Where Do I Start?
By Fayad Rapplique, LMSW
I can’t get myself to start that project for work
I can’t seem to take sometime for myself everyday
I really want to start creating art again
I never get to read the books I buy and put on my shelf
I promised myself I would start running this year and never did
We all have these thoughts about those things we just never seem to get to. Procrastination, busy schedules, parenting and relationship responsibilities, social obligations, and simply being too tired act as barriers to us getting stuff done. Sometimes in an upswing of mood and energy, we may find ourselves making To-Do lists, setting reminders on our phones, and even powering through a few of our tasks. Soon though, we find ourselves back in the same place, letting our career goals and our potential passions fall by the wayside.
One way to start getting things done is through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT was developed by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1950s and 60s. CBT is based on the idea that the way people perceive situations is more closely connected to their reactions than to the situation itself. Dr. Beck worked with people living with depression and found that people struggling with depression have a lot of hostility toward themselves and view the future as very disastrous. He began to speak with his clients about the thoughts they were having throughout their everyday lives and those they had in sessions as well, and noticed that they started feeling better. This is when he started developing CBT.
An important part of CBT is goal setting. Therapists and clients work on these goals together through different tools. One of the classic tools used to work toward goals, is the Action Plan, once known as homework. Now, you may be thinking; “ Why should my therapist be assigning me work to do outside of session? I come here to get help and to feel better, I want to feel relieved when I leave therapy, not anxious to get more work done.” Therapist assign tasks to clients to help us train our mental muscles outside of the 45 minutes we get with them every week. Think about a successful plan to get fit. You wouldn’t simply go to a gym for 45 minutes every week. You might start with the gym and then add in healthier eating and other habits such as taking the stairs, walking from a train stop ahead of your usual stop, switching out a daily pastry for fruit, ect. Action plans help us get the most out of our therapy experience and aid us in helping ourselves when we are outside of sessions.
Action Plans are great tools for us and our therapists to get us closer to our goals, but they sound like a lot of work, even though we know that the goal is to help us do some good in the long run, it’s still additional effort we have to make, OUTSIDE OF SESSIONS, ON OUR OWN. How do we start this process, and how can CBT help us do a task when we’ve been pitting it off for so long, or if we haven’t been doing the desired behavior consistently?
Everyone has their own way of thinking and solving problems, which is why seeing a therapist is a great start to this process. Your therapist can work with you to explore the situational and mental barriers that are getting in the way of you achieving your goals. It is also helpful to have someone to talk with about all of this and to be held accountable. Your therapist may talk with your for a few sessions about what your goals are and spend time with your breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts. Here’s an example of how you and your therapist may work on a particular goal:
Say the goal is, getting into a hobby. You would want to talk and discover which of your interests could lead to a doable activity in your day-to-day life, for example an interest in drawing could lead to an art class. You would need to think the first, small steps toward signing up for that class. After working out your schedule, you may come to the conclusion that registering for the class online is the first task. Your therapist could facilitate a conversation about completing this registration, including what time of day and what location would be best for you to do this. They would ask you how certain you are that would complete this task, to make sure they help you with any barriers you may be thinking of. Next, you could set an alarm for the best time during your day to complete your registration paperwork. Lastly, you and your therapist would discuss how you could give yourself credit for completing the tasks. You would day some words of kindness toward yourself, such as
“Great job, I’m glad I took the time to get this done.”
This build up a sense of efficacy, feeling better about doing the plan and make it more likely you will continue towards your goal. If this sparked your interest in CBT and getting closer to achieving your goals, you can reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our therapist who can help you get started.