How to Cope with Cravings

How to Cope with Cravings

As an addiction counselor, I’ve worked with many clients who struggle with cravings during their recovery journey. Cravings are intense urges to use substances or engage in addictive behaviors that can be triggered by environmental cues, emotional stress, and physical discomfort. These cravings can be overwhelming and make it challenging to stay on the path of recovery.

Cravings are an inevitable part of addiction recovery. They are intense urges or desires to use drugs or engage in addictive behaviors, and they can be triggered by a wide range of factors, including stress, emotions, and social situations. Coping with cravings is an essential skill for anyone in addiction recovery.

So how to you cope with a craving?

Helpful strategies include identifying and managing triggers, challenging unhelpful thoughts, practicing acceptance, using your values as a compass, committing to meaningful actions, and developing a support system.

By delving into each of these strategies, I hope to provide a comprehensive, yet practical, summary of the various areas to consider when coping with cravings.

Identify and Manage Triggers

Identifying and managing triggers is an essential coping strategy. This involves recognizing the people, places, and situations that can trigger cravings and finding ways to avoid or minimize your exposure to them. For example, if you know that social situations with heavy drinking may trigger cravings, you may choose to avoid those events or bring a sober friend with you for support.

Coping with cravings by avoiding triggers can be compared to navigating a minefield. Just as a soldier must navigate a minefield to reach their destination safely, we must navigate our environment to manage the triggers that can set off cravings and undermine our recovery journey.

In addiction recovery, triggers are the people, places, and things that can remind us of our past substance use and trigger cravings. For example, if you associate drinking with a particular bar or restaurant, visiting that place could trigger a craving for alcohol. Similarly, if you associate drug use with a particular group of friends, spending time with those friends could trigger a craving for drugs.

To manage triggers, it’s important to identify them and develop a plan for how to navigate them safely. This might involve avoiding certain places, people, or situations that you associate with substance use, or developing strategies to manage your cravings when you encounter triggers. For example, you might decide to skip social events where alcohol is served, or to develop a list of alternative activities to do when you’re feeling triggered.

Just as a soldier must navigate a minefield safely by being aware of their surroundings and taking precautions, we must navigate our environment carefully to manage triggers. This might involve being mindful of your surroundings, such as noticing the signs and smells of a particular place, and being aware of your own emotional and physical responses. It might also involve developing healthy coping strategies, such as deep breathing, meditation, or physical exercise, to manage your cravings when you encounter triggers.

Managing triggers is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and attention, especially in early recovery. Early on, it may be necessary to avoid as many triggers as possible, even if it means distancing yourself from certain people in your life or missing important events. In later recovery, some individuals can begin to expose themselves to certain triggers they avoided in early recovery.

When working with clients, I assess where each induvial is at in their own relationship to addictive substances or behaviors and develop a plan that works for their unique circumstances.

Challenge Unhelpful Thoughts

Negative thoughts and beliefs can be a significant trigger for cravings. It’s essential to challenge these thoughts and beliefs and replace them with more realistic ones. For example, if you find yourself thinking, “I can’t handle this stress without using drugs,” you may challenge that thought by reminding yourself of times when you have successfully managed stress without drugs or alcohol.

Managing unhelpful thoughts can be likened to a courtroom where our negative thoughts are put on trial. Just as a lawyer must present evidence to challenge the prosecution’s case, we must present evidence to challenge our negative thoughts and reduce the intensity of cravings. By questioning our negative thoughts and examining the evidence that supports them, we can create a more balanced and accurate perspective that supports our recovery journey.

When you’re in recovery from addiction, cravings can often be accompanied by negative thoughts and self-talk. For example, you might tell yourself that you can’t resist the craving, that you’re weak or flawed, or that you’ll never be able to overcome your addiction. These negative thoughts can fuel the intensity of cravings and undermine your confidence and motivation.

To challenge negative thoughts, it’s important to examine the evidence that supports them. Just as a lawyer must present evidence to support their case, ask yourself what evidence you have that supports this thought. Is it really true, or is it just a perception or assumption? By challenging negative thoughts and examining the evidence that supports them, we can create a more balanced and accurate perspective that supports our recovery journey.

It can also be helpful to use a technique called cognitive restructuring. This involves identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive and accurate ones. For example, instead of telling yourself that you can’t resist the craving, you might say, “I have resisted cravings before, and I can do it again.” Instead of telling yourself that you’re weak or flawed, you might say, “I am a strong and resilient person who is capable of overcoming challenges.” By replacing negative thoughts with more positive and accurate ones, you can reduce the intensity of cravings and build your confidence and motivation.

Just like a courtroom, challenging negative thoughts is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and attention. It’s important to practice this technique regularly, both when you’re experiencing a craving and in your daily life. You might find it helpful to keep a journal of your negative thoughts and the evidence that supports them, and to regularly review and challenge them. You might also find it helpful to seek the support of a therapist or counselor who can help you identify and challenge negative thoughts more effectively.

Practice Acceptance

Acceptance is the practice of acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and experiences without judgment. In addiction recovery, acceptance means acknowledging the presence of cravings without trying to fight them or give in to them. Acceptance is not the same as resignation, nor does it mean that you have to like or approve of what is happening. It is simply a way of being present with your experiences and letting go of the struggle to control them.

Here are some ways you can use acceptance to cope with cravings:

Label the craving
The first step to overcoming cravings through acceptance is to label the craving. When you experience a craving, acknowledge it and give it a name. For example, you might say to yourself, “This is a craving for drugs,” or “I’m experiencing an urge to drink.” Some people like to give it a name or imagine it as a particular character. Labeling the craving can help you recognize it for what it is and separate it from your thoughts and emotions.

Accept the presence of the craving
Once you’ve labeled the craving, the next step is to accept its presence. Rather than fighting or trying to suppress the craving, allow it to be there without judgment. You might say to yourself, “It’s okay to feel this way,” or “This is a normal part of the recovery process.” Remember that cravings are temporary and will eventually pass.

Observe the craving
The third step in overcoming cravings through acceptance is to observe the craving. Rather than getting caught up in the urge to use substances or engage in addictive behaviors, observe the craving as if it were an outsider looking in. Notice the physical sensations in your body, such as the tightness in your chest or the restlessness in your limbs. Observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment.

Ride the Wave

When it comes to addiction recovery, cravings are a common experience that can feel overwhelming and difficult to manage. However, by reframing cravings as waves in the ocean, we can gain a new perspective on how to navigate these challenging experiences.

Just as waves in the ocean can be strong and powerful, cravings can also feel intense and difficult to control. When we experience a craving, it can feel like a wave crashing against us, threatening to pull us under. But just as waves come and go, so too can cravings build up and then dissipate over time. By acknowledging this natural ebb and flow, we can learn to ride the waves of cravings and stay on course towards our goals.

Like a skilled surfer who learns to ride the waves, we can learn to navigate our cravings and stay on course towards our goals. The first step in managing cravings is to acknowledge their presence. Just as a surfer must watch the waves to anticipate their movements, we must be aware of our cravings and how they affect us. By labeling the craving and recognizing its intensity, we can gain a sense of control over the situation.

The next step is to accept the presence of the craving. Just as a surfer must accept the presence of the wave, we must accept the presence of the craving without judging ourselves. It’s important to remember that cravings are a natural part of the recovery process and that they do not define us as individuals.

Observing the craving without judgment is the third step in managing cravings. This can be challenging, as our instinct is often to resist or fight against the craving. But just as a surfer observes the wave without resistance, we can observe the craving without judgment. We can examine our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them, allowing the craving to pass through us without overpowering us.

Letting go of the struggle is the fourth step in managing cravings. Just as a surfer must let go of the struggle to control the wave, we must let go of the struggle to control our cravings. Instead, we can focus on what we can control, such as our thoughts and behaviors. By accepting that we cannot control the craving, we can free ourselves from the struggle and find greater peace and acceptance.

Practicing mindfulness is the fifth step in managing cravings. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and non-judgmentally observing our thoughts and emotions. By focusing our attention on the present moment, we can let go of worries about the past or future and be more accepting of our experiences. Mindfulness can also help us develop a greater awareness of our thoughts and emotions, which can help us recognize and accept cravings when they arise.

Use Your Values as a Compass

Just as a ship needs a compass to stay on course, we need our values to guide us through the turbulent waters of addiction recovery. Our values serve as a compass that helps us stay focused on what truly matters to us and what we want to achieve in life. When we are faced with cravings, it can be easy to lose sight of our values and give in to the temptation. However, by recalling our values, we can stay true to ourselves and our recovery goals.

The first step in using your values to cope with cravings is to identify them. What are the things that are most important to you in life? What motivates you and gives you a sense of purpose and fulfillment? Perhaps you value your relationships with family and friends, your career or education, or your physical and mental health. By identifying your values, you can begin to use them as a guide in your recovery journey.

