? (Two examples are provided below for ideas) – Use the group for feedback if that will help.


·       Example: A positive self-statement that I can use when I feel like calling my ex to get back together is…” Stay strong, they are not worth it”


·       Example: A positive self-statement that I can use when I feel like going to the bar because I am lonely on the weekend is….” I know what happens when I go there, and I have better ways to spend my time and money today”

Spaces below to write down your own positive self-statements from personal situations: