Upcoming DBT Graduation

The Emotional Regulation module in Dialectical Behavior Therapy contains two skills designed to separate actions from emotions.  The first, Opposite to Emotion, is about doing things you don’t feel like doing.  Feeling fear?  Approach the situation that scares you.  Feeling guilt?  Repair the transgression.  Feeling shame?  Do what makes you feel ashamed.  Feeling sad?  Do something that makes you feel competent.  Feeling angry?  Do something kind.

99% of the time I use this skill when I’m feeling anxious about a situation, or wanting to back out of plans I’ve made.  I take a deep breath, tell myself “Opposite to Emotion”, and go participate in the activity anyway.  It works.  Usually things go better than I feared, the anxiety fades once I get involved, and I don’t have the regret of missing out on life to compound any depression I may be feeling.

The other skill, Feeling Not Acting, is about not doing things you feel like doing.  Not acting on harmful urges: to overspend, to gamble, to drink, to take drugs, to self-harm, to binge/purge.  You take a moment to identify the impulses you’re feeling, then choose to act in a healthier way.  This may be by using the Ride the Wave skill to just feel the emotion and then let it go.  This may be by using another skill to self-soothe or to distract.  The third suggestion is to “act on the impulse in less problematic ways” but I fail to see how accepting an action that is “less bad” is helpful in the long run.

I usually take the Ride the Wave approach.  Most of the time I mark those two skills down together on my diary card.  I rarely think to mark Feeling Not Acting when my way of avoiding the action has been by using another skill.  Riding the Wave is uncomfortable.  It’s hard to sit and just feel an emotion, an impulse without acting on it in any way.

I’m doing it, though, because I have a goal in sight.  A while back I notified Sierra and Nadia that I would be quitting DBT group, but then when something enlightening happened during a Mindfulness exercise I reconsidered.  When discussing my ambivalence with Sierra, she brought up the notion of graduating from group.  Not just randomly leaving, but completing the program.  It’s supposed to be roughly 1 year, with the series of modules being completed twice during that time, and I’ve reached the point that I’ve been through them twice, with the exception of missing a little of Emotional Regulation both times due to work.

Sierra’s suggestion was that I set a goal to show that I have learned and applied the skills.  My goal is to go two months without any harmful actions on my diary card.  Since starting diary cards in September 2014, my record is 5 weeks and 2 days.  At this point, I’ve almost reached 4 weeks, and the two month mark falls on January 2nd.  This is before the first January meeting of DBT group, so assuming I don’t slip up before then, I will not have to attend group at all in 2016.

Sadie and I have completed all the DBT skills from the material she uses, with the exception of her needing to look at my last two worksheets.  We are moving on to other approaches, and I’ve asked her if I still have to do diary cards after I graduate from group.  She said I don’t if I really don’t want to, and I think I don’t want to.  Rating my negative urges causes me to think about those possible actions even when I haven’t thought about them all day, and I find that sometimes I start feeling urges that I otherwise wouldn’t.  I just want to close the DBT chapter of my life and move on.

Of course I will still use the skills I’ve learned.  I just won’t sit there at the end of each day struggling to remember which ones I’ve used and trying to reinterpret all my experiences of the day in terms of DBT skills.  I will be able to color without thinking “oh, I’ll mark down Self-Soothe tonight” or give myself a pep talk during the work day without thinking “hey, this is the Encouragement part of IMPROVE”.  I’ll use the skills for their own benefit, and not because it gives me something to write down on my diary card.

Declutter Calendar

In late 2013, I started a blog about decluttering.  Initially I wrote about one specific organization project, and at the beginning of 2014 I started using the Declutter Calendar from My Simpler Life.  I had purchased a print version of the calendar, thinking that if it was right in front of me I’d be more inclined to work on it.  As it turned out, I never found a place to hang the calendar, and by the end of January I was desperately behind and couldn’t seem to make myself jump in on the current date and go from there.  In hindsight, the point at which I fell desperately behind is the same point at which I passed from hypomania to mania, and started to lose my ability to focus.