The next step is to use your values to set clear and specific goals for yourself. Just as a ship needs a destination to navigate towards, you need clear and specific recovery goals to guide you through the ups and downs of addiction recovery. By setting goals that are aligned with your values, you can stay motivated and focused even when you are faced with strong cravings.

When you are experiencing a craving, it can be helpful to recall your values and remind yourself of why you are committed to your recovery journey. This can be a powerful motivator that helps you resist the temptation to give in to your addiction. For example, if your family is an important value for you, you might recall the love and support they have given you and how much they would be hurt if you were to relapse.

Another way to use your values to cope with cravings is to engage in activities that are aligned with your values. For example, if your value is physical health, you might go for a run or do some yoga to distract yourself from the craving and reinforce your commitment to your health. If your value is education, you might spend some time studying or reading a book that inspires you.

It’s important to remember that using your values to cope with cravings is not a one-time solution, but rather an ongoing process. Just as a ship needs a compass to guide it through changing weather conditions, you need to continually revisit and reaffirm your values to stay on track in your recovery journey. With practice and persistence, you can use your values to navigate the challenging waters of addiction recovery and emerge stronger and more resilient on the other side.

Commit to Meaningful Actions

Coping with cravings can also be compared to a garden that requires regular tending. Just as a garden needs consistent attention and care to thrive, we need to engage in meaningful actions to nourish our well-being and manage cravings effectively. By cultivating a rich and fulfilling life, we can strengthen our resilience and create a solid foundation for recovery. When we engage in meaningful actions, we can stay focused on our values and goals and develop healthy habits that support our well-being.

When in recovery from addiction, cravings can often feel overwhelming and all-consuming. However, by engaging in meaningful actions, you can create a sense of purpose and meaning that helps to reduce the intensity of cravings. Meaningful actions are those that give us a sense of fulfillment and purpose, and that align with our values and goals. These can be anything from spending time with loved ones, pursuing a hobby or passion, volunteering in your community, or focusing on your career or education.

Just as a garden requires consistent effort to thrive, engaging in meaningful actions requires ongoing commitment and attention. The first step is to identify the actions that are most meaningful to you. What brings you joy and fulfillment? What activities align with your values and goals? By identifying the actions that are most meaningful to you, you can begin to incorporate them into your daily routine.

When you’re experiencing a craving, it can be helpful to turn to meaningful actions as a way to shift your focus. For example, if spending time with loved ones is a meaningful action for you, you might call a friend or family member to talk or spend time with them in person. If pursuing a hobby or passion is meaningful to you, you might engage in that activity to redirect your attention away from the craving.

Engaging in meaningful actions is not just a distraction from cravings, but a way to build a fulfilling and satisfying life. By consistently engaging in meaningful actions, you can develop healthy habits that support your well-being and reduce the likelihood of relapse. This can include developing a regular exercise routine, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or taking steps to further your education or career.

It’s important to remember that engaging in meaningful actions is not a one-time solution to cravings, but an ongoing process. Just as a garden requires regular watering and pruning, engaging in meaningful actions requires consistent attention and care. You might find it helpful to create a daily or weekly routine that includes the actions that are most meaningful to you, and to regularly evaluate your progress and adjust your routine as needed.

Develop a Support System

Developing a support system is a crucial aspect of addiction recovery. Having a network of family, friends, and peers who understand what you are going through can help you feel less alone and provide you with a sense of accountability.

Support groups, such as 12-step programs, can also be a valuable resource for individuals in addiction recovery. Attending support group meetings can help you connect with others who are going through similar experiences and provide you with a safe space to share your struggles. These groups may include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and many others.

Attending these groups can also assist in building a sober network. Surrounding oneself with individuals who are also in recovery and living a sober lifestyle can be a powerful source of support. Building a sober network can involve attending sober events, meeting people through support groups, or connecting with others through social media platforms.

Sharing your recovery with supportive family and friends can also be helpful. Sharing experiences with loved ones can increase accountability and provide a sense of connection and support. It can also be useful to manage triggers. For example, if you are trying to stop drinking, it is helpful to inform friends who would normally offer you a drink. It also allows others to be mindful of their consumption around you, especially in early recovery.

Professional supports can also help you develop a more comprehensive plan for managing cravings. An addiction counselor can help individuals develop personalized coping strategies, explore underlying issues, and develop the skills needed to manage cravings effectively. Healthcare providers can also be a useful asset since they can recommend medications such as Naltrexone to reduce cravings.


In this article we have explored various strategies for coping with cravings in addiction recovery.

We started by discussing the importance of managing triggers, which can be compared to navigating a minefield. This metaphor suggests that we can identify and manage triggers, just as a soldier navigates a minefield, and develop healthy coping strategies to manage cravings when we encounter them.

Challenging unhelpful thoughts can also help us to cope with cravings. We used the metaphor of a trial lawyer since we need to consider the evidence for and against our unhelpful thoughts.

We looked at how acceptance can help us to overcome cravings by allowing us to experience them without judgment or resistance. We then discussed the metaphor of waves, which highlights the importance of riding out cravings and allowing them to pass naturally.

We also explored how recalling our values can help us to cope with cravings by providing a sense of purpose and meaning. We used the metaphor of values as a compass, proving direction as we sail the stormy seas of recovery.

Engaging in meaningful actions can also help us to cope with cravings by providing a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This metaphor suggests that we can plant the seeds of new habits and behaviors, just as a gardener plants seeds in fertile soil, and nurture them with care and attention.

Lastly, we discussed the importance of developing a strong support system which may include supportive persons in ours lives, peers in recovery, or professional supports.

By utilizing these various strategies, individuals in addiction recovery can better cope with cravings and create a solid foundation for lasting recovery.

How to Stop Gambling Addiction

How to Stop Gambling Addiction

As a Certified Gambling Counsellor, I’ve worked with many persons struggling to stop a gambling addiction. Although this form of addiction functions similarly to drugs and alcohol, there are some unique things to consider when trying to stop gambling.

Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling or gambling disorder is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to gamble despite the negative consequences it may have on an individual’s life. Gambling addiction can lead to a host of problems, including financial issues, relationship troubles, and even mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

The purpose of this article is to provide information on how to stop gambling addiction. I will discuss the causes of gambling addiction, identify the signs of gambling addiction, and provide information on treatment options and self-help strategies. By understanding the nature of gambling addiction and learning how to overcome it, individuals can take the first steps toward recovery.

Understand the Addiction

Gambling addiction develops when an individual becomes dependent on gambling as a form of thrill or escape from stress. The individual may begin to crave the feeling and seek out more opportunities to gamble. This can happen gradually, with the individual initially gambling for fun and eventually becoming dependent on it, causing more stress in the long-term.

Common triggers for gambling addiction include stress, boredom, and financial problems. Individuals may turn to gambling as a form of escapism or as a way to cope with these issues. However, it is important to note that not everyone who experiences these triggers will develop a gambling addiction.

Common signs of a gambling addiction include:

  • Spending more time and money on gambling than intended
  • Lying to family and friends about gambling habits
  • Neglecting responsibilities in order to gamble
  • Borrowing money to gamble or pay off gambling debts
  • Using gambling as a way to escape problems
  • Continuing to gamble despite negative consequences

If you want to learn more about the psychology of gambling addiction, you can see my article on the subject here.

Seek Professional Treatment

Treatment for gambling addiction typically involves a combination of behavioral therapy, medication (optional), and support groups.

Behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing the individual’s behavior and thoughts related to gambling. This can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps the individual identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors related to gambling.

To find a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern. As a counsellor specializing in gambling addiction, I also virtually support clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Medication is sometimes used to treat gambling addiction. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or other medications can help manage underlying mental health issues. However, it’s important to note that medication should only be used in conjunction with therapy and should not be used as a standalone treatment for gambling addiction. This is an area I typically do not focus on with clients and requires a proper assessment from a medical doctor.

Support groups can also be a valuable resource for individuals struggling with gambling addiction. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and support each other in their recovery. Some support groups are specific to gambling addiction, while others are for individuals with any type of addiction. Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is the most widely available form of peer support for gambling addiction. If you are interested in locating a meeting, you can find one near you on the Gamblers Anonymous website here.

It is important to understand that gambling addiction is a chronic condition, and relapses can occur. A comprehensive treatment plan that may include therapy, medication (optional), and support groups can help increase the chances of recovery.

If you are struggling with a gambling addiction, it is important to seek out professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in this area. They can provide guidance and support in identifying underlying reasons for the gambling addiction, managing triggers, as well as developing a plan for long-term recovery.

Use Self-Help Strategies

While seeking professional help is crucial, there are also self-help strategies that individuals can use to stop gambling addiction.

Setting limits on time and money spent on gambling is a key step in controlling the addiction. This can include setting a specific budget for gambling and creating a schedule for when and how often to gamble. Although setting limits is a useful form of harm reduction, it may not be a sustainable solution in the long-term. For more harm reduction approaches, see my article here.

