Rigidity often lures the mind away from balance—it can keep us down and defeat us before we even start something. Locking in on how something is supposed to be, or how much someone should be doing something, can keep a person from starting something from the get-go.
Creating bite-sized goals with clients, however, is one trick to help them achieve balance. This is a method that I have successfully used with clients—a form of behavioral activation. In collaboration with the client, we set goals for the client like: getting on their treadmill for 1 minute and not turning it on; doing that for a solid week; moving from there, to turning it on for a minute and walking on it for a minute.
If a person walks for a full minute, with the intent of just walking, they have done some exercise that day. Nobody can tell them that they didn’t. Clients find that if they trick their mind into staying on the treadmill for a minute, they may stay longer—or they may not—but either way, they still exercised. Often, it is their mind telling them that they don’t want to be walking for a full hour that keeps them from getting on the treadmill for even 1 minute. Where did the 1 hour time frame come from? The client. Changing the mindset from “If I get on the treadmill, I have to be on it for a full hour; “ to “I will get on the treadmill today,” (with no mention of time), it’s amazing how much more doable that latter goal feels.
The same goes for reading a book. I had a client that wanted to get through a classic novel, because he hadn’t ever read it before. In speaking with him, he went weeks with this novel on his bedside table, not picking it up, after “having the goal of reading it by the end of the year.” We decided he would try to read just one page a day. I also had to ask him what was driving his need to finish the book by the end of the year. Really why did it matter how long it took him to read it? Asking questions like that, and digging to find the significance of the details in the client’s goal setting, has helped some clients realize that their self-imposed time frames don’t really matter at all. That client realized that if he read one page a day, he often found himself so engrossed in the book that he didn’t put it down until 2 chapters later.
But if you got on the treadmill for a minute AND read one page of a book today—you exercised and read—something many people cannot also claim.
The goals here are to get the client’s buy-in that 1 minute on the treadmill, or 1 page of a book, is considered exercising and reading. Often I remind the clients (sometimes several times in the same session) that 1 minute or 1 page is more than they exercised or read in recent days prior. That typically gets them motivated to at least try it. For the clients that are able to follow through—this has worked with great success.
Summer Jeirles is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor with a background in addictions and co-occurring disorders in adults. She currently practices in Virginia.