This year, I’ve downloaded the electronic version of the calendar and saved it on my desktop, thinking that it might be easier to access than a print version.  I’ve also changed my perspective on what it means to complete the calendar tasks.  I found, in the brief time I worked on this last year, that I did better with grouping the related tasks and doing them in a single day.  For example, there were two days that said “Clear your left kitchen counter of things not used daily” and “Clear your right kitchen counter of things not used daily”.  It was so much simpler to do both at once and then take a day off the next day.  So for this year, my intention is to look at the calendar a week at a time, and do the tasks in whatever order or grouping I like.

Using the Declutter Calendar is going to be a task on my 101 in 1,001 list.  I’m not sure how I will set this as a goal – perhaps something like “Do at least one task from the Declutter Calendar each week for a year.”  Of course I’m welcome to do more, but I noticed the calendar contains several tasks that are just not applicable, or that I’m not in a position to be able to do on the specified date.

For January 1st, the task was “Spend 5 min racing around tossing stuff out”.  I did not race around and I did spend more than 5 minutes, but I believe I completed the spirit of the task.  I tackled the junk drawer in my dresser.

junk-drawer

I threw away a ton of stuff, including things like old debit cards and used up gift cards.  Also library cards for several libraries in cities I will never again visit.  I threw out tons of random bits and bobs that were on the “but it might be useful someday” list.  Really, none of it would ever be useful.  I also pulled out a small pile of items that need to either find a new home or find a new home.  That is, I need to move them to a new location in the house or add them to the donations pile.  It’s still clearly a junk drawer, but it now closes with no effort and I can actually see what’s in it without rummaging for half an hour.

When I initially embarked on this project a year ago, my aim was two-fold.  It was important to me to declutter simply for the sake of making my environment tidy and organized.  It was also important to me because I felt – and still feel – that my satisfaction with life is greatly dependent upon that tidiness and organization.  I am easily overwhelmed by the clutter, and have difficulty finding motivation when my environment is a mess.  At this point, my motivation level is high enough to actually do the decluttering that will end up helping me in times of decreased motivation.

101 in 1,001

Today I read an article titled A Kinder Take on New Year’s Resolutions for 2015.  Mere minutes later, my therapist handed me a set of questions asking me to reflect on the past year and set goals for next year.  She was quick to point out that she likes the term “goals” much better than “resolutions”.

smart-goals

I had already planned a post about resolutions – I mean goals – and my goal involves revisiting The 101 Things in 1,001 Days Challenge.  My original end date for my original list was September 26, 2008.  Obviously a few years have passed.  I only completed 11 tasks from my original list, and had a few others in progress.  At this point I revised my list, because my life had changed drastically since creating it and many of the items were no longer relevant to my interests.

When I didn’t get very far before quitting for months, I decided to create a new list and start over.  I made plans to restart on January 27, 2008, but never actually created the list of 101 tasks.  That is my goal for 2015: to create the list.  I’m not required to make any progress on it, simply to create the list of 101 tasks.

At the time that I planned to restart my list, I did some writing about how to create a list.  Confession: the rest of this post is nearly identical to what I’d written before.  Someone needs a nap before getting up to celebrate the new year.


“How can I possibly think of 101 tasks?” you exclaim. The flexibility of having 101 spaces to fill with your own choices is great, but also quite scary. Here’s a suggested outline for giving your list a bit more structure:

  • 18 Categories X 5 Tasks
  • 9 Specific Tasks for the Past, Present, and Future
  • 2 Purchases

The first part of forming your list involves defining 18 categories of tasks that are important to you. My 18 categories are listed below as an example. It’s unlikely that anyone could directly use my set of categories since we all have a different combination of interests (my list is heavily weighted toward the arts, since my education and most hobbies are in that area), but marking out the categories that don’t interest you and then finding replacements is a good way to start.