When a gambling addiction is significantly progressed, it may be appropriate to temporarily give up control of one’s finances to a partner or trusted family member.

Finding alternative activities to replace gambling is another way to reduce the urge to gamble. This can include hobbies, exercise, or spending time with friends and family.

Identifying and avoiding triggers can help prevent relapses. This may include avoiding certain places, people, or situations that may trigger the urge to gamble.

Building a support system is also essential in overcoming gambling addiction. This includes seeking support from friends, family, and loved ones, as well as joining a support group specifically for gambling addiction. A support system can provide emotional support, encouragement, and accountability in the recovery process.

Notice Unhelpful Thoughts About Gambling

Gambling relies on unpredictable rewards. This leads players to develop false beliefs about their control over the outcome. Common misconceptions include: “I have a system for winning,” “It is due to pay out soon,” and “If I keep playing, I can win my money back,” and “I’ll stop when I win the jackpot.” The gambling industry relies on a “house edge” to make a profit, meaning the odds are stacked against you, in the long term. The more you play, the more you will spend.

Someone with a gambling addiction may want to stop gambling when they are ahead but this does not happen. Like any addiction, increased access to the drug only increases the odds of using more. Imagine someone trying to stop drinking alcohol and they are given a giant fridge of their favorite drink. For someone with a gambling addiction, money is the drug. More money only leads to more betting.

It is also hard to stop while ahead due to the powerful force of random reinforcement. Gambling rewards are distributed randomly, which can cause individuals to develop distorted thoughts about their level of control over the outcome. This is especially powerful if someone had an early big win. The feeling of control, sense of specialness, and the rush of winning can be addictive, causing the person to continue gambling in the hopes of winning again. This can be called, “chasing the win.”

Rather than stopping when you are ahead, persons with a gambling addiction lack control over the activity, leading to continued gambling, often at higher amounts. This can lead to a cycle of spending more money than they win, making it difficult to stop gambling even when they are in financial trouble.

This often turns into “chasing the loss.” This is a common behavior among people with a gambling addiction. It refers to the tendency to continue gambling in an attempt to recoup losses. This behavior can lead to an endless cycle of losing and trying to win back lost money, causing the individual to spend more and more money in the long-term.

Decide if Gambling is Worth the Stress

Ultimately, the decision to quit gambling comes down to whether or not it is worth the cost. Many individuals who struggle with gambling say it’s not just about the money, it’s about the impact on one’s mental health and relationships.

Here are a few reasons why some people continue to gamble, and why these reasons may not necessarily be accurate:

“Gambling brings me happiness”

Even if a person recognizes that they are spending more money than they are earning, they may continue gambling because it temporarily makes their problems disappear. This is a common reason for gambling, particularly among those who participate in electronic games such as slot machines.

While gambling may seem to bring happiness in the early stages, this illusion is often shattered when the person’s life becomes unmanageable. Gambling offers a false sense of happiness, similar to the false sense of control and false hope for a better future. True happiness can only be attained by letting go of the illusion provided by gambling.

“I can make money through gambling”

Many people who engage in professional forms of gambling, such as tournament poker, believe they can make money through gambling because a significant amount of skill is involved. The question to ask is whether or not the gambling is actually profitable. Are you treating gambling like a business and keeping track of your wins and losses? If so, it’s important to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Although making money in the long-term is unlikely, is any amount of money worth the stress, harm to relationships, and compromised integrity? It’s important to consider what truly matters in life and if gambling is getting you closer or further away from that.

“I’ll be bored if I stop gambling”

For some individuals, gambling has become a full-time job and they cannot imagine their lives without it. As a result, other hobbies and interests are neglected. One common reason for continuing to gamble is that there is nothing else to do.

While it may be difficult at first, it is possible to rekindle old hobbies and find new, fulfilling activities to engage in. With time and effort, a person can adjust to a life outside of gambling.

Ultimately, when gambling turns into an addiction, the costs outweigh the benefits. It becomes a highly stressful mental roller-coaster and you start to become someone you don’t even recognize. Losing a positive sense of one’s own identity, values, meaning, purpose, and close interpersonal relationships, gambling becomes the sole focus in life. Although it may have initially been a form of entertainment, it often ends up being the exact opposite.


Gambling addiction is a serious condition that can have a negative impact on an individual’s life. By understanding the causes of gambling addiction and identifying the signs, individuals can take the first steps towards recovery. Treatment options such as therapy, medication (optional), and support groups can provide the support and resources needed to overcome the addiction. In addition, self-help strategies such as setting limits, finding alternative activities, and building a support system can also be effective in the recovery process.

Recovery from gambling addiction is a journey that requires patience, determination, and support. It’s important to remember that recovery is possible and with the right help, individuals can regain control of their lives.

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, it is important to seek help. There are resources available such as the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) which provides confidential help and support for individuals and their families. With the right help, individuals can overcome gambling addiction and take the first steps towards a healthier and happier life.

If I can support you in your journey toward recovery from gambling addiction, feel free to send me a message here.

How To Change Your Life

How To Change Your Life

On the go? Listen to the audio version of this article here:

Do you want to change your life for the better but don’t know where to start? Each year, many people intend to make important changes in their lives but don’t start because of fear.

Instead, they continue going down the same uninspiring path, feeling stuck and unsatisfied, lacking a sense of purpose.

For those who start making changes in their lives, these changes are difficult to maintain as the burst of short-term motivation fades away.

As a counselor, I’ve helped many clients start making changes in their lives through evidence-based methods. This article is a practical summary of the best approaches I’ve discovered, designed to help you start living the life you want. In short, change requires the following steps:

  1. Honor your desire for sameness
  2. Develop a vision
  3. Identify your “why”
  4. Start taking small steps
  5. Identify unhelpful thoughts
  6. Accept difficult emotions 
  7. Build helpful habits

By following these steps, you’ll be able to start changing your life and build long-term motivational momentum.

Talking to hundreds of clients over the past year, in addition to delving deep into the academic literature on motivation, I’ve developed this process of change. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and there are no guarantees, this process can significantly increase the odds of success.

Honor Your Desire for Sameness

Have you ever tried to change, then felt guilt or shame when not following through?

Popular self-help messages on social media often push for change, as if it’s the only option, and failure to take action means you’re weak, lazy, or not good enough. Although well-intentioned, these messages are often toxic and counterproductive, reinforcing shame and unhelpful self-critical thoughts.

As an addiction counselor, I help people change but realize the need to meet people where they’re at, honoring their reasons for not changing.

Staying the same does not mean you’re a broken or deficient person. Instead, sameness is a form of self-protection. This self-protection can even be viewed as a form of self-compassion.

Many people fear hoping for something different because they don’t want to feel the potential disappointment of not achieving it. Hoping for something more also raises the expectations others have of you, resulting in fear of judgment if you don’t follow through.

Change can be pretty scary if you’ve lived through past disappointments or judgmental comments from others.

Rather than beating yourself up for not changing, a self-compassionate attitude toward your sameness helps you recognize your actual reasons for not changing.

Honoring someone’s desire for sameness allows for an open, non-judgmental exploration of these reasons. Without acknowledging these reasons for sameness, they operate in the background unconsciously, creating a conversational tug-of-war. As Peter Senge says:

“People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.”

People are often doing their best with the resources they have. They don’t need more shame; they need compassion. Experiencing compassion helps people develop compassion for themselves.

When you can have compassion for yourself, you can start to explore your reasons for sameness non-judgmentally within the context of your reasons for change.

The great humanist psychologist Carl Rogers illustrated this when he said:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Hoping can be scary. When we hope for something more, we are confronted by something we lack. Faced with the uncertainty of achieving this desired change, it raises one’s expectations for oneself and the fear of potential disappointment if we cannot make this change.

Staying the same is an understandable form of self-protection. We don’t resist change because we are lazy; we resist change because of fear.

Rather than making fear into an enemy, we can honor our fear. When our mind says, “are you sure you’re ready for this?” it’s doing something it was evolutionarily programmed to do.

Resisting fear means resisting change. Noticing our mind is trying to protect us, we can open up to fear and assess the information it is giving us. Like the check engine light in a car, our emotions are a source of information. And like the check-engine light, it can sometimes only indicate a minor risk.

When we turn toward difficult emotions, we can uncover any useful information they are providing us, assess the relevant, realistic risks, then choose to move forward when we’re ready.

Hoping for change can provoke fear. Without acknowledging this underlying process, it operates in the background, lowering our expectations of ourselves and what we aspire toward.

Changing your life is a lot like writing. If you’ve ever sat in front of a blank page, tasked with writing something important, you’ve probably felt this sense of angst.

As I write this, my mind is coming up with a handful of other things I should probably do instead. Each sentence takes concerted effort because I know it’s important, and because it’s important, it’s scary, and I constantly want to stop and do something else.

