Are you leaving? Or are you going?

Posted on October 4, 2016

Making Something Important
by Hank Robb, Ph.D., ABPP

A person was walking down a street and saw two women sitting with wool yarn and knitting needles. Curious, our observer asked, “What are you doing?”

The first said, “I’m making one stitch after another.”

The second answered, “I’m keeping my child safe and warm from the winter wind.”

Which of these two would you rather be?

Building and maintaining motivation is the first point in SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program®. Changing your behavior isn’t very likely to happen unless there’s a point to doing so which is the last point in SMART Recovery: building a balanced life. “Giving up something” isn’t much to build a life around. It’s just one stitch after another. As the psychologist Ogden Lindsey once noted, no goal a dead person can accomplish is that great a goal for a living one. Dead people never drink, snort, shoot up or place a bet. “Not doing” is something all dead people “do” quite well.

When you go some place you consider worth going, you inevitably leave some place else, your home, your place of work, etc. And the “leaving,” in and of itself, isn’t what’s important. Going is what’s important. You can’t go without leaving and you can’t leave without going, but which one is getting emphasized – going or leaving? What’s getting the emphasis in your life – leaving your addictive behavior behind or going in important directions? “Going some place worth going to” will provide much more motivation because abstaining becomes just a side effect of making certain things important in your life. It’s keeping your child safe and warm from the winter wind rather than just making one stitch after another.

Consider being at a stinky, ugly garbage dump. You get in a car and drive away – keeping your eyes glued to the rear view mirror. “I’m getting away! I’m getting away!” OK, you are getting away. But if you keep your eyes on the rear view mirror, what is likely to happen at the front end of the car? As a wise person once noted, “There’s a reason they make the windshield much larger than the rear view mirror!” Are you looking where you want to go or where you want to leave? If your “eyes are on the prize,” you’ll be looking out the front of the car!

Well, where do you want to go? What might you want to make important? If you don’t know, here’s something that might help. Keep a pad and pen by your bed. Each night before you go to sleep, think back through your day with this question, “What did I do today that was actually worth my time?” The answer is not, necessarily, what was “fun.” Cotton candy may be “fun” but it won’t sustain you. Vegetables, whether you like them or not, will. And, properly prepared, many vegetables are delicious in the moment you eat them as well as actually being “worth your time.” As you think back over your day, what experience, or experiences, can you find, that on reflection, (not before and not during but at the end of the day) were actually worth the time you put into them? Write it, or them, down. Then write down one thing you are willing to do tomorrow just to see if tomorrow evening, on reflection, you also rate it to have been worth your time.

Do this for thirty to sixty days and you will likely have a fair number of activities that you, not some one else, rate as actually worth your time. Then, concentrate on doing these things. You will likely find that “leaving” your addictive behavior happens much more readily because “going” rather than “leaving” is now getting the emphasis. You are no longer just “knitting one stitch after another.”

When you are motivated to make something important, you are much less interested in doing things that “don’t fit,” including addictive behavior. Each time we move, or fail to move, our hands, arms, feet and mouth, we make something important. So, what will you make important – going or leaving?

A repost from the SMART archives.

4 thoughts on “Are you leaving? Or are you going?

  1. Adam

    I’ve struggled with addiction and the concept of recovery for years now. The simple phrase “are you leaving or going” makes so much sense to me. Thank you for this article. It has helped me so much.

  2. Michael mule'

    I am attending my first meeting on Wed….. I am looking forward to this after reading some of the blog posts. They just make so much sense….

  3. Tanya McCarthy

    I have never thought about looking at things this way before. It definitely made me think about what’s worth doing or not and how I go about it. I think it will help my husband’s recovery too (website posted). Going to have him read this when he gets out of treatment for sure. Thank you for sharing!

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