Productive Purposeful Pleasant

Productive – Purposeful – Pleasant

After ending last week’s blog, I realized I haven’t ever posted about this little language-based motivation/behavioral activation technique that I sometimes use with clients. Probably because I really don’t like it when people make (or especially seem to force) alliteration or acronyms, and I don’t want you to think I did that! Haha! This actually just popped up in a session one day, fully formed (fully P’d!) and it has been useful several times. 

This little technique seems to be sometimes beneficial with clients who have mild/moderate depression, the kind of anxiety that keeps them sort of paralyzed (not catatonically paralyzed! Just keeps them from moving forward effectively), and some who deal with procrastination. (Although straight mindfulness is good for all of these, too, especially procrastination.) 

The technique is really simple – it just involves (Step 1) taking the things on the client’s to-do list (whether that is take a shower and check the mail in the case of depression or the long list of household chores or whatever), and dividing them into these categories, or labelling them… is the task Productive, Purposeful, or Pleasant? (or some combo?)

*Wouldn’t it be nice to have lots of things on the list that are all three?!*

Step 2: Just take anything else off the list! What’s it doing on there, anyway?! This can sometimes bring a sense of relief and permission to clients who need it. 

Step 3: Make sure there are items in every category, especially the pleasant category! (This is a kind of sneaky way to measure anhedonia and sometimes to figure out distress tolerance ideas!) 

Step 4: Invite clients, in session if it’s possible or as homework, to choose items from anywhere on the list.

I often start with Productive… is there anything on there that they have the motivation/energy/etc. to do right now? If they can, they often feel a sense of accomplishment and also relief from “checking something off the list.” It’s ok to make use of session time to get this started! Do they need to make a dr’s appointment – just have them call, right now! Do they need to update their credit card information on their bill pay? OK, do it! 

If not, how about something purposeful (meaning tied to values, even if it doesn’t “get things done”)? Is there a value of relationships or being a kind person – choose text a friend from the list (add it right in the moment if it comes up!) Is there a religious/spiritual value – choose read a scripture verse. Is there a value of being a good parent – write a sticky note for your kid and put it in their room. Is there a value on making progress in therapy? Listen to your affirmations, read a few pages in the homework book, etc. Make sure that plenty of these are easy, low energy, low cost options. (This is a kind of sneaky way to get to identification of values, as well, which can be helpful in most cases.)

Nothing doing there, either? Well, no problem! Because you have a list of activities that are for nothing but pleasure! Encourage clients that choosing something from the pleasure list is OK! (There might be a little bit of cognitive work to do here, about being “allowed” to do something for pleasure when there are things on the productive list. And one of these days I need to do a post on how “laziness” is just a really good energy management strategy! HA!) But remember – doing something is better than doing nothing, and often increases motivation and productivity in the long run. Even if the pleasant thing is doing “nothing,” like taking a nap, sitting quietly, etc., doing it mindfully is a positive step! 

Comment below: What do you do to help clients with behavioral activation? 





Easier, cheaper, better

Easier, Cheaper, Better

So, I was listening to news radio a few weeks ago (oh, the joys of adulthood!), to a story about electric cars. Without getting into politics or economics, let’s assume for the moment that people driving electric cars might be a good thing. Because the interesting part of this discussion was a question to the interviewee – How could the transition to most or all people driving electric cars happen? And the answer was so beautifully behavioral. In short, to get most people to drive electric cars (sooner, rather than later, when that might be all that’s available), electric cars need to be easier to buy than gas-powered cars, cheaper than gas-powered cars, and better than gas-powered cars, today. The INDUSTRY and the ENVIRONMENT need to change. Not the buyers. 

And so it is with all of our behavior changes. Shame and willpower get us nowhere. Well, that’s not quite true. Unfortunately, shame and willpower get us a tiny distance in the direction we’re headed, and then they collapse on us, leaving us typically worse off than we were before, with more shame, which leads to more undesirable behavior, and so we look more intensely for “more willpower” to get us to our behavior changes. And that system, while it fits nicely with the sort of hyper-American, Protestant-ethic model that likes to believe we can all be anything we want to be with enough will or inner strength or simple desire, is almost entirely useless. 

If we want to really change behavior in the long term, we need to think about how to make the new, desired behavior easier, cheaper, and better immediately. 

Here’s an example: Does a client want to exercise more? Preferably, we need to find a way to make that easier, cheaper, and better than not exercising, right now. 

  • What does easier mean for them? It’s going to be a challenge to make something like physical work seem like less effort than NOT doing physical effort! DO they want to try a gym? Help them find a close one, that’s on the way to or from work. (The farther away the gym is, the less often people go. ) But walking at the nearby park or exercising at home might be easier still. Is part of “easier” training their middle school age kid to do some of the laundry, so that the increase in workout clothes doesn’t feel like a burden? Does it mean getting a trainer so that they can learn to exercise in a way that’s “easier” on their knee joints? Let’s plan this in the “preparation phase” so that the benefit is immediate!
  • What does cheaper mean for them? This one usually means straight “less expensive,” but it might also mean less expensive in terms of other resources, like time spent. Would they be missing out on time with lover or kids? Could they join the exercise effort so that time isn’t missed? Walking is free, which might make it better than the gym, but it’s not cheaper than doing nothing… unless you can help them schedule their exercise at a time they might otherwise be spending money, like out to lunch or online shopping. If exercising in the morning helps them be more productive or in a better mood during the day, or sleep more restfully at night, maybe we could help them monitor that the very first week, to help “see” that additional value right away. 
  • What does better mean for them? Turns out rich folks will totally go to a far away gym as long as it’s SUPER nice! That after-workout-whirlpool is a Day 1 value and they should use it Day 1. Better health, fitness, weight loss, etc…. nice for long term goals but not helpful for that early part of the change process. Is the time-for-self they could get at the gym something that they need and want but would feel guilty about? Can we help reduce that barrier before they start, so that exercise gives them something nice right at the start? 

For long term, positive change – we don’t want to rely on willpower, and we certainly don’t want to get stuck in the shame cycle (that just leads to more Oreos, or self-criticism, or avoidance, or…). We want to change our environments to maximize the chances of following through – make the change as easy, cheap, and desirable as possible right away. If we can make it easier, cheaper, and better than the alternative, our chances are REALLY good. 

Comment below: How have you successfully used something like this model with yourself or clients in the past? Have you had the experience of thinking that a great change plan was in place, but one of these things got in the way? 



Preposterous Quote – Moon


No. No. No. If you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll actually burn up in the atmosphere as you fall back to earth. This is a great (missed) opportunity for a cautionary tale… if you’re going to shoot for the moon (i.e., set a goal) and you don’t prepare well or have a good takeoff, you’re in for an unhappy ending. 

If we must use the metaphor, we need to shoot for the stars (i.e., have enough planning and motivation to get to the goal, preferably), on a trajectory that passes near to the moon (i.e., subgoals that would be valuable in and of themselves, in case we change course or run out of fuel), and with adequate resources (e.g., provisions and gear to last awhile, communications with support systems) so that if we shoot for the stars we may land on the moon and at least survive for awhile.