Writing creates a sense of vulnerability, exposing my ideas to an audience whose uncertain reception provokes fear of judgment. Imposter syndrome sets in, and my mind tells me to play it safe. Who am I to be sharing my ideas?

The desire for self-protective sameness has to be overcome with each sentence, uncertain what I’ll say next but trusting it’ll come.

Like writing, authoring your life draws on the same fears and insecurities. Actively deciding to change requires this active stance toward your life.

The freedom to write and express yourself comes with the responsibility of showing up. In life, the freedom to change comes with the responsibility to author that change.

Freedom is something we all want, but we spend most of our time trying to escape from it. Freedom induces fear. Constraint is comfortable.

As a college instructor, I knew students hated writing essays without detailed instructions about the topic, page length, and formatting.

With complete freedom to write what you want, it’s difficult to start, and when you do, you’re constantly wondering if you’re doing it right.

When deciding to make a change in life, we’re called to take authorship of a situation without a detailed instruction manual. We’re called to step into the unknown and risk letting ourselves down.

We can put down the pen and stop writing when we need a break. Although this is an understandable form of self-protection, it doesn’t come without risks.

When we stop writing, we risk missing out on joy, passion, meaning, and purpose. We miss out on offering the world something uniquely ours.

If you’re not ready to step out on a limb, that’s okay too. Authoring your life is not a moral question. You’re not wrong, bad, or flawed if you choose sameness. As the song by the late Nightbirde goes, “if you’re lost, we’re all a little lost, and that’s alright.”

We can move forward with compassion from ourselves and others.

As I was writing this section, I didn’t know where it would go, but as I wrote, it became easier. Like life changes, the initial dread of the blank page fades as motivational momentum grows with each step forward.

If you resonate with this and want to learn more about why hope induces fear, I highly recommend checking out the book, How We Change (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t) by Ross Ellenhorn. There are many powerful insights in this book and you can even listen to the audiobook version for free if you haven’t yet signed up for Audible’s trial.

Develop a Vision

Before making a significant change in your life, you need a vision of what you want. The problem is that many people haven’t stepped back from their day-to-day busyness to clarify their vision.

When asking people what they want, their first answer is usually “to be happy” or “to have peace.” When asking what they want to do, it’s usually something like, “to make a lot of money,” “to help others,” or “be the best version of myself.” Although these are part of the vision, they are often too vague to provide a sense of direction.

Clarifying your vision requires developing a specific understanding of what your life would look like, where you would be, who you would be with, and what you would be doing. How would you be earning your income? How would you be helping others? What does the best version of you do on a daily basis?

Taking this into consideration, here is a useful technique called the “dare question” in solution-focused therapy:

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

If a general answer comes to mind, consider the following questions:

What small thing would you start doing today or tomorrow?

Once you’ve started to see some progress, what would it allow you to do?

What would look different in your life if you could do this?

Here’s another way to clarify a general vision. If your general vision is to “be happy” and “help others,” here is an example of how you could make it more specific:

When were moments you’ve been happy while helping others in the past? What were you doing? How were you specifically helping another person? Who would you like to help in the future? How would you be helping these individuals? If you knew you couldn’t fail, what risk would you take that would eventually allow you to do this?

These questions would usually occur over an hour-long solution-focused counseling session, with an emphasis on practical next steps for today or tomorrow.

Although it’s best to consider these things in dialogue with another person or a counselor trained in this approach, you can also consider answering these questions in your own journaling.

The purpose of this exercise is to develop a clear vision of what you want, providing motivation and a sense of direction when making changes in your life.

If you’re still having difficulty developing a vision, continuing to dwell on it does not necessarily get you closer to figuring it out. Instead, I would emphasize taking action in ways that are practical for your current lifestyle.

We often hear the phrase “find your passion,” but what does it really mean? How do you find it? What if you’re too busy with practical day-to-day responsibilities to simply drop everything and go on a whimsical treasure hunt?

Throughout the years, I’ve realized you can’t necessarily find your passion by thinking about it. You find it by trying things and developing skills over time.

For example, my passion for psychology didn’t begin before I started to learn about it. It grew as I developed more understanding and skill in the area. The key is doing.

As Cal Newport states:

“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”

This approach to passion emphasizes putting in the work rather than making it about vision boards and fantasy.

The Latin origin of passion is “pati,” meaning “suffer,” and the word gained popularity in Christian theology, referring to the sacrificial suffering of martyrs.

In the sixteenth century, passion began to refer to sexual love and a sense of strong liking or enthusiasm, seemingly the opposite of its original use. Although passion can still refer to pain and suffering – as seen in The Passion of the Christ – today, the word mainly conjures strong connotations of pleasure and desire.

Both aspects of passion need to be understood before applying it to practical issues, but we often emphasize the pleasurable aspect without recognizing the other side.

Instead of trying to “find your passion,” try letting your passion find you. This could mean experimenting with a hobby, volunteer role, or side-hustle. The key is not to overthink it, pick something you can practically integrate into your routine, and stick with it long enough to develop some skill. If it’s still not for you, perhaps try something different.

In summary, you can develop a vision through some contemplation, but experimenting with different hobbies and interests allows you to explore practical ways to start fostering further motivation if you haven’t yet begun taking action toward change.

This experimental approach also allows you to start taking action toward change without having to figure it all out first. As you start taking action, unforeseen opportunities may even arise, allowing you to further explore areas you may not have considered at first.

Back to the previous question: what small thing could you start doing today or tomorrow?

Identify your “Why”

Identifying your reason for change is a critical aspect of motivation. Without having a clear reason why you want to make a change, you’ll likely fall back into old patterns when faced with an obstacle.

In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl recites one of my favorite quotes by Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This means having a compelling sense of why we are doing something motivates us to figure out how to overcome the obstacles.

By clarifying your why, you can operate with strong intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation, which is relatively weak. In simple terms, intrinsic motivation means you’re doing something because you genuinely want to, while extrinsic motivation requires being compelled by an external reward or punishment.

Intrinsic motivation is powerful and long-lasting, whereas extrinsic motivation is short-lived. For more on the distinction between these two types of motivation, see my article on how motivation works.

One way to know if you’re operating from intrinsic or extrinsic motivation is to notice how many “should” statements you use when talking about your vision. If you say things like “I should go to the gym more often,” you’re likely operating from an external sense of obligation rather than having a strong internal reason why you would want to do so.

If you notice you may be operating from a “shoulds,” try asking yourself what you actually want. For example, if you say you should go to the gym more often, do you actually want to? If not, what made you want to incorporate more physical activity into your life?

This last question delves into the “why,” bypassing the “how” for now. After evoking a person’s “why,” I’d pivot back into the “how,” coming up with various alternative ways to incorporate physical activity in a way that is rewarding for them.

Now consider your own vision regarding changes you want to make in your life. Why do you want to make this change? What about this change is important to you? How would this change allow you to be the type of person you value?

When you clarify your “why” and your underlying values, you gain a sense of purpose and direction, despite the obstacles.

One way to clarify your “why” from an existential perspective is to imagine yourself at the end of your life. Imagine you have done the things you want to do and have been the type of person you want to be. What things would you be proud of? What would you have done? What type of person would you have been?

This exercise comes from the insight of the existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard when he states:

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

Imagine you are at a funeral.

A close friend of the deceased steps up to the pulpit and proceeds with the following eulogy: “He was a highly organized and independent, a skilled communicator who could work well with others, detail-oriented, and was able to work efficiently in a fast-paced environment, increasing profits by 10% each quarter…”

You would be startled by this friend who completely neglected what actually matters.

Rather than a eulogy, it would look as if the friend were speaking on behalf of the deceased for a postmortem job interview.

But if these things don’t actually matter in the end, why do we spend the majority of our time focused on building these resume virtues while neglecting the eulogy virtues?

Values can be found in three major areas of life: moments of sweetness, moments of pain, and role models. These values exercises are adapted from The Big Book of ACT Metaphors:

When clarifying one’s values by looking at moments of sweetness, think back to a moment where you felt alive and engaged. Notice the details of this moment. What were you doing? Who was with you? What did you feel?

Slow down and see if you can emotionally connect to what you value about this moment. This same exercise can be applied to painful moments, pulling out values by noticing what was missing in those moments.

Values can also be found by looking at one’s role models. Pick a person you admire. What qualities of theirs do you admire?

Slow it down, emotionally connecting with the aspects of this person you admire. Now consider what values come from these qualities. Some examples might be compassion, creativity, genuineness, and selflessness.

Now, how might you be able to live by these values yourself?

Living in alignment with our values provides motivation in addition to psychological flexibility when obstacles arise. Values are different from goals because they don’t have an end-point.

Values serve as a compass, giving you direction, even when the end-goals cannot be met. This is an essential aspect of motivation because you do not have control over the end goal. You only have control over how you choose to approach the task at hand.