My Categories:

  1. Education
  2. Theatre
  3. Creative Writing
  4. Photography
  5. Knitting/Crochet
  6. Music
  7. Culture
  8. Recreation
  9. Social
  10. Family
  11. Health
  12. Civic Duty
  13. Financial
  14. “Adulthood”
  15. Organization
  16. Adventure
  17. Overcoming Fears
  18. Special Skills

After you have 18 categories selected, list 5 tasks relating to each category. It may feel a bit restrictive having only 5 tasks for your current favorite activities, but this limit encourages you to think carefully about what your most important goals are and to aim for improvement in multiple areas of your life. Once this section is completed, you will have 90 tasks on your list.

The next 9 tasks on the list come from three groups known in brief as Past, Present, and Future. While you certainly aren’t required to do these exact tasks, especially if they are things that are already done in your life, I feel they’re important for everyone and you ought to consider whether you can improve upon what you’ve already done or replace the task with a different one that fits the category.

Recalling the Past

  1. Create a genealogical record for at least 4 generations of your family (yourself, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents)
  2. Compile a scrapbook of your childhood, with pictures of yourself at each age, your close family, your friends, and your pets
  3. Start writing an autobiography (there are many great books out there with prompts to help you figure out what topics to cover)

Recording the Present

  1. Assemble a time capsule to be opened in 20 years
  2. Record your daily life in photographs for a week
  3. Start a journal (your choice as to how often is reasonable for you to write in it, although I’d suggest at least once per week)

Preparing for the Future

  1. Start a savings or investment plan
  2. Get health insurance (if you’ve got adequate insurance already, get life insurance payable to your next of kin…if you’ve got that, well, lucky you!)
  3. Write your will and advance directives

Now we’re up to 99 tasks, and the last two are fun ones. Select two significant purchases you’d like to make. These should be within your long-term budget but not things you’d make a casual decision about purchasing. Many of us would probably choose a new computer as being one of those things we’ll want in the next few years, but anything works so long as you wouldn’t just hop into a store and throw it in your shopping cart without a second thought.


No matter how you choose to structure your list, here are a few tips for selecting individual tasks:

  • Make your tasks very specific and concrete. You have to be able to measure whether a task has been accomplished or not. Don’t just write “learn to tap dance”…how will you know if what you’ve done constitutes learning enough? Instead, choose tasks such as “take a tap dance class at the community center”. Class ends, you’ve had the experience, and your task can clearly be marked as complete.
  • Make your tasks achievable. There’s a difference between challenging yourself and setting yourself up for failure. Base your tasks around your own actions, and aim for things that don’t involve reliance on the actions of others. If you want to get a poem published in a literary magazine, you can’t aim for getting published. It’s not entirely in your control. What you can and should aim for is sending a certain number of submissions to the magazines in which you’d like to be published. Then your part is done, and it’s time to let it go and focus on another task that you can do.
  • Choose tasks where you can apply the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The fastest route to misery in this project is declaring that you will do a specific task every day for the entire 1001 days. It’s simply impossible. Forming a good habit doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect from the start, but that you can pick yourself up and start again if you slip up. Tasks that involve forming good habits are great to have on the list, but you need to limit the duration so it’s possible to accomplish them. For example, “quit drinking caffeinated beverages” is a purely evil goal to set for yourself. One little mistake and you’ll beat yourself up and probably quit trying entirely since you’ve already “failed”. Instead, try something like “Limit caffeine intake to one 20 oz. cola per week for two months”. If you don’t manage it on the first try, look how many more two-month spans are available in which to attempt it again!

The final and most important tip for success in this project is: don’t trap yourself into completing tasks if the course of your life changes. If you find out that the task you listed a month or a year ago is no longer relevant, replace it! There’s an important lesson here regarding willingness to assess a situation and make necessary changes. Making changes is what this project is all about.