Victor Frankl highlights this fundamental ability to choose one’s valued way of being:

“The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Choosing one’s own way of being fulfills our human yearning for a sense of purpose and direction. When this direction relies on your values, it does not necessarily require an end-point. This is particularly useful if you haven’t been able to develop a clear vision, as emphasized in the previous section.

Start Taking Small Steps

When beginning to make a change in life, it can feel like you’re at the bottom of a mountain, stairing up at the monumental task ahead. Although the whole journey may take a significant amount of time and effort, each step is a relatively insignificant and simple part of the broader process.

By focusing on each step rather than the whole journey, it makes the processess feel much more manageable. Over time, motivation grows as you develop momentum toward your vision.

This process is what I call “motivational momentum.” Although I’ve touched on it briefly in the first section, this section goes deeper into the power of taking action through small steps.

The psychology behind this is simple: the more you do something, the more you want to do something. For example, for persons struggling with an addiction, the more they engage in the addiction, the more they crave it.

Many people can relate to this in terms of physical exercise. It is pretty challenging to start exercising if you haven’t done it in a while, but over time, you start to actually crave it. For some people, not exercising can eventually become harder than exercising if you’ve worked your way up to a long-term daily habit.

This is why taking action is such a powerful motivational component of change. Early on in the change process, massive action may not be feasible and motivational momentum is still low, so I like to start with small steps instead.

When I first meet with a client, they may not be ready to start taking action, but for those who are ready, I look at how they can make small changes right away.

Aside from motivational momentum, taking small steps allows you to more easily overcome the fear and subsequent procrastination associated with making big changes.

Now consider your own vision for change. What small thing can you do today or tomorrow?

If nothing comes to mind, set the bar even lower. The key is to try something new rather than overthinking it beforehand.

It is easy to procrastinate when living in your head, hoping for some ideal time to take action.

“I’m just not ready yet… what if I fail?… am I an impostor?

This is the realm of perfectionism. When your desire for competence becomes distorted, you constantly question whether or not you are ready to take action. Impostor syndrome can take over, and you feel like you are a fraud.

When stuck in a state of analysis paralysis, we stall our efforts to take meaningful action toward what matters. So how do you get out of your head and build behavioral momentum? The key is building habits into your daily routine. As Aristotle stated:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The most effective way to build new behaviors is to slowly integrate new patterns of action into your daily routine.

Beyond contemplation of one’s strengths and abilities, self-confidence is built in practice by seeing evidence of own abilities.

Consider things you have already completed. What steps have you already taken toward your goals? If you haven’t taken any direct steps, are there any indirect things you may have done in preparation to take action?

If you have not yet taken any actions, consider one small thing you can do today or tomorrow that would likely get you slightly closer to your goal.

By completing a task, you get the reward of a small win. Getting this small win increases your motivation to complete the next task, leading to greater rewards as you build trust in yourself.

Some people find it helpful to create checklists of the small tasks they want to complete in a day. The smaller the task, the more you can add to your checklist. Each time you check off a completed task, you get a sense of accomplishment, leading to further motivation.

Another benefit to focusing on small tasks is that it keeps you from feeling overwhelmed when tackling everything all at once.

This is why the popular 12-step phrase, “one day at a time,” has been so powerful for many people in recovery. If one day at a time is too much, try focusing on one hour at a time or one moment at a time.

Avoiding procrastination through small steps means letting go of perfectionistic ideals and accepting imperfect circumstances.

Here is a relevant metaphor from The Big Book of ACT Metaphors:

Imagine you are waiting for a train to go somewhere special. There are two trains indicating they are going to your destination. The first train looks odd, dirty, and uncomfortable, while the second one looks clean, comfortable, and luxurious.

You excitedly choose the second luxurious train, anticipating the trip ahead as you wait to board. The first train then leaves, and another odd-looking one going to your destination pulls up.

You keep waiting for the luxurious train all afternoon, but it never leaves the station, while the other trains continue to come and go.

This metaphor highlights how perfectionistic concerns keep us from taking the next step.

Like the question I asked at the end of the section on developing your vision for change. What small thing can you do today or tomorrow?

Identify Unhelpful Thoughts

As you start taking steps on your journey toward change, your mind will put up many roadblocks.

“You don’t deserve it… you’re not good enough… you’re being selfish… you can’t do it anyway.”

Change requires identifying these roadblocks and effectively getting around them.

Identifying these mental roadblocks requires getting in touch with the unhelpful thoughts that pop up throughout your day.

I use the term “unhelpful thoughts” because it is often unhelpful to try to debate their validity. These thoughts are often quite sticky and do not necessarily go away by debating them.

For example, have you ever tried to change a friend’s mind about politics by debating them? If so, how does that usually go?

To avoid the mental tug-of-war with your unhelpful self-critical thoughts, there is another way around the roadblock. Here’s an exercise:

Consider the vision of what you want. What are you doing? Who are you with? Where are you?

After getting a sense of what this looks like, imagine you are getting the opportunity to live this vision tomorrow. What do you feel when faced with this opportunity?

Do you feel excitement, fear, or a combination of both? Knowing you will be able to live your ideal vision tomorrow, would you have difficulty sleeping tonight? If so, what would be on your mind?

If there is any fear, what self-critical thoughts pop into your head?

Are any of the following previously listed thoughts coming up?

“You don’t deserve it… you’re not good enough… you’re being selfish… you can’t do it.”

Next, take out a piece of paper and a pen.

Pick a common critical phrase your mind tells you, like one of the above, and write it in the middle of the page.

Now hold that page in both your hands and try to push it as far away from your body as possible. Notice how this takes away your ability to use your hands for other things. In addition, the longer you try to push it away, the more painful it becomes, as your arms get tired.

This is equivalent to the way your mind becomes preoccupied with unhelpful thoughts, interfering with your ability to do the things you enjoy. As your mind continues to be preoccupied with these thoughts, you become mentally exhausted.

Now take this piece of paper and put it on your lap. Although you now have increased contact with it, you can use your hands and save your energy for other things.

You can have this thought, but it doesn’t necessarily have to affect your ability to move forward.

Now put the paper back on the table, and above the self-critical phrase, write the following: “I’m having the thought that…”

How does this change your relationship to the thought?

Next, above that, write “I’m noticing…”

Now, read the series of statements together.

For example: “I’m noticing I’m having the thought that I’m not good enough.”

How do you feel reading this version of the statement compared to the original one?

Many people report feeling lighter. The reason is that this phrasing allows you to step back from your self-critical thought and see it as just a thought rather than a fact about reality.

Rather than holding this piece of paper tightly in your outstretched arms, you can fold it up and put it in your pocket. Although it is closer to you and not necessarily going away, it is relatively harmless.

Increasing contact with unhelpful thoughts while disconnecting from them as facts about reality gives us the freedom to focus on what matters.

Accept Difficult Emotions

Ever notice how avoiding pain also requires avoiding joy?

When making a change in your life, uncomfortable emotions are pretty common. The problem with avoiding unpleasant emotions is that it limits us from also experiencing pleasant ones.

For example, a person may avoid feelings of love and intimacy out of a deeper avoidance of the potential pain if the relationship does not work out. Another example could include avoiding putting out a piece of your work out of fear of judgment. Avoiding this potential pain, it’s easier to continue along a safe path, even if it is unfulfilling.

When we tell ourselves we need to avoid painful feelings, we also begin to avoid positive experiences that could potentially lead to a painful outcome.

Here’s a great metaphor from the ACBS website:

“Imagine what you’re doing with these (thoughts/distressing memories/feelings) is like fighting with a ball in a pool. You don’t like them, you don’t want them, and you want them out of your life. So you try and push this ball underwater and out of your consciousness. However, the ball keeps floating back to the surface, so you have to keep pushing it down or holding it underwater. This struggling with the ball keeps it close to you and is tiring and futile. If you were to let go of the ball, it would pop up, float on the surface near you, and you probably wouldn’t like it. But if you let it float there for a while, with your hands off, it would eventually drift away and out of your life. And even if it didn’t, at least you’d be better able to enjoy your swim rather than spending your time fighting!”

What difficult emotions might be holding you back from taking action?

What addictive behaviors or substances could you be using as a form of avoidance?

In your own experience, is this getting you closer or further from the things you want?

Is the short-term comfort even worth it?

Beyond just working with your unhelpful thoughts, it is also important to slowly and intentionally expose yourself to situations that may trigger difficult emotions.

I’ve often heard people say they try to avoid their triggers. Although this can be helpful when avoiding triggers that cause craving, it is unhelpful when avoiding triggers associated with a fear response. For example, if you want to stop using alcohol to cope with anxiety, it is helpful to avoid having easy access to alcohol, but it is unhelpful to live in a bubble, avoiding any situation that can trigger anxiety.

Avoiding things that cause anxiety further reinforces the danger of the thing causing anxiety. The avoidant behavior trains your brain to believe this is something that must be avoided.

A major part of treating anxiety is a practice in behaviorism called “exposure therapy.” This means slowly exposing an individual to a fear-inducing stimulus over time while equipping them with the mental tools to overcome the fight/flight reaction.

What small thing can you do to bring up a manageable amount of discomfort?

As you imagine yourself doing this thing, notice any emotions arising. What are you feeling in your body right now? Take some time to hold space for these feelings. As you breathe in, imagine you are opening up space for these feelings in your body, inviting them in.

Many people fear that coming into contact with it makes it more real. In reality, avoiding it doesn’t make it any less real. If you find yourself standing on quicksand, resisting and struggling doesn’t make it any less dangerous. If anything, you’re more likely to sink. Instead, laying down on the quicksand (increasing contact) is the safer route, allowing you to increase your weight distribution across the surface of the sand.

Accepting difficult emotions does not mean giving up. Instead, it means increasing contact with the perceived threat so that it has less power over you.

Our emotions are a source of information. By numbing ourselves to difficult emotions, we cut ourselves off from a significant source of information, like ignoring the check engine light in your car. The light indicates something needs to be attended to, and without attending to it, the problem can become worse.

Avoiding our emotions compounds the problem, like avoiding a simple oil change can result in significant engine damages, costing you more in the long run.

Although avoidance feels rewarding in the short term, is it really worth it?

A tiger metaphor by Steven Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), seems fitting here:

Imagine you adopted a cute young tiger cub. It wanders through your home like a kitten, and you notice it won’t stop purring loudly. The only way you can make it stop is to feed it red meat. Over the months and years, you keep doing this so that it will leave you alone. Eventually, the tiger is several hundred pounds, requiring whole sides of beef to feed its insatiable hunger. Rather than a cute purr, the tiger roars ferociously for its meat. You are terrified, so you keep giving him the meat so he will leave you alone. The more you feed it, the larger it gets, and the more trapped you become.

Next time you use your avoidance method of choice, bring some mindful awareness to the experience. Is this worth it? Is this experience worth all of the work? Is it worth all of the damage? Without needing to engage in self-judgment, simply bring mindful attention to whether it’s worth it.

Build Helpful Habits

Habits make progress easier because you can operate on auto-pilot rather than having to make decisions all the time.

Each decision throughout the day depletes some willpower. The more decisions you need to make, the less willpower you have left to make smart decisions. This is Roy Baumeister’s psychological concept of “decision fatigue.”

The psychology of decision fatigue can be seen in grocery store checkout isles. Having to make several decisions while you shop, you have less willpower leftover when checking out and are more likely to buy the candy bar impulsively.

Therefore, to optimize willpower, consider ways to reduce the number of decisions you make in a day.

Although we cannot function without making decisions, many of these decisions are unnecessary. Having to decide whether or not you’ll go to the gym each day takes up unnecessary willpower. So how do you reduce your decision-making load?

Creating habits allows you to make fewer daily decisions, allowing you to use willpower more efficiently. Rather than constantly choosing each meal, moment to exercise, and time to sleep, having a routine allows you to flow between tasks in your day on relative autopilot.

Living on autopilot can be detrimental if you’ve built unhealthy habits, but it can be helpful when intentionally structuring your day based on healthy things you want to incorporate.

The key here is to start small and slowly add things into your daily routine. Large disruptive changes to your situation make it less likely to stick over time. Long-term change starts slow, building motivational momentum over time, based on small intentional changes.

If you want to create your own customized set of next steps, consider trying the SMART principle.

This goal-setting method allows you to focus on daily, weekly, monthly, and annual goals. Each goal is not an end-point but a step on the path toward your long-term goals.

Here are the aspects to consider when creating a SMART goal:

Specific: Is this a specific goal, or is it too broad?

Measurable: How would you measure progress toward this goal?

Achievable: Is this a realistic goal?

Relevant: Is this meaningfully connected to your values?

Time-bound: What is your timeline/ deadline for this goal?


This article provides a blueprint for making a significant change in your life. Although there is considerable psychological evidence underpinning each of these change processes, I’ve emphasized the need to take action rather than just learning about the techniques.

The first step requires accepting your fear of hoping for something more. Change is scary. It requires raising your expectations for yourself, potentially letting yourself down, and deciding to author your own life rather than continue as usual.

Although we can have compassion for this desire for sameness, we can realize its dangers. When we decide not to take action, we risk missing out on something that can add richness to our lives.

When getting caught up in the auto-pilot of sameness, we often neglect to ask ourselves what we really want in life. Developing a vision of what we want allows us to aspire to something more. If you can’t develop a clear enough vision, continuing to dwell on it often does not help. This is why experimenting with change by taking small steps is necessary.

Although the mountain of change can seem intimidating, focusing on small steps allows you to start taking action immediately rather than figuring it all out beforehand, making the process far less overwhelming.

Rather than simply being guided by “shoulds” and “musts,” it’s important to foster an inner compass guided by your values. By focusing on your reasons for change, your motivation is founded on internal factors rather than being dependent on external factors.

Many unhelpful thoughts will arise throughout the change process, telling you you’re not good enough, asking if you’re sure you’re ready. Noticing these thoughts and unhooking from them allows you to refocus on what matters.

As difficult emotions arise, it is tempting to resist them. Instead, we can make space for them, accepting they will be there until we gain familiarity with the new territory.

Building habits allows this change to be sustainable in the long term. Slowly integrating these new habits into your current routine is an easy way to build motivational momentum through small steps.

Although this article is quite long, I plan on breaking it down into small actionable steps in an upcoming program. If you’re interested in helping beta-test any developments in this program, feel free to sign up here for updates.

How to Stop Online Gambling

How to Stop Online Gambling

If you are trying to stop online gambling, you are not alone. Over the last couple of years, there has been an explosion of online gambling. As shared in my article on online gambling addiction, this trend has accelerated riskier gambling since it’s constantly accessible from your phone or computer.

As a certified gambling counselor, I’ve helped many clients stop online gambling. Accessible 24/7, many people find themselves unable to focus on other things, constantly thinking about gambling and trying to win back losses. Craving time alone to gamble, it can affect your relationships, sleep, finances, and overall mental health.

In this article, I provide some practical ways to stop online gambling so you can regain control and start living the life you want. Here is a quick summary:

  1. Decide if online gambling is worth it
  2. Self-exclude from online betting sites 
  3. Replace gambling with other activities 
  4. Address the root causes of your gambling
  5. Seek the support of a gambling counselor 

I’ve developed these strategies over several years of working within a casino doing problem gambling prevention, helping people who are struggling with their gambling, in addition to working within a hospital setting, providing residential support to persons recovering from problem gambling.

Although gambling functions like any other addiction, there are some important distinctions to consider. Hopefully, this article helps you make sense of the unique features of problem gambling, in addition to providing some valuable tools to help you gain back control.

Decide if online gambling is worth it

Deciding to stop gambling ultimately comes down to whether or not gambling is worth it. Even when it’s clearly not worth it monetarily, many people continue to gamble because it’s not about the money.

Here are some common reasons people continue gambling:

“Gambling makes me happier.”

Even if you know you are spending more money than you are getting back, you may justify continued gambling based on its ability to make all of the world’s problems go away temporarily. Using gambling to escape is one of the most common forms of gambling, especially among those who use games such as online slot machines.

Although many people in the early stages of problematic gambling may believe it makes them happier, this illusion is often shattered when their lives become unmanageable. Gambling offers a false promise of happiness, just like it offers the false illusion of control and false hope for a better future.

“I can make money gambling.”

I have heard this several times from persons who engage in professional forms of gambling where a significant amount of skill is involved. For example, tournament poker allows players to gain a slight mathematical edge on one another, making it a game of both skill and chance.

The first question I would ask is whether or not your gambling is actually profitable. Do you keep a balance sheet, closely tracking your wins and losses? Are you treating your gambling like a business? If so, and you are profitable, I would still even ask if it’s worth it.

Is this amount of money worth the roller-coaster of stress? Is it worth risking your closest relationships? Is it worth the constant lying, the loss of integrity, and the constant preoccupation?

What do you truly value in life? Is gambling getting you closer or further away from that?

“I’ll be bored if I stop gambling.”

Many people looking for gambling support can’t imagine their lives without it. By this point, gambling often becomes a full-time job. Spending so much time gambling, other hobbies and interests go by the wayside.

Although gambling may feel like the only form of leisure activity currently, I’ve seen many people adjust to an enjoyable life outside gambling. It may take some brainstorming at first, but given time, it is possible to rekindle old hobbies and find new fulfilling activities to engage in.

This fear of boredom is common in all addictions, so if you’re interested in learning more, check out my article 16 Reasons Being Sober Is Worth It. Many of the lessons apply to gambling as well.

Is it worth it?

Try bringing your attention to the actual experience of online gambling. Bring your attention to the work involved in it. Notice the effort required to incorporate it into your life. Perhaps you have to hide certain things, plan around it, or think about it constantly. When I talk to clients about this, I often find myself saying, “wow… that sounds stressful!”

Is this experience worth all of the work? Is it worth all of the damage? Without engaging in self-judgment, bring mindful attention to these aspects of the experience.

When deciding whether gambling is worth it, I highly recommend checking out Alan Carr’s book, The Easy Way to Stop Gambling.

After seeing the power of his approach, I often recommend the audiobook versions of his texts to my clients to listen to while driving or cleaning. His books have a way of making the addictive substance or behavior seem highly unappealing by the end of the book. If you are still gambling, this is a great book to start with.

Self-exclude from online betting sites

If you’ve decided you’ve had enough and need to stop. This is the next step.

This is an area unique to gambling addiction. Unlike bars and liquor stores, you can ban yourself from casinos and block yourself from gambling sites.

Although this does not entirely fix the issue, it makes it more difficult to access online gambling and therefore increases the odds of stopping.

There are two ways to block yourself from online gambling: 1) self-exclusion from individual gambling platforms, and 2) using blocking software. Ideally, you can use both as a way to maximize effectiveness.

Self-exclusion has a different process, depending on the online gambling platform. You can do this by looking around the account settings or searching Google for “how to self-exclude from x platform” (replace “x” with the name of your gambling site/ app). If this is not an option, simply deactivating your account is another route.

Once you’ve self-excluded/ deactivated your account, you can install an application that blocks gambling sites on your phone or computer.

Bet Blocker is a free service that blocks all gambling-related content and can be installed on your computer or mobile phone. Gameban is a more premium paid version of this service.

Some people may want to go a step further and consider getting a non-smartphone or a phone without access to the internet. Since gambling is now accessible everywhere, merely having a smartphone can be a strong trigger in early recovery. If taking a break from your device is not feasible, the options listed above may also work.

Another way to make gambling less accessible is to consider your access to funds. Simply having easy access to extra money can be a significant gambling trigger. Therefore, it can be helpful to consider the following questions:

Are you able to open up to someone in your life who can take control of the finances right now? Can you cancel credit cards or limit withdrawals from your debit account? Can you talk to a financial planner and consolidate all of your debts into a single payment?

Addressing each of these areas allows you to limit your access to gambling so you can start focusing on things that matter in your life.

Replace gambling with other activities

Once you’ve decided to cut out gambling, it is essential to consider healthy replacements. Since gambling can take up a significant amount of one’s time, self-excluding and blocking it from your phone or computer can often result in boredom, fuelling the desire to return to gambling.

Blocking yourself from gambling is a short-term solution, requiring this next step to entrench long-term motivation and commitment to change.

Consider the types of things you would like to do if you didn’t have gambling in your life.

If something doesn’t immediately come to mind, consider things you once enjoyed but stopped doing when online gambling started to take over your spare time.

Some people incorporate hobbies they once enjoyed, spend time with people they haven’t seen in a while, start going for walks, or incorporate more exercise in their life. The key is that you find this replacement activity genuinely enjoyable.

What small thing would you start doing today or tomorrow?

What would look different in your daily life once you’ve stopped gambling?

Once you’ve started to see some progress in your financial situation, what would it allow you to do?

Address the root causes of your gambling

As stated earlier, when gambling becomes an addiction, it is often no longer about the money. Gambling is often used to escape from deeper issues such as stress, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness.

Due to the ease of access, online platforms make it easier to use gambling to cope with underlying issues such as anxiety and depression.

According to a survey by the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC), anxiety and depression are significant factors contributing to high-risk gambling. As shown below, persons with severe depression are almost five times more likely to engage in high-risk gambling. 

Typical depression symptoms such as low mood, apathy, and social isolation are barriers to accessing in-person venues. With online gambling, persons with severe depression can maintain round-the-clock access to gambling while in the comfort of their own homes.

RGC’s survey found that gambling to cope with depressed moods was a significant risk factor for problematic gambling:

“…67.6% of those who gambled online because it helps when feeling nervous or depressed were high-risk gamblers. [They have] 7.4-times the risk of problematic gambling, relative to other gambling motives.”

Recovering from an addiction to online gambling requires long-term work on underlying issues.

For a summary of some common therapeutic ways to overcome these underlying issues, you can check out a section in another one of my articles on overcoming addiction here.

This is the most challenging aspect of recovery to tackle on one’s own and often requires the support of a professional counselor who can identify and address these underlying issues.

Seek the support of a gambling counselor

If you want to gain back control over your gambling, reaching out for support significantly increases your odds of success.

I often hear people say they’ve tried to reach out for help but don’t feel understood. Although general mental health and addiction professionals may be helpful, many people do not realize there are dedicated gambling counselors who specialize in this specific area.

As a Certified Gambling Counselor, I’ve worked in problem gambling since 2016, in the front lines, helping persons from the time of self-exclusion within the casino, to long-term residential treatment, and now as a private practitioner, helping clients across Canada and the US.

Reaching out for support can be difficult. Many people wonder, “will it work for me?” and “what if things never change?” In early recovery, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Luckily, long-term change is quite common, with the proper support. If you don’t know where to start, reach out for a free consultation, and I can help guide you through the process.

If you are starting to think gambling is no longer worth it, I am currently accepting new clients residing in Canada or the US.

Send me a message below to request a free 15 min consultation, or click here to learn more.

Contact for a free consultation:

Procrastination Is Not Laziness

Procrastination Is Not Laziness

On the go? Listen to an audio version of the article here:

Many people blame themselves for being lazy or not having enough willpower to complete the important things they want to do.

Popular self-help messages further reinforce this perspective on procrastination, merely telling people to try harder, hustle, or get more willpower. Although these things might be necessary, this advice does not resolve the core issue.

Procrastination is the result of fear, not laziness. Persons procrastinate due to perfectionistic concerns, basing their self-worth on external validation of their performance. Tackling important tasks induces fear of inadequate performance and further potential damage to one’s self-worth and sense of competence. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors and how they contribute to procrastination.

What causes procrastination?

According to Temporal Motivation Theory, the root cause of procrastination includes:

  • Low expectations of your competence 
  • A low value placed on the task
  • Difficulties with impulse control
  • Lack of an immediate deadline 

In other words, procrastination results from perfectionistic concerns about one’s performance, low interest in a task, having several distractions, and no immediate deadline.

Saying someone is “lazy” is actually a lazy explanation of human behavior because it does not consider the various underlying factors driving it.

The word “lazy” implies the person just needs to use more willpower, but as I shared in my previous article, willpower is overrated.

Although willpower is a vital ingredient in behavior change, it is far from the only ingredient. Like baking a cake, you can’t simply throw flour in the oven and neglect all of the other parts of the recipe.

Like being a lazy baker, providing lazy explanations of human behavior only leads to disappointment. Therefore, let’s consider all of the elements involved in procrastination and how to overcome it.

How to overcome procrastination

To overcome procrastination, consider the following:

  • Focus on progress, not perfection 
  • Clarify your “why”
  • Reduce the need for willpower 
  • Set small goals 

By focusing on each of these areas, you increase the odds of completing a task rather than procrastinating.

Focusing on progress, not perfection, allows you to overcome the perfectionistic tendency to worry about not doing the task well. It’s easier not to start a task than to risk criticism for not doing it well enough. This is particularly relevant for persons who are highly driven and base their self-worth on their performance.

Clarifying your “why” allows you to gain a broader sense of purpose regarding the task. For example, my motivation to continue writing this article is based on the value-orientated drive to serve others through my work.

Reducing the need for willpower means removing any distractions from your environment and creating habits that make it easier to complete the task. I have a complete description of how to do this in my article here.

Setting small goals refers to creating several regular short-term goals rather than just relying on a long-term goal. For example, if you want to finish writing a paper in a week, you can break it into smaller goals and aim to write one section per day.

Is procrastination an addiction?

As an addiction counselor, human motivation has been a core focus in my work. Understanding someone’s motivation to use addictive substances allows me to work with these underlying motives and increase motivation to change.

Although procrastination is not technically considered an addiction, it shares many traits with addictions, including the following:

  • Short-term relief at a long-term cost
  • Loss of control
  • Craving distractions 
  • Compulsive behaviors

Procrastination can be like an addiction to not engaging in a specific task.

Short-term relief comes when a person procrastinating avoids fear by not engaging in a task that provokes perfectionistic fear. This comes at a long-term cost of not completing the task and may also result in harm to many areas of someone’s life.

Loss of control is experienced when procrastinating since a person begins to feel even less competent to engage in the task the longer they put it off.

Craving distractions may come in the form of immediately wanting to do something else when faced with the object of procrastination. For example, when sitting down to write, I seem to immediately feel hungry or want to check my emails.

Compulsive behaviors are things we feel compelled to do, despite their lack of relevance to our goal. For example, many people compulsively clean their environment rather than engage in an important task.

Procrastination has many overlaps with addiction. Even though procrastination is the absence of action, it involves several alternative actions that serve as distractions, providing short-term relief at a long-term cost to one’s work, relationships, or personal health.


Procrastination is not about laziness. Instead, it is about not having the right motivational ingredients. Throughout this article, I’ve summarized some key lessons from Temporal Motivation Theory, a leading theory of procrastination. I’ve also provided practical steps you can take to stop procrastinating.

If you want to learn more about motivation, I highly recommend my more in-depth article on the topic here: How to Find Motivation.

If you are trying to help someone else who is struggling with motivation, you can check out my article here: How to Motivate Someone.

If you’re curious why I’m not a big fan of willpower, you can check out my article here: Why Willpower is Overrated.

I hope this has been a helpful overview of procrastination. As always, feel free to leave a comment down below. You can also reach out to me directly here.

How Addiction Counseling Works

How Addiction Counseling Works

On the go? Listen to the audio version of this article here:

As an addiction counselor, I specialize in human motivation. Although every form of counseling needs to consider the role of motivation, it is especially relevant when dealing with addiction.

If you struggle with addiction, you may find yourself continually returning to a substance or behavior, despite the negative impact on your life. Like a war in your head, you try to control the craving but end up giving in, telling yourself “this time will be different.”

Despite rational evidence to the contrary, you feel emotionally driven to give it another try. As your sense of control fades, and it’s no longer a form of entertainment, you start to wonder why you’re continuing it and how you’ll ever be able to stop.

Addiction counseling works by intervening in the motivational processes that drive the addiction. It helps address underlying issues, unmet needs, and fosters a sense of self-efficacy through a collaborative planning process. 

Let’s take a closer look at how addiction counseling works and what makes it unique.

What is Addiction Counseling?

Addiction counseling is a collaborative conversation about behavior change, focused on meeting a client where they are at, building trust, motivation, and effective coping skills to navigate everyday life.

According to the transtheoretical model of behavior change, addiction counseling involves the following areas:

  • Stages of change
  • Processes of change
  • Levels of change 

Stages of change” refers to a person’s readiness to change. There are five stages:

  1. Pre-contemplation (not thinking of change)
  2. Contemplation (thinking of change)
  3. Preparation (planning for change)
  4. Action (doing the change)
  5. Maintenance (making it habitual)

Addiction counseling is unique due to the high level of motivational ambivalence. This means clients may want to change and don’t want to change simultaneously. It is important to recognize this fact and meet a client where they are in their current change stage.

Processes of change” refers to the actual intervention. This means delving into the specific factors driving the person’s behavior.

Although these factors vary depending on the person, I explore some common processes in my article on How to Stop an Addiction. This article is quite comprehensive and links to other articles I’ve written, breaking down how each specific process works.

Levels of change” refers to the level of focus, from micro (present/ individual) to macro (long-term/ societal) levels of complexity. Here are some of the levels of change from micro-focus to macro-focus:

  1. Current situational factors
  2. Cognitive factors
  3. Interpersonal factors
  4. Systemic familial factors
  5. Long-term societal factors

When working with a client, I consider a holistic picture of the client’s present stage of change, the processes of change relevant to their situation while determining the most appropriate levels of change to focus on at a given time.

Although this sounds highly technical, it is going on invisibly in the back of my head. At the same time, I hold space for the client to share their experience as I guide the conversation through specific questions before collaborating on the next steps.

Approaches to Addiction Counseling 

There are many different approaches to addiction counseling, and depending on the counselor, they may specialize in one or more of the following techniques.

Building on the previous section, these approaches are part of the “process of change.”

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is the foundation of addiction counseling. It is distinct because it was developed by psychologists specializing in addiction rather than the other approaches that generally originate in treating anxiety and depression.

Motivational interviewing is uniquely powerful because it directly targets ambivalence, the core motivational process in addiction. This means it helps facilitate a client’s progression through the stages of change listed above.

In short, motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation style that builds a therapeutic relationship, evoking the client’s own reasons for change. Most of it involves active listening and empathetically holding space, guiding the conversation toward the client’s own strengths, resources, and reasons for change.

On the surface, motivational interviewing merely looks like really good listening, but there are quite a few technical things going on that should be largely invisible if done right.

If you want to take a look under the hood at the nuts and bolts of motivational interviewing, I’ve written a pretty comprehensive article on it here: How to Do Motivational Interviewing.

Although this is a powerful approach to addiction counseling, it does have its limitations.

For clients struggling with anxious thoughts or depressed moods, other treatment approaches are required to target these underlying issues.

Cognitive-behavioral approaches

Cognitive-behavioral approaches are a gold standard for treating anxiety and depression. These approaches delve into the specific unhelpful thoughts causing painful emotions, resulting in addictive behaviors.

These approaches look at how one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected, developing insight around distorted beliefs at the root of maladaptive coping behaviors.

Mindfulness approaches 

Mindfulness approaches have also acquired a significant evidence base in the addiction field. These approaches can range from classic mindfulness meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), or mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based behavioral approach I specialize in due to its high level of process-based compatibility with motivational interviewing.

In short, ACT fosters behavior change through six psychological change processes: 

  1. Acceptance, 
  2. Cognitive defusion 
  3. Present moment awareness
  4. Self-as-context
  5. Values
  6. Committed action.

Although ACT was initially developed for panic disorder, it is ideally suited to addiction counseling because it targets unhelpful thoughts, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, and fosters motivation through its values and committed action processes.

For a practical deep dive into each of these ACT processes, I wrote an article here that goes through each of them, offering explanations, metaphors, and exercises.

Solution-focused approaches

Solution-focused approaches are particularly relevant in short-term counseling or single-session counseling. It is highly goal-oriented and focused on setting this goal early in the session.

Focusing on the present and the future rather than the past, this approach is particularly useful for getting quick results. Rather than spending a lot of time discussing why something has happened, it focuses on how you can move forward.

Over the last year, I’ve been developing an appreciation for this approach. Doing single-session counseling as part of my employment for a national counseling service, I have 50 minutes to get results for a client I will likely never talk to again.

I see too many people spending months in therapy without seeing results. Although someone dealing with an anxiety disorder may feel motivated to return to counseling each week, hoping the next session will finally unlock some kind of relief, this results-delayed approach is highly unmotivating when it comes to addiction.

If the client isn’t seeing some kind of short-term benefit from counseling, taking practical steps toward a bigger, better offer on the horizon, the addiction starts to seem like a better use of funds. This is why solution-focused approaches are a useful addition to an addiction counselor’s toolkit.

A solution-focused approach is also highly compatible with motivational interviewing because it draws out the other person’s strengths, past experiences, and resources to collaboratively problem-solve regarding the next steps.

Narrative therapy

Narrative therapy is another helpful approach to addiction counseling because it targets unhelpful stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. This is relevant to addiction since it is a highly stigmatized issue.

Many persons with addiction carry a great deal of shame, particularly if they grew up identifying as someone who always followed the rules, needed to succeed, or focused on others at the expense of themselves. A narrative approach specifically looks at identity narratives that may be holding someone back from self-compassion or self-care.

Spiritual approaches

Spiritual approaches are another powerful emerging area in the addiction field. Although I do not favor a particular religious tradition in counseling, a client’s spirituality can be a vital source of resilience and motivation.

There is also emerging evidence on the power of psychedelic substances in treating addiction, and it is an area I am interested in moving into when regulations allow them to be used in clinical settings.

12-step approaches

12-step approaches to addiction are the foundation of recovery culture. Focused on abstinence, this approach facilitates acceptance of one’s powerlessness over the addiction, providing a structured framework of steps for recovery. This approach has also been a widely-available source of peer support.

Although some people are drawn to it more than others, the consistent benefit I’ve observed among clients is the sense that they’re not alone. Since connection is the opposite of addiction, this approach provides a strong social component not offered in individual counseling.

It is important to note that the 12-step model is technically a form of peer support and not a professional counseling approach, but its lessons and language can be integrated into professional counseling.

Although I am not experienced with the 12-step approach, I am a big fan of the serenity prayer, often used in this approach. If you are interested, I wrote a psychological breakdown of it here: The Meaning of the Serenity Prayer.


Like mental health counseling more broadly, addiction counseling works by helping clients work through underlying pain and develop healthy coping skills so they can start living the life they want.

A counselor specializing in addiction brings a keen awareness of human motivation, in addition to experience working with clients in ways that further foster this motivation.

If you want to learn more about motivation, I highly recommend checking out some of my other articles on the topic:

How to Find Motivation

How Does Motivation Work?

How to Motivate Someone

Why Willpower is Overrated

For a more in-depth look at my counseling toolkit, you can check out my article here.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out here or leave a comment under